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No regrets despite barriers

THE Education Ministry has said it may review its policy on the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English at the end of the year. Let me share my bitter-sweet experiences in going through the changes in the medium of instruction over the last fifty years from the time ! was a school boy up to the time ! retired from the education service. ! studied in a "hinese primary school during the #$%&s. ! remember having to memorise passages of "hinese parables and poems. 'evertheless the learning of the 'ational Language or (ahasa )ebangsaan *()+ was emphasised and encouraged. ,e also learnt English from Standard -our onwards. ! .graduated/ from primary school and was amongst the top students in class. ! was confident and fluent in Mandarin and ! thought ! was e0ually good in () and English. ! moved on to a "hinese secondary school. Then my late father had a 1vision2 that English would be important. 3s was the norm then ! was transferred to a government English secondary school and placed in a one-year remove class for .remedial/ English lessons. ! began to experience the .agony/ of changing the medium of instruction. ! could not understand or even read many of the words in the texts. ! learnt to my frustration and ama4ement/ later that those were 5ust texts used in Standard -our English. Even at that young age ! 6new that it was a 5ourney ! had to do on my own. ! remember having to 6eep referring to an English-"hinese dictionary to understand the meanings of words ! read. Even when the translated meanings of some words in a sentence were put together they made no sense to me at times. Though we studied different sub5ects including elementary Science and Mathematics the emphasis was on the English language. 3t times it was so difficult that ! cried. ! wanted to switch bac6 to the "hinese secondary school. (ut my parents wanted me to persist. "hinese school had trained us well in memorising things. ! did much of that so that ! could answer some essay 0uestions in English during examinations.

7oing into -orm 8ne the following year brought a bigger albeit interesting challenge. ! met up with the .top students/ from the English primary schools. Their standard of English was way ahead of mine and my fellow remove class friends ! was once .top student/ myself but because of the language .deficiency/ ! was made to feel less competent and incompatible. ! saw the favourable treatment most teachers gave to those from the English stream. ,e who were from the "hinese or Tamil schools were hesitant and even a little withdrawn in class because we were not so conversant in the language. ! must say though that for those of us who wor6ed very hard our written English improved by the day. ! managed to score in examinations though much effort had to be put into memorising. The brea6through came when ! was in -orm Three. ,e had an English teacher who believed in the .grammar and drill/ approach to improving English. He made each of us do a total of #9 exercise boo6s of grammar drills before we sat for the L"E *Lower "ertificate of Education+ exams. My friends and ! from the :emove stream who had faithfully gone through the .regimen/ got an 3 for English as well as the other sub5ects. ! believed then that ! had finally got it. ! could then write and spea6 English more confidently and fluently. ,ith a strong foundation in grammar ! also had the tool to improve my English further even on my own. ! moved on to -orm -our and then -orm Six ;ure Science classes doing all sub5ects in English. ,hen ! was in the university in the early <&s there were indications that (ahasa Melayu *(M+ would be the main medium of instruction in all secondary schools in the near future. My university too6 the proactive step of ma6ing all its Science students do a course called Scientific Malay. ,e the Science undergraduates were made to translate some simple science passages into (M and we had tests on this too. !t was fun then learning terms li6e 6arbon dioxida lensa sulfat ime5 maya sahih and others. My degree was completed in English. ! got into teaching after obtaining a =iploma in Education. !t was in the mid-seventies. The teaching of upper secondary *-orms -our -ive and Six+ Science and Mathematics was still in English. (ut the change in the medium of instruction to (M had begun in the lower secondary classes.

,e were sent for courses in (M. (y the late <&s ! was teaching in either (M or English depending on the class. ,ith the advantage of having followed Scientific Malay it wasn2t really that difficult for me. !n fact ! en5oyed the experience. To ensure the teachers2 proficiency in (M a credit at M"E level *Malaysian "ertificate of Education> present-day e0uivalent is S;M+ was re0uired of all teachers. 3gain ! had to sweat it out together with many other teachers to get that much-cherished credit in (M. !n the ?&s ! was transferred to the state education department. (y then all administrative wor6 was done in (M and school sub5ects were all taught in (M. ! had to 0uic6ly improve my proficiency in the language especially in Science and Mathematics. Meanwhile my contemporaries who stayed on in schools improved their (M by leaps and bounds. (y the mid-?&s they were e0ually if not more competent in teaching Science and Mathematics in (M than they were in English. !t was a challenge we had overcome through sheer hard wor6 so that our students could benefit. !n the-mid nineties ! was made a principal of a secondary school. Two years to my retirement at the age of %@ the new policy on Teaching Science and Mathematics in English was introduced. 3s principal my main tas6 was to assure my teachers that this challenge for them although difficult was not insurmountable. 'ow after retirement ! am a part-time tutor in a private university teaching some primary school teachers who aspire to earn a degree in Science Education. 3ll the teaching modules offered are in English. !t is ama4ing that the medium of instruction has come around in a cycle and ! have 5ourneyed bac6 to where ! began. L!8'7 )3M "H8'7 Aia e-mail