Shift in language policy in Malaysia
Unravelling reasons for change, conflict and compromise in mother-tongue education
Malaysia experienced a major shift in language policy in 2003 for the subjects of science and maths. This meant a change in the language of education for both national and national-type schools. For national schools, this resulted in a shift from Bahasa Malaysia, the national language to English. Parallel with this, to ensure homogeneity of impact of change, the State persuaded the national-type schools, which have been utilizing the language of community, Mandarin and Tamil respectively, as medium of instruction since independence in 1957, to shift to English for the teaching of science and maths.
This paper aims to unravel the socio-political reasons underlying the shift with a focus on the Chinese community’s responses to the change. This will be carried out by examining the discourses of the debate contested by members of the Chinese community, juxtaposed against the reasons for the change, set forth by the State, as articulated by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad. This multi-pronged approach will be used to unravel the underlying ideologies for the change and the reluctant compromise that was reached by the Chinese community.