Flaw in Singapore's education system
I refer to Miss Jane Chan's letter, "Why we can't speak English - or Mandarin - well", as well as Miss Jessica Walker's letter, "Teachers can't do it alone".
While I agree with Miss Chan and Miss Walker that it's a combination of societal influence, family, and educators that make up the language abilities of a child, I also think that we're missing something huge in this picture.
For years I have been bemoaning the fact that the Ministry of Education has a huge flaw in its language education system. What many don't know is how teachers are trained.
Firstly, some background information: Recent studies by Patricia A. Duff from the University of British Columbia have shown that it is important to develop a child's first language literacy, before introducing a second. The optimal age for a child to develop its first language skills are between the age of 1 to 13.
Granted, in Singapore, both languages (English and a 'mother tongue') should ideally be developed as first languages, the important point to take away here is that the optimal age for first language acquisition, which is between age 1-13.
Secondly, as we all know, Singapore's primary school teachers are known to teach at least two out of the three core subjects, that is, English, Mathematics, and Science (EMS).
What most people don't know is that teachers who undergo training to be a primary school educator enter the National Institute of Education and major in only one subject - either English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Physics/Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Geography, Music, Art, or Physical Education.
With the exception of Mother Tongue, Music and Art teachers, all other trainee teachers are also expected to take some modules of other subjects, which really barely skim the surface of those subjects, and from there, they are then expected to be able to teach those other subjects well, too.
While that is highly disturbing, let's focus a bit here on trainee teachers who major in English. In order to seek admission to NIE, the minimum requirement is a pass in English Language at O Levels.
In order to major in English, the requirement is to obtain a good pass the English Proficiency Test (which is honestly a piece of cake). From here, we already know that there are little or no pre-requisites at all, for one to major in English at NIE.
Of course, teachers who score higher on the EPT will be of a better position to apply for a major in English. However, upon graduation from NIE with a BA (Education) or BSc (Education), all newly installed teachers are sent to schools and assigned to teach at least 2 subjects, with 1 being a subject of their university major, and the other, any of the other remaining 2 subjects of the EMS group.
Which means teachers who barely scraped a pass in English at O Levels, could now be teaching your children English - and mind you, some of them really have no grasp of grammar rules at all.
These teachers are then going to be passing on their lack of understanding of the English Language and its rules, to students aged between 6-13, during the typical primary school years of an average child, whereby language acquisition is at its optimum.
Isn't this something MOE should look into, first, if it is now becoming an irrefutable fact that Singaporeans are growing up with an incorrigible command of the English Language (and add to that equation, their Mandarin is no where near first language mastery either)?
I say, don't blame the teachers, don't blame the families, and don't blame society. Blame the ones who crafted our language education and general education policies.
Daphne Maia Loo
Flaw in Singapore's education system