10 August, 2002

Malaysia to proceed with plan to teach in English

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Malaysian government will stick to its plan to reintroduce English in schools to teach mathematics and science despite opposition from some ethnic Chinese groups, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday.
Mahathir told Chinese educational groups to refrain from stoking fears among Malaysians of Chinese origin that the government would shut down Chinese-language schools.
The Dong Jiao Zhong, representing Chinese school boards and teachers' associations, opposes the plan and fears it could eventually lead to the phasing out of teaching in Chinese.
Mahathir reiterated that the government has no intention of phasing out Chinese schools and said the move to teach the two subjects in English from next year, to boost job chances in a globalised world, would be implemented as scheduled.
"They're playing with fire...we're all aware that the law of our country does not allow the government to change Chinese schools to national (Malay-language) schools, but they injected fear among the Chinese. This is dangerous," Mahathir was quoted by the official Bernama news agency as saying.
Although English and Malay are compulsory subjects in all Malaysian schools, the language of instruction varies.
Malays make up about 56 percent of multiracial Malaysia's 23 million population while Chinese account for around 26 percent and Indians eight percent, and race issues are sensitive subjects.
"If anyone were to incite racial sentiment to the extent of creating disharmony, action will be taken before it happens," the prime minister said.
Mahathir said these groups had also opposed the government's proposal last year to set up "vision schools" where the country's three main races would have shared facilities, but would be educated in their own language.
The government says vision schools would integrate children of different races, but Chinese educationists fear they could threaten mother-tongue education.