Monday, August 20, 2007

Pressure Cooker

So add more pressure, why doncha?

Kids are already struggling with having to learn two languages in school. I am not even talking about being able to speak proper English & proper Chinese. Because the English & Mandarin being spoken by the average Singaporean on the street is far from proper, or even proficient, in many cases. Non-Singaporeans have problems understanding the Singlish that passes off as English. And having lived in Beijing now for the last 8 months, I realize that the Mandarin I hear being spoken here in China is w-a-a-a-a-y different from the Mandarin I hear being spoken in Singapore!

So now, PM Lee talks about adding a 3rd language to the secondary school curriculum, with incentives for the students to take it up to get bonus points into JC.

More incentives to learn Malay at secondary school
Monday • August 20, 2007

The talk has long focused on the language skills necessary to engage China and, yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the need to relate to the Malay-speaking region, too.

More incentives, he announced, will be dished out to encourage more Singaporeans to study Malay or Chinese — if it is not their mother tongue — as a third language.

Such secondary school students will soon enjoy two bonus points for junior college admission. Perks like these will be available to non-Malays who sign up for the Malay Special Programme (MSP) and non-Chinese students in the Chinese Special Programme.

The MSP has had a poor take-up rate since it was launched in 1985 for top Primary School Leaving Examination students to learn the Malay language and the cultural heritage of Malays. It remained unpopular despite being extended this year to all Secondary 1 students.

Mr Lee said that while many older Singaporeans spoke and understood Malay, "too few" of the younger generation did.

While the current mother tongue policy would not change, he said, it was important to learn Malay or Bahasa Indonesia to facilitate interaction with our Southeast Asian neighbours. As such, a Regional Studies Programme — where students take Malay as a third language and learn about South-east Asia — will be rolled out in three or four secondary schools. A hundred scholarships will be offered to sweeten the deal, he added.

"It would be good if one of the schools can offer Bahasa Indonesia. I understand … one school is already interested," said Mr Lee.

Civil servants, too, will be incentivised. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officers already get a language allowance if they maintain a good grasp of languages to do their work better and this will be extended to more agencies that have extensive contact with other countries. — Lee U-Wen

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

I am all for learning a 2nd or 3rd or heck, even a 4th language, IF THE PERSON LEARNING IT ACTUALLY LIKES & APPRECIATES THE LANGUAGE HE OR SHE IS LEARNING.

There has been some debate in the ST Forum section lately over the teaching & learning of a second language (specifically Mandarin) in school & I have previously blogged about it.

So before PM Lee or Minister Tharman endorses this new policy, I hope they first look into how languages are taught in Singapore schools before piling on more pressure on the already highly-pressured educational system in Singapore.

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