Sunday January 22, 2006
Billingual burden or blessing?
Mathematics and Science are being taught in English and Chinese at the upper primary level in Chinese schools, despite strong objections earlier. TAN EE LOO checks out its implementation and speaks to teachers, parents and students for their views.
THE SUSPENSE of waiting for a decision may be over but there is still a long road ahead for upper primary pupils and teachers in Chinese schools, following the announcement of the Mathematics and Science formula in December last year.
Despite strong opposition from influential Chinese groups, including the United Chinese School Committees Association (Dong Zhong) and the United Chinese Teachers Association of Malaysia (Jiao Zhong), the 4-2-2 formula for upper primary pupils has taken root.
The groups opposed the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English for several reasons, including the fear of increasing the burden of school children and changing the distinctive character of Chinese schools.
For the Chinese schools, which have been teaching bilingual Mathematics and Science since 2003, the new formula offers more flexibility to teach the two subjects in the mother tongue.
(At the lower primary level, the formula is 2-4-3 – two periods for English, four for Mathematics and three for Science per week.)
Upper primary pupils now have eight periods of Mathematics per week – six in Chinese and two in English.
A headmaster from Kajang says his school has taken concrete steps to ensure that the new formula will be implemented effectively.
“Our teachers started receiving training last year. We have made some adjustments to the timetable.
“This has to be done gradually, even for those who have more than 10 years of teaching experience,” he adds.
Some teachers seem to have problems coping with the switch in the medium of instruction.
“I have been teaching in Chinese for the past 25 years. Now, I have to teach Science in English to Year Four pupils.
“The switch is difficult, but what choice do I have?” laments a teacher who does not wish her identity to be known.
She says she does not attend training programmes for teachers as she already has a credit in English at Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia level.
Another teacher opines that merely attending the training programme will not be enough to prepare the teachers for the challenge.
“The programmes are usually short. For teachers whose first language is not English, it is not easy.
“I have to put in extra effort when I teach in English because things which seem easy in Chinese can be so difficult in English.”
Another teacher says she now finds herself in a quandary.
“I want to teach in English but there are pupils who don’t understand the terms. So I need to explain the terms to them in Chinese,” she says.
She adds that she wishes there were more Science periods in English as two periods per week are too few because of the intensive syllabus.
“As most of my pupils understand the Science subject better in Chinese, we have been told to speed up by teaching only the important Science terms in English to the pupils. Otherwise, we will not be able to finish the syllabus,” a Science teacher says.
Pros and cons
There are still parents and teachers debating the pros and cons of the move.
A parent from Damansara says she does not oppose the formula but hopes there will be fewer subjects for her child to study in Year Four.
“The workload is already heavy without the additional burden of learning Mathematics and Science in two languages,” she says.
A tuition teacher who teaches Mathematics in Chinese says some of her students have approached her for help in learning Mathematics in English.
“Not all the students are ready for this challenge.
“For those who are not ready, the learning process can be really difficult, even dreadful.
“I think we should go back to teaching the subjects in Chinese because pupils can then learn better.”
Parent Yap Siow Ling, 37, an auditor and mother of three, agrees.
“I suggest we go for only one language – Mathematics and Science in English.
“My son in Year Four has been studying the subjects in both languages for the past three years. He has to carry two sets of textbooks, two sets of activity books and two sets of exercise books. I don't think this is helping the children to learn effectively.”
For SJK(C) Damansara pupil Jenny*,studying the two subjects in English poses no problems.
“I can study in English and in Chinese, but I think English is easier,” says the 10-year-old, who speaks English with her parents at home.
However, some pupils disagree.
“The content is the same. Why do we need to study the same thing twice?” asks Anita*, a 10-year-old pupil from SJK(C) Taman Rashna in Klang.
Meanwhile, for parents who welcome the bilingual approach to teaching Mathematics and Science in English to upper primary pupils, the advantages of learning both subjects in English and Chinese is evident.
“My son has been studying the subjects since Year One, so this is not something new,” says parent Chong Mei Ling* whose son studies at SJK(C) Hin Hua in Klang.
“When he goes to secondary school, he will have to study the two subjects in English. But for now, I am just happy that he gets to study them in his mother tongue and in English.”
* Some of the names have been changed to protect their privacy.