The book (in the photo above) means a lot to me because this was the book that sparked off my interest in learning science in English when I was only fifteen. That year, just after I sat for my Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (Form 3 examination), I visited my former tuition teacher and her sister was about to throw away this book when I arrived. Since it was still new, I asked her to give it to me. So, instead of spending my year-end holidays working at KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) like what my schoolmates did, I read through the entire book word by word within two months. As I have been learning science in the Malay language up till then, I did have some difficulties reading this book at first but after having read through the entire book, I discovered that I had actually learnt many new scientific terms that I have never come across before. Learning English is one thing but learning science in English is another because it is not possible for me to come across any scientific terms by learning English alone.
Learning Science in English has since become a great enjoyment for me as I could not help feeling proud of myself then because I was doing something that I knew none of my friends would ever do. Why stay at home and read when you can have fun? Why study science in English when it would not give you any monetary benefits? Well, only a silly child like me would ever do that. Feeling excited with my achievement and new discovery, I made up my mind to learn Mathematics and Science in English the following year when I was in form 4. Although my mom had already bought all the maths and science text books for me in the Malay language, I went to all the bookshops that I could find to look for the English version of the texts. I was lucky that I could still find some which the shopkeepers intended to get rid of. I considered myself very lucky as I managed to grab them on time. Below are photos of some of the memorable mathematics and science textbooks that I am still having with me even though I have thrown away most of my old text books.
Comprehensive Biology by Lam Peng Kwan, which was recommended to me by my cousin brother, was the best biology text of my time. I was lucky enough to get the last copy of this book from Anthonian Store when I went book hunting after passing my Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP) Examination. Luckily it wasn't extinct yet! This book used to mean a lot to me as I've read it countless times until I could memorize long passages from it. Although I have already thrown away the translated Malay version of this book because the translation was confusing, this original English version, which is already old and torn, has in it memories of my beautiful childhood days that I will treasure forever.
A New Certificate Chemistry by Holderness & Lambert: Although I have the Malay version of this book, the translation was difficult to understand and confusing as there were some minor translation errors here and there, Translation can be hazardous as it could remove many important details and one cannot deny the fact that a translated version of the text could never be the same as the original one. Further, after spending my holidays reading a science text in English, I just could not force myself to read the Malay version of this book anymore even though I knew that I had to answer my exam questions in Malay. I prefer to read the original text in English, untampered with translation, and with its information at first hand.
Chemistry by D.N. Underwood & D.E. Webster: It was my cousin brother who recommended this book to me. I bought it from Anthonian Store on the same day I bought Comprehensive Biology (above) by Lam Peng Kwan. I used this book as a reference. Answering exam questions in Malay did not give me any problems even though all my mathematics and science texts were in English.
Fundamentals of Physics by M. Nelkon: I find this book very easy to understand - the most perfect physics text for a form 4/5 student. Just imagine how many new words you can learn from this book after reading it thoroughly! I actually fell in love with this book at first sight!
Additional Mathematics by Tan Wang Seng: This was my first Mathematics text in English. Although my mother had bought me the Malay version of this book, I did not use it but kept it for my younger brother.
A Course in HSC Practical Chemistry by James Chong and David Law. This book was given to me by my cousin brother. It has helped me a lot with my chemistry practical when I was in form 6. I did have a translated version of this book (if I were not mistaken, it was green in colour) but I have never opened it as I preferred to use the original English text.
Introduction to Physical Chemistry by G.I. Brown: When I was in Form 6, the desire to learn Mathematics and Science in English continued. The moment I got into Lower 6, I went to all the bookshops in town to find the original English texts even though it wasn't easy because these books had almost become extinct in Malaysia.
Biology: A Functional Approach by M.B.V Roberts - The Bible of Biology. I have read through this book countless times until I could memorize long passages from it. Although I have the Malay version of this book, I have never opened it. I prefer to read the original text in English.
Advanced Level Physics by Nelkon & Parker: The Bible of Physics. The original text is always the best and cannot be replaced by any translated versions of it. So what's the problem with the learning of mathematics and science in our Malaysian schools? Why is it a failure? If a silly girl of 15 like me could do it, why not others? Learning mathematics and science in English is actually a very simple task but why is it made so complicated that it has to be discarded?
In 1996, Dr Mahathir – as the then Prime Minister – had introduced a policy to teach Mathematics and Science in English but this policy was reversed in 2012. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad does not agree with reintroducing English-medium schools but maintains that Mathematics and Science should be taught in English. He said a pass in English should also be made compulsory and that all the measures were needed to help stem the declining proficiency in the language as well as help pupils master Mathematics and Science. “I won’t agree to reintroducing English-medium schools but I do believe that if we teach Maths and Science in English as well as make English a compulsory subject, it would be sufficient,” said Dr Mahathir. Making a pass in English compulsory and teaching of Mathematics and Science in English, he said, would not breach Malaysia’s policy of promoting the national language. “Other subjects can be taught in Bahasa Malaysia but Science and Maths are different subjects because the pace of change and new findings happen almost every day,” said Dr Mahathir. On whether the country’s students had suffered as a result of the policy reversal, Dr Mahathir said he had received complaints that the quality of local graduates had fallen. “Their poor English proficiency means they cannot interact with people effectively, which is a problem especially if they work in foreign affairs, for example,” he said (The Star Online, 13 June 2015).
“Let’s be honest with ourselves. Singapore has done well as a country. Their students have fared very well in Mathematics and Science. The prominent use of English has set them ahead of us,” said the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar (Malay Mail Online, 14 Sept 2015).
Malaysia must make proficiency in English its top priority if local businesses are to thrive globally, said prominent banker Datuk Seri Nazir Razak. In a caption accompanying his Instagram post, the chairman of the country’s second-largest bank CIMB cautioned that the current workforce was losing its competitive edge due to poor mastery of the language. “English is the global language and as a nation we should declare English language proficiency as our top priority. “It’s a traditional edge that our workforce is losing fast; we must reverse the deterioration now,” he wrote as a caption on the photo-sharing app accompanying a snapshot of a June 30 Bloomberg report headlined, “Honda to Set English as Official Language.” He added that enforcing the use of English to boost its command would not cause the national language to suffer or be forgotten. “(And no, it does not mean we have to neglect bahasa!)” he wrote. A Forbes contributor also pointed that Malaysians’ deteriorating command of English and education system has left its workforce vulnerable to regional competitors that are both cheaper and improving. This came after former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyididn Yassin said he was “shocked” that Malaysian students continue to lag behind global counterparts despite Malaysia spending as much on education as some developed nations such as the United States. Last year, Muhyiddin, who was also education minister, expressed bafflement at local students’ inability to master English despite nearly two decades of education (The Malay Mail Online, 21 July 2015).