Malaysian schools drop instruction in English

From math and science to ‘matematik’ and ‘sains’

Malaysia announced Wednesday it will abandon the use of English to teach math and science, bowing to protesters who demanded more use of the national Malay language.

Malay will be reinstated in state-funded schools starting in 2012 because teaching in English caused academic results in those subjects to slip, Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

The news comes after months of high-profile demonstrations by politicians and linguists, especially from the ethnic Malay majority, who say a six-year-old policy of using English undermines their struggle to modernize their mother tongue.

English was once the medium of instruction in most schools in Malaysia, a former British colony. Nationalist leaders switched to Malay less than two decades after independence in 1957.

In 2003, realizing that poor English skills hurt graduates competing for work against people from other countries, especially neighbouring Singapore, ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad launched a program to resume teaching math and science in English. Most other subjects are taught in Malay.

Malay activists began to protest the policy after the government recently said it was reviewing the program’s success.

Students in rural districts, who are mainly Malay, suffered the most because their English proficiency was low, Muhyiddin said. He said authorities would try to improve students’ English-language skills by recruiting more teachers and offering more language classes.

Some in the large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities also oppose the use of English, insisting that math and science should be taught in their mother tongues, Mandarin and Tamil.

Muhyiddin said schools for ethnic minorities that teach most subjects in those two languages will also scrap the use of English for math and science starting in 2012.

– The Canadian Press