Friday, 14 May 2010

MTL - Changed Strategy In This Issue But What Is The Real Problem & Solution ?

"EDUCATION Minister Ng Eng Hen apologised yesterday for giving the 'wrong impression' in a recent press interview that his ministry was planning to reduce the mother tongue weightage." (Straits Times, May 12, 2010)

"I think I should have chosen my words more carefully and apologise for creating that wrong impression," he said of his interview three weeks ago with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao.

In that interview, Dr Ng had said the Ministry of Education (MOE) was looking at options to address the overemphasis on exams, where 'mother tongue languages count for so much in the PSLE'.

"The worry is whether it could exclude someone from progressing in his educational pathway even if he did well in other subjects," he had said.
There is a changed strategy in addressing this issue by the PM and the Education Minister about MTL teaching and examinations in our education system, but what is the real solution for promoting the quality of teaching of the MTL in our education system?

My Opinion

The real problem is that in Singapore, our system is always searching for "easy" tools to quick-fix a "problem". I felt it was an attempt to stop antagonising some parents for a quick fix because Election is near. Hence, the issue almost saga but the strategy backfired.

When the Governemnt cannot use "money" as a tool to quick-fix a problem, they often use their policies, and hence "examinations" are targetted as a quick fix.

I believe language should be taught through a "natural" way and process. I do not think Chinese as a MTL is taught in a unique way in China today via quick-fix manipulation, through examination policies or emphasis by weightage on examinations.

I recall I was amongst the pioneer batches required to pass Chinese at "A" Levels in order to enter our local university. My peers who did not like Chinese as 2nd Langauge, and took Malay; had cursed and sworn at that policy then. That was the "trial and error" phase to introduce MTL education.

I personally learned Chinese the "natural" and "simple" way, ironically when our education system was not so well structured and complex.

Today, I work for a subsidiary of a China state-run MNC. I am employed more because of my specialist skillset in Contracts, as well as my knowledge of the English langauge; rather than my ability in the Chinese language. But with my MTL knowledge learned as a 2nd language, I am able to communicate and appreciate the Chinese culture, style of management and way of doing business.

I do not and need not speak as fast as natural Chinese native speakers, but I can follow at the speed they are talking or delivering their message, in order to work with them. And I communicate at my own speed, and also in the imperfect Singaporean mode, due to my early upbringing in a Hokkien dialact environment.

I believe this was also the way I learned English as the First Language. While in our university, I had to get use to listening to lecturers speaking different brands of English - UK, USA, Australia, NZ, HK and other Asian nationalities including our very own Singlish, and it was not about studying languages but on the very technical subject on "Architectural Buildings and Construction".

In fact, it was harder for me to cope with learning English than Chinese at the early stage. Today, I know both pretty well, although I have lost touch in written Chinese. But I can read sufficiently well.

I believe which ever langauge one knows better, one will tend to use that language as the "comprehending" language in the thought process. I do not know if any language expert can prove me wrong. So my tendency is to listen well in Chinese to a native speaker and then use English language to decipher its meaning. This is a habit which is hard to rid completely and slows the communication process. Hence, I do not agree completely to the suggestion on the use of English to teach Chinese / Mandarin.

However, my above handicap does not stop me from understanding the Chinese culture, management style, and ways of doing long as I can catch the spoken Chinese words fast enough.

The real problem is we do not have the "cultural" environment to help us learn the language. "Culture" or "Wen Hua" ... means language (wen) which is just the first part or beginning to culture, and we need the bigger environment to perfect the learning of the Chinese language. When one master the langauge, he is most likely to go on to master the understanding of culture. And in China, when you master both, you are considserd as "educated". This environemnt, we do not have, to support our learning of the language. This is not simply solved by using quick-fix tools and policies like having native speakers as language teachers or putting weightage on examinations, or even the way it is tested or examined. It helps a little but is certainly not the cure.

The learners must be immersed in the right larger environment.

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