Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Home Affairs, at the Tamil Murasu's Most Inspiring Tamil Teachers Award Presentation Ceremony on Saturday, 24 April 2010, at 2.50pm, at the Media Centre Auditorium, Genting Lane

Mr S Chandra Das, Chairman, Tamil Murasu,

Ms M Nirmala, Editor, Tamil Murasu,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to join you at the annual Most Inspiring Tamil Teachers Award presentation ceremony this afternoon to honour our Tamil language teachers and recognise the good work they have done in our schools.

This award presentation marks the finale of a month-long Tamil Language Festival. Various activities have been organized to provide interesting opportunities to learn and use the Tamil language. Activities ranging from debates to family day events and even a made-in-Singapore Tamil language film screening have generated much enthusiastic participation by students, teachers and the Tamil-speaking community. I am glad to see the strong support given by various sectors of the Tamil-speaking community to ensure that the Tamil language will continue to thrive and be widely used by the community.

Enhancing Mother Tongue Language Learning

This year marks the 9th year that the Most Inspiring Tamil Teacher awards are given. This award continues to be important as the teaching of Tamil language becomes more challenging and more is required of the teachers to inspire and enable our students to learn.

In 1982, only three out of 10 Primary 1 Indian students were from households where English is the dominant home language. Conversely, seven out of ten Indian students were speaking Tamil at home. By the time they started Primary 1, they already had a good aural vocabulary. The role of the Tamil teachers was to teach the children to read and write as well as introduce them to different Tamil reading texts.

Today, the proportion of Indian students from English-speaking homes has doubled to 6 out of 10. This means at Primary 1, there are some students with limited or no exposure to Tamil and there are other students who have a higher starting proficiency in Tamil language. The role of each Tamil teacher becomes rather challenging. The teacher must be aware of the different starting points of each child for learning Tamil. The teacher must adjust his teaching approach to meet the varied needs of his students. A one-size-fits-all teaching approach will not work anymore.

Strengthening Tamil Language Learning

Arising from the Tamil Language review in 2005, there has been a new verve in Tamil Language learning and teaching. Many Tamil language teachers have been innovative in their teaching approach. They ensure that Tamil language is relevant to the students’ daily lives by emphasising the use of spoken Tamil and leveraging on ICT. For instance, in Dazhong Primary School, students can upload their work onto their personal blogs for their teachers and peers to view and comment. Students compose and recite poems and get their peers to blog about their response to the poetry presentations. Students become ‘teachers’ themselves by downloading news articles from Tamil Murasu and creating grammar exercises for their peers to work on.

In Temasek Secondary School, the appreciation for Tamil language is developed through songs. The teacher facilitates an understanding of song-writing by highlighting appropriate examples. Riding on the students’ interest in singing and song-writing events, the teacher then gets them to compose song lyrics as a way of expressing their ideas and thoughts. Besides teaching creative thinking, the teacher also teaches them critical thinking by arranging for peer critique as each song is recorded and played back for feedback by their peers. Students learn to provide and accept feedback and continue to improve the quality of their song lyrics.

Many Tamil language teachers have been enrolling in training programmes at the Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre. They are fully using the professional development opportunities available at the Centre, to update their repertoire of strategies and resources. This is highly commendable.

Our Tamil language teachers are always on the lookout for new and fun ways of delivering more effective and more authentic learning experiences for their students. I am encouraged by the relentless dedication and commitment to ensure the next generation learns and enjoys Tamil language.

Collaborating with Partners

There has been strong support from the community to ensure a vibrant environment for learning and using Tamil. MOE is glad to have Tamil Murasu, the Tamil Language Council, the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, and many other community groups as our partners. They help us in promoting Tamil language as more than a school subject but more importantly as a very useful communication tool to learn culture, heritage and values as well as to gain new knowledge and perspectives.

Recognising the Most Inspiring Tamil Language Teachers

The Tamil language teachers have enabled our students to acquire new skills, new knowledge and new understandings. They are indeed as a Tamil proverb says “the givers of eyes. ” This afternoon, we recognise seven outstanding Tamil language teachers. They are nominated by their students (current and former), their peers, their Principals and the parents. They have touched the hearts of our students and inspired them to learn and love the Tamil language. These Inspiring Tamil Teacher awardees serve as beacons of inspiration to their students and their peers. Let me remind them that we have expectations of them. We would want them to share their knowledge, strategies and best practices with fellow Tamil teachers so that overall the quality of Tamil teaching and learning will continue to grow from strength to strength.

In conclusion, allow me to offer my heartiest congratulations to the Inspiring Tamil Teacher awardees and to the whole Tamil-speaking community for your passion and commitment to nurturing the next generation of Tamil speakers and experts. Keep up the excellent work you have been doing!