Students’
Perception On Teaching And Learning Mathematics In
English
Abstract
Students use language to communicate and to
understand mathematics concepts. Language influences
students’ thought by molding perception and
structuring ideas. However, in recent years, science
and mathematics in lower secondary subjects have
been taught in English. This may create problems in
learning these subjects. Therefore, this research
was carried out to gather information and to get the
clearer picture on what have happened regarding the
teaching and learning science and mathematics in
schools. The research instrument was a set of
16item questionnaire that was designed to identify
students’ perception on teaching and learning
mathematics. The respondents consist of 279 lower
secondary school students from three schools in
rural area of Johor, Malaysia. The research found
out that the respondents agreed to the importance of
English Language in everyday life as well as career
opportunity however they felt that learning science
and mathematics was very difficult and demanding.
This is due to the lack of ability in understanding
of the subject matters and the instruction language.
The result also showed that learning science is more
difficult than learning mathematics. Finally, the
findings revealed that there are challenges for the
science and mathematics teachers to work wisely in
order to overcome students’ learning difficulties
and to promote effective learning among students.
Introduction
In learning mathematics, students frequently
encounter mathematics problems involving
calculations, understanding of concepts, principles
and mathematical relationship with others subjects.
Study on engineering students’ perceptions in
learning mathematics at Universiti Teknologi
Malaysia and some schools in Johor has been carried
out and the results showed that mathematics subject
was one of the interesting and important subject to
learn but it was difficult one to learn (Aziz,
1992). The reasons why mathematics subject are
difficult to learn is that the concepts in
mathematics are abstract and difficult to
understand, and also the students have alternative
meaning of certain mathematical words before any
mathematics teaching takes place. According to
Ihejieto (1995), there are factors other than
academic standing on the students’ side which could
explain the performance trend. These factors are;
i.
Students’ dislike for mathematics that may stem from
psychological incidences such as fear, endurance,
perseverance and associated factors.
ii.
The mathematics curriculum may have not much relevance to
real life situation.
iii.
Mathematics teachers were not interested in the subject and
did not help their students by way of catering for
individual differences.
iv.
iv. Other resources material such as text books seemed
lacking in both in school and at home.
Since the mathematical knowledge and skills can only
be delivered through language therefore this study
will only focus on students’ understanding in
mathematics that experience English medium of
instruction. This is necessary because language
plays an important role in communication, thinking
and is a tool for exchanging ideas and concepts
between individuals (Aziz, 2003). However, recently
science and mathematics have been taught in English.
This may create unfamiliarity to those concepts
taught to them and may slow down or retard their
science and mathematics learning. Sudden change to
the current science and mathematic medium of
instruction may also cause cultural shock to the
students. Normally, students’ conceptions of prior
experience and knowledge influence students’
learning in science and mathematics. Students prior
knowledge and experience can be amazingly tenacious
and resistance to change (Gilbert, 1982). It is
therefore essential for this research to explore
student’s viewpoints and perceptions on teaching and
learning mathematics in English in order to gather
information and to get the clearer picture on what
have happening in schools.
RESEARCH PROBLEMS
Language influences students’ thought by molding
perception and structuring ideas. In learning
mathematics students use language to communicate and
to understand mathematical facts, concepts,
principles and problem solving. However these
knowledge and skills are new, unfamiliar and
different from the language used in everyday life
(Osborne, et al., 1983). This may cause a problem in
the understanding of the mathematics concepts. To
investigate this problem, the following questions
are raised:

Do the students have problems in learning
mathematics in English?

What are the factors that contribute to the
learning problems?

