In 2003, Malaysian education system has changed drastically which resulted in the use of English replacing Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) in all science and mathematics subjects. Besides that, new syllabus in most PMR subjects and a new SPM subject, English for Science and Technology (EST) are introduced. The use of English in all science and mathematics subjects only involved Primary One (also known as Standard One), Secondary One and Lower Sixth Form students in 2003. Thus, students in other forms that year were still following the old syllabus and learning science and mathematics subjects in Malay. These students would undergo the language change only when they moved on to either Secondary One or Lower Sixth Form.
So, this year Lower Sixth Form students including me undergo the drastic language change. Bear in mind that we have spent five years in our secondary schools learning science and mathematics subjects in Malay. For your information, Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) science and mathematics subjects include Mathematics S, Mathematics T, Further Mathematics T, Computing, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The plain truth is that this sudden change is a total headache for most of us.
Let me show you a few instances to help you visualize its effects on us. Tenaga keupayaan graviti, jisim molekul relatif and indeks pecahan in English is gravitational potential energy, relative molecular mass and fractional indices respectively. Some other terminology in English contrasts with the respective terms in Malay in terms of spelling such as coplanar (pada satu satah), luminous intensity (keamatan cahaya), diagonal (pepenjuru), adjacent (bersebelahan), decay (pereputan), concentration (kepekatan), solution (larutan), constant (pemalar), variable (pembolehubah), coefficient (pekali)… Some very frustrating terminology in Chemistry includes sodium Na (natrium),potassium K (kalium), lead Pb (plumbum), copper Cu (kuprum), tin Sn (timah) and iron Fe (besi), to name a few. This change affects us the most in answering essay questions, not to mention the grammatical errors we may make.
Luckily, I am told by my teacher that we are still allowed to answer the actual STPM examinations in Malay besides in English until 2007. However, English is highly recommended. She also stressed that we can answer the questions in either Malay or English but not both. This means that if we choose to answer in Malay, we should write the whole essay in Malay only. Next year, 2007 is the final year when Malay is accepted in answering STPM science and mathematics subjects. From 2008 onwards STPM candidates are allowed to answer these subjects in English only.
Personally, I choose to answer these subjects in English since I have more than a year to prepare for the real examinations. Moreover, every STPM science and mathematics reference book available is written in English. I think we can still catch up with a lot of hard work, quoting Stephen King, ‘Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work’.
Update: More examples on Chemistry terminology in English and Malay included.
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