The debate about Singapore’s highly contested Bilingual Policy recently resurfaced with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s admission in The Straits Times that he had led Singapore down a wrong path in the implementation of the national Bilingual Policy. This triggered a series of reports regarding the education Ministry reviewing the methods of instruction for Mandarin, culminating in Education Minister Ng Eng Hen announcing last Wednesday that his ministry was considering reducing the weighting of Mother Tongue scores in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
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As a result of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew calling upon schools to adapt their methods of teaching to make the subject more engaging, especially for those from non-mandarin speaking families, there have been increased reports in the media of the implementation of non-traditional methods of teaching Mandarin such as the use of information technology and the use of English to teach Mandarin. Among the proposed changes to the Mother Tongue curriculum is the decrease of its weighting at the PSLE in order not to “exclude someone from progressing in his educational pathway even if he did well in other subjects”.

While many have praised the recent initiative as timely amid the changing language environment, still others have seen it as the beginning of a slippery slope of deteriorating Mandarin standards- something Singapore can ill-afford given China’s recent meteoric economic rise. The replacement of traditional methods of route learning with new non-traditional methods is also criticized by some segments of society as compromising on the rigours of our Mandarin curriculum.


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