WHEN it was announced that the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English would be abolished, Noraini Yaacob was among the many parents who rushed to move their children from national schools to international schools.
"At one international school, more than 400 parents queued up to register their children. The ratio was about eight locals to one foreigner. Despite the long waiting list, parents were still persistent in getting their children in."
Noraini managed to put two of her three children in an international school but admitted that it was woefully expensive.
She, therefore, welcomed the statement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that the government will study the possibility of using two mediums of instruction in schools for Science and Maths.
Two languages? How can it be executed? Should some schools teach in English, and others in Bahasa Malaysia? Or should each school offer two mediums of instruction?
Former Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said a referendum should be held in schools.
"Science and Maths will be taught in the language agreed by parents at the referendum. As such, some schools will teach the subjects in Bahasa Malaysia and some in English."
Another option, said Ragunath, was to pick a few schools in a town or district to teach Science and Maths in English.
The third option, he said, would be to divide the number of classes in one school equally or based on needs, with some classes teaching in Bahasa Malaysia and the rest in English.
"There are three options currently in terms of the language the two subjects can be taught in at primary schools, namely Bahasa Malaysia in national schools, and Mandarin or Tamil in national type schools, so why not another option?"
He said well-to-do families had the means to send their children to international schools but the poor did not.
"This widens the divide between the rich and the poor. Every citizen should have equal means to education."
Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said all parent-teacher associations across the country should take a stand on the matter during their annual general meetings or perhaps even call for an extraordinary general meeting.
"If the majority of parents want the two subjects to be taught in English, then let it be, or vice versa.
"Once this has been done, logistics and planning will be easier. The authorities can easily mobilise teachers, distribute books and software accordingly."
Mak said the option of choosing the medium of instruction could help the government save the millions of ringgit that had been invested.
"English-based books, materials and software need not be discarded. Also, the amount spent on training teachers to teach in English will not go to waste."
Education authorities, he said, should not assume that all rural schools wanted the subjects to be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and all urban schools, in English.
"Wherever the schools are, let the parents decide. You will be surprised with the outcome."
Parents Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said each parent must be allowed to indicate to their children's school the medium of instruction that was preferred.
The school will then collate the preference and this will determine the number of Science and Mathematics classes to be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia and English.
"While most of the classes will be taught in the language chosen by the majority of parents of the school, each school will also offer a minimum of one Bahasa Malaysia and one English option class at every level."
Azimah said examination questions and textbooks could continue to remain bilingual. She stressed that a decision on this matter should be made immediately.
"The propensity to learn is highest between pre-school and primary school, and by allowing the English option to begin as soon as possible will ensure a smooth and seamless transition into Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia, diploma or pre-university levels."
Azimah said the ministry should consult parents before making a decision.
"The preamble of the Education Act 1996 states: '...pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.'"
Muhammad Haykal Muhammad Bakhtiar, 15, said, however, the students should be the ones to decide.
"I prefer it to be taught in English, so I should have that choice. The same goes for others who prefer it in Bahasa Malaysia."