English or Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths?

Updated 09-07-09: It’s now Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths.

Warning: A long and wordy post. Brace yourself.

I had a long teh tarik session with Noktah Hitam and Aeropama on Friday night. It is a normal thing now, hanging out from 10pm – 4am. We bitched about many things that came to mind and oogled at girls at the same time. (yours truly did, not sure about those two.. I know they checked out a ladyboy sitting on the next table at one time :P)

One of the many topics we talked about was ‘English or Bahasa Melayu as medium for Science and Maths?’ Yes, we talked about such things over teh tarik, because we need to pretend we are smart people and care for the nation. We also talked about Nora Danish, Emilda Rosmila and cheongsamlover’s blog but I will spare you the unnecessary gossips. (We can always arrange for another teh tarik session for that)

This topic has been going around for so long, often politicised and used by self-serving politicians to fish for votes rather than serving the nation’s interes and looking at the bigger picture. Our fickle minded government and its famous policy of flip floping to gain popularity has caused many problems to students and parents. The government should stop toying with the future of the nation by experimenting with such important policy, treating students as guinea pigs. (Hear that Hishamuddin Hussein?)

I am agnostic on this issue. Both English and Bahasa Melayu language has its own advantages and disadvantages. I am actually advocating for finding ways to improve its implementation instead of doing another U-turn. Allow me to generalise here, by making blanket statements for both proponents and opponents for English or Bahasa Melayu as medium for teaching Science and Maths.

Bahasa Melayu

1. It is our national language, it’s our duty to uphold it. If we continue using English, what will happen to Bahasa Melayu?

2. It is easier for students from rural or non-English speaking background to understand the subject (especially Malay students). If they cannot understand English in the first place, how are they going to understand Science or Maths concepts?


1. It is the lingua franca.

2. It is the language of knowledge.

After much deliberations, taking into account of my own experience and points raised by Noktah Hitam, Aeropama and some other friends, here is my opinion.

There is no right and wrong or clear cut answer for this question. It is not fair to pick one language over another because I think the actual issue here is about which language is better or more effective to teach Science and Maths.

The objective of teaching Maths is to impart Maths knowledge to the student, likewise for Science. The teaching of the subjects should not have anything to do with the language. Let the teachers use whatever language would better serve the students, whether it be Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin or Tamil. As long as the objective of imparting knowledge of Maths and Science is met, then language shouldn’t be a barrier.

Now on the issue of falling English standard among Malaysian students, hence the decision to teach both subjects in English. The real cause of falling English standards among Malaysian students is the way the English subject is taught, it is the syllabus itself. The problem lies with the implementation and most important, the educators.

Stupid teachers create stupid students. You have merit-less students making it to teaching schools or universities, become teachers just to fulfil certain quota, this is what you get. Idiots beget idiots. In the very first place, to improve English, improvement should be made to the English syllabus, not making other subjects as scapegoats.

I am going to repeat it again, IT IS NOT THE LANGUAGE THAT IS THE PROBLEM! The problems are the teachers and the parents. The teachers are not interested in teaching the students and in the students’ future or they are too dumb to teach and parents don’t spend time with their children to encourage them and help them in their studies but thinking that by sending their kids to tuition classes, it is the sure work magic solution to get good results.

We should just keep the Bahasa Melayu as the main language for education, just like last time and find ways to improve the standard of English, rather than making stupid decision of just teaching Science and Maths in English. Why not History? Geography? Not that important? Huh! It is pointless to debate on what language is better really, we should learn both languages, or as many as we can.

But, since we already walked down the lane for the past 5 years, let’s keep it that way and stop flip flopping. it will do no good, this flip flop policies. Be firm. Bahasa Melayu or English? Stick with one.

That said, I am against the decision to gamble our students’ future again by changing it back to Bahasa Melayu. Keep using English as medium for Science and Maths. Just make necessary improvements to the current system. Making an U-turn and start again with a totally new policy, is a waste of time and stupid. Gradual changes to the continuing policies is acceptable, but abrupt change of policies should be avoided.

