Learning mother tongues should be "special", "alive" and "easy" says Education Minister

Mr Heng also said that learning one's mother tongue language should be made unique and special to Singapore.
Mr Heng also said that learning one's mother tongue language should be made unique and special to Singapore. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Learning one's mother tongue language should be made "as easy as possible" for children, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Saturday.

He was addressing 500 educators, parents, community partners and students at the Mother Tongue Languages Symposium, which brings together schools and the community to share creative efforts in promoting mother tongue languages.

"I don't mean lowering standards in the exams. I'm not asking you to set easier papers, but rather, let us find ways and means to help our children learn the language naturally and easily," said Mr Heng.

"What we have done is a great start - for instance, this emphasis on pre-school learning... We start earlier so that they have a better foundation and by doing that, hopefully, as they progress, they find it easier and easier to learn."

He also said that other ways to improve the learning of mother tongues is to look at the best research on language learning and bilingualism and find the best types of resources that can appeal to children at different ages.

Mr Heng also said that learning one's mother tongue language should be made unique and special to Singapore, since it is an expression of the country's rich heritage.

" I'm reminded of a big river - a big river draws its sources from all the small little rivers all over the land, and when they all come together at one point, that point of confluence, that point of connection, is an extremely rich point. And this is how we can build on this rich cultural heritage, and do something special and unique in Singapore."

He also urged languages be taught in way that makes them come "alive".

"It is not something that they learn in the textbook and then they put it away and just sit for the exam," he said. "It is how we use it every day, how we find it useful, meaningful and enjoyable. And in that regard, I'm very happy that we now have a lot more cultural performances, a lot more books that are written in different mother tongue Languages, and a lot more programmes, whether it is on television, on radio, on mass media, or actual plays, dances and performances."

Minister of State for Education Sim Ann, who was also at the event, said pre-school teachers play a key role in "laying a strong foundation for children's bilingual learning".

Six teachers received the Outstanding Award given to pre-school mother tongue teachers, and another seven were given the Merit Award. The award recipients were chosen out of 100 nominations.

The symposium, which is in its fourth year, was held at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. It featured 20 sharing sessions and workshops, and 40 exhibition booths run by pre-school centres, schools and partners.