Malaysia: 6-year English policy in Science, Math education to be reversed

Updated On: Jul 13, 2009

Malaysia announced Wednesday it will abandon the use of English to teach math and science, bowing to protesters who demanded more use of the national Malay language.

Malay will be reinstated in state-funded schools starting in 2012 because teaching in English caused academic results in those subjects to slip, Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

As part of the same policy, Science and Math will be taught in Chinese and Tamil in vernacular schools.

The news comes after months of high-profile demonstrations by politicians and linguists, especially from the ethnic Malay majority, who say a six-year-old policy of using English undermines their struggle to modernize their mother tongue.

English was once the medium of instruction in most schools in Malaysia, a former British colony. Nationalist leaders switched to Malay less than two decades after independence in 1957.

In 2003, realizing that poor English skills hurt graduates competing for work against people from other countries, especially neighboring Singapore, ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad launched a program to resume teaching math and science in English. Most other subjects are taught in Malay.

Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stressed that the reason for the reversal in policy was due to objective considerations and not political ones.

“The reversal in policy is not a knee-jerk decision as it was based on empirical studies and other specialist reviews,” he said.

He claimed studies showed that the students who had been taught maths and science in English since they started primary school were now performing less well in those subjects in national exams than previous cohorts.

He said the percentage of students who achieved grade A to C for science had dropped by 2.5% in urban schools and 3% in rural schools. For maths, the results had fallen by around 4% in both urban and rural schools.

Supporters of the English-medium education policy (PPSMI) expressed dismay, calling the decision a lost opportunity for Malaysia to emulate the economic success of English-speaking Singapore, held up as an example of how language skills can be a key to a connecting local workers and industries to the global economy.

“English has been used as the language of science for 300 years,” said Mr. Han, a teacher at St. John’s Institution. “You cannot really convey the scientific concepts to the students in Bahasa Malaysia at a very high level.”

“We have to face the fact that science knowledge is in English.”


AP, Malaysia drops English used to teach math, science, 9 July 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gqtE7WNMV_3TblY0OPNLru...

Guardian, Malaysia drops English language teaching, 10 July 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/10/malaysia-tefl

New York Times, In Malaysia, English Ban Raises Fears for Future , 9 July 2009,  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/world/asia/10iht-malay.html?ref=world

The Star Online, Reeling from the reversal, 12 July 2009, http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/7/12/focus/4302598&sec=f...

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