Recently, the front page of the Today newspaper carried a story about Lee Kuan
Yew's latest public utterances. They quoted him as saying words to the effect (since I don't have the article anymore to hand): "We have educated Singaporeans in English to the highest of world class standards."
My first thought on reading this was that the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan
Yew hasn't actually worked, as a teacher, in the Singaporean system and so doesn't have first hand knowledge of that which he speaks. I have taught in Singaporean schools and seen them from the inside over many years. What I have seen differs from how Lee Kuan
Yew views matters.
There are two possible meanings to the statement he made: one is that the English of Singaporeans is "of the highest world class standard". The other is that the medium of instruction is English but that the content of instruction is of the "highest world class standard". From wide experience, I don't believe that either of these views is true. Singaporean education is not at the pinnacle of global education, as Minster Mentor Lee Kuan
Yew seems to be stating - neither in the English imparted, nor in the content taught.
Singaporean education is typified by a regimented, rigid, inflexible, unaccommodating approach to students, in which they are, largely speaking, encouraged to be passive recipients in the educative process. Actual thinking is strongly discouraged by this approach. Interestingly, I have taught in Singaporean schools in which the students - local, native-born Singaporeans - show little evidence of the ability to think independently or to originate material. Apparently, this means that they have received a "highest world class standard" education.
As for the quality of English in Singapore - an honest Singaporean, who has had exposure to the English of native Englishmen, Americans, Australians or Canadians, would question Minister Mentor Lee Kuan
Yew's view that the English education they have received is of the highest standard. In some cases, the English education received is of an abysmal standard. For instance, when my son Ainan
was in his first year in school, I noted that his correct standard English use of tenses was being "corrected" TO SINGLISH
, by his teacher. A teacher whose first language is Singlish
cannot ever impart "highest world class standard" English to her students - she can only perpetuate her own level of ignorance as to what standard English is supposed to be.
My experience of young Singaporeans is that few have a high level command of English. The average Singaporean today, studying in local government schools, has, by international standards, a very poor grasp of English - probably just as poor as the teachers who teach them.
With effort, throughout the education system - and the employment of English teachers whose English is actually good, rather than terrible - Singaporeans could, in a generation's time, have "highest world class standard" English. However, they do not have this at present. In only the most fevered of imaginations, could the typical English standard of a typical Singaporean be termed "highest world class standard".
The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. A few years ago, there seemed to be the recognition of the problem - with an anti-Singlish
programme, nationwide. That initiative appears to have been halted. Now we have a "we are great, wonderful, excellent, the most brilliant in the world" programme that calls for no change at all. I rather think that the first initiative should have been continued until it succeeded - it would have done a lot of good for the ability of Singaporeans to do business on the international stage. As I have remarked in other posts, I have sometimes been completely unable to understand the English of Singaporean business people's "highest world class standard" English. By this I mean, there was NO shared understanding at all. I utterly failed to comprehend them. Yet, they were, supposedly, speaking English.
Singapore has come far, in many areas - but there is one area in which it has declined, terribly, since the British left: the standard of English now spoken is insufficient to optimize Singapore's chances on the global stage. That is the truth of the matter. Saying something is of the "highest world class standard" doesn't make it so. Taking initiatives to instil
higher standards of spoken and written English across the nation, would, however, do so. Yet, that would mean admitting that the nation was not already "No.1"...there would be the pain of effort and change involved. In the end, however, the prize would be worthwhile, for the ease of international communication would have been enhanced greatly, to the benefit of the Singaporean people.
As for the other possible interpretation of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan
that Singaporeans have been educated in English to the highest of world class standards - that the educational content is of the highest standard, that, too is easily disproven
. It is a simple matter: if the local education was, in fact, the "highest world class standard", it would be the best in the world. If it was the best in the world, why do the brightest students, every year, go overseas to the USA or Europe to study? Clearly, these students are going far and wide to receive an education of a lesser standard, if the statement made was actually true.
The true standard of education is shown by how the people respond to it. Those who are able, respond to it by sending their children overseas to study. They wouldn't do this, at all, EVER, if the local standard was of the "highest world class standard".
I would like to see a Singapore in which both interpretations of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan
Yew's statement were, in fact, true. I would like Singaporeans to have the "highest world class standard" of written and spoken English - for then they would be best prepared for the international stage. I would also like them to have received the "highest world class standard", education, in terms of content and skills obtained, for then they would be best able to operate in their various fields in that world. I look forward to such a future - however, that future is not yet here and will not be unless the deficiencies of the present system are recognized and put right either by the present generation of leaders, or those who shall come after them.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.
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Labels: Ainan, English, highest world class standard of education, Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor, Singaporean Education, Singlish