SINGAPORE - During the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers had to adjust to moving their lessons online and finding ways to engage students in a virtual classroom.
At the same time, Chinese-language teachers face another challenge, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Saturday (Sept 11).
In the age of the Internet, younger Singaporeans consume media and information primarily in English, with Mandarin taking a backseat in daily conversation, said Mr Chan.
"When there are fewer opportunities to be exposed to Chinese in your daily life, it will require more effort to learn Chinese. Some students may even be afraid and refuse to learn," he said in Mandarin.
He was speaking at an award ceremony for eight teachers who have made an exemplary effort in the teaching of the Chinese language and culture amid these challenges.
On Saturday, the eight teachers received the Distinguished Chinese Language Teachers Award at a ceremony at Singapore Press Holdings' News Centre in Toa Payoh.
The awards, in their 24th edition, also acknowledge teachers who cultivate students' interest in Chinese language and culture through creative teaching methods or co-curricular activities.
The awards are organised by Lianhe Zaobao and ZBSchools.sg, and co-organised by Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, the Society of Chinese Education Singapore, Singapore Chinese Teachers Union and Singapore Middle School Chinese Teachers Association.
The eight award winners each received a trophy and a cash prize of $1,500.
They were selected from a pool of about 340 teachers from 163 schools. All Chinese-language teachers, except past winners, from primary and secondary schools, pre-university and junior colleges were eligible for nomination by schools, parents or students.
Award winner Jiang Yan Yan, 40, a Singaporean, said she has made use of technology to make her Chinese lessons more interesting for students.
For example, the Princess Elizabeth Primary School teacher uses TikTok videos to teach students new vocabulary, such as "chuang yi", which means "creativity".
"The computer seems to have a kind of magic - the learning tasks need only be linked to the Internet for students to do them willingly and enthusiastically," Ms Jiang said in Mandarin.
Technology has fundamentally changed the way people learn, she added.
She recalled how some of her students, who were learning Chinese at a foundational level, used Google Translate to write her a card on Teacher's Day this year.
"It's good. It shows they are willing to try. Even if they were copying the words off Google Translate, that is a starting point for them to learn - without technology, if they didn't know the words, they would just be stuck. At the end of the day, everyone's learning process is different," said Ms Jiang, who has been teaching for 13 years.
Dr Liang Yong, 53, who teaches the college section in Hwa Chong Institution, also received the award. He has a doctorate in China studies and has been teaching for 14 years.
Dr Liang, also a Singaporean, said he tries to make learning Chinese fun and hands-on for students.
For example, when news about environmental issues in China was trending, he asked his students to participate in a mock televised debate in Chinese.
"Students were divided into several groups, playing the roles of central leaders, local officials, entrepreneurs, urban residents, migrant workers and non-governmental organisation representatives, to discuss how to control pollution. This real-world application stimulated their curiosity and interest in learning Chinese," he said in Mandarin.