Examinations in Singapore’s bilingual policy
Effects on Chinese language education
Keywords:Chinese language education, Mandarin, Singapore bilingual policy, examinations, prestige planning, image planning
Singapore is a multiracial nation with three-quarters of the population comprised of ethnic Chinese people. The nation’s ‘English-knowing’ bilingual policy has resulted in a steady decline in Mandarin competency, causing much concern. While agreeing that prestige planning (related to the perceived status of the language) is lacking in Chinese language education in Singapore, some suggest that Singapore can leverage China’s economic success or strengthen the Chinese curriculum to arrest the problem. An understanding of the historical developments behind Chinese language policies is necessary to grasp the link between prestige planning and language-in-education in Singapore. This paper adopts a historical approach to show how examinations have been used as essential tools in Singapore’s meritocratic society to adjust the requirements of Chinese language education, directly affecting the learning of Mandarin and resulting in a shift from prestige planning to image planning (which relates to language identity). The primary sources used in this paper include transcripts of Parliamentary debates and reports from leading newspapers, both English and Chinese, which are critical to understanding the rationale of language policies.
Ager, D. E. (2005) Prestige and image planning. In E. Hinkel (ed) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning 1035–54. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Baker, C. and Wright, W. E. (2017) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02258-1_2
Baldauf Jr., R. B. (2005) Language planning and policy research: An overview. In E. Hinkel (ed) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning 957–70. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Barr, M. D. and Skrbis, Z. (2008) Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation Building Project. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.
Bokhorst-Heng, W. (1999) Singapore’s