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     Community Issues: Improving the teaching of English Language in Singapore schools



Excerpt of article "Ministry to look into improving teaching of English Language" in The Straits Times of 6 Jun 2006 (1)

"...He (Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam) said: 'For the significant proportion of our students who actually find learning of English a challenge starting from primary school up, how can we teach them better?'

" 'How can we use technology and new methods to improve their ability to master the language which is often not a first language for them?'..."




Excerpt of letter by Dr Ong Siew Chey in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 9 Jun 2006 (H23)

"...As one who was primarily Chinese-educated and had to struggle for years to acquire an acceptable standard in English, I would like to share my views on teaching and learning English.

"There was once a tendency in Singapore to adopt the ostrich approach by glorifying Singlish as desirable for its Singaporean flavour. Singlish was prevalent in schools as peer pressure dissuaded students from speaking English properly.

"So, to improve English standards, we need to see Singlish in the proper perspective and not consider it praiseworthy again...

"When I was in a Chinese school, I struggled hopelessly to learn English as most teachers had few clues about teaching English, until a certain teacher came along.

"He began by teaching English grammar and followed it with exercises to demonstrate the application. Slowly, he made us understand the functions and place of each of the eight parts of speech, how to dissect a sentence into the parts of speech and how to put together a sentence in the English way. Then the penny dropped and the rest, such as expansion of vocabulary, was relatively easy..."



Excerpt of editorial in The Straits Times of 13 Jun 2006 (18)

"...It has been suggested that native speakers of English be hired. Proceed with care: Natives have come and gone in the past. Just now, there are hardly any in the schools. What has been MOE's experience? Clear speech is fundamental when communicating with Singaporean students. Few native speakers are BBC-perfect in diction, understood in any cultural context. There are British teachers (more so Scots, Irish and Welsh) whose speech would not be intelligible to Singaporean ears. More Australians and New Zealanders than supposed have accents and pronounciations understood only in their part of the world. It would be a mercy not to spring them on young Singaporeans learning to cope with the mysteries of English. The ministry would be better off increasing the output of home-grown teachers of English, with support from foreign instructors who pass muster in the speech department..."




Excerpt of letter by Sheri Kristen Goh Kwee Hwa (Ms) in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 14 Jun 2006 (H6)

"...When I began teaching English in London, I expected that the level of written English would be very much higher than that of my Singaporean students, or even that of my American students. But at the risk of sounding immodest, I discovered that my English-language proficiency far surpassed that of my American and English students. It seems that so-called 'native English speakers', be they English or American, do not necessarily speak or teach English best.

"This started me thinking: What is it about my own education that aided my English-language proficiency? The answer is quite simple - reading and writing. My parents are both English teachers and, from my childhood, they cultivated in me a great love for books. I read voraciously, and also loved to write. Nothing improves one's linguistic abilities better than a close and constant acquaintance with the language..."




Excerpt of article "More families using English at home" in The Straits Times of 15 Jun 2006 (H6)

"The English Language is making bigger inroads into Singapore homes, with a bigger proportion of families speaking it at home compared to five years ago.

"Among Chinese families, the proportion speaking English at home grew from 24 per cent in 2000 to 29 per cent last year.

"Among Malays, it nearly doubled, from 7.9 per cent to 13 per cent. In Indian families, the figure was up from 36 per cent to 39 per cent.

"The snapshot comes from the latest General Household Survey..."




Excerpt of article "Why you speak and write like dat?" by Sumiko Tan in The Straits Times of 18 Jun 2006 (L12)

"...A mini-debate erupted after Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced that English Language as a subject in schools will be getting more attention from his ministry.

"Implicit in this move must be the acknowledgement that the standard of English in Singapore has not gone up, and has possibly declined...

"Whatever the view, there is no denying that Mr Average Singaporean doesn't speak or write English well..."




Excerpt of article "Not all teachers trained to teach English: Tharman" by Nur Amira Abdul Karim and Jeremy Au Yong in The Straits Times of 18 Jun 2006 (10)

"...While there is a core group who teach and speak English well, there are also teachers who are not trained to do so, he (Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam) said last night.

" 'It is acknowledged around the world that there is a segment of Singaporeans who are even better than native English speakers,' he noted.

" 'But this is not representative of our entire teaching force, because our teaching force is itself a product of a bilingual education system.'...

" 'But we should not be closed to the idea of relying selectively on a number of foreign teachers drawn from a variety of sources who can fit in our system and who can help us meet our objectives.'..."



Excerpt of article "Teach English as second language" by Janadas Devan in The Straits Times of 18 Jun 2006 (25)

"...The number of young writers this newspaper has whose prose can be published with little editing is small. And the number of potential editors among them is even smaller, for good editors are even harder to come by than good writers.

"Does all this mean that the standard of English in Singapore has fallen over the years? On the surface, it would certainly seem so. Fifty years ago, someone with just O-level qualifications could be a potential Straits Times editor. Now, one cannot be sure that even scholars would make the cut as writers or editors, nothwithstanding their other abilities...

"The theory, of course, is that English is the first language in our schools, while Mandarin, Malay and Tamil - 'the Mother Tongue' - are the second languages. In reality, English is the first language of a minority, albeit of a growing minority; the second languages are the first languages of a majority, especially in inter-personal communications; and Singlish is the operative lingua franca. The teaching of English is unlikely to improve till we acknowledge that the reality is very different from the theory - and act on that acknowledgement.

"Perhaps half, perhaps more, of our pupils should be taught English as a second language - which is in fact what it is for them..."




Excerpt of letter by Julia Gabriel (Mrs) in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 19 Jun 2006 (H8)

"...Our teaching service is already well supplied with highly educated, accomplished speakers, and writers, of Standard English. They need to ensure they engage students in rich whole language, creating Standard English-only environments in our schools, and reach out to parents to do the same at home. Compulsory English literature in secondary schools would be laudable, but too late to create a reading culture for most.

"The time to nurture this is in preschool, with parents and teachers working in a supportive partnership, continuing throughout primary and secondary education...

"In the early 1980s, a large cohort of native English speakers was hired from Britain to teach English in schools here. Some of their students must now be teaching and better equipped than their foreign counterparts to understand the particular needs of the children they mentor..."




Excerpt of letter by Luke Lu Jiqun in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 22 Jun 2006 (H7)

"...Should it be that Singapore lacks teachers of English with high proficiency, then surely, we should expand this pool of talent by hiring not just native speakers but any speaker with a good command of the language and with the corresponding qualifications...

"The question of what Standard and whose Standard to teach is then paramount. Do we hire teachers from Australia, Wales, Ireland, Canada and the United States?...

"Local teachers teach English with a Singaporean cultural voice, with no problems in accent nor cultural misunderstandings. They know the space afforded by void decks and the spice in laksa. They can even teach English in mediums of instruction such as Malay and Mandarin to aid learning...

"Certainly, a more long-term and cost-effective solution would be to train local teachers to teach English as a second language or foreign language..."



Excerpt of letter by Sebastian Ng Sui Chye in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 22 Jun 2006 (H7)

"...For young children who come from a non-English-rich home setting, the onus of educating them in the rudiments of the English Language may well rest on the shoulders of pre-school as well as primary-school educators. The premise is that the parents or care-givers of these children are not very proficient in the language themselves.

"Hence, the Ministry of Education (MOE) may want to consider training not just primary-school teachers but also pre-school teachers on how to better teach the language...

"...MOE may want to consider streamlining the English syllabus to one that is more functional and communicative, akin to the streamlined Mother Tongue syllabus where there is a common Mother Tongue syllabus as well as a Higher Mother Tongue syllabus for more proficient students..."




Excerpt of letter by Padmini Kesavapany (Mrs) in the Forum Page of The Straits Times of 22 Jun 2006 (H7)

"...My generation was taught English through grammar by Irish, French and British nuns and we grew up speaking excellent English, minus the accent and without the growing pains.

"So teachers assigned to teach the English Language should not only be qualified to set the foundation but should also have explicit knowledge of the intricacies of grammar which is important in the teaching of the language which, to most of us, is not our mother tongue..."




Excerpt of article "Hiring native speakers not the only way to improve English standards: schools" by Joanne Leow on, 5 Jul 2006

"...46-year-old Robin Hamilton has only been in Singapore since March.

"From the UK, Robin is part of a small group of some 40 native speakers out of the 2,500 teachers teaching English in secondary schools and junior colleges...

" 'Sometimes I find their pronunciation a little bit difficult to understand. But I think that's why I'm here, so that students can have access to a native speaker and try realistic, authentic and creative activities. We've done a lot of debating, discussions and presentations. These give students a chance to try out their English on me and for me to give critical, constructive feedback,' said Robin Hamilton, who teaches English at Victoria School.

" 'Local teachers should not feel apprehensive at all about having foreign teachers in our system. In fact, we must see them as assets to the service. I think, amongst them, we can do more sharing so that we can draw from their experiences and help us improve further,' said Low Eng Teong, Victoria School's principal..."



     Articles from our Monday with the Editor column:

     - Is our English that bad?

     - Are teachers always right?

     - Whither literature in our schools?

     - English usage: in the chair or on the chair?