By CLARA CHOOI
THE issue on the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (better known by its Malay acronym PPSMI) is indeed a sore topic amongst the teachers and students of rural schools.
To them, the matter is like trying to get a right-handed person to write with his left hand and then telling him to switch back to the right just when he was getting used to the change.
Although most are relieved that the Education Ministry had decided to reverse the teaching of Maths and Science back to Bahasa Malaysia, they are also upset that the PPSMI experiment had even been introduced in the first place.
During Deputy Education Minister Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi’s visit to rural schools in the town of Lenggong, Perak, on Thursday, StarEducation had the occasion to interview several students and teachers and it was proven that it had been an uphill struggle for them since the policy was put in place in 2003.
One teacher who refused to be named said that in rural areas like Lenggong, exposure to the use of English language as the daily lingua franca was close to nil.
Dr Mohd Puad talking to SJK (T) Ladang Kota Lima pupils during his visit to Lenggong.
“Our students often converse to one another in the language that they are used to. English, to them, is just a subject they need to pass in the examinations.
“Unlike schoolchildren in the city, our students don’t often come into contact with the English-speaking community. Many are the children of farmers, estate workers or small-time businessmen who do not understand much English themselves.
“Bahasa Malaysia, on the other hand, is accepted as the common language between all the races so they are used to learning their subjects using it,” he said.
Hence when PPSMI was introduced in 2003, both students and teachers alike were left in a lurch, he said.
“The students were worried and so were we. Maths teacher Abdul Rahman Sidek (pic) of SMK Dato’ Ahmad, Lenggong,
said that despite the training course he had to undergo, it was still difficult for him to make the switch.
“I was trained to teach and learn the subject in Bahasa Malaysia. So were my students.
“Suddenly, I had to teach in English. If it was difficult for me, imagine how much harder it was for my students. At least I already understood the subject - they had to learn the subject and on top of that, learn the terms again in a different language,” he said.
He added that there were times when he needed to explain certain mathematical theories in greater detail but found himself stuck because his immediate reflex was to explain it in Bahasa Malaysia.
“Even their grades began to fall by at least 5% to 10% and they had to work harder than they used to.
“Sometimes when I am teaching them something new, I see blank faces staring back at me. Then one student would say, ‘Cikgu cakap apa, sebenarnya?’ (What are you saying, teacher?),” he said.
Abdul Rahman, however, does not oppose the idea of improving the quality of English language in schools.
“But this is not the way. We cannot blame our students for not performing well in Maths and Science when they are taught in English.
“It is not that they are bad in the language, but it is more because they were made to switch so suddenly,” he said.
Several students from the school agreed with their teacher’s opinion.
Fifteen-year-old Siti Basyira Farhana said that the switch had affected her grades tremendously.
“I scored 5As in my UPSR. When I was in Form One, however, I had to learn the two subjects in English, I only managed 2As.
“It was a great blow to me but I knew I had already tried my best,” she said.
Muhamad Afiq Mohd Azni, 14, said that although he managed well enough, he still preferred to learn Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.
“I am aware that when I go to college later, I will probably have to learn my subjects in English.
“But for now, if given the choice, I find it easier to understand my subjects in Bahasa Malaysia. I am more used to it,” he said.
His Chinese and Indian schoolmates too agree that they would prefer to learn their subjects in either their mother tongues or Bahasa Malaysia.
M. Saraswathy, 14, and R. Mogilah, 15, said both their grades had dropped when they had to learn in English.
“I used to get about 70 out of a 100 for my Maths exams. When the switch was made, I began getting about 40 or 50 only,” said Saraswathy.
Form Two students Low Suet Yi and Low Suet Yee, both 14, said they would prefer learning the subjects in Chinese or Bahasa Malaysia because they didn’t understand English.
For Goh Kin Chye, headmistress of SJK (C) Yeong Hwa, Lenggong, introducing PPSMI was like jumping the gun.
“The main thing is, the standard of English must first be improved in schools.
She added that although SJK (C) Yeong Hwa was a vernacular school, her students’ grades in the English Language as a subject was not that bad.
“On average, they scored about 60%. It was not that fantastic but it was not that poor either.
“However, learning Maths and Science in English was not easy for them. Luckily, they were allowed to choose to learn the subjects in Chinese,” she said.
She agreed with the government’s decision to reverse the PPSMI policy, saying more needed to be done to improve the quality of the English Language in schools.