The Challenges That Come with Teaching Science and Mathematics in English in Malaysia

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Teaching mathematics and science in English in Malaysian classrooms: The impact of teacher beliefs on classroom practices and student learning.
By : May Tan and Ong Saw Lan
Overview
In 2003, after more than thirty years of using Bahasa Malaysia (BM) as the medium of instruction for all subjects, the Malaysian educational system switched to using English to teach Mathematics and the Sciences in its schools. This new policy is known by its BM acronym, PPSMI. To ease transition, bilingual high-stakes exit exams are being used as an accommodation measure, with the objective of eventually having English-only exams. This paper examines the perceptions and beliefs of upper secondary Math and Science teachers (MST) whose students are the first and second cohorts to learn Mathematics and Science in English. Results from surveys, teacher interviews and classroom observations illustrate how MST perceptions and beliefs influence classroom practices. The data shows that exam policy, teacher perceptions and their beliefs interact to encourage the use of translation and an emphasis on keywords during teaching. These practices enhance the learning of academically and linguistically strong students but negatively impact the content and language development of weaker students. These methods may also increase the content comprehension of students over the short term, but limit the development of their speaking and writing abilities. In closing, measures to improve students’ learning of EAP are proposed.

Introduction
In much of the current literature on educational change and innovation, reform is often discussed in terms of implementation and adoption of mandated practices by teachers: reforms fail or succeed depending on whether teachers adopt or reject the suggested practices. What is usually not considered, on the other hand, is the extent of teacher learning that needs to take place before any reform can happen in classrooms and schools. The present paper aims to fill this gap and to examine the kinds of teacher learning that are taking place during the implementation of PPSMI, the policy of teaching Math and Science in English, which is ongoing in Malaysia. It proposes to do so by presenting the perceptions and experiences of Math and Science teachers at the Secondary Four [Form Four] and Secondary Five [Form Five] levels. Within this policy, teachers are change agents responsible for equipping their students with the requisite content knowledge and also for making sure that these students are linguistically proficient in their subject domains. It consequently requires much adjustment and learning on their part. The teacher profiles presented are drawn from case studies conducted in two schools, one urban and one rural, on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The data come from personal interviews and observations conducted in their classrooms. By providing a better understanding of teacher learning within the context of educational reform, these results can inform planning for educational change and facilitate implementation of changes in schools. Educational reform usually involves innovations in curriculum and testing or teaching practices - it punctuates the life of students, teachers and administrators at regular or irregular intervals. In much of the current literature on educational change and innovation, reform is often discussed in terms of implementation and adoption of mandated practices by teachers - reforms fail or succeed depending on whether teachers adopt or reject the suggested practices. This manner of looking at reform is very much linked to the way teacher training is traditionally conceived.

1.Reform and Its Role in Teacher Development
Reform efforts, on the other hand, can actually create moments of cultural or cognitive dissonance that force teachers and administrators to struggle with the existing ways of doing and to reflect on the meaning and importance of classroom teaching and learning...
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