9 Jan 2004
REFINEMENTS TO MOTHER TONGUE LANGUAGE POLICY
1. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has decided to introduce greater flexibility and choice in the study of students' Mother Tongue Language (MTL). We have refined the eligibility criteria to allow more students to take the MTL 'B' syllabus in secondary schools where there are sound educational reasons for them to do so. We will also allow more students to take Higher MTL (HMTL) if they have an interest in doing so and will be able to benefit from learning the language at a higher level.
2. The following refinements are being introduced to the MTL policy in schools:
a. MTL 'B' syllabus will be offered from Sec 1, to cater to students facing exceptional difficulties in MTL. Schools will have the flexibility to channel students to MTL 'B', taking into consideration the performance and language ability of the student, and the standard that he can achieve with reasonable effort;
b. Students with learning difficulties will be allowed to do MTL 'B'. Students with more severe learning disabilities will be considered for exemption from MTL requirements altogether;
c. More students will be allowed to offer Higher MTL (HMTL) at both primary and secondary levels, where they have demonstrated strength in MTL. Schools will also have the flexibility to allow students to take HMTL even if they do not meet the formal eligibility criteria, if they are assessed to have exceptional ability in MTL and to be able to take HMTL without affecting their broader academic development; and
d. Selected EM3 students will be allowed to offer MTL (instead of Basic MTL).
3. These refinements reflect MOE's policy objective to encourage every Singaporean student to study his MTL for as long as possible and to as high a level as he is capable. We adopt a customised approach to mother tongue learning, including HMTL and MTL 'B', so as to cater to students across the language ability spectrum. This recognises the practical reality of students having different home language backgrounds as well as different natural abilities in languages.
CHANGES TO THE ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR MTL 'B'
4. The CL 'B' syllabus was recommended by the Chinese Language (CL) Review Committee, chaired by DPM Lee, in 1999. Introduced in 2001, the MTL 'B' syllabus emphasised practical communication skills to help students who face exceptional difficulties with MTL. It aimed to motivate these students to learn their MTL up to a realistic level, and sustain their interest in their MTL and culture.
5. Since the CL Review in 1999, the number of Chinese students from English-speaking homes has risen to 49.8% in 20041 (see Chart 1). English has now overtaken Mandarin as the primary language used in homes of Primary 1 Chinese pupils. We need to recognise and adapt to these changing home language trends.
6. The CL Review envisaged that the CL 'B' syllabus would cater to 10-20% of each cohort. In practice, far fewer students have been channelled to this route. Last year, only 2.6% of all students who registered for CL examinations at the 2003 'O' levels took the CL 'B' syllabus.
7. With the benefit of experience over the last three years, MOE will now refine the eligibility guidelines for the MTL 'B' syllabus to make the syllabus more accessible to students who are unable to cope with MTL despite putting in the effort.
8. DPM Lee had stated in his interview with Lianhe Zaobao on 16 Nov 2003 that the government would refine the policy on CL 'B' syllabus with a view to allow students to opt for CL 'B' earlier, and to put in place flexible and timely arrangements to help students with learning disabilities.
Refinements from 2004
9. The eligibility criteria for MTL 'B' syllabus will be revised to allow students who are exceptionally weak in MTL to offer it earlier - from Secondary 1 - instead of Secondary 3 for Express Students and Secondary 5 for Normal (Academic) students. The MTL 'B' syllabus will help such students not suffer in their broader academic development on account of the time they have to put into MTL.
10. Students with Grade C and below in MTL at PSLE will be allowed to take MTL 'B'. However, the PSLE MTL grade will not be the only factor taken into account. Secondary schools will have the flexibility to consider any application to offer MTL B, on its educational merits. They will assess the mother tongue language standard that a student can achieve with reasonable effort, taking into account his PSLE MTL grade and MTL performance in his secondary school examinations.
11. The revisions to the eligibility criteria for the 'B' syllabus are shown in the table below:
Exemption from MTL Requirements
12. MOE recognises that a small minority of students may not be able to handle MTL at all. First, there are students who have a clearly diagnosed disability that may result in a significant underperformance. These students may be considered for MTL 'B' or an exemption from MTL. MOE will assess the severity of the learning disability and determine if exemption is appropriate. Examples of disabilities include dyslexia, ADHD, autism and hearing impairment. Parents/guardians of the student seeking exemption from MTL should apply to the school with medical evidence of the disability.
13. Second, there are Singaporeans who re-enter the education system after living overseas for a significant period of time. These students can apply for an exemption from MTL, or to offer MTL 'B'. MOE will consider each application flexibly, on a case-by-case basis. More details are available on the MOE website (www.moe.gov.sg/esp/eduinfo/mt.htm).
CHANGES TO THE ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR HMTL
14. MOE has also revised the eligibility criteria for HMTL to allow more students to offer HMTL if they have the ability and interest to do so. This will develop a larger pool of Singaporeans with a deeper understanding of their mother tongue language and culture.
15. The revised eligibility criteria are shown in the table below. At the primary level, the percentage of P5 EM1 students who can continue to offer HMTL at P6 will increase from about 84% in 2003 to 96%. At the secondary level, the pool of students eligible to take HMTL comprises 23 % of all Sec 1 Special and Express students. With the easing of requirements, the pool of students eligible to study HMTL will increase by about 1800, to 29% of Sec 1 Special and Express students.
MTL FOR EM3 STUDENTS
16. MOE will also allow EM3 students in primary schools to offer MTL (instead of Basic Mother Tongue), if they obtain Band 2 or better in the subject in their P4 streaming examinations. This change mirrors the changes recently introduced in the Normal (Technical) stream at secondary level, where students can opt to do 1 to 2 subjects at the Normal (Academic) level if they have the ability to do so.
17. The policy refinements announced above will take effect immediately. Schools and MTL centres will work out arrangements to make available the various MTL options as far as possible, within their current resources. MOE expects to be able to provide additional MTL teaching resources to schools and MTL centres from June 2004, when our trainee MTL teachers graduate from NIE. In the meantime, MOE will also step up MTL teacher recruitment in areas of shortage.
18. These policy refinements will provide parents and students greater flexibility in choosing the MTL option most appropriate for them. They seek to encourage students to reach as high a level as possible in understanding their language and culture, with reasonable investment of effort. MOE and the schools will also look into more innovative ways of teaching CL, to make it more lively and interesting.
Source: MOE Survey at Primary 1 registration
1Statistics are obtained from information provided by parents at Primary 1 registration. Figure for 2004 is based on preliminary returns.