Thursday, 19 June 2014

Return Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) in English or Lose Out - PAGE Malaysia

Return STEM in English or lose out

WE refer to "Mahathir: Master knowledge" (News Without Borders, May 20) where the advice of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on acquiring expertise in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and which is best learnt in its lingua franca, English, and more specifically scientific English, should not under any circumstances be taken lightly.
In his memoirs, A Doctor In The House, he briefly maps out the evolution of language in the development of science and technology and civilisations.
This is explained in detail at the award-winning 1001 Inventions science exhibition ( which uncovers 1,000 years of science and technology and is being held at the National Science Centre, Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, until June 30.
It showcases the Golden Age of Science or what the West would term the Dark Ages which serves as the foundation for discovery in the areas of education, navigation, medicine, engineering, astronomy, renewable energy and agricultural and farming techniques.
Among the exhibits are where, "Surgeon Al-Zahrawi shared all he knew about medicine in his famous 30 volume encyclopaedia Al Tasrif. Translated into Latin, the encyclopaedia's popularity spread in Europe, and it was used as a manual for surgery in medical schools for centuries."
And "For many centuries, English medic William Harvey took the credit as the first person to work out how our blood circulates. In 1628, he described in great detail the full circulation system including the way in which blood returns to the heart from all around the body. But Ibn al-Nafis had uncovered the heart and lungs' combined role in blood flow hundreds of years before.
"Recently, historians have found evidence that Ibn al-Nafis's Arabic text was brought to Italy and may have been translated into Latin, paving the way to suppose that it might have indirectly influenced William Harvey's work."
At the height of the Islamic Civilisation, ancient knowledge of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were built on by scholars and scientists of many religions as early as the 7th century much of which was translated into Arabic and learnt even by the Europeans to acquire not just religion but also all fields of knowledge.
Even Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, wrote all his work in Arabic.
Unfortunately, after one millennium, the Arabs ceased to pursue knowledge except for religion resulting in the downfall of Arabic as a language of new and living knowledge culminating into a stagnant civilisation.
Latin quickly evolved into the new language of knowledge followed by other European languages and now English where the bulk of all scientific knowledge is produced and globally communicated.
In capturing cutting edge state-of-the-art technology and its further development of science in the country, several organisations have been formed, among them, the Academy of Science Malaysia, MIGHT (Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology), GSIAC (Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council) with assistance from the New York Academy of Sciences and now further intensified by the S2A (Science to Action) initiative last year and now the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to apply science and technology to national development and the people's wellbeing.
Knowing full well that the language of STEM technology is scientific English, it is ironic that although the government realises the importance of English it has failed to acknowledge the vast difference in meaning and understanding between conversational and scientific English.
Many scientific discoveries were made during the Muslim civilisation that stretched from southern Spain to China and also including historically significant places like Baghdad, Fez, Istanbul and Aleppo.
But what has happened to the glory days of these civilisations?
The Muslims around the world ignored the importance of reading to gain knowledge and if Malaysians do the same we will end up becoming yet another lost civilisation.
STEM in English should be re-introduced in schools as soon as possible if the government is serious about increasing interest in the science stream and its upward mobility into higher education.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia

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