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  • Chelvi Ganesan, FMT

The perennial dilemma of language and losing our culture

When PPSMI (the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) was introduced in 2003, so much money was spent to prepare teachers to teach the two subjects in English, prepare software, new textbooks, install projectors and more. It kicked-off for Standard One and Form One students.

Some teachers were sent away for year-long courses. Many teachers complained it was difficult for them to teach the subjects in English. Why?

Some lacked confidence because they had studied those subjects in either Malay or their mother tongue.

Others complained about how they had learnt to teach the subjects in either Malay or their mother tongue, but not in English.

It proved our teachers were neither confident nor able to teach the same subject matter they had been teaching for years, if the medium of instruction was English.

I was at SK Raja Di-Hilir Ekram, Ipoh at the time, attending a two-week “Rancangan Orientasi Sekolah” (School Orientation Programme) I was required to complete as an undergraduate of the education programme.

Since I found that PPSMI was a hot topic, I took up the topic regarding its implementation in Primary One.

Yes, I know many teachers found it challenging. I agree that the transition period was exhausting for some.

But, I saw how excited the kids were. They were eager to learn despite the medium of instruction being English. As a future teacher, it excited me to watch kids finally learning English through the subjects of Science and Mathematics.

After graduating, I gave tuition to two students. They were the products of the first year of PPSMI implementation.

One was from a national school and the another from a vernacular school. Both showed tremendous improvement in their English from learning Science and Mathematics in English since Standard One.

Personally, I have always felt the PPSMI should have only been implemented for those in Standard One as it could have been continued till the kids completed their SPM.

Implementing PPSMI among secondary school students, in my personal opinion, was a mistake. Many parents have grumbled how their Form One-going children were facing a hard time coping.

The controversy resulted in the PPSMI being scrapped.

Fast forward, many schools still have all these unused PPSMI stuff lying around. All this from the hard-earned money of Malaysians is now collecting dust in many schools.

Then, the Dual Language Programme (DLP) came knocking on our doors. I thought, “Oh, yes, another controversy on its way! ”

Yes, people were once again vehemently against change.

We dream to send our kids overseas to study or work. We want them to be super smart. We want them to read law, be doctors, engineers and we even want our kids to migrate. We want them to achieve so much yet we just don’t want to accept changes.

Though I completed my primary education in a national school, I can read and write in my mother tongue, Tamil. I even took Tamil as a subject for my PMR and SPM. And often wrote to newspapers and magazines in the language.

Personally, I am not denying that national and vernacular schools have produced many successful people over the years and I certainly do not have anything against these schools.

But, I just think it is time for us to say goodbye to vernacular schools. It is time for us to have national schools with various subjects, including vocational subjects for children who are not academically inclined.

A student’s mother tongue should be taught in these schools. Make it a MUST to learn your mother tongue.

But, no. You will have a group of people who are going to argue that our culture can’t be practiced because our kids are all in one big national school. Our kids will forget their culture if they are in national schools.

So tell me. What are your role as parents? Why don’t you teach your kids your culture?

Let us bring the nation together in our schools, through education. Despite our differences in language, we can choose to instil the beauty of the various cultures of Malaysians in schools through interesting activities.

One’s culture does not die in schools. It dies because parents don’t practice their cultures at home but expect teachers to do it for them.

Teach your kids to love our country. Our uniqueness. Teach them that we are united in our differences and that makes us special.

Teach them respect. Teach them to stand still when singing Negaraku. These are important elements of our culture too.

Teach them the culture of MALAYSIANS!

Unfortunately the biggest hurdles to achieving this ideal are the politicians and their brand of politics.



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