Friday, September 11, 2009

Bahasa Malaysia the way to go?

Following my previous post below, I was pondering further about the 'puzzle' of the Ministry of Education's decision to switch back to Bahasa Malaysia in teaching Science and Math in school. I had my education in this country from Standard One at age 6+ till Bachelor's degree at age 23. Everything except the English language subject was taught in the national language. Lectures in university for four years were conducted mainly in Bahasa, with English thrown in here and there as all the lecturers qualified with postgrad degrees from outside Malaysia where English was used. All reference materials we purchased or borrowed from the library were in English. But tutorials, tests, exams and even my final year project thesis had to be done in Bahasa. I studied Science in Bahasa all the way from Standard One to university. I went to the Science stream in upper secondary and took a Science degree majoring in Microbiology. I learnt everything in Bahasa.

When I graduated and went into the working world, how much of all those years of learning in Bahasa did I apply to my job and dealings with other people? Practically zilch. Maybe I would have if I had worked in a government department or became a Biology teacher. What is 'biology' in Bahasa? At first, I knew it as 'Sains Kajihayat'. Then, it was also referred to as 'Biologi' (pronounced as 'bee-o-lo-ghee'). I wonder how I would have fared if I decided to do postgrad studies in 'bee-o-lo-ghee' overseas or looked for a job overseas. I think I would have done okay, mainly because I'm good at English too. What if my 'England' not good?

Students who were bad at English had difficulty understanding what they read in reference books in university. How then can they be expected to excel in their chosen field of study or profession, and how can the country compete globally in any industry if the next generation continues to be stuck with learning everything in Bahasa?

The way I see it, we are barking up the wrong tree. If we really want top-rate students and professionals, we first have to be good at English. It is after all the globally accepted and respected language. Teach Math and Science in Bahasa, Mandarin, Tamil, any native language all you want, but if the student's English is not anywhere near the lowest acceptable global standard, we're not getting anywhere.

One can only excel if one can understand what he reads and studies about that subject he is interested in. And most of what one would read is still in the English language. And one can only be good in a language if one is exposed through reading, writing and speaking the language as much as possible.

I believe I am good (enough) at Bahasa. I am however better at English. Should we be better at Bahasa or English in the big picture?

"We are the Champions" by Queen was playing on the radio in the car when I was thinking about this. It inspired me to tweak its lyrics and borrow its tune. Although it's tongue in cheek, it holds some level of disappointment and, without doubt, frustration, to wonder what's the future for us who choose, or have no choice, but to remain here. Some people choose to emigrate, to send their kids to international schools and universities overseas. It depends on your personal perspective and feelings and at the end of the day, the choices and opportunities available to you.

Bahasa for Maths and Science
(sung to the tune of "We Are The Champions)

I've paid my dues
Time after time
I've learnt the language
From primary to uni
I took tuition
I speak it well
I've had my share of writing 'karangan'
And I've come through

We are in Malaysia, my friends
And we'll keep on using Bahasa
It's been decided
We are in Malaysia
Can learn some English
But must 'martabatkan' Bahasa

I've used the language
As much as I can
It eased the process from getting a phone line to a credit card
I got them fin'lly

But it's been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge for those who cannot speak it
And it won't get any better

We are in Malaysia, my friends
And we'll keep on using Bahasa
It's been decided
We are in Malaysia
'Martabatkan' Bahasa
Bahasa for Maths and Science :(

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