PRE-SCHOOLS teaching in Mandarin and Chinese are all the rage. EtonHouse, which runs high-end pre-schools, is taking it further.
In the pre-school it is opening on the grounds of Hwa Chong Institution in July, children in pre-nursery and nursery classes will be taught entirely in Mandarin, from 18 months till age four, when they enter the first year of kindergarten.
Based on the belief that language learning should be spontaneous, Mandarin will be taught in a lively way through Chinese cultural experiences, literature, art, music, dance and drama.
The only other kindergarten that teaches pre-nursery and nursery classes entirely in Mandarin is Nanyang Kindergarten, which is also in Bukit Timah. It is oversubscribed every year.
Mrs Ng Gim Choo, managing director of EtonHouse International Education Group, said there has been growing demand for pre-school education that offers a strong foundation in Chinese, underscoring the increasing value Singapore society places on the language.
This demand is also seen among non-Chinese speaking families, she added.
"Our aim is for our children to develop a deep appreciation of the language and provide a bilingual and bicultural foundation for life. This is possible only when children enjoy learning Chinese and appreciate and embrace Chinese culture."
Asked about the Mandarin-only immersion, EtonHouse curriculum specialist Alice Tay said: "The immersion model in the early years is based on the fact that the more time spent learning this second language in the critical early years, the better."
The subsequent introduction of another language, in this case English, in the kindergarten years helps children to acquire proficiency in both languages, she said.
"The objective of our new set-up is to create an environment where children establish warm and constructive relationships with Mandarin-speaking adults from an early age. The language is not 'taught', but naturally acquired through meaningful experiences," she added.
An EtonHouse spokesman said the new school will have native Chinese-language teachers from China with qualifications in early childhood education.
Madam Kelsey Tan, 29, an accountant, is all for the Mandarin-only immersion as she feels that speaking Mandarin will give her son an advantage.
She said: "Both my husband and I don't speak the language well, but we really want our son to learn Mandarin because with the growth of China, it will be an asset to know Mandarin.
"And since he will be exposed to only English at home, we thought it will be good if he is exposed to a lot more Mandarin in school."
The fees for the three-hour sessions will be $800 per month for pre-nursery and nursery 1 class, and $750 per month for Nursery 2, K1 and K2. The pre-school can take in up to 150 children.