New Chinese curriculum with a local touch developed for pre-schoolers

 (From left)  Dr Neo Peng Fu, Director, Confucius Institute at NTU, Professor Chan Kam Leung Alan, Vice President (Alumni and Advancement) NTU, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung.
(From left) Dr Neo Peng Fu, Director, Confucius Institute at NTU, Professor Chan Kam Leung Alan, Vice President (Alumni and Advancement) NTU, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR
Children from PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Gambas attending a Chinese lesson developed by The Confucius Institute of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.
Children from PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Gambas attending a Chinese lesson developed by The Confucius Institute of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

SINGAPORE- Illustrations of HDB living and travelling on the MRT, and desktop games created by local students, are part of materials newly developed to teach pre-schoolers Chinese.

The set of curricula, designed by the Confucius Institute at the Nanyang Technological University (CI-NTU) for children from ages three to six, features content and illustrations that are locally relevant.

It is also in line with the Ministry of Education's Nurturing Early Learners framework, which spells out the learning outcomes of pre-school education.

The resources, titled Chinese for Early Learners, was launched on Wednesday (Jan 3) by Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong commended the effort by CI-NTU, telling reporters that learning any language has to be a ground-up initiative.

The package is available for sale at $1,800 for interested pre-school operators.

It comprises 68 books, 544 lesson plans, 2,800 flashcards and 16 student activity books. The curricula also includes five language games that children can play online. These were designed by a group of 12 Institute of Technical Education students during their internship with the Confucius Institute, which is the first Chinese language and culture school in Singapore co-sponsored by China's central government.

The institute, which was established jointly in 2005 by NTU and China's Office of Chinese Language Council International, offers Chinese-language and culture courses to children and adults.

At the launch event held at PCF Sparkletots pre-school at Yishun Ave 6, Dr Neo Peng Fu, director of CI-NTU, said there could be vast differences in learning experiences across pre-schools, especially for mother tongue classes.

"We set out to develop a localised Chinese curriculum for pre-schoolers as materials used by some pre-schools are sourced from other countries, or may not be of high quality. Our newly developed curriculum would also be helpful to pre-school operators that may not have the resources to design their own curriculum," he said.

The learning materials were developed with the main objective of laying a solid foundation in the skills of listening and speaking Mandarin, he said, adding that it is not children's dominant language these days.

"You must learn how to speak and listen before proceeding to learning how to read and write (in primary school)," said Dr Neo.

The books, which revolve around 17 themes such as colours and numbers, are illustrated by local comic artist Wee Tian Beng.

They are also compatible with pen devices that can read the text aloud when pressed against the words on a page. Five Singaporean children had their voices recorded in a studio at NTU last year (2017) for this feature.

Since 2015, CI-NTU's teaching resource team worked with academics and pre-school educators to develop lesson plans progressively across four levels, book content and nursery rhymes. It also conducted pilot tests of the materials in a few pre-schools and enrichment programmes.

The project received $300,000 in seed funding from NTU in 2016, and was completed in October last year (2017).

The team from CI-NTU plans to meet anchor operators and private pre-schools to share their resources.

Madam Ng Lay Tin, executive principal of PCF headquarters, said that the school is in discussions to do so. She added that the new resources could supplement PCF's current Chinese syllabus - which is developed together with the English curricula - but would not replace it entirely.