Giving 'amnesty' adds fun to Chinese lessons

The award winners at the ceremony held during the launch of the Singapore Book Fair yesterday were (front row, from left) Ms See Hui Chen, Ms Hoe Mei Hwee and Madam Dong Yan; (back row, from left) Mr Liu Zhao, Mr Liong Peen Lee, Mr Chong Yew Fook and
The award winners at the ceremony held during the launch of the Singapore Book Fair yesterday were (front row, from left) Ms See Hui Chen, Ms Hoe Mei Hwee and Madam Dong Yan; (back row, from left) Mr Liu Zhao, Mr Liong Peen Lee, Mr Chong Yew Fook and Mr Teo Chieng Chua. Two other winners were not present at the event.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Pupils who take an active part in Chinese lessons at Bukit Timah Primary can get cards that allow them to be excused for "crimes" such as forgetting to complete their homework.

Dubbed mian si jin pai, or "amnesty cards", in a playful echo of the tokens used in imperial China, this is one of the innovations that Chinese-language teacher Dong Yan has come up with to make lessons more interesting.

Each card grants a pupil one chance to be let off the hook and can also be used to help "save" a friend in similar situations.

Yesterday, Madam Dong, 42, was one of nine teachers awarded the Inspiring Chinese Language Teachers Award, organised by Lianhe Zaobao and endorsed by the Ministry of Education.

The cards have helped pupils become more engaged during Chinese lessons, she said.

"They enjoy it more and participate more actively in class," said Madam Dong, who has taught in the school for 14 years and thought up the idea with her Chinese department colleagues.

She has also incorporated elements of Chinese history, such as the Three Kingdoms period in China, into the amnesty cards.

"I link the cards to heroes such as Chinese strategist and statesman Zhuge Liang and military general Zhao Yun, and tell pupils about that era," she said.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, who presented the awards, said parents can spur their children's interest in Chinese language through pop culture.

The Mayor of North East District said he lets his children watch Chinese drama serials and Korean ones which have been dubbed in Mandarin or subtitled in Chinese. "They are not very good in Chinese... but they read the subtitles, watch, and listen... and practise (speaking) at home," he told reporters.

He also gets them to read Chinese comics and listen to Mandopop songs, such as those by Taiwan singer Jay Chou.

"Part of my own learning process was through pop songs too," said Mr Teo, adding that he likes Hong Kong singers Khalil Fong and Eason Chan.

The nine teachers - five from primary schools, two from secondary schools and two from junior colleges - were chosen from 1,000 nominated by school principals, teachers, parents and students.

Nominated teachers had to go through three rounds of judging and an interview.

The awards were presented at the launch of the Singapore Book Fair at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

leepearl@sph.com.sg