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Don't let science and maths get lost in translation

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad makes a case for the teaching of science and mathematics in English.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad
2 minute read

Many parents are upset with the decision of the government to stop the teaching of science and maths in English as an option.

They feel that it would blight the future of their children.

I have always believed that science and mathematics should be taught in English. This is because this field of knowledge is not indigenous. This means that it comes to us not in the Malay language. And largely, it comes in the English language.

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. Besides, new discoveries in science and the applications of mathematics are being added almost daily. To translate them would require an army of translators.

It is different with other fields of knowledge. In geography and history, for example, the basic facts hardly ever change. Only the presentation may be different. So the need to translate is quite limited.

But with science and mathematics, new discoveries and new applications have to be learnt or acquired if the student is going to keep up with new technologies.

For example, knowledge of wireless broadcasting 20 years ago is not adequate for dealing with new means of broadcasting today. Updates in the science of communication are almost continuous.

If the teaching is in English, all the new knowledge can be learnt directly, as most scientific papers are presented in English.

The Malay language has developed greatly. But for keeping up with scientific developments, borrowing from other languages is essential. We are aware that we borrow a lot from the English language.

We understand the national desire to develop our language. But the objective of education is primarily to gain knowledge. We cannot sacrifice knowledge merely because we want to develop our language. Education would be worthless if we are left behind in terms of knowledge, which is so essential for our development and progress.

So the government should reconsider the decision to do away with the option to teach science and mathematics in English.

Better still, let it not be just an option. Let us decide to teach science and mathematics in English.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is a former prime minister of Malaysia.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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