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  MOE refines mother tongue language policy


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4.           The CL 'B' syllabus was recommended by the Chinese Language (CL) Review Committee, chaired by DPM Lee, in 1999. Introduced in 2001, the MTL 'B' syllabus emphasised practical communication skills to help students who face exceptional difficulties with MTL. It aimed to motivate these students to learn their MTL up to a realistic level, and sustain their interest in their MTL and culture. 

5.           Since the CL Review in 1999, the number of Chinese students from English-speaking homes has risen to 49.8% in 20041 (see Chart 1). English has now overtaken Mandarin as the primary language used in homes of Primary 1 Chinese pupils. We need to recognise and adapt to these changing home language trends. 

6.           The CL Review envisaged that the CL 'B' syllabus would cater to 10-20% of each cohort. In practice, far fewer students have been channelled to this route. Last year, only 2.6% of all students who registered for CL examinations at the 2003 'O' levels took the CL 'B' syllabus. 

7.           With the benefit of experience over the last three years, MOE will now refine the eligibility guidelines for the MTL 'B' syllabus to make the syllabus more accessible to students who are unable to cope with MTL despite putting in the effort. 

8.           DPM Lee had stated in his interview with Lianhe Zaobao on 16 Nov 2003 that the government would refine the policy on CL 'B' syllabus with a view to allow students to opt for CL 'B' earlier, and to put in place flexible and timely arrangements to help students with learning disabilities. 

Refinements from 2004

9.           The eligibility criteria for MTL 'B' syllabus will be revised to allow students who are exceptionally weak in MTL to offer it earlier - from Secondary 1 - instead of Secondary 3 for Express Students and Secondary 5 for Normal (Academic) students. The MTL 'B' syllabus will help such students not suffer in their broader academic development on account of the time they have to put into MTL. 

10.         Students with Grade C and below in MTL at PSLE will be allowed to take MTL 'B'. However, the PSLE MTL grade will not be the only factor taken into account. Secondary schools will have the flexibility to consider any application to offer MTL B, on its educational merits. They will assess the mother tongue language standard that a student can achieve with reasonable effort, taking into account his PSLE MTL grade and MTL performance in his secondary school examinations. 

11.         The revisions to the eligibility criteria for the 'B' syllabus are shown in the table below:


Current Criteria

Proposed Criteria

Sec 1


A.      Students within the following categories will be allowed to take MTL 'B':

(i)     Those with Grade C and below for PSLE MTL. 

(ii)   Those with learning disabilities, e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, autism and hearing impairment. (Those with more severe disabilities will be exempted altogether from MTL requirements.) 

B.      Schools will have the flexibility to consider any application from other students to offer MTL 'B'. They will assess the MTL standard that a student can achieve with reasonable effort, taking into account the student's PSLE MTL grade and MTL performance in his secondary school examinations. 


Sec 2


Sec 3

Grade C and below for PSLE MTL and failed Sec 1 and 2 MTL exams

'O' level

Failed Sec 3 or obtained E8 and below at Sec 4 mid-year 'O' level, or failed 'N' level

No Change

'AO' level

Obtained E8 and below at 'O' or 'AO' level

No Change

Exemption from MTL Requirements 

12.         MOE recognises that a small minority of students may not be able to handle MTL at all. First, there are students who have a clearly diagnosed disability that may result in a significant underperformance. These students may be considered for MTL 'B' or an exemption from MTL. MOE will assess the severity of the learning disability and determine if exemption is appropriate. Examples of disabilities include dyslexia, ADHD, autism and hearing impairment. Parents/guardians of the student seeking exemption from MTL should apply to the school with medical evidence of the disability. 

13.         Second, there are Singaporeans who re-enter the education system after living overseas for a significant period of time. These students can apply for an exemption from MTL, or to offer MTL 'B'. MOE will consider each application flexibly, on a case-by-case basis. More details are available on the MOE website ( 


14.         MOE has also revised the eligibility criteria for HMTL to allow more students to offer HMTL if they have the ability and interest to do so. This will develop a larger pool of Singaporeans with a deeper understanding of their mother tongue language and culture. 

15.         The revised eligibility criteria are shown in the table below. At the primary level, the percentage of P5 EM1 students who can continue to offer HMTL at P6 will increase from about 84% in 2003 to 96%. At the secondary level, the pool of students eligible to take HMTL comprises 23 % of all Sec 1 Special and Express students. With the easing of requirements, the pool of students eligible to study HMTL will increase by about 1800, to 29% of Sec 1 Special and Express students.


Current Criteria

Revised Criteria


At the end of P4, all students may opt to do HMTL (by opting for the EM1 stream). 

At the end of P5, those who obtained at least Band 2 in their MTL and English Language (EL), and Band 3 in Maths and Science and pass HMTL can continue to do HMTL at P6.


At the end of P4, all students may opt to do HMTL (no change).

At the end of P5, students with Band 2 or better for MTL can continue to do HMTL at P6 if they wish to do so.


Top 10% of PSLE cohort; 
Top 11-30% with A* in MTL at PSLE or Distinction in HMTL and at least an A in EL.

Top 10% of PSLE cohort; or

Top 11-30% of PSLE cohort with A* in MTL at PSLE or Merit in HMTL.

Schools will also have the flexibility to allow students who do not meet the above criteria to offer HMTL, if they are assessed to have exceptional ability in MTL and are able to do HMTL without affecting their performance in other subjects.


16.         MOE will also allow EM3 students in primary schools to offer MTL (instead of Basic Mother Tongue), if they obtain Band 2 or better in the subject in their P4 streaming examinations. This change mirrors the changes recently introduced in the Normal (Technical) stream at secondary level, where students can opt to do 1 to 2 subjects at the Normal (Academic) level if they have the ability to do so. 


17.         The policy refinements announced above will take effect immediately. Schools and MTL centres will work out arrangements to make available the various MTL options as far as possible, within their current resources. MOE expects to be able to provide additional MTL teaching resources to schools and MTL centres from June 2004, when our trainee MTL teachers graduate from NIE. In the meantime, MOE will also step up MTL teacher recruitment in areas of shortage. 

18.         These policy refinements will provide parents and students greater flexibility in choosing the MTL option most appropriate for them. They seek to encourage students to reach as high a level as possible in understanding their language and culture, with reasonable investment of effort. MOE and the schools will also look into more innovative ways of teaching CL, to make it more lively and interesting.


Chart 1: Dominant Home Language of Chinese P1 Students: 1980 to 2004

Source: MOE Survey at Primary 1 registration


1Statistics are obtained from information provided by parents at Primary 1 registration. Figure for 2004 is based on preliminary returns.


Source: Ministry of Education News Release 9 Jan 2004