(PPSMI was Dr. Mahathir's half-hearted measure to improve English in 2002, to correct his earlier policy which side-lined the language in favour of Bahasa Melayu/Kebangsaan/Malaysia since the early 80s.)
There was no dispute that English was very important or that it needed to be upgraded urgently. But to start teaching the subjects in English the very next year (2003) without first ensuring the availability of English-proficient teachers is wrong.
In fact, Mahathir should have zeroed in on the teaching of the language itself as the first phase of operation, and temporarily forget about PPSMI.
We should start with our teachers. Due to the large number of teachers required to be upgraded (hundreds of thousands) in their English proficiency, we should adopt the strategy of first training a large core brigade of English teachers, who will in turn train other teachers who need to be upgraded. To train this core brigade, we need to import foreign teachers in addition to recruitment of local English teachers who may include those already in retirement.
Only when we have trained sufficient English-proficient teachers in the schools, can we contemplate the introduction of PPSMI. For that reason, the programme may have had to be introduced gradually, at a pace commensurate with availability of qualified teachers.
Merits of PPSMI
Though PPSMI is not the best gateway to good English, it is nevertheless a worthy endeavour that will bring the twin benefits of improvement in English as well as ready connectivity to the world of science and technology.
Opponents of PPSMI often cite the examples of Russia and China as proof that one can stick to one’s national language and yet achieve outstanding progress in science and technology. But these critics forget that countries like Russia and China are huge countries with immense pools of talents and scholarship in the sciences and technology, while relatively diminutive Malaysia, lacking indigenous technology, has to constantly import foreign sources of knowledge which are acquired mostly in the English language.
As a matter of fact, English textbooks are already widely used in our institutions of higher learning, so why not start its use at an earlier age, such as at secondary school level, or even earlier if requisite conditions are fulfilled? It will surely be an advantage for our children to do so.
The only acceptable reason for stopping PPSMI should only be one of technicality (the lack of competent teaching personnel) and not one of concept (the desirability of using English for the two subjects).
If certain schools have weathered nine years (2003 to 2011) of rough riding with the new system of PPSMI, it means that these schools have already overcome the birth pangs of the new system, which should be a blessing to the students.
Does it make sense then to revert to the old system now? Whose interests does the education minister have in mind – the students or his own political fortune?
The way forward
In fact our government should not only treasure what we have already achieved with the schools that have succeeded with PPSMI, we should expand such success with other schools, using the strategy I have outlined above – a serious programme to urgently train a large pool of English teachers to teach other teachers.
Source: CPI Asia: PPSMI: Malaysia in the lost world?