By Mohsin Abdullah
Someone posted on Facebook, asking "mengapa PM bagi bola tanggung kepada lawan?"
In sports parlance, to give a "bola tanggung" is to give a golden opportunity to the opponent to make a kill. Usually it's used in badminton when player A "invitingly" floats the shuttlecock into the opponent's (Player B's) court, thus providing a great chance for Player B to smash the shuttlecock into Player A's court and score a point. Some folks say giving such a ball is suicidal.
But that person who was asking why the prime minister was giving a "bola tanggung" wasn't talking about badminton or sports. He was referring to Tun Mahathir Mohamad's remarks in pushing, yet again, for the teaching of science and mathematics in English, the controversial PPSMI or Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris.
The prime minister's remarks were made when he was speaking at a special education ministry meeting recently. As we know, Mahathir is also acting education minister. A video of his remarks at the meeting was uploaded on his official YouTube.
Therefore, when that person on Facebook pointed out, so to speak, that Mahathir had floated a "bola tanggung", obviously he was talking about the PM giving not only his but also Pakatan Harapan's political opponents and detractors a golden opportunity to go to town with the issue and hit out at the government in an effort to get the people's support, in particular Malays who are in great numbers opposed to PPSMI.
True enough, many a Mahathir detractor are already up in arms opposing his intention. Malay rights groups are vocal and dead against the move. In fact the so-called "uprising" was immediate. It came as soon as Mahathir's video was uploaded.
Umno has not jumped onto the bandwagon as I am writing this. Perhaps this has got something to do with speculation of a tie-up of sorts between Umno and Bersatu, the party of which Mahathir is chairman, and also because Umno president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi wants his party to support Mahathir to remain PM amidst demands the transition to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim be made in May. That's a topic for another day!
But PAS, who is Umno's partner in Muafakat Nasional, is already hitting out at the move, saying: "It's a smoke screen to cover or divert attention from weaknesses and problems in Pakatan Harapan." That was said by its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, despite being a strong supporter for Mahathir to remain PM for at least one full term.
Surely politician extraordinaire Mahathir, with wealth of experience and high political stature, would have anticipated all the accusations, brickbats and what-nots. So, why did he voice out the intention of bringing back PPSMI?
He admits his views are not always popular or acceptable to many people but "I feel I need to push certain things to make sure our children grow up and find themselves able to tackle the problems of adult life. That is the purpose of education."
Mahathir has always believed the mastery of English is a vital element of education, and he sees that while geography and history can come in any language, "science and mathematics are not indigenous fields of knowledge, as they come from abroad and mostly in English."
Therefore we are going to use English in the teaching of science and mathematics. That means we don't confuse people. We find those who study science in Malay cannot work where English is required. That has always been his stance.
Mahathir first introduced PPSMI back in 2003 when he was the country's fourth prime minister and when he was Umno president and BN chairman.
Many Malays opposed it as they do now. They accused Mahathir of belittling the Malay language. That and many more accusations back then are being used again this time.
Needless to say, the policy was unpopular including or especially among then opposition in the likes of multiracial PKR as well as PAS. PKR is now in the government and has said it needs to discuss Mahathir's intention of bringing back PPSMI. Obviously Mahathir's move has put PKR in a spot.
Also in a spot would be Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin was education minister when PPSMI was scraped in 2016 by the Najib-led BN government.
And Muhyiddin was quoted then as saying the program had resulted in smaller numbers of rural students passing science and mathematics. It would be interesting to know what would be the view of Muhyiddin or Bersatu for that matter now that Mahathir wants a PPSMI comeback.
Now we are hearing this issue can even lead to a Pakatan Harapan election defeat, if not handled properly.
But Mahathir has said the PSSMI comeback is not a done deal. A committee has been set up to review the issue and take into account strong opinions on both sides of the matter.
Everybody says the PM can debate the issue. That would mean the public, media, students, teachers, parent-teacher associations and anyone else. Everybody means everybody. So, PKR and Bersatu ought to make its stand clear on the matter.
Will the government, and in particular Mahathir, listen to the feedback, opinions and views? They have to, I would say. At the end of the day, it would be about numbers. The numbers of those supporting PPSMI and the number of those opposing it. Which group has the bigger number?
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)