Now, if I am the Minister of Education, here are the things that I will do. If I become the Minister of Education, lah!

1. Revamp the whole education system and make English the main language for our education system.

If you teach the subjects in Bahasa Melayu, at one point you will still need to switch back to English especially when you are continuing your tertiary education. This is based on my own experience. Imagine knowing ‘jisim’ for all the years only to know it means ‘mass’ in English? How about ‘penghabluran’? Crystalisation anyone? Reference books in Bahasa Melayu is very limited, and if any most are directed lifted/translated from English books. So you want to read the original or the translated version? Mind you, reading Bahasa Melayu translated books especially forsubjects like Science and Mathematic is extremely confusing.

Now, some people opiniate it is easier for you to change to another medium of language when you are going to do your tertiary education. I do not agree. It is only true to certain extent. For some, it is easier because normally those who are qualified for tertiary education are considered ‘smart’ students and they are fast learners and can pick up new language. It is still a hassle, imagine using Bahasa Melayu as medium since Primary One to Form 5 (almost 12 years), only to change it later.

I believe, if you expose students to English language since Primary One or kindergarten, there is absolutely no problem for any of the student to understand the language. Yes, they may have problem going back home asking their parents for helps in their homeworks if their parents do not understand English. But, this is not actually a problem.

Back in the old days, there were many illiterate parents but they still ‘produce’ successful sons and daughters. My father cannot read English and Bahasa Melayu, my mother cannot understand Bahasa Melayu. I am a Chinese, so based on this argument, I should have problem understanding Bahasa Melayu and English, since I had nobody to teach me back home because I am neither from Bahasa Melayu or English speaking background? Somehow, I think I am doing fine??

The problem lies with the teachers. We must have good teachers, regardless of what language is used to teach. If we are going to use English as medium, make sure all the educators are capable enough to teach in English. If they are not, send them for courses, make them master the language inside out before they are allowed to teach.  without the proper command and understanding of the basic English language, how are they going to teach the students? If teachers are still not competent to teach in English, the blame lies with the Education Ministry and the incompetent teachers. After so many years, they could have produced thousands of teachers who are trained to teach using English.

Blaming the students from small towns and kampungs unable to grasp the English language is basically covering up for the teacher’s inability to teach in decent English. Well, that is what we get when most of our new current batch of teachers are those jobless grads who cannot speak decent English and hence had to join the teacher’s college in order to make a living.

Children are like sponges and they absorb any information taught to them very easily, provided the teachers know what they are teaching in the first place. So, let the students have their subjects taught in English from the very first time they set foot inside the school and get good teachers to teach them.

Then we will have no problem of students finding it is hard for them to switch from Bahasa Melayu (or Mandarin and Tamil) to English if they continue their tertiary education. But, by doing this we have another problem – putting Bahasa Melayu at its disadvantage as a national language. I will deal with this point later in this post.

Using English as medium suits well in our multi-racial country, as it does not discriminate any race. The Chinese cannot say the government is eroding Chinese language and identities, same goes to the Indians and the Malays. But, I am damn sure there are many who will come out and politicise this issue saying it is another form of Western occupation, degrading and insulting the national language. Some extremists will again bring out the issue of Malay Chinese, Indian supremacy, rights and priviledges. Supporters of Bahasa Melayu for sure wills say by using English as the main language in school, it will weaken Bahasa Melayu. My head, Bahasa Melayu has so many words borrowed from the English itself, as well as many words from different languages. These scumbags can rot in their delusional communal shitholes. Just please do not politise the issue.

2. Only one type of school, that is National School.

I am proposing for just one type of school – national school with English as the main medium and other languages as second language/elective subjects. The Malays can bask in the pride and glory of Bahasa Melayu, the Chinese and Indians can go about protecting and keep their ‘cultural identities’ that way. You still can learn your Tamil, your Mandarin. I will throw in Spanish, Japanese, Korean if the budget allows me to do so, so you can watch yor favorite dramas at ease. Come on, you are not going to be less India, Malay or Chinese if you are using English as the main language at school or by learning other languages.

In relation to this, Bahasa Melayu must also be taken as a compulsory subject, acknowledging it as the national language. It is important for all the students to master Bahasa Melayu as well in order to preserve its status as the national language. Any correspondence with the government must be carried out in Bahasa Melayu. To make sure students master Bahasa Melayu, a set of requirements must be meted out say, a student must score certain passing mark in the basics of reading, writing and speaking the language. By doing this, hopeful we can uphold its status as our national language.

Bahasa Melayu has yet to put itself as a language of knowledge to be taken seriously. Ask yourself and be honest, are we really equipped linguistically to use Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths? This is the most important question to ask. Are there enough reference books written in Bahasa Melayu for our students to refer to?

But, this is a tricky situation. If we are going to introduce English as the medium for teaching, Bahasa Melayu will remain as nothing but ‘cosmetic’ and this is sure not going to help to make it is as a language of knowledge.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) needs to do some soul searching here on how to tackle this matter. We need more linguists, more publications in Bahasa Melayu especially on technical subjects. Translating directly from English reference books is totally unacceptable. Even the terminology used are borrowed from English pronunciation. For example, biology and biologi. An English dictionary at least states the etymology of the word as bio- life and -logy study, sadly the Kamus Bahasa Melayu says nothing. The correct word should be Ilmu Hayat, idiots. Hire me to work for DBP better.

So, DBP must do its job properly and politicians must stay away. Nothing good comes from the politicians, especially from Malaysian politicians which most of them can’t even string a proper sentence in Bahasa Melayu or English to begin with. Some can’t even converse properly without the ‘aah… err….eee… uuhh’ ‘you know…’ interjections. Look at the debates in our august house, see any good parlimentarians that able to articulate their points properly without reading directly from the prepared texts? Idiots.

No matter how, if we are sincere enough to make changes to improve the usage of Bahasa Melayu it can be done. Look at the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and many other countries and how they incorporated their language in Science and Math.

3. Do away with too much emphasize on exam-based education system. Get rid of those cut-throat tuition classes that thrive on this policy.

Hmmm, I am going to continue this post in other time. This post is getting super long and I bet many of you collapsed halfway reading it. Stay tune if you want to hear more from your future Minister of Education hahahahaha!

ps: As you can see, there are some changes to the blog’s layout. Thanks to Noktah Hitam, my blog is looking sexier and hotter now! Hurray!!

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66 Responses to “English or Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths?”

  1. missjolie wrote on Nov 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    is this how you link? 😆


  2. Khairul Affendi wrote on Nov 22, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Malay to English Translator Software.



  3. wawa440khz wrote on Jan 12, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    good points Bong(it is what happen in Singapore but we are late for 20-30years),

    a. Use english as medium in education.
    b. One national school.

    To Minitry of Education: “Sometime “unpopular” policy is necessary..you have done so many research and you have most reliable information to make the decision..and the people doesn’t have…believe in ourself and show people the results..if a leader doesn’t “lead” the people…what is a leader?”

    What is the good for the people of malaysia if Bahasa Melayu is the national language?it will give you wealth??or peace in the country?economy progress??give aid to poor people??No..it will only produce a generation of “immigrant” who speak fluent malay…


  4. Conspiracy wrote on Feb 18, 2009 at 12:19 am

    For the leaders who are promulgating BM for science and maths, I wonder what language their children are studying in?


  5. Jenifer wrote on Mar 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I would like to get exam papers for Bahasa Melayu, English, Maths and Science. (Maths and Science in English). If you can, please email the questions to my email address as mention above.

    I need it desperathly.

    Thank you.


  6. Anonymous wrote on May 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    but why


  7. from Perak wrote on May 23, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    I think math and science in english is new world to me.


