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The whole idea of a good education system is to prepare out children so that they are better prepared to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization as well as the fast development in today's information and communication technologies. To enable our nation to do this we needed competent and resilient human capital that is able to face the challenges locally and internationally. In order to produce this kind of human capital, government had come out with few policies in education system. One of the policies was PPSMI that was introduced in 2003 and later it is abolished in 2012.
The basic concept of PPSMI - the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English
The merits of PPSMI - the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English
The demerits of PPSMI - the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English
The basic concept of PPSMI
The teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English or in short known as PPSMI, that stands for Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris is a government policy aimed at improving the command of the English language among students at primary and secondary schools in Malaysia. Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, whom was the prime minister at the moment introduced this policy in 2003. However, since it was introduced, PPSMI has been a heated subject and has been debated among academics, politicians and even in society until the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the policy's reversal in 2012.
According to the Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in The Star (2009), the gap between rural and urban students has widened since PPSMI started. Only 19.2% of secondary teachers and 9.96% of primary teachers were sufficiently proficient in English. He said this one of the reasons the Cabinet has decided that the medium of instruction for Math and Science will revert to Bahasa Malaysia in national schools and mother-tongue languages in national-type schools from 2012 onwards and the reversal of the teaching of Math and Science in English (PPSMI) policy will be conducted in stages.
The merits of PPSMI
Back then, the medium for communication in education system was mainly used our mother-tongue, Malay language. Then in order to develop the nation, the prime minister at that time, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad proposed a policy that changed the medium of instruction from the Malay language to English for the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics subjects. Basically the policy was made based on the government's concern on the nation's human capital development towards achieving the standard of a developed country, as well as an early preparation to compete in the era of globalization.
Kim (2011) stated that science and mathematics are two main fields that form the basis and have a crucial role in the progress and development of a country. Besides, the growing stream of transformations and discoveries in these two fields happen rapidly and information access in these fields is mostly in the English language too. So, the mastery in this language would make us easier to get the knowledge in science and mathematics. Though by introducing PPSMI is not the best method to improve English, it is nevertheless a worthy endeavor that will bring the twin benefits of improvement in English as well as ready connectivity to the world of science and technology.
According to Kim (2011), opponents of PPSMI always make Russia and China as an example that one can stick to one's national language and yet achieve outstanding progress in science and technology. But these critics forget that countries like Russia and China have big populations and their people are well equipped with knowledge in science and technology compare to us, Malaysians that mostly still depends on foreigners. One more thing is about the resources. English text books are already widely used in our institutions of higher learning too, so why must we stop the teaching of mathematics and science in English at an earlier age and convert back to Malay language? The only acceptable reason for stopping PPSMI should only because of the lack of English-proficient teachers. They did not have sufficient training to be able to teach effectively. However, many alternatives can be conducted to train them. After that, all they needed is sufficient time to adapt to the change and subsequently move forward to meet the challenges.
In conclusion, we can directly see that the policy decision to implement PPSMI was made to make sure students' mastery in science and mathematics in view of the fact that most of the sources are available in the English language. Indirectly, it is also hoped that the implementation of PPSMI would contribute to the enhancing of students' command of the language.
The demerits of PPSMI
Even though PPSMI seemed to be a good policy to be implemented in our education system, after much thought and considerations from experts, non-governmental organizations and concerned individuals about the impact of PPSMI on student learning, the government decided to abolish the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English.
According to an article 'Why PPSMI is abolished' in The Star newspaper, the cabinet found that during the implementation of PPSMI only 4% of Mathematics and Science teachers used 90% or more of English in the teaching and learning of the two subjects. A mixture of Bahasa Malaysia and English was used more by them and the teachers had to frequently switch to Bahasa Malaysia in their teaching because students could not understand their lessons in English. To prove the statement above, a study conducted by a group of educationists from the Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris (UPSI) revealed that 70% of Form Two students found it hard to learn Mathematics and Science in English.
Another study done by a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) professor concluded that PPSMI hampered students' ability to understand Mathematics and Science concepts, hence resulting in their poor performance in these two subjects. The cabinet also stated that only students with good command of English benefited from PPSMI while others who lack of proficiency in English became victims. So, obviously it is unfair to these students if the government decide to continue with the policy.
"Apart from having to learn a language which is not their mother tongue, our children are being made to study the two subjects in English as well," Muhyidin said, adding that studies had also shown that students would better understand a subject if it was taught in their mother tongue. The decision to reverse to Bahasa Malaysia is in line with the position taken by Unesco that the mother tongue is the best medium of instruction in schools.
As we can see the current generation of lawyers, accountants, scientists, technocrats, and other professionals are the product of our National Education System where Bahasa Malaysia is the medium of instruction in schools. Thus, it has proven that Bahasa Malaysia is an effective medium of instruction in the national schools.
All in all, whether it is the implementation or reversal of PPSMI, the biggest losers are still students in Malaysia. So it is important that wise actions must be done by every party to help the students from being victim to the unsteady policies in Malaysia educational system. However before government want to introduce new policy, certainly they did some researches before it was implemented and same goes to the new policy that replaces PPSMI now. Although PPSMI is no longer used as a medium of instruction at schools, the desire to master English should not be stopped in our young generations because our country needs a population that is competent in English to must produce top grade workers who will be able to compete in the globalised world.
In relation to this, the Education Ministry has taken comprehensive measures to improve our students' command of English through the new policy, Strengthening English Language (MBI) policy. Besides that, there are several ways that government tries to do in order to ensure students acquire a good command in English language for example improving the methods of teaching and learning of English in schools, increasing English hours and hiring quality English teachers, including from abroad, to help our students be proficient in English. The support from all parents too is another key factor to enhance the quality of our education and improve student learning.