Malaysia and Singapore are two former colonies of the British Empire. As a result, English has played an important role in the region. Singapore has four official languages: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English. However, English is the main language used in government and administration and is also the only medium of instruction in schools (Leimgruber, 2011). After gaining independence in 1957, in order to build national identity, the Malaysian government adopted its own language, Bahasa Malaysia, also known as Malay, rather than English as the medium of instruction in education and government. English was used in some schools but phased out by the 1970s.
However, in 2003, the government adopted PPSMI, a policy which meant that mathematics and science subjects were to be taught in English. In the primary science curriculum document published by the Malaysian Ministry of Education, it states that ‘the teaching of science using English as the medium of instruction enables pupils to obtain various sources of information written in English either in electronic or print forms and helps them to keep abreast of developments in science and technology. Pupils will be able to see science and technology in a wider context and learn to relate their knowledge to the world beyond their school’ (Ministry of Education, Malaysia, 2003).
However, in 2009, the government decided to reverse its decision and phase out the policy from 2012. Since its inception and subsequent reversal, the policy has been subject to much debate. Many parents are unhappy at the decision and a recent BBC documentary, which can be accessed at: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00nkzz7, told of parents sending their children on a two-hour bus journey to Singapore just to learn ‘good’ English.
Answer the following key questions:
- What do you think was the rationale for adopting PPSMI in the first place?
- Why do you think the government is phasing out the policy?
- PPSMI has divided opinion. Why might some parents be for or against it?
You can follow the debate at the following web pages: www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jul/10/malaysia-tefl; www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/english-bring-back-ppsmi-for-the-sake-of-our-students-future-1.302883; www.loyarburok.com/2012/07/04/ppsmi-choice/