Support of groups needed to keep Chinese language alive: Ng Eng Hen

With English replacing Mandarin as the most common language spoken at home, the Ministry of Education will need the support of community groups to keep the mother tongue language alive, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.

Speaking at the 10th-year anniversary celebrations of the Bicultural Chinese Elective Programme (Bicep) yesterday, he cited the programme as a good example of how community groups can help keep Chinese alive.

The programme, which was launched by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK) in 2007, uses lessons on topics such as Chinese history, and activities like calligraphy, to instil in pupils a broad appreciation of Chinese culture.

Since then, more than 1,200 pupils from the five primary schools affiliated with the Hokkien clan association - Ai Tong, Kong Hwa, Tao Nan, Chongfu and Nan Chiau - have graduated from it.

"Now, you have a pool of bicultural and bilingual talent that will enable another generation with the wherewithal to keep the Chinese language alive in Singapore," said Dr Ng.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Crystal Chan, 19, who was from the programme's pioneer batch, said learning about China's history and culture helped her to excel in her Chinese media and communication course at the polytechnic.

"I used to go for weekly speech and drama classes, too, which helped me to be confident about speaking in front of crowds," she said.

More will get to benefit from the programme soon as the clan group plans to extend it to pupils outside its affiliated schools in the next one to two years, its education committee chairman James Teo said.

Discussions are being held with five primary schools, he added.

Yesterday, a platform to reconnect graduates of the programme, called the SHHK Bicep Network, was also introduced.

Under the initiative, aimed at Bicep graduates aged 14 to 18, participants may get to go on internships with Chinese-related organisations including media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

They will also get to attend sharing sessions with editors and journalists from SPH's Chinese publications.

Addressing more than 350 students yesterday, Dr Ng said their good command of the Chinese language is a skill for life.

"It is an asset to forge greater partnerships and have more effective exchanges with Chinese- speaking counterparts locally and internationally," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Support of groups needed to keep Chinese language alive: Ng Eng Hen'. Print Edition | Subscribe