The likely outcome of our current education policy will result to the above. Majority of Singaporean students will end up as monolinguals and for foreign students who have their mother-tongue education in their home countries, they are likely to be benefited from our system and become bilinguals when they graduate from our schools.
The examples of USA, UK, and Australia have proved that this is the case. Foreign students, who struggle for a few years in these countries after their primary or secondary education at home, are very likely to be bilingual or bi-culture later in their life. Perhaps, except Singapore students who are weak in mother-tongue.
The challenge for our bilingualism policy is in fact how to master the mother-tongue, i.e. Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages. The problem is not English as it is the media of instruction in schools. Comparing to the past, few students find learning English difficult although they may end up learning Singlish. That is another question and so we have “Speak Good English” campaign.
The learning of mother-tongue will continue to be a challenging issue if Singapore wants to maintain the bilingualism policy. Perhaps, we should shock ourselves by dropping bilingualism for Singapore students. It has become a low productivity movement, especially for Chinese students. Even with tuition, scoring an A or A * is not as easy as other Science or Math subjects.
The motivation is just not there even with the lowering standard to Chinese B or using English to teach Chinese. It has ‘dirty’ the meaning of bilingualism.
Hence, the beneficiary of our bilingualism (if there is valid one) is foreign students. These students learn their mother-tongue at their home countries, be it, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian languages, Bahasa Indonesia, or Thai when they are young. They carry with them the mother-tongue culture, value and language at a younger age.
These students are likely to be bilingual and perhaps bi-culture (multi-lingual and -culture) after their education in Singapore.
When we look at it from this angle, our bilingualism policy is really serving foreign students well. Our weaknesses have become their strengths.
So, former PM Lee Kuan Yew wants to expose children to two languages at an earlier age:
“Speaking at the launch of the Chinese edition of his book: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he said Singaporeans should be exposed to both English and their respective Mother Tongue languages from a young age.
"If we arrange our education system in kindergarten and pre-school in such a way that our children are exposed to two languages straight away, we will make bilingualism a reality and easily achieved by all," Mr Lee said.
Mr Lee also said that he was convinced that multilingualism or bilingualism is possible. However, one should be a master language."The reality is that we must have English as the master language. Next, we should have the Mother Tongues to identify ourselves.(asiaone, 17 Sept 2011)”
According to Lee, bilingualism is still not a reality and not easily achieved by all in Singapore.
If one remembered correctly, he had even suggested a pre-school and primary education in mother-tongue. But this appeared to be ‘educationally right and politically wrong’. So, he made comprise to have two languages at younger age. This is ‘patients choosing their own medications rather than the best medication’. At the end, problems are still unsolved.
The bilingualism policy, if we really want to see results, has to undergo a shock therapy. Be it a full mother tongue teaching from pre-school to primary 1 or 2 or even go back to the old time of Chinese schools. It looks radical but if there is no shock, there is no gain. If not, it will always remain the greatest challenge for Singapore, for Former PM Lee Kuan Yew and concerned people.