Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kowtowing to the Malay masses

The issue about teaching of Science and Maths in English is essentially about the Malay masses in the kampungs and the Chinese-speaking Chinese - rural and urban - clashing with the urban English-speaking elite of all races.
Though much has been written about how for the first time the Chinese had supported the Malays to call for the teaching of these two subjects in Malay and vernacular tongues, the reality is that the Malay masses were more influential in convincing the Government to make a flip-flop decision to revert to the old way of doing things. That champions of Malay culture and language from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka led the calls made the Malay politicians sit up and take notice. The Government would have brushed off Chinese protests.
It is true that rural students of all races had not been doing well in these two subjects when English was used. It is also true that the divide between the rural students and urban ones had increased.
The reality is that even if Malay and vernacular languages are used, the divide between urban and rural students will still increase because the urban elite can afford to send their kids for tuition, extra English classes or to private schools.
The reality is also that Malaysian children - of all races from rural and urban areas - will suffer in the long term when Malay and vernacular languages are used to teach these subjects. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is right as far as this issue is concerned.
This is because advancements in technology and science will still take place in the West - especially the United States and to some extent, the United Kingdom and Europe. The lingua franca of these quantum leaps in knowledge will be English.
That is why students in China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and other nations want to master English.
Let's get real - who will translate the latest technological terms and computer jargon into Malay? Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka? When these custodians of Malay language and culture encounter an English word or term with no Malay equivalent, which happens almost all the time where science and technology are concerned, they will simply spell them the Malay way or just absorb the entire English word or acronym into Bahasa Malaysia. For example, what are the Malay words for "Internet", "cyber", ""blog", "HTML" or "URL"? And these are just the simple terms.
I wonder how the great linguists at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka would translate this sentence that I copied from some chemistry website - "The synthesis of polyhydroxylated indolizidines and pyrrolizidines belonging to the class of iminosugars, endowed with a vast and assorted biological activity, can be achieved in a straightforward manner by a general strategy consisting of a highly stereoselective 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition of polyhydroxylated pyrroline-N-oxides followed by simple transformations of the isoxazolidine adducts."
It would appear that the Government is caught in a bind - on one hand the top leaders (who are English educated, I believe) realise the importance of mastering the English language, which explains their repeated assurances that English would still be taught; on the other hand they have to appease the Malay masses.
There is a political reason - Umno has lost much of its appeal to the Malays as the results of the March 8 general election last year show so clearly. Thus they cannot afford to lose even more support by snubbing the champions of Malay culture and language.
On July 9, the government announced that science and mathematics will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and vernacular languages, in stages, from 2012.
Take note of the year - not many people have noticed that the year 2012 is around when the next general elections would be called as the mandate of the current government ends in March 2013. Obviously the political strategists realised that starting the new policy in 2012 would deprive Pakatan Rakyat and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (if he's not in prison by then) the chance to attack Barisan Nasional on the language issue.
After all Anwar had already attacked Barisan on this issue in June when he urged for the return of Bahasa Melayu’s status as the supreme language, which included using it as the medium to teach Maths and Science in national schools and strengthening its usage in Chinese and Tamil schools.“This issue has become a controversy for far too long. We consider this policy a betrayal towards Bahasa Melayu as our official language,” he told a press conference.
As always, it will be our children who will have to suffer for such policies that are decided based on political reasons rather than practical ones.

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