“There are pupils who respond in English when asked questions in Mandarin, or end up using English during discussions in Chinese class” (More SAP Pupils From English-Speaking Homes, Mr. Leow Si Wan).
I refer to the report, “More SAP Pupils From English-Speaking Homes” (March 13, 2010).
Sentiments and exchanges about the declining standards and disappearing interests in the Chinese language have been ongoing for the past decade, with the common recognition that heightened efforts and policies are desired to prevent Mandarin from dying out. Indeed, much has been done. Campaigns have been established to encourage Singaporeans to speak good Mandarin; and within the education system, amendments and tweaks have been made to standardised examinations and expectations. Most significantly, as highlighted by the article, the changing demographics and perpetual proliferation and reliance on the English language have encouraged many schools to adopt an assortment of new methodologies and pedagogies to engage students accordingly.
Undoubtedly, the usage of the Internet and various forms of technology are innovative alternatives to the traditional forms of rote-learning and monotonous lesson plans: a direct response to criticisms that previous batches of students had developed an unhealthy reliance on memory-based learning specifically for examinations. In recent years, Chinese teachers have been creative in the usage of pop-music lyrics, movies, television series to sustain the interests of their students from young; in essence, to make learning interesting and enriching. Their efforts are definitely commendable.
But have such changes genuinely brought about increased interest and mastery in the Chinese language? Perhaps it is high time for the relevant ministries and agencies to comprehensively study the overall effectiveness of the diverse curriculum adopted by teachers, and evaluate whether tangible progress has indeed been made.
More importantly, with regard to the Higher Chinese examinations at the secondary or tertiary level, there should be a re-evaluation on the decision to exclude oral and listening components from the tests. Simply put, one’s ability in a language cannot be ascertained through a mere written examination – of which components are still reinforced through antiquated ways of rote-learning – and the inclusion of the aforementioned aspects would render the Chinese student’s mastery of his or her language a more wholesome one.
The importance of the Chinese language can never be exaggerated; and it certainly goes beyond the practicalities in its usage and engagement, particularly for students and entrepreneurs who aspire to make their mark in China. Culturally, historically, traditionally, pragmatically and realistically… Singaporeans have a special obligation to ensure that the policies of bilingualism will continue to empower individuals to overcome the stringent challenges of tomorrow.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.