More flexibility needed in mother tongue policy

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has spoken of how we should avoid the extremes of uniformity or rigid differentiation, and avoid paths with dead ends when it comes to the education system (Biggest mistake is to think 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'; Sept 22).

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be practised by the Ministry of Education. I cite the case of my son, who is in Primary 5, as an example. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten. A psychologist's report in 2012 recommended that we monitor his progress in acquiring Chinese, as he may face difficulties in learning two languages, Chinese and English.

We encouraged him to learn Chinese in school, sent him for Chinese tuition, and let him watch Chinese variety shows which he enjoys, in an attempt to keep him interested in the language.

Despite our efforts, his school results and our observations showed that he continued to struggle with Chinese. His progress report from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore last year noted that he had difficulties with English too.

So, we finally decided to apply for mother tongue language exemption. We submitted the reports from 2012 and last year for consideration.

The school warned us that the MOE has been strict and rejected exemption applications in recent years. But we felt we had a compelling case, as our son has a genuine learning disability that had been certified since kindergarten.

So, we were disappointed when we received the ministry's official reply rejecting our application and reminding us that "the bilingual education is a cornerstone of Singapore's education system".

This is a one-size-fits-all approach.

In 2011, it was reported that 20 boys out of a cohort of 300 in a school had been exempted from mother tongue language because of dyslexia and learning difficulties.

The strictness now is a flip to the other extreme. It is disheartening.

Bernadette Chang (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'More flexibility needed in mother tongue policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe