“I think if we arrange our education system, especially in kindergarten and pre-school in such a way that our children are exposed to two languages straightaway, we will make bilingualism a reality and easily achieved by all” (Bilingualism Is Possible, Says Lee Kuan Yew, Miss Evelyn Choo).
The acknowledgement by Former Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew that bilingualism remains pertinent and important – in the news report “Bilingualism Is Possible, Says Lee Kuan Yew” (September 17, 2011) by Miss Evelyn Choo – is timely and highly appropriate. The imperative to master two languages is highlighted because of the multitude of benefits that it would bring about; not only would it heighten communication levels and the ability to interact, but also greatly aid scholastically, as well as facilitate undertakings in the working world. Focusing on pre-school and kindergarten teaching-learning is especially crucial, and has to be fine-tuned to render bilingualism a convenient reality: home-based education with parents must be strengthened, current curriculum must be reviewed, and processes should go beyond writing per se to include speaking, reading and listening capabilities.
Reviewing Home-Based And School-Based Pedagogies
For one to be fluent or proficient in a language he or she must actively put its components – in terms of conversational exchanges or written expositions – into practice; therefore, parents have the responsibility to complement school-based endeavours. The most straightforward methodology would be to continuously engage in these languages with their children; however, the challenge comes when families can only manage a single language. To get around this impediment, households within a neighbourhood can band together to provide cross-assistance and interactions, and online resources – with interactive lesson plans and topical revisions – can be shared for implementation.
Exposure to dual languages is one thing, but developing an interest is another. For more coherent teaching-learning experiences to be articulated, the Ministry of Education (MOE) should review current methods undertaken at the pre-school level, and decide if improvements need to be made. Recommendations should take into account feedback from stakeholders who are acutely aware of present shortcomings; more importantly, sturdier partnerships must be speedily forged between schools, teachers and parents.
A Language Goes Beyond Writing Per Se
Besides the design of the programmes, there is a need to recognise that a language goes beyond the writing component alone; more often than not, in the Singaporean context – in which rote memorisation, written examinations and assessments are given disproportionate emphasis over the other aspects – students and parents are too hung up over performance in this solitary department. To make learning interesting for the kid, he needs to be exposed to reading (the National Library Board (NLB) can contribute with reading lists and summary highlights), speaking (students can be encouraged to make public presentations or speeches about their experiences), and listening (multimedia technology can be adopted, besides using music, radio and television).
For bilingualism to remain sustainable administrators must introduce changes that will affect foundation learning from young; otherwise, if students do not develop these abilities and interests during this period of time, it would be infinitely difficult to stir their passions in the later formative years. When that happens, when our students begin to lose out, we would only have ourselves to blame.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.