  8. Qien_@18cer wrote on May 24, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Ectually.,.maths and science in english is difficult but we must try to learnt that coz at collage or university (ipta) want maths or science must credit.so…you must study hard for your exam.


  9. Daddy Parenting Tips wrote on Jul 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    My daughter is less than 2 years old and she can understand both English and Japanese, and later will introduce Malay, Mandarin and Cantonese.


    I can’t see why we cannot take 1 step forward to integrate the BM textbooks few years back with the current English science and maths text books. Its a lot of effort, but why move backward instead of forward. We can allow students to use either English or BM to answer in the exams as long as the maths and science principles are correct.

    Some good will surely come out of the dialectics at work between both languages instead of choosing either one. We need new advancements. We need Malaysia Boleh. Not some power struggle between languages.

    When will Malaysia advance and not hold on to race and language as stumbling blocks but embrace our differences as advantages?


  10. bongkersz wrote on Jul 13, 2009 at 9:01 am

    @Daddy Parenting Tips, a very good point there. To implement that, 1st we must have good teachers/resources. Else, it will be just good enough on paper, right? You are absolutely right that we should have this ‘power struggle’ between languages. The longer we drag this issue, more we are at disadvantage.

    I look forward when we Malaysians embrace our differences as advantages instead of bickering over superiority fallacy and rigid ideologies.

    Thanks for dropping by!


  11. UR companion wrote on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:54 am

    I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU BONGKERZ..since i ever been see how the selection of the student to became the teacher…yes we know that people don`t have same level of cleverness but seems like they just choose the people(ex-candidate of spm)with a poor result n at the same time most of the parents also support their children go to maktab perguruan as this offer already promise for better job. but the point here..this is the started of all the prob..that is the producing of unqualified teachers.. seems like you go to maktab to make sure you not became a job-seekers not to say that the people those who get poor result in SPm n go to maktab n cannot improve there but the problem is`t they really can be a teacher that can make sure each of their student have a better understanding when they are teaching…i ever learn i mean have a class from foreign teacher..she is from england..every time we having our english class she always come with some rapprochement that can cause the student interest to learn about the boring grammar and the other else about B.I..her style encourage student and i never been fill like this when I go to an ORDINARY teacher Except when i go to St school..


  12. Alchemist wrote on Nov 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Erm, aren’t the SPM Science and Maths papers in both English and Bahasa at the moment? Why not leave it up to the schools (or the teachers) to teach their students in the language in which they are most comfortable? or possibly offer it as an option if they have the teachers for it…


    bongkersz Reply:

    @Alchemist, you’re on a roll eh? 😉 Commenting on few posts at once ehe. Thanks for the comments, appreciate much!

    Leave it to the school is a wise decision, because the school should know what is best for their students. What we need is more choices for students to choose from and that’s what we are lacking of now.

    Yes, you can have schools teaching in English, Malay, Chinese, Indian for those subjects but reality is. in Malaysia (assuming most of those students end up studying and working here) courses and technical references, even the fields requiring competency in those subjects are dominated by English language. Naturally it is easier to start with those language.

    The point is to do it early. Not halfway. Children have great learning capability and we often underestimate them.


  13. emilie wrote on Jan 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    what the fuck is this crap? that malays dont understand english and we need to change it to bm in order to let the malays score well in sc and maths? if they dont understand english words, there are the dictionaries in front of them. if they are too lazy just to turn a few pages, then this is the very reason why english is changed to bm. if they want to improve themselves, dont change the language. if the authorities are selfish and just think bout the malays n the bm, then its not 1 malaysia anymore. this concept can be banished at any time now. malaysia will never ever succeed forever if the authorities are selfish and just think bout those foolish and stupid things bout malays and bahasa melayu.


  14. varisha wrote on Jan 25, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    plz,changing bi to bm iz not de corect solution for diz prob coz de next generation should move faster than we r duin right now,so that we can compete with other countries such as russia.


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