Singapore, with about 78 percent of its population being ethnically Chinese, is attaching more importance to the Chinese Language (CL) education than ever before, Lee Ngian Kai, president of Singapore Chinese Teachers' Union, said on Friday.
Also the CL Unit Curriculum Specialist of Curriculum Planning and Development Division of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Lee attributed the positive changes to the peaceful rise of China with rapid economic development and increasing global influence in recent years.
Lee quoted Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as saying that it would be a disaster for Singapore if Singaporeans lost their advantage of being Chinese-speaking, and measures such as sticking to the bilingualism (English and mother tongue) policy and maintaining schools with special CL courses (Special Assistance Plan or SAP schools), CL newspaper Lianhe Zaobao and CL TV station make it possible for Singapore to reinforce its CL education.
Though one of the four official languages now in Singapore, CL was ignored when the country was ruled by the United Kingdom as a colony.
The Singapore government adopted the bilingualism policy in education in 1966, the second year of its independence, which evolved to the practice of designating English as the first language and mother tongue the second in 1987.
To ensure that students from different ethnic backgrounds keep the essence of their own culture, the government also stipulated that the mother tongue is a must in curriculum and examination while being qualified for a certain level in mother tongue learning is a prerequisite for university enrollment.
The annual Speak Mandarin Campaign, launched in 1979, has proved a success in popularizing CL in Singapore, according to Lee, which contributed a lot to encouraging Chinese ethnics with English education background to get familiar with Chinese culture and speaking CL as much as possible in their daily life.
In Lee's view, learning mother tongue can not only help Singaporeans consolidate their confidence in their culture, roots and identity, but also enable the country to preserve the cultural traits and conventional values as a member of the Asian society, which he considered are the real driving force of CL education in Singapore.
Lee told Xinhua that many parents in Singapore want their children to learn CL for cultural and economic reasons though they tend to communicate with their kids in English at home because of the comparatively higher use value of English as the country's working language.
The fact embodied both opportunities and challenges for CL education in the island state as posed by changes in family and social linguistic environment, according to Lee.
To promote CL teaching and learning in the city state, MOE formed the Chinese Language Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee in February 2004 to conduct a comprehensive review.
"Our aim should be to stimulate an interest in the language in all CL students and motivate them to use it long after they leave school," said the Committee's report, which emphasized effective oral communication and reading for the majority of the students.
Lee noted that among the eight changes to CL curriculum and pedagogy, as proposed by the Committee, the most important one is the modular approach at the primary level, which will introduce greater customization and flexibility into CL teaching and learning.
Taking into consideration the sequence by which languages are naturally learned, the modular approach will require all primary students to take Core modules while providing those who need additional support with Bridging modules and Reinforcement modules in different grades.
Lee pointed out that the approach also encourages students with the ability and interest in learning CL to take Enrichment modules, which have already been implemented in the 15 SAP primary schools island-wide.
As far as the pedagogy is concerned, Lee said that a "recognize first, write later" approach is recommended to help students build their vocabulary and improve proficiency in the language through use.
Accepting the Committee's proposals, MOE launched the Strategies for Effective Engagement and Development of Pupils in Learning Chinese Language (SEED-CL) in this April, which will introduce experimentation in teaching techniques in the second semester of primary 1 in 12 schools this year.
MOE will also implement a trial of new curriculum for Primary 1 and 2 in 25 schools in 2006, which places less emphasis on script writing and more emphasis on character recognition to help students begin to read early.
Lee told Xinhua that there are about 4,000 professionally- trained CL teachers in primary and secondary schools in Singapore, of whom a considerable portion come from China. They have won warm praise from local students and teachers due to their conscientious working attitude as well as their standard pronunciation.
He further stressed the importance of cooperating with China in CL teaching and learning in terms of training teachers, sharing instructional and reading materials as well as applying Chinese software in CL education in Singapore.
Sharing the view of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that CL teaching and learning are imperative, Lee Ngian Kai believed that the CL education in the island state has come to a crucial stage while the appropriate reform measures, as well as the support from the government and the Chinese community, are among the decisive factors to ensure its success.