The Abolishment of ETeMS: A Rural Teacher's View

It's big news.
So big that it affects the lives of every common Malaysian.
So big everyone MUST know!

If you don't...
The Malaysian cabinet has reached a consensus.
Beginning in 2012, English for Teaching Mathematics & Science (ETeMS) or Pembelajaran & Pengajaran Sains & Matematik dalam bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) will be phased out in stages.
There will be a return of BM & vernacular langauges for the teaching of Science & Mathematics in Primary & Secondary Schools.

However, there will be no change for Form 6 or Matriculation.
Science & Mathematics will still be taught in English for them.

Following the abolishment of ETeMs, several measures will be taken to place extra emphasis on English.
They will be implemented as early as next year.
They include increasing classroom time for the English language, an English literature programme, a camp during the holidays & the hiring of additional English teachers.

The English teachers hired will include 1000 foreigners & 600 retired teachers.
The ministry is currently in negotiations with UK, India, Australia & NZ for the foreign teachers.
Furthermore, retired teachers can apply with the ministry next year.

Our Prime Minister has expressed that the abolishment does not signal a move away from English. There will still be an emphasis on English if not even more.

The abolishment of ETeMS seems to be welcomed in the Chinese & Indian communities.The use of English was found to bring about negative effects in Chinese & Indian schools.
Switching back would be a great relief & would help students understand the 2 subjects better.

However, there were also ppl who were against the abolishment.
This includes several of my fellow bloggers who expressed shock, disbelief & bleak predictions for the future of Malaysian children.

Parents interviewed by The Star voiced dissent.
Some were even threatening to transfer their children overseas or to international schools.

The Prime Minister who introduced ETeMS, Tun Dr Mahathir, was saddened & thought that the future of Malaysian children is being compromised.
He added that, many years ago, when he changed the teaching of Science & Mathematics from English to Malay, many teachers didn't know Malay either. However, everyone worked at it & everything worked out in the end. They could have done the same with ETeMS.
Tun Dr Mahathir was responsible for the shift from English to Malay for the teaching of Science & Mathematics in the early Malaysian education system inherited from the British.

Tun Dr Mahathir has started a poll on his blog to gauge public opinion on the abolishment of ETeMS.
Do vote on this poll because the results will be forwarded to the government for consideration.

From the renowned blog on Malaysian education, Education in Malaysia.
In a post by John, he expressed great dissatisfaction that the government could have but did not, at the beginning of ETeMS, place the extra emphasis on English that they are promising now.
The extra time for English lessons, the special programmes & the extra teachers would have helped to make ETeMS work.

In a post by Tony, he came up with a compromise.
He is calling for the government to allow urban schools to allow students to choose which language they wanted to learn Science & Mathematics in.

Enough with the newscasts!
Now it's time for what everybody wants to read...
The opinion of the great koko' himself!
hahaha~~ I am so conceited!

The first thing I want to do is clear the air once & for all.
ETeMS is NOT about using Mathematics & Science to teach English or improve English.
This is a very common misconception of the public.
ETeMS is about using English to teach Mathematics & Science to prepare students for higher scientific pursuits in-line with Vision 2020.

Now that I've cleared that up, let me just say that I am actually quite disappointed with our governments move to take the easy way out.
All the extra emphasis on English that the government wants to implement today should have been implemented during the time of ETeMS to provide extra support.
But little of that sort was done.

Furthermore, if the ministry really wants Science or Mathematics teachers who are fluent in English, they should have selected fluent students for their teacher training programmes in the first place.
I have found many newly graduated Science & Mathematics teachers who still struggle with English.
They should have been screened out in the interviews instead of being allowed to graduate & contribute to the horrifying statistic that less than 20% of teachers in Secondary Schools & less than 10% in Primary Schools are proficient in English.

I find it deeply disappointing that the implementation of ETeMS was half-hearted in the first place.
How can something half-hearted be a success?

Now, what is my take on the abolishment of ETeMS?
Let me give you some background on my students who can be classified as 'rural' students.
They live in longhouses along a river in the middle of a timber forest.
For a lot of them, their parents do not place much emphasis on education.
They can make a decent living for themselves by fishing, foraging or farming.

Here, English is pretty much a foreign language with little use or relevance.
Although they have 6 years of English lessons in Primary School, majority of them come to Form 1 lacking the ability to string together a grammatically correct sentence or answer simple WH questions.
Some cannot even read words that urban children learn in kindergarten.

I guess you know what I am going to say next.
I think the abolishment of ETeMS will do them a lot of good.
They will be able to learn Science & Mathematics in a language very similar to their own.
Moreover, it is highly probable that they will do better at these subjects too.

It doesn't matter that English will be of lesser importance in their lives.
It doesn't matter if they cannot achieve higher levels of academia.
What matters is they now have a better chance to gain basic scientific knowledge.
What matters now is they take interest in these scientific subjects first.

It is TRUE.
Abolishing ETeMS will do a lot of good for my school & I believe it will do a lot of good for other rural schools in Malaysia as well.

If I were to choose between BM or BI for every school in Malaysia...
BM would be my choice hands down.

I do not believe that language is a barrier for those who are serious about science.
They may struggle initially but they will get there eventually.
And once they do, the experience will be an even more fulfilling one.

In a perfect world, students should be allowed to choose which language to receive instruction in.
The second best option for Malaysia at this time is to go back to BM.


  1. well said.

    i hope they will ask me about ppsmi during the interview. may i cilok ur points?


  2. Anonymous10/7/09 19:09

    quoted the last part .
    government and its selfish actions bring hatred to the society

  3. I still think this is a bad move Ah Kam! After wasting so much of money to train teachers, bringing in new textbooks, workbooks, ideas, courses, etc they are reverting the policy. Like seriously, what is their problem??

    Why do they fail to see things in a bigger pic!

  4. To be a developed country with minimal poverty, we must aim high and move parallel with the global demand. By dropping ETEMS, we just took a step back by asking ALL of the students to study Science and Mathematics in languages other than English.

    By not taking up the challenge to improve ourselves to meet the international demand and just stay in our own comfort zone, we just branded ourselves as 'cowards'. Learning Science and Maths in English is indeed a challenge but running away as soon as we see a bad sign shows that we are not that strong-will after all.

    The dropping of ETEMS is definitely a plus points for the people in the rural area but we have to look at the bigger picture. More can be done in another way for the rural kids without jeopardizing the future of the younger generations . How? This will take another super long post to suggest but dropping ETEMS will only be detrimental to the future of Malaysia.

    Lastly, like koko said, ETEMS is about using English to teach Mathematics & Science to prepare students for higher scientific pursuits in-line with Vision 2020. I agree totally and the public is having a big misconception that teaching Science and Mathematics in English is just to improve students' proficiency in the language. Focusing more on teaching English Language alone is not enough to prepare students to face Engineering, medical, scientific terms in Tertiary Education. English for communicative purposes and English for Scientific purposes are two very different things and now, we just failed to prepare students to be fully prepared when they make the jump from secondary to tertiary.

    At the end of the day, my 2 cents worth is dropping ETEMS is beneficials for the people in the rural areas but detrimental to the development of Malaysia's ability to compete globally.

  5. almost agree with ah seng. teaching in rural school too, i personally believe that xtra exposure of english thru maths n science subjct will help my students to be on par or catch up with other suburbs or urban students. ok, probly not on par, but almost on par? bahasa is alrdy part of them (my rural kids), so i guess they need some challenges and it can be in a form of the learning language. looking at my students, i see that some of them are already in comfort zones set by the parents [and may i add the incompetent teachers] and they are not told to move out and move up from their comfort zones and face the challenges. bahasa, to me, is one of their warm blankets. i might be wrong but learning comes with a lot of challenges. same goes to teaching.

    hmm..i dunno la Mr J, i think we need teachers who really can accomodate these aims prescribed by MOE. and i am questiong myself if i am one of? its really up to us, dont you think?


  6. The Government says:
    Teaching Maths and Science in Eng has brought down students' performance in those subjects.

    I say:
    Using BM may increase the number of A's and passes in UPSR, PMR and SPM, but what happens when they reach tertiary level where most reference books are in English?

    What the Government has done might actually further jeopardise the future of rural students. The urban kids can learn Maths and Sci in BM and NOT MISS out on English because they have a wider exposure to English.

    The rural kids, however, will further be left behind in English. What happens when they go to Uni? What happens when they go out to work? ETeMS would have given them SOME extra vocabulary and added exposure to English which could be useful when they enter the working world.

    Unless of course, the government expects them to go back to cultivating land, fishing and foraging for food in the jungle.

  7. what an extremely contentious issue ETEMS is...

    And up till now, I couldn't make up my mind on whether to support or disagree with it.

    Both sides present such compelling arguments and I found myself being swayed back and forth when reading the various opinion pieces out there.

    Currently, I have the same view as Jarod's. I really think that ETEMS somewhat disadvantages rural kids.

    But then again, I'm not teaching in a rural area, so I couldn't say with total conviction things like, "I see with my own two eyes the detrimental effects of ETEMS on my students..." *to be read with a drama-queen intonation*

  8. Anonymous11/7/09 13:11

    i think i would have to agree on you on this one. Yes true, without teaching English in Math and Science students may find it difficult to study at ease once they entered Uni or College.

    but I believe that like you said, once children have that basic knowledge, eventually they will have the ability to pick up the knowledge in other language as well. what we need now is for children to have that reading comprehension ability before implementing English in math and science.

    Even if these rural child may not able to be at par with other "city" kids, but at least they are able to acquire the basic knowledge they needed in order for them to survive in later future. think that how can these rural students are able to enter college, when they can't even pass their school exams in the first place?

    make education the priority in what we want the children to learn and understand, despite the language being conveyed.

    this is just my little perspective, but i could be wrong. everyone is entitled for their own opinion =)

  9. Sayda:
    Sure, you can borrow some of my points but your own opinions will be easier to remember considering you have a whole motherload of other information to remember.

    It is not apparent that this decision was selfish.
    And I do hope that the people who perceive loss from this will not harbour hatred.

    Life has to go on.
    We have to make the best of what we have.

    They could have done more, they should have.
    But they have not done enough to feed this growing featus.
    In the end, they had an abortion.

    Ah Seng:
    The implementation of ETeMS was flawed in the first place.
    Teachers were ill-prepared & ill-motivated to try.
    Even many newly trained ones didn't seem to be able to deliver the ETeMS promise.

    With such a flawed implementation, is it doing any good to our children?
    The children will definitely need to do some serious self-study or tuition to fill the gap left by school teachers.
    Rural folks aren't the only ones that are gaining.

    I have found that the kind of teacher I am is not determined by exams or the ministry.
    It is determined by the kind of students I have & how I can best get through to them.

    They are my clients, in my heart, they are the only ones who can judge whether I am able to accommodate to their learning needs.

    They have to attain the knowledge first before they can advance.
    If BM is a language that can help more ppl attain knowledge, why not?

    Those who really want to go higher can choose to do so.
    They will not be afraid of another language.
    In fact, they will prepare themselves beforehand & get a good hold on it first.

    Rural children will be able to attain more scientific knowledge when using BM.
    Then, when they go back to cultivating land, fishing & foraging for food, they do it smarter, greener & much better than they would have been if left in the dark to study a difficult subject in a foreign language.

    Better to have no opinion.
    Sit on the fence if this is not an issue close to your heart~

    Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion.
    Thanks for sharing yours!

  10. it was really a waste to abolish the ppsmi. i was very disappointed with those are they going to achieve if they always want the easy way?? we will be left behind compared to other countries..only hard work will pay in the end...i just don't understand them, they are fooling round in the education field...very very disappointed!!

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Alice:
    Indeed, they are fooling around.
    But as civil servants we've still got to follow what they want us to do.

    Thanks for your comment.
    I'm sorry you had to delete it but it did provide some good insight.

  13. hey tchr,do you hav facebook & twitter?

  14. implementation was flawed but isn't that is what the gov should fix instead of saying 'nope, we can't do it. let's step back'.

    Teachers-to-be have been sent overseas to prepare them to teach the subjects in English. How much money have been spent to prepares teacher to teach the subjects in English has just gone down the drain?

    Education is a slow process. To jump headlong into ETEMS is bad but to jump back out so fast just goes to show our lack of determination to succeed.

    What that can be said has been said. Lets just hope 7 periods of English can help our future generations to grasp all of the scientific and mathematical terms during their uni and work life.

  15. Ija:
    I do but I'm sorry to say that I only approve ppl I know.

    We can only discuss it here but those guys up there are the ones who decides.
    All we can do is follow & do our best.
    With all the taxpayer money that was wasted, I hope that they will not waste any more.


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