LANGUAGE AND THE TEACHING AND LEARNING OF MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE\rDr Leong Yong Pak\rUniversiti Brunei Darussalam\r

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Dr Leong Yong Pak Universiti Brunei Darussalam
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    1 LANGUAGE AND THE TEACHING AND LEARNING OFMATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE  Dr Leong Yong Pak Universiti Brunei Darussalam leongyp@ubd.edu.bn  Abstract  Mathematics, science and technology are key learning areas in the modern world. English is used in theteaching and learning of these subjects in many countries including Commonwealth countries such asIndia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. In Brunei mathematics and science were taught in Englishfrom Year 4 (Primary 4) until 2008. With the new 21 st Century National Education System these twolearning areas are now taught in English from Year 1. The aim is to increase the number of studentstaking mathematics and pure science subjects and to raise the standard of teaching and learning inmathematics and science in the nation.Students are prepared for the Brunei-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (BCGCE)Ordinary and Advanced Level mathematics and science subjects. Some students are weak in English andface language problems in learning mathematics and science. Research findings on language factors inthe teaching and learning of these subjects in Brunei from Primary 1 to secondary levels will be presented and discussed in the light of current concerns in curriculum and teaching. Related problemsand possible alternatives dealing with evaluation, innovation, implementation, teacher professionaldevelopment and standards, accountability, government policy, non-government schools, andsocio-cultural factors will also be discussed both in the local and regional contexts. Introduction The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) carried out a major  project to study the use of mother tongues as bridge languages of instruction in Southeast Asia.As in other regions, many children are taught in languages that are not spoken in their immediatecommunity. Research and data, where available, show that these children are in higher proportionamong the out-of-school population (Kosonen & Young, 2009). Everywhere, there is an urgentneed to ensure that language of instruction issues receive adequate attention. This language issue inthe teaching and learning of mathematics and science appears to be also prominent in BruneiDarussalam and Malaysia. The issue is the use of English in the teaching and learning of these twosubjects from Year 1 of schooling to the tertiary levels.There is great linguistic diversity in Southeast Asian countries and concern for speakers of minority languages being more likely to have difficulty learning mathematics and science inEnglish or the national and/or official languages. However, the concern in Brunei and Malaysia isthe teaching and learning of mathematics and science in English. Is there too much emphasis onEnglish? Different Southeast Asian countries have embraced different language-in-education policies and practices for classroom instruction.In Southeast Asia there are many dominant ethno-linguistic groups and national and officiallanguages. According to Kosonen and Young (2009) exact figures pertaining to languages spokenin Southeast Asia are difficult to determine, but available estimates indicate that around 1,000languages are spoken in the region. Figure 1 shows the estimated numbers of languages spoken inSoutheast Asian nations.    2 No. of Spoken Languages1719223084861041131471807420 200 400 600 800BruneiTimor LesteCambodiaSingaporeThailandLaosVietnamMyanmar MalaysiaPhilippinesIndonesiaNo. of Spoken Langs    Figure1.  Number of spoken languages in Southeast Asia (Kosonen & Young, 2009).SEAMEO (2008) in its workshop report on the use of the mother tongue in instruction,advocates the use of mother tongue in early education before adopting the main stream languagefor instruction at a later time. For the case of Brunei and Malaysia, this would mean learning firstin local Malay and other minority languages before continuing learning at the upper levels inStandard Malay and/or English. However, education systems enshrined in the constitution, andgovernment policies are difficult to change though maybe I could have done better beginningschool in Cantonese or Hokkien in Penang. Mandarin was not my mother tongue and was notused in my home or surroundings around Brick Kiln Road. What happens in many schools is thatsome teachers and many children communicate in the children‟ s mother tongue or spokenlanguage, or else they might not be understood. In Brunei code-switching between English andMalay during lessons is common (Romaizah, Venville & Treagust, 2007).Brunei ‟s small population is made up mostly of Malay indigenous communities, followed by people of  Chinese ancestry and other races. For such a small country, Brunei‟s population speak  in different languages mainly because of its geography  –  Malay communities that speak suchlanguages as Belait, Bisaya, Brunei Malay, Dusun, Kedayan, Murut and Tutong and indigenouscommunities that speak Iban and Kelabit (Jones, 2008). However, the most widely spokenlanguage is Brunei Malay, which was assumed to have srcinated from the Kampong Ayer dialect.For official correspondence, however, Standard Malay (Bahasa Melayu) is used and is also taughtin school. In urban areas, Malay, Chinese and English are regularly used. Brunei‟s education  policies trace their roots from the introduction of formal education and the development of the country‟s educational system since it became a British protectorate in the early 1900s. In the earlyyears of the 1900s, Brunei introduced English in the government elementary classes and openedvernacular schools for boys and girls.Martin (1998) categorized the languages of Brunei under three groups  –  the indigenouslanguages, which include the Malay dialects (Brunei Malay, Kedayan, Bazaar Malay, and Palace    3 Speech) and the non-Malay dialects (Tutong, Belait, Dusun, Bisaya, and Murut); thenonindigenous languages, which consist of the Chinese (Hakka, Hokkien, Hainanese, andCantonese), Indian, and Native languages (Penan and Iban); and lastly the supraregional languages,which are English and  Bahasa Melayu . The Malay dialects have traditionally been the lingua francae for communication between ethnolinguistic communities. The official and nationallanguage of Brunei, however, is Standard Malay, as stated in the Brunei Constitution of 1959.English is also widely used as a business and working language, and is also the medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary education. Bilingualism in Brunei The official and national language in the constitution of Brunei is Standard Malay (BruneiGovernment Publication, 1959). English is however widely used as a business/working languageand medium of instruction in tertiary education. The national education system of Brunei adopts a bilingual education policy called  Dwibahasa , meaning “two languages.” The specific objective of  this policy is for learners to achieve competence in English while retaining the first language,Malay to ensure