Bilingualism helps Singapore spread its wings: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung visiting the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee's booth yesterday, with Senior Minister of State for Education Chee Hong Tat and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling. ST
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung visiting the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee's booth yesterday, with Senior Minister of State for Education Chee Hong Tat and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Proficiency in mother tongues will allow access to valuable opportunities in the region

Asia's growing potential is one of several reasons why Singapore needs to continue promoting the learning of mother tongues, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

"Our region is the fastest growing in the world, and knowing our MTLs (mother tongue languages) well allows us to access valuable economic opportunities around the region," he said at the 8th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium, where he was guest of honour.

For instance, he pointed out, someone fluent in his mother tongue could be posted for jobs in important markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, India or China.

"You are more likely to be valued for your bicultural expertise and perspective. Knowing an MTL opens up opportunities and this change will gather pace," said Mr Ong. "Many countries recognise this and are pushing ahead with multilingual education policies. Bilingualism is no longer Singapore's unique advantage."

Changes in mother tongue teaching for secondary and primary schools were part of the Government's approach towards helping people learn and develop proficiency in their mother tongues from pre-school to adulthood.

And more is being done to help students enjoy and excel in their mother tongue languages.

In two years' time, a revised curriculum will be launched in secondary schools. Also, primary school pupils who find learning their mother tongues challenging will get more support in the subject.


  • Changes to mother tongue learning at secondary schools

    A revised Secondary 1 mother tongue curriculum will be launched in 2021.

    Changes to other secondary levels will follow progressively.

    The new curriculum will have four distinct features:

    • Greater infusion of cultural knowledge and appreciation;

    • A supplement of contemporary materials to contextualise students' learning;

    • More exposure to stories and using stories to enhance language learning;

    • Integration of ICT-enabled lessons for better interactivity and ease of customisation. ICT refers to information and communication technology.

    Changes to mother tongue learning at primary schools

    From 2021, the Ministry of Education will introduce the Mother Tongue Support Programme for Primary 3 pupils who need support in the subject, and a year later, for Primary 4 pupils.

    There are already Learning Support Programmes for English and Mathematics at lower primary levels.

    Participating pupils will receive differentiated instruction in class, and learning resources, such as picture cards, have been specially developed.

    Venessa Lee

Mr Ong's announcement that a Mother Tongue Support Programme would be introduced in 2021 for all Primary 3 pupils and extended to all Primary 4 pupils in 2022, was backed by "positive feedback" for a pilot scheme launched in several schools last year.

A study conducted by the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language found that students participating in the pilot showed significantly higher levels of engagement.

Similarly, encouraging feedback from teachers, pupils and parents of a revised primary school curriculum in 2015 led to the Education Ministry reviewing the secondary curriculum, said Senior Minister of State for Education Chee Hong Tat, who also spoke at the symposium, which featured workshops, discussions and 43 exhibition booths.

The new secondary mother tongue curriculum, starting with the Secondary 1 cohort in 2021, has distinct features including greater infusion of cultural knowledge and appreciation to make lessons more engaging for students.

This could be through platforms such as discussions on festivities, traditions, architecture and even pop culture, including Mandopop, xinyao - a home-grown Mandarin folk song genre - and songs of other mother tongues.


There will also be current affairs, real-life contexts and more exposure to stories, including adapted texts from the four classic Chinese novels (Journey To The West, Water Margin, Romance Of The Three Kingdoms and Dream Of The Red Chamber) for Chinese, the Pahlawan Panggung anthology for Malay and the Sanga Ilakkiyam for Tamil.

Yesterday's symposium also featured the presentation of the Outstanding Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award.

One of six teachers who received the award was Ms Zhou Shaojuan from My First Skool @ Blk 742 Woodlands Circle, who plans lessons that involve interesting, hands-on activities such as baking bread. "Children who are poor in Chinese can learn how to express themselves through such activities, where I might include pictures, videos, dance and audio," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 25, 2019, with the headline 'Bilingualism helps S'pore spread its wings, says Ong'. Print Edition | Subscribe