20 April 2024

DLP: A matter of choice

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By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Adelina Asmawi

The limit of one’s language is the limit of one’s world ~ Wittgenstein

I am impelled to respond to the news coverage on abolishing Dual Language Programme for the Malaysian education system. Before any party and organisation decide to share their thoughts on this, it is best to have some data that could carry some weight on the potential decisions or non-decisions by the Ministry of Education.

Understand that PPMSI aka the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science in English policy was halted in 2009 in stages after much deliberation with various stakeholders because it failed to reach desired outcomes – there was an entire generation of students who could not cope and was arguably lost when receiving instruction in English.

Along came the MBMMBI policy – Memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia dan Memperkukuhkan penguasaan Bahasa Inggeris – to ‘uphold the Malay Language and strengthen the command of English’ among Malaysian students. Upholding the Malay language means the official language cannot be disputed on its functions and its role as the national language as in Article 152 of the constitution and to strengthen the command of English language simply means just that – to improve the English language capacity of the students. The policy does NOT impose the mandatory use of English on the teaching of Mathematics and Science to Malaysian students. Instead, it offers schools, teachers, students and parents choices of their preferred medium of instruction for the sake of the students and the nation.

Three alternatives are given (i) Teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science in Malay language, Mandarin or Tamil, (ii) Teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science in English, dan (iii) Teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science in dual languages.

We must accept that it is a much refined policy that considers more holistic language needs of the people and country. This policy was further supported through the Malaysian Education Development Plan (2013-2025) which underlines strategies and initiatives to ensure the improvement in the quality of the national education system. The language acquisition aspect becomes a crucial lens through which the changes in the nation’s education system was made to shape students who are proficient and confident in using languages, thus maximizing their marketability and professional opportunities for the global market.

The main reason for this refinement in policy is for exploration of knowledge and improved competition at national and international levels which use English as an international language. The availability of CHOICE is of utmost important because citizens of the world are currently moving towards multilingualism – more than trilingual competence. Other than English as a second language, students are encouraged to acquire third and fourth languages like French, German, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic and others to unlock scientific knowledge and expertise – adopting cutting edge technologies which are not available locally. These imported skills and knowledge can potentially be localized to innovate and shape a better Malaysia. That is why scholarships are provided for excellent students to study in the UK, Germany, Korea, Japan, China and the like.

Science is developing at an alarmingly fast rate and many pieces of research are in non-Malay languages. Thus, proficiency in other languages, where various researches are conducted, is important as Malaysians will be able to gain new knowledge and skills as glocal citizens. In other words, if we want their knowledge, we must learn their languages, rather than wait for people to translate new knowledge like Artificial Intelligence.

We know that English serves as the lingua franca for education, trade and employment, and is an essential skill for anyone wanting to succeed professionally or academically in the 21st century. It offers enormous opportunities, and the Malaysian language policy has rightly focused on providing a choice aka equitable access to English or Malay medium of instruction for learning Mathematics and Science should one wish to do so. DLP is open to all socioeconomic groups and this means the education system is providing a varied language repertoire to our youth. Acquisition of these languages for those who opt for them serves specific purposes too.

Malaysian citizens are now internationally known to speak better English than their neighbours like Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and how did we get to this stage if not for the policy in place over the years? Surely we understand that thousands of students have already gone and are still going through the MBMMBI policy – imagine abruptly pulling the plug on these students particularly those who are doing well. What right have we got to snap this cord on them now? Where are their voices, rights and choices?

While some organisations bark and whine about reverting to teaching and using ONLY the national language in Mathematics and Science instruction, it must be highlighted here that in this current age and time, learning two languages (Malay and English) is inadequate. Simply put, insisting on monolingualism particularly for Mathematics and Science instruction, carries no weight here. What we need to focus on is properly managing our language policy which helps to ensure that Malay, English and other languages can be taught effectively and incorporated into society without having a negative effect on the first language, culture and local identity of the learners of English.

Everything you are comes from your choices ~ Jeff Bezos

The author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Language and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education, Universiti Malaya. She may be contacted at adelina@um.edu.my