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Generally a good education system is to produce younger generation that better prepared to face the challenges of the modern era such as fast development in today's information and communication technologies. To achieve the goal, we needed competent and resilient human capital that is capable to face the challenges. 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 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 that introduced to improve 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 why the Cabinet has decided that the medium of instruction for Math and Science will revert to Bahasa Malaysia in 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 Malay language to English for the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics subjects. Basically the policy was made based on two main reasons; first, the government's concern about our nation development towards achieving the standard of a developed country, and second, as an early preparation for our nation to compete in the era of globalization.
Science and mathematics are two main fields that play a crucial role in the progress and growth of a country as those subjects form the basis to a country's development. Besides, 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 benefit us in the aspect 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 acquire outstanding progress in science and technology. However we have to bear in mind that countries like Russia and China have big populations and their people are well equipped with knowledge in science and technology compared to us, Malaysians that mostly still depends on foreigners. One more thing is about the resources. In our institutions of higher learning, English text books are already widely used, so the decision to stop the teaching of mathematics and science in English at an earlier age and convert back to Malay language is not really a good approach to improve our education system. One and only acceptable rationale for stopping PPSMI was because of the lack of English-proficient teachers. This problem happened as they had insufficient training to be able to teach students effectively. However, many alternatives actually can be conducted to train them. After that, all they needed is enough time to be able to work with the change and subsequently move forward to meet the challenges.
In conclusion, PPSMI was introduced and implemented to ensure students acquire certain amount of proficiency in science and mathematics because most of the sources are available in English and also for the English language itself.
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 about the effect of PPSMI on student learning, the government decided to abolish PPSMI. 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."
There were several studies that carried out to prove the statement above. First, a study conducted by a group of educationists from the Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris (UPSI) revealed that 70% of Form Two students having difficulty to learn Mathematics and Science in English. Another study done by a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) professor showed that PPSMI hindered students' ability to understand Mathematics and Science concepts. As a result, the students could not perform well in these two subjects.
The cabinet also stated that only students with good command of English would benefit 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 keep the policy. He also added that based on research, the understanding of students on certain subjects would better if it was taught in their mother tongue. So, the reversal of medium of instruction in schools back to Bahasa Malaysia is the best decision that government could have right now.
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.