Mother Tongue Programmes To Be Bumped Up In Schools


Singapore, a multicultural hotpot of an island-state, has crafted many of its national policies around catering to its diverse demographic. One of the crucial policies surrounding the safeguarding of Singaporeans’ interests was implemented in the 60s and 70s in the educational setting. The birth of the bilingual policies in schools emphasised the importance of keeping mother tongues alive alongside the strengthening the English language as the first language.

Today, the stress on language skills have not diminished. As the educational sector of Singapore progresses, the mother tongue pedagogy has only been amplified to provide support where needed and open up opportunities to widen students’ knowledge.

One such progressive effort is the implementation of The Language  Elective Programme (LEP), which was previously available in 7 junior colleges, to cover 3 more junior colleges and 15 secondary schools as well. The two-year programme presents the Chinese, Malay or Tamil language in creative ways that are incorporated into immersion trips and camps.

According to the Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, schools are encouraged to roll out conversational mother tongue programmes in the next two years, so as to expose their students as much as possible to more opportunities. 

Third language subjects, which currently follows a rigid curriculum and only offered to the top 10% of the cohort in secondary schools, will be made more flexible and offered to a wider range of students. The MOE is looking into introducing more regional language choices at the conversational level and also incorporate online lessons into the language programmes.

Minister Ong mentioned that these initiatives are part of the national Learning For Life movement, which aims at reshaping the local educational settings and attitudes. From lowering the emphasis on grades to pushing a majority of schools to do away with mid-year examinations, the Learning For Life movement intends to promote the joy in learning.

Singaporeans may not be emotionally nostalgic about their connection to their ancestral lands and thus, their mother tongues. But they are definitely inquisitive about their history and Singaporean identity. 

While the efforts to strengthen mother tongue skills are in full gear in the educational settings, Singapore is seeing fewer families willing to speak their mother tongue as the dominant language at home. But, at the same time, the percentage of bilingual families have climbed from 80% too 90% in the past 2 decades. Minister Ong urges everyone to reinvigorate our endeavours in language skills, especially mother tongues. 

The Chinese LEP will be offered in nine secondary schools, of which most of them fall under the category of Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools that gives special attention to Chinese culture, such as Hwa Chong Institution. Minister Ong notes that although it is natural to start the Chinese LEP programme in schools that prioritises the Chinese language, the programme should aim to expand its services to non-SAP schools as well. The Malay and Tamil LEPs will be offered at three secondary schools each.

The LEP programme will be made available to students who fare well in mother tongue at the end of Secondary 2. The programme will see these students studying mother tongue literature, which will also be examinable at the O levels alongside their mother tongue language examinations.

Students who struggle with their mother tongue already have the option to take the subject at a lower level in both primary and secondary schools. Nevertheless, Minister Ong assures that MOE is also trialling methods to lend some additional support to students who require more committed attention for language learning.