New mother tongue curriculum raises concerns

Parents generally welcome the move towards a differentiated approach towards the teaching of mother tongue. 

But some are worried that the new curriculum could add further pressure on their children. 

Hoe Yeen Nie reports : 

For parent Yvonne Chow, when it comes to language, you speak it or lose it. 

That's why Mandarin is often spoken at home, though it's not always easy. 

She welcomes the idea of a more flexible curriculum, but she's unsure of what a proficiency-based system could mean. 

"To me, it sounds a bit suspiciously like streaming, again.  I was very happy that we did away with the EM1, EM2 system. Now if we're going to band them again, we get the whole round of competition, and at the end of the day, I think the same problems will still arise. We will get parents whose kids are not so good in Chinese, panicking and worrying that their child would end up in the lower class, and having to face the so-called stigma again. And at the end of the day, all these parents are going to send their children to tuition centres again." 

Unlike most of her classmates, Yvonne's daughter Chloe doesn't take tuition for Mandarin. 

Already, she's feeling the heat. 

"They'll ask you, what is this word about? Then I must answer in Chinese, but sometimes I don't understand the word. Sometimes our friends will bring it to the tuition centre, and ask the teacher to do." 

The mother tongue subject is undergoing a review, and changes have already been made for a more differentiated approach. 

So students can learn the language at their own pace. 

From 2012, all primary one students will be tested on their proficiency in mother tongue at the start of the year, and taught at the appropriate level. 

But some experts say having these tests at such an early age will only add unnecessary stress. 

Stress too, comes from the fact that what is currently being tested, does not correlate with what is being taught. 

Professor Lee Cher Leng from the National University of Singapore's Department of Chinese Studies explains. 

"On the one hand you have textbooks. On the other hand, the exam has nothing to do with the text. So all teachers do not know what to do. If they learn the text well, they're afraid of losing out on the real-life issues that they're supposed to prepare the kids, in terms of comprehension. But if they focus on that, the kids do not have a foundation of the phrases or the words to begin with." 

Professor Lee adds that given the language environment of most Singaporean children, the focus should be on giving them a solid foundation in their basics. 

Those who want to go further can do so, but they should not be tested for it.