Saturday, 7 July 2012

Bilingualism, how far can we go? Is another shock therapy needed?


The bilingualism policy and strategy is always a one-side story – the emphasis of English language.  The second language of mother-tongue is always a supplementary – with or without it will not affect a person badly.

For this achievement, we may have to agree with PM Lee Hsien Loong.  Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Yale-NUS liberal arts college, he noted:
"Our system is not perfect - parents and students (are) still stressed about tests and key examinations, tuition has become a minor national obsession - but despite that, overall (we are) not doing too badly." (Today, 7 July 2012)

Yes. Our education system is not perfect, especially the bilingualism policy.  PM Lee has only looked at the tests, examinations, and tuition; it is culture, value and spirit that will carry a person in his or her whole life.  Overall we are not doing too badly in mathematically term only, but spiritually, are we also doing not so badly?   

Providing an update, Prof Lewis (Yale-NUS college's inaugural president) said that there will be a deliberate effort to combine Eastern and Western elements in the curriculum. (Today 7 July 2012)

One will wonder how to input Eastern elements into Yale-NUS College if the bilingualism in Singapore is in fact an English only policy. We can bring in the Eastern elements from all over Asia, especially China, India and South East Asia. But what about the students, do we have enough local students who are bilingual enough to benefit from Yale-NUS education?  Don’t tell me we have to import foreign students too. Otherwise, we may have to adopt  what Singapore University of Technology and Design did for the first intake of their students – limited the number of students admitted so that it will not break the quota restriction (due to insufficient qualified local students).  

It may be a ‘right way forward’ and "will not be a replica" of Yale University in the United States provided we have (enough) local talents and students who can benefit from the program. However, if you look at our bilingualism education in schools, it is not only a disappointing development; it is a crisis in waiting.

If it is not doing so badly, there is no need to call for proposals to promote bilingualism education at pre-school level.  It directly points out that the formal school education (from primary, secondary to JC) of bilingualism is not doing well or beyond repair.

{Members of the public with ideas on how to promote bilingualism among children at the pre-school level are invited to submit their proposals to the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.
Launched last November, the Fund is aimed at promoting bilingual education to address the eroding use of mother-tongue languages among Singaporeans. } (Today, 7 July 2012)
We can build the infrastructure of Yale-NUS College, bilingualism policy, and bi-culture education at schools; however, if our students don’t have the soft power and language capability to benefit from the system, then we are just doing it for other people or foreign institutions.  We provide them a platform to venture into Asia or for the foreign students an opportunity venture into the world.

This development will, of course, draw criticism from local Singaporeans.

The bilingualism strategy has now lowered to pre-school status. It is time we need another shock therapy – a painful and difficult one like the Lim Chong Yah's wage shock therapy.

Former PM Lee Kuan Yew has seen the danger and crisis of not having enough bilingual (and bi-culture) Singaporeans.   However, it may be an effort of “ 有心无力
(In your heart you want to do it but you have lost the strength to do it) .

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