the sovereignty of the Malay language. At the same time the importance of theEnglish language is recognized (Government of Brunei Darussalam, 1984). In the  Dwibahasa system (Government of Brunei, 1985), emphasis is on the dominance of the Malay language.Standard Malay was the sole language of instruction in the earlier pre-primary and lower  primary school stages (until 2008), with increasing switch to English as the language of instructionin the upper primary and secondary levels. From 2008 onwards, however, mathematics and sciencein lower primary classes, have been taught in English. The education system prioritizes the use of Standard Malay as the official national language and promotes the use of English as an importantsecond language of instruction of the school system. There is no written provision in Brunei‟s education policy with regard to the use of a mother tongue as either an additional or bridgelanguage in the school, even though some Bruneian children may start school without anyknowledge of Standard Malay or English.Most of the Chinese came from surrounding regions such as Sarawak and Singapore, butmany also came from Hong Kong (Ho, 2009). These were technical and business people whocame in search of job and business opportunities in the oil industry. The teaching of MandarinChinese (not as a language of instruction for other subjects) has enabled the use of mother tongueas bridge language in the teaching of subjects across the curriculum. This has been fundamental inhelping students maintain their Chinese culture and gain access to school knowledge in Englishand Standard Malay.The writer will discuss parallels from relevant research findings in Brunei over a number of years to a more complex education system in Malaysia. Mathematics, science and technology arekey learning areas in the modern world. English is used in the teaching and learning of thesesubjects in many countries including Commonwealth countries such as India, Singapore andBrunei Darussalam. In Brunei mathematics and science were taught in English from Year 4(Primary 4) until 2008. With the new National Education System for the 21 st Century these twolearning areas are now taught in English from Year 1. The aim is to increase the number of students taking mathematics and pure science subjects and to raise the standard of teaching andlearning in mathematics and science in the nation.Students are prepared for the Brunei-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (BCGCE)Ordinary and Advanced Level mathematics, science and other subjects. Some students are weak in English and face language problems in learning mathematics and science. Students who are notso fluent in English take Malay-medium subjects as well. Research findings on language factorsin the teaching and learning of these subjects in Brunei from Primary 1 to secondary levels are presented and discussed in the light of current concerns in curriculum and teaching, namely,evaluation, innovation, implementation, teacher professional development and standards,    4 accountability, government policy, non-government schools, and socio-cultural factors. Assessment  South Africa participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Survey(TIMSS). In South Africa there are about 11 official languages including English. However, because mathematics and science are taught in some areas in English (one of the officiallanguages), the language was used in TIMSS resulting in very poor achievement scores (Bell,1999). The author however did not attribute the poor performance solely on language factors.Rather he argued that there could be deficiencies in the curriculum, resources and teachingapproaches. There is a similar parallel in Brunei. Students from primary, secondary to tertiarylevels face the same dilemma, that is, the majority are unable to perform well in written publicexaminations in English. Those who do well are awarded scholarships to study in overseasuniversities mostly in the United Kingdom. In Malaysia opportunities for higher studies overseas inEnglish are through scholarships or family support. However, in recent years, degree programmesin English have become available with local private universities being allowed to operate in thecountry. There is great demand for tertiary education in English in Brunei and Malaysia.Language factors in examinations are best reflected in e xaminers‟ reports available at theCambridge International Examinations website. For example, in the Ordinary Level Biology paper,it was reported that candidates “ should appreciate that the longer questions need to be readcarefully ” . In a particular question on respiration, the report said that “ Those who mentionedhumans eating plants often omitted any reference to digestion, or that it is in the muscle cells that the respiration occurs to release (NOT „produce‟) the energy that is then used for musclecontraction. When such specific language expressions are expected in candidates‟ responses, it is  biased against second language (L2) users. The Biology practical examination report alsohighlighted that marks were lost carelessly by failure to follow simple instructions  –  drawing noguide line to show where the measurement was taken in or stating conclusions rather than results(observations) in the table. However, in examination c entres where candidates‟ scores were low, in single figures or just above, the marks for drawing the graph, the specimens and the calculation of magnification, were the main and sometimes the only source. Similar observations were made bythe examiners for the Mathematics papers. In mathematics the graphical questions proved popular,with candidates gaining good marks for plotting and drawing. However, where the graph had to beinterpreted, it proved difficult for candidates. Similarly in science, physics, chemistry and biology,when language expressions are minimal in responses, or when explanations can be given indiagrams, L2 users can perform better. This is also reflected in the Bruneian Bilingual project(Leong, Chong, Abdullah & Clements, 2001). Students also find inference questions difficult(Heppner, Heppner & Leong, 1997).One of the problems with assessment is that the assessment of content and the assessment of language are sometimes confounded. When assessing second language (L2) students, teachers needto ask whether they are measuring language proficiency or content knowledge (Anstrom, 1997).She suggested that whenever possible and appropriate, schools should make efforts to assess students‟ content knowledge and abilities in the first language as well as in English. This is toensure that students‟ academic achieveme nts are not underestimated. The problem could besemantic rather than conceptual. This is especially evident in primary 1 and 2 classes. Anexperience of the writer is that primary 5 children know “ampus” (Brunei Malay dialect) while Iknow asthma as “ asma ” (Standard Malay). Students in Brunei who do not use English at home, inschool or in learning mathematics and science could be disadvantaged especially in assessmentswith a high requirement for expressive writing in English (Heppner et al., 1997; Leong, 2007;Leong et al., 2001; Romaizah, Venville & Treagust, 2007).
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