Written to a family friend who forwarded PAGE’s latest email bulletin.
Someone very close to me did his/her undergrad thesis on PPSMI. I am not at liberty to share it but I understand it was highly praised by people who know what they’re talking about. As far as I can tell (my brain goes blank when I see tables of multivariable analysis), the take-home messages were a) we don’t have enough data because there was never a full cohort that did their entire pri/sec education under PPSMI (thanks to our goverment’s premature-ejaculation style of implementation of policy) b) the negative effects are slight but real c) the positive effects are inconclusive. If you’re reading this, kiddo, PM me if I misrepresented you.
I actually disagree with PAGE even though I’m from an English-speaking family. I feel that the improvement of English should be done by improving the English curriculum and not by hijacking science and maths. As science and maths at the primary and secondary school level are still basic, first of all they should be taught in a medium which is EASILY UNDERSTOOD for all students. The goal of science and maths lessons is to convey science and maths concepts, not polish English skills. Understanding of science and maths among the Malaysian public is lousy, just look at the kind of things that journalists and readers
write in the newspapers. Putting the basic education in a language that many find difficult will make it worse.
Secondly, there is no need for all students to have the English lexicon/vocab for these areas. It would only make sense to introduce it for SPM-level science stream students (those taking Add Maths, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology) as these are the ones who are likely to be encountering it in uni later (not for the general science and maths subjects taken by SPM arts students).
The science, maths, and English curricula and teaching quality should definitely be improved – SEPARATELY. As someone who has gone through SPM-level science stream, I can testify that the biology and chemistry syllabi in particular are terrible. But when I temporarily taught some SPM Bio students in 2006, I was shocked to find that the syllabi had simply been translated (what more into bad English) rather than rewritten. Basically PPSMI is like painting a Proton red and calling it a Ferrari. If you try to make it do 300 km/h it will still break down.
To address the incompetence of STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) university students in English, basic second language skills like how to look up a dictionary, how to find other reliable reference materials, etc. should be added to the English curriculum. Acquiring new vocabulary will not be a problem if they have good English skills and a good grasp of the basic scientific concepts. PPSMI improves upon neither.
The only thing I agree with in the PAGE email is that it’s unfair to switch languages in the middle of a cohort. Those who started in English should complete their pri/sec education in English.