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PROTEST OVER ENGLISH USAGE

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13Influential Chinese educationists are threatening a mass protest next week if the government does not reverse its five-year-old policy of teaching maths and science in English in vernacular schools.
Ong Chiaw Chuan, president of Jiao Zong, the United Chinese School Teachers Association, fired off this warning ahead of an Education Ministry roundtable discussion on the issue next Tuesday.The association and Dong Zong, or the United Chinese School Committees Association, together make up Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ).
The DJZ is a powerful group that represents thousands of teachers, community leaders and administrators in Malaysia's 1,200 Chinese primary schools.
“The Chinese community has to act if the issue is not resolved,” Ong said, adding that DJZ will gather other vernacular education groups and Chinese associations to initiate a nationwide protest.
DJZ has been a vocal opponent of using English to teach maths and science since the policy was started in 2003, saying it erodes the learning of Mandarin. Previously, the subjects were taught in Malay in national schools, and in Mandarin and Tamil in the respective vernacular schools.
Education is a touchy topic for the Chinese community, which views the studying of Mandarin as integral to preserving its culture and identity.
Hence, the policy of teaching science and maths in English — a brainchild of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — has been a divisive issue since it was introduced.
Supporters agree with its objective of improving English among pupils. Detractors like DJZ feel it has not only failed to achieve this aim, but also eroded the learning of mother tongue languages.
In 2005, DJZ gathered 4,000 people at its headquarters to ask the government to revise the policy, but to no avail.
The Chinese are not the only ones who dislike the policy. Malays have also criticised it, saying rural Malay students are struggling to handle the subjects in English.
Ong's latest salvo has triggered a debate in the press and on the Internet. While Chinese paper Sin Chew Daily sided with him, other commentators labelled the group as “arrogant” and “racist”.
They pointed to a surge in the number of pupils who chose to do this year's UPSR maths and science papers in English — although they could have chosen to do the papers in Chinese, Tamil or a combination of all three languages — as a sign that the policy is working.
Datuk Wong Chun Wai, group chief editor of The Star daily, urged moderate voices in the Chinese community to speak up. He wrote in his blog: “All these groups would claim to represent their respective communities but the fact is that many of us do not share the strong-arm tactics of these groups.”
Said Zainul Arifin, a columnist with the New Straits Times: “The leaders of Dong Jiao Zong know how such a threat would play out in public, but the fact that it does so anyway suggests either naivete, or arrogance. And I do not believe it is the former.”
Ong is overseas and could not be reached for further comment yesterday. His proposed protest is taking place at a time when the future of vernacular schools has been called into question. Umno Youth leader Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, a son of Dr Mahathir's, recently suggested that they be merged with national schools to enhance racial integration.
The suggestion led to an angry backlash from the Chinese and Indian community leaders.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein has dismissed the threats from DJZ.He said: “It doesn't matter... what they do is meaningless because the ministry has shown its seriousness by having the roundtable meeting and invited the interested groups.
“If Dong Jiao Zong wants to have a demonstration, it is up to them because the policy is for the future of our children based on facts and figures.”
Straits Times Singapore
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