Is that any relationship between the factors
that contribute to the learning problems?
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
A survey was conducted in several secondary schools
in rural area of one district in Johor to gather
information regarding students’ perception on
teaching and learning mathematics in English. The
instrument used for this study was a set of
questionnaire that comprised of two parts. Part one
elicited information on the students’ background.
Part two of the questionnaire comprised sixteen
items regarding students perception on teaching and
learning science and mathematic in English. The
questionnaire was administered to 279 form one and
two students of several secondary schools. The
respondents were given 40 minutes to complete the
questionnaire. The data were analyzed statistically
by using SPSSPC software program. The statistical
analyses used are frequency, percentage, reliability
index and correlation coefficient. The reliability
index (Cronbach α) of the study for all the 279
respondents was 0.70. For the qualitative analysis,
written responses of the students were analysed by
listing the problems encountered by each students in
his explanation.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
Malay language previously has been used as a medium
of instruction for learning science and mathematics
in schools. However with the changes of a medium of
instruction to English, the study revealed that some
students do have problems in learning mathematics.
For the purpose of this paper the findings on
students’ performance and background that may
contribute to the problems in learning mathematics,
students’ understanding of English language used in
teaching mathematics and the correlations among
factors that related to the learning problems will
be discussed. The general picture will be presented
first, and this will be followed by more detailed
discussion of data.
1. Students background and problem in learning
mathematics in English.
The findings of this study indicated that students
have encountered problems in understanding of the
teachers’ teaching in English language. Table 1
showed that students performance in English language
can be categorized as satisfactory because only 9.4%
of the respondents have an A grade in UPSR
examination while most of them (40%) are in a C
grade group. It is also very clear that the
distribution patterns of the science, mathematics
and English results in Primary School Assessment
Test (UPSR) are differently distributed. However,
the most interesting part in this finding is the
drastic drop of science monthly test results when
compared to UPSR science result, where 19.9
respondents obtained an A grade in UPSR but only
4.6% of the respondents obtained an A grade in their
monthly test. This is probably due to the science
contents which are more advanced than before or the
respondents do not understand the lesson which is
conducted in English.
Table 1: Students’ result of UPSR and Monthly Test
in English, Mathematics and Science subjects in
percentage.
2. Students interest in Science, Mathematics and
English subjects.
Interest closely related to motivation, and
motivation is one the learning factors that
influences and stimulates students to learn (Bloom,
1976). As a result motivation leads someone to learn
effectively and successfully. Table 2 shows that
mathematics is one of the most interesting subjects
to learn compared to science and English subjects,
where 55.2% of the respondents rated mathematics as
high interesting subject to learn. This finding
seems to be consistent with the mathematics’ monthly
test result as illustrated in Table 1 where high
percentage of respondent scores grade A in monthly
mathematics test. Table 1 and 2 are also indicated
that mathematics is less influenced by the used of
English language as a medium of instruction compared
to science subject.
Table 2: The distribution of students’ interest in
English, Mathematics and Science.
3. Understanding of science and mathematics in
English language.
According to the Psychology Dictionary, understand
is defined as the process of becoming aware of the
relationship between thing or their meaning (Evans,
1978). To learn effectively, someone has to
understand what he/she had learned. Nevertheless,
the study has found that the respondents were really
having problems in learning science and mathematics
but the problems were more obvious in learning
science. This was possibly due to the nature of
science that comprises a lot of factors, concepts
and principles as well as problem solving processes
in its content. When English language has been used
as a medium of instruction in schools, the
proficiency of English language is a must for
respondents to understand what their teacher’s
teach. Unfortunately, the findings showed that
students’ competency in English are at low level as
only 6.5% agreed that they could speak English very
well and fluently (Item S1), majority of them could
not speak very well. The findings also revealed that
majority of the respondents have not taken part in
many learning activities, such as questions and
answers activities with their teachers and fellow
friends (Item S2 and S8), teacher teaching
activities (Item S5), and to speak English with
teacher and friend in classroom (Item S4 and S6),
and these are among several reasons why they could
not improve their English language and so forth
related to their problems in understanding science
and mathematics in English.
Table 3: Students’ opinion of understanding science
and mathematics in English language.
The respondents were also likely influenced by their
daily spoken language as majority of them will think
in Malay language before giving the answer in
English (Item S8). This could be the reason why
their teachers do not fully teach science and
mathematics in English (Item S5).
4. Students attitude towards the usage of English
language
Table 4: Students’ opinion of English usage in
everyday life
Language is an important part of social culture
(Lawton, 1989). Learning process will be effective
if teachers know how to make use and describe
appropriate examples of everyday life phenomena in
their teaching. Simple and appropriate level of
language should be used to explain the everyday life
phenomena which related to scientific and
mathematical concepts, in order to motivate students
to understand better. However, as indicated in Table
4 revealed that majority of the respondents either
hardly or seldom use English language at home (Item
S3) and they used to speak their mother tongue
language at home. This was supported by the facts
that they like to read the Malay subtitle when
watching television of English program to understand
better (Item S13) and they also like to read the
Malay story books rather than English story books
(Item S14). From the above examples, it is clear
that the respondents prefer to use Malay language as
a medium of instruction. These practices may become
obstacles to the respondents in learning and
understanding the contents of science and
mathematics in English language. Students attitude
towards an academic discipline are recognized as
being significant in determining success in
learning. Table 5 indicates a statement of students’
motivation with regards to the important of English
language in learning and in everyday life. Majority
of the students felt that English language is very
important for their future careers (Item S12),
however they still preferred to learn science and
mathematics in Malay language (Item S9) as majority
of the respondents agreed to the statement that
learning science and mathematics in Malay language
is easier and more likely to be understood (Item
S16). The choice of Malay as a medium of instruction
in learning science probably due to their own
everyday language that make them easier to
understand better of the subjects. In spite of
preferring to learn science and mathematics in
Malay, they showed positive attitude towards the
important of English language as majority of the
respondents (83.9% of Item S15) agreed to the
statement that they will refer to dictionary if they
do not understand English words or terms.
Table 5: Students’ felt needs for English
Correlations among students’ test performance of
English, Mathematics and Science subjects
Table 6: Correlation of students examination results
for English, Mathematics and Science subjects
The results in Table 6 show that the correlations
between UPSR English language and English,
Mathematics and Science monthly test are 0.62, 0.48
and 0.35 respectively, while the correlations
between English monthly test results and Mathematics
and Science monthly test are 0.52 and 0.42
respectively. These results seem to indicate that
respondents who were high in English were more
likely to achieve high scores in their English,
Mathematics and Science tests. In other words, the
findings reveal that English language is one of
several factors that contribute to the respondents’
performance of science and mathematics.
CONCLUSION
The study has established the following:
i.
The students considered English as an important subject to
learn and it was useful for everyday communications
and as a tool for learning science and mathematics.
ii. The students felt that learning science and mathematics in
English were difficult, however to learn science was
more difficult compared to learn mathematics in
English
iii.
The study showed that there was a significant correlation
between UPSR English result and other subjects
monthly test results, such as English, Mathematics
and Science.
iv.
Science subject has been found to be more affected by the
implementing of teaching science and mathematics in
English.
The results of this study described what have
happening in the schools regarding the
implementation of English language in learning
science and mathematics. Students have encountered
language problems as well as contents’ problems and
to overcome these problems they need help and
guidance from the teachers. Emphasized should be
given more on building up students proficiency in
English before they could learn science and
mathematics effectively.