Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education at the Opening Ceremony of Bookfest@Singapore 2010 on Thursday, 9 December 2010, 4.00pm at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre

Your Excellency, Mr Wei Wei
Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China

Mr Chou Cheng Ngok
Chairman, Popular Holdings Ltd

Mr Wayne Chou
Managing Director, Popular Book Co. Pte Ltd

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Good afternoon and a warm welcome to all

It’s with great pleasure that I join all of you here today at the opening of the 5th BookFest@Singapore. Since its inauguration in 2006, BookFest@Singapore has received overwhelming response and support from both publishers and consumers alike. It is a platform for publishers to showcase their best works, and provides the public with an educational experience to immerse in knowledge and information.

Love of Reading

I am glad that events such as BookFest enable the public to keep up the reading habit by being plugged into the latest offerings in published materials. Reading is key to acquiring new knowledge. It opens up new worlds, both real and imaginary, and is fundamental to language development. Through extensive reading, we learn new words and gain exposure to creative and expressive uses of language. Fostering the love for reading from a young age is critical.

Hence, in our schools, reading is part and parcel of the curriculum. We encourage children to read every day and to read for enjoyment, as well as for knowledge. For English, our schools run a wide range of reading programmes to cultivate the reading habit. Specific protected time set aside for “uninterrupted sustained silent reading” is a common feature in many schools. Additionally, our schools run innovative reading programmes depending on the needs of their students. For example, at the primary level, the use of literature books for reading and discussion helps to develop higher order thinking skills and language appreciation. At the secondary level, the use of newspaper articles and current affairs magazines broadens students’ reading beyond fiction.

Similarly, our Mother Tongue language teachers promote the learning and use of the mother tongue languages beyond the classroom by collaborating with various community partners to develop programmes that promote reading and interest in the languages. For instance, the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning runs reading competitions, reading programme study trips, seminars as well as literary forums to develop in learners an abiding interest in the Chinese language and culture. In the same vein, the Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee and the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee have also worked with community groups and schools to provide more reading resources and organise reading competitions for students.

Our schools are doing the right things as Singapore’s students were ranked 5th out of 65 countries for the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in the Reading domain, performing even better than students from native English-speaking countries like the United States and United Kingdom. I am also encouraged that the public at large has shown increased interest in reading as seen in the increase in number of loans from our public libraries. The number of loans has gone up by almost 30 per cent in the last decade.

Bilingualism an imperative

Language ability is an important skill that we cultivate in our students for the globalised world. That is why, our bilingual policy remains an imperative for Singapore. Proficiency in the English Language has given Singaporeans a key advantage in the globalised world. Knowing our Mother Tongue Languages gives us confidence in our culture, roots and identity as a people. It also enables us to forge stronger connections with the rest of Asia, and tap on growing opportunities in the region. In schools, we continue to encourage all students to master English and their Mother Tongue Language.

I am glad to note that BookFest@Singapore, having positioned itself as a bilingual fair, is providing a gateway between the Chinese and English publishing markets. The event provides publishers with a platform to understand the latest trends and opportunities in Chinese/English-language publishing and creates opportunities for publishers, authors and distributors to establish various partnerships. I am glad, too that BookFest is featuring other Mother Tongue Language supplements.

Remembering our Founding Fathers

It is encouraging to hear that BookFest has partnered with the National Archives of Singapore to create an exhibition depicting Singapore’s history. This is a valuable opportunity for us to understand how we have progressed as a nation over the years, and pay tribute to our founding fathers. It is indeed important not to limit the teaching of national education to schools. Instead, we should involve the community to help nurture a generation of concerned citizens, who contribute actively and are rooted to Singapore.

I congratulate Popular Holdings on the success of BookFest@Singapore. It has been one of the most successful publishing events in the last four years, within Singapore and the region.

It is now my pleasure to declare BookFest@Singapore 2010 open.

Thank You