Customised approach to teaching Mother Tongue reaps benefits for St Stephen’s School

SINGAPORE : The English language sometimes comes to the rescue in a Chinese lesson. It is called the bilingual approach, and at St Stephen’s School, this approach has produced positive results since it was used in 2004.

Students have little fear and speak up, and it shows in their higher grades for Oral Chinese.

In a school where nine in 10 speak mostly English, the aim is to get them to speak more, and speak better.

Ming Loh, Chinese Language Subject Head, St Stephen’s School, said: "Actually, it is not that they do not understand, it is just that they cannot express (themselves).

"If we build up their foundation, and make them speak simple sentences, then slowly we make them write simple sentences, then by the by, they will be able to generate the idea they want to present."

At St Stephen’s School, all Primary One and Two students are grouped according to their language abilities. So those who need more help take the same Chinese lesson, and the teacher can address their strengths and weaknesses better.

From 2011, this customised approach will be extended to more schools, and the Education Ministry will provide teachers with the necessary assessment materials.

Schools like St Stephen’s, where there is a high proportion of students from English—speaking homes, will also get more Chinese Language (CL) teachers.

Other ministry support includes a web portal and more technology—based teaching materials. The use of ICT materials will soon take up 10 to 15 per cent of the Mother Tongue curriculum across all levels.

More students will also be allowed to take the CL ’B’ option for the "O" and "A" Level examinations.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Education Grace Fu said more secondary schools will be given support to offer school—based CL ’B’ lessons. MOE has also set up three more zonal CL ’B’ centres. For "A" Level students, those who score D7 and below for their "O" Levels may take CL ’B’, instead of the current criteria of E8.

Testing methods will change too. From 2012, the oral component of the "O", "N" and "A" Level Mother Tongue papers will go up by between 5 and 20 per cent.

For Mother Tongue ’B’, this means they will account for half of the marks.

For example, at "N" Level, the marks given to the oral component will make up 40 per cent, instead of the current 35 per cent. For the H1 paper at "O" Level, the weightage will be 35 per cent, higher than the current 30 per cent. And for those taking the H1 paper at "A" Level, it will be 30 per cent, higher than the current 20 per cent.

The changes will first apply to Chinese Mother Tongue, but these will eventually be applied to Malay and Tamil.

Ms Fu said "I think that we are optimistic about how we can improve the standard of Chinese, but at the same time, we have to be realistic. What we really want is to focus on what we have today. We have students who are grounded in English, and hopefully a well—grounded use of Chinese as well."

The ministry also announced details to boost the teaching and learning of English. A fund will be set up to support innovative teaching ideas in schools.

And on top of increasing the number of teachers and language facilitators, the new English Language Institute will also develop tools to help them teach better.

S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Education, said: "ELIS will play a key role in pooling our English Language expertise and resources from partner agencies, and advising schools on the programmes that are best suited to their needs."

The institute will be set up by 2011. — CNA/ms