By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The formation of Ipoh PAGE is largely an individual initiative made with the best of intention – to provide the number required to enforce a policy change…
The decline in English language proficiency among Malaysians is becoming more apparent each passing day. Although attempts at addressing the problem have been taken, they are at best, short-lived and devoid of substance. The teaching of Science and Mathematics in English introduced by Tun Mahathir when he was Prime Minister in the mid-1990s was never fully realised as school heads resisted the ruling for reasons best known to them.
The only reason I can think of is the dearth of teachers who could speak and comprehend English well enough to teach in the language. Even at this material moment, sourcing for staff who can write legible English is problematic. So, we at Ipoh Echo have to make do with whatever is available. Thus time and energy is wasted in trying to decipher written submissions and reports. This is not an isolated case; the problem is endemic and is a major headache for those in the media industry.
My concern, however, is not with what is affecting us in Ipoh Echo but how parents are being short-changed due to no fault of them. The Education Act 1996 is explicit about the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. The preamble says, “…the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.” Parents, therefore, reserve the right to pick the language they prefer their kids to be taught, insofar as Science and Mathematics are concerned.
The only reason why the Education Ministry did an about turn was due to pressure exerted by the anti-English Language group, GMP (Gerakan Mansuhkan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris). This non-governmental organisation consists of nationalists who are for the preservation of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language of the country.
It was during this period of uncertainty that PAGE (Parent Action Group for Education) came into being. The national body, PAGE Malaysia was formally endorsed by the Registrar of Societies in 2010 after a two-year hiatus. The Penang Chapter was formed in 2011. The group’s persistence in highlighting this anomaly prompted Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to soften his stance and to provide parents with an option in the choice of language.
Our administrative system, however, does not function in the manner we expect. Decisions passed in Putrajaya do not necessarily filter down the chain of command to the underlings in the states, districts and schools. It is the “Little Napoleons” who have the last say. They are the department chiefs, the district heads and the school principals. We come across these little pests when dealing with government agencies. And getting them to come to terms with reality is an exercise in futility. That is how swollen headed some have become.
Not wishing to be left behind, the Ipoh Chapter of PAGE was formed recently. It was largely an individual initiative made with the best of intentions – to provide the number required to enforce a policy change. Just like the Bersih (Campaign for Electoral Reforms) rallies, this NGO can make a difference. Pressure can be exerted not by physical means only; the Internet is one useful medium. The Penang Chapter has started a campaign via Facebook and is gaining momentum with over 250,000 members registered thus far.
Dato’ Dr Anwar Hassan, a former student of Anderson School, Ipoh, is the man behind the Ipoh Chapter. On Saturday, February 11, through word of mouth and flyers, he cajoled parents to attend the local chapter’s inaugural meeting at the Old Andersonians’ cafeteria. Although the number of attendees was small it did not deter this former vet from making his demands known.
According to Anwar, Perakeans are generally unaware of the provisions in Education Act 1996. Among the issues the meeting raised is the listing of schools within the state offering the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. The other is making available English texts for Science and Mathematics in all national-type schools that teach the two subjects in English, and finally, designating a cluster of schools of this genre in each district in Perak. Despite insurmountable challenges ahead, this affable and soft spoken septuagenarian is determined to set the records straight. Parents, Anwar needs your help.