Taking to social media, the former prime minister expressed his enduring conviction that English should be the medium for teaching science and mathematics.
Former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has urged the government to reconsider its decision to do away with the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English.
Dr. Mahathir took to X (formerly Twitter) to suggest that English should be the primary language of instruction for these two subjects.
“This field of knowledge is not indigenous. It comes to us not in the Malay language, but largely in English,” he remarked.
Dr. Mahathir emphasised that the development in science does not normally take place the within the Malay language.
Due to this disparity, translation becomes necessary, requiring translators with a profound understanding of the subject and fluency in both English and Malay. These qualifications, he noted, are relatively scarce.
“This knowledge has to be translated into Malay. The translators must have a good understanding of the subject and be fluent in English and Malay. Not many people would have this qualification,” he said.
Unlike subjects like Geography and History, Dr. Mahathir observed, Science and Maths are constantly evolving due to new discoveries and applications.
“It is different from other fields of knowledge. In geography and history, for example, the basic facts hardly change. Only the presentation may vary. So the need to translate is quite limited.
“But with science and mathematics, new discoveries and applications have to be learned or acquired if students are going to keep up with new technologies,” he said.
Acknowledging the nation’s aspiration to enhance the Malay language, Dr. Mahathir balanced this with the imperative of preserving knowledge acquisition.
He asserted that the pursuit of education should not be compromised by linguistic goals, as knowledge remains pivotal for the country’s progress.
“If the teaching is in English, all the new knowledge can be learned directly as most scientific papers are presented in English.
“Education would be worthless if we are left behind in terms of knowledge which is essential for our development and progress,” he emphasised.
Dr. Mahathir claimed that many parents were upset with the government’s decision to stop teaching science and maths in English as an option.
Consequently, he urged the government to reconsider, even suggesting that science and mathematics should be exclusively taught in English.
“Better still, let it not be just an option. Let us decide to teach science and mathematics in English,” Dr. Mahathir said.
Although he acknowledged the growth of Bahasa Malaysia, the 98-year-old politician underlined that some mathematical and scientific terms in the language are still borrowed from other languages, predominantly English.
“We understand the national desire to develop our language. But the objective of education is primarily to gain knowledge.
We cannot sacrifice knowledge for language development. Education would be worthless if we are left behind in terms of knowledge, which is essential to our development and progress,” he said.
During his tenure as acting Education Minister in 2020, Dr. Mahathir announced the revival of the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy, initially introduced for Year One and Form One students in 2003. However, it was abolished in 2013.
Despite this, he attempted to revive PPSMI in 2020 when he returned to power and held the education portfolio.
In a separate incident earlier this year, the proposed abolition of the dual-language programme (DLP) faced backlash from two parent-teacher groups.
The DLP allows selected schools to teach specific subjects in English, sparking discussions about the equilibrium between linguistic preservation and leveraging English for comprehensive knowledge acquisition.
I read a lot, I write a little. I think.