Dr M: Acquiring other languages does not make one less Malaysian

Mahathir is the country's longest serving premier, having been in power for 22 years before retiring in late 2003.

BANGI, Malaysia - Acquiring knowledge through other languages, including English, does not make one less Malaysian or Malay, said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The former prime minister said the importance of learning science and mathematics in English must not be construed as unpatriotic but a necessity so that the country and its people could further advance with the knowledge acquired.

Dr Mahathir said he had decided for the two subjects to be taught in English when he was prime minister because he realised most of the materials available were in the language, particularly for those who signed up for medicine and studying for their Masters and PhD, even till today.

"I realise that by not using English as a teaching medium, our people would be left behind in the pursuit of knowledge that is as ever-changing, modern and important as science and maths.

"It is not that I don't love my language or my race. I am merely being pragmatic. We will only be depriving our young of knowledge just because we want to emphasise the use of language," he said.

Dr Mahathir pointed out that it would take Malaysia more than the achievement of a US$16,000 (S$20,000) per capita income to attain developed nation status.

The country would also need people who were highly skilled in many areas such as science and technology, research and invention, he said.

"Only if we contribute knowledge and information to the world can we claim to be a developed country," he added.

Dr Mahathir was speaking at the launch of "UKM in Space", a programme hosted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to promote space science among students.

It was held to commemorate the seventh anniversary of national astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor's journey into space. He said while students pursue knowledge in English, there must be a stronger push to bring Bahasa Malaysia to the par of other "languages of knowledge" such as Russian, German and Japanese.

Dr Mahathir said that now that Malaysia had sent a man into space, it should up the ante by encouraging its people acquire the necessary knowledge on space science and "how to build rockets".

In Kuantan, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin told students that fluency in the English language would boost their confidence in communicating with the world.

"There is no greater reflection of a country's progress than the involvement of our students at an international level. This is the stark truth," said Muhyiddin, who is also the education minister.

Students who master the language would bring the nation to greater heights with their ability to come up with brilliant solutions and ideas, Bernama reported him as saying in his speech at the closing of the national-level English Language Unity Carnival.

The text of his speech was read out by Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan.