Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Learning how to learn the Chinese language 

During Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, he had indicated an intention to change the way the Chinese language is taught in schools. Yesterday, the Singapore government unveiled a little more of its plans.

Chinese language review proposals to be debated in Parliament in Nov
The learning of Chinese in schools is all set to change — from cutting down the number of characters students have to rote learn for examinations to even plans to teach Chinese as a first language for some lower Primary students.

A high level committee presented these proposals to make Chinese more relevant to Singapore students at a dialogue on Monday. The dialogue was chaired by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew who gathered feedback from Chinese community leaders before the plans are put into a White Paper for Parliamentary debate in November...

The key is to give parents choice, and not to force children to try to master two languages to equal ability — which Mr Lee says he now acknowledges is not possible.

Educators acknowledge that what is urgently required is to reform the way the language is now taught — so that children find it easier and more relevant to study the language... Other changes proposed by the committee include a more flexible and modular system for the Chinese curriculum. There will also be more emphasis on listening, character recognition and verbal skills rather than writing skills, and more modern teaching methods. They are also expected to make a push for a greater use of IT in Chinese Language learning. Teachers would have to be retrained and recruited to meet the changing demands of Chinese language education.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s personal reflection was also interesting.

Mr Lee said: “My friends tell me, including Mr Lim Kim San that if my children had not become bilingual, this problem would not become so serious. Because I thought they could do it, well other people’s children should be able to do it. Even though it may not be to the same level...

“Most important is do not turn the student off, which is what we have succeeded in doing, by forcing them to achieve the standard, we have turned off one generation. Which is a great pity, they are fed up, they are forced by their parents, they are forced by their schools. They hate it. They want to have nothing more to do with it, which I think is a tragedy. I never considered that point, because I did not come across such people, but it was happening.”
The last point provides a very good reason why the composition of governments should always reflect the composition of the population as far as possible, minus of course the crooks and crackpots. Or alternatively include people who are able to empathise with the masses and minorities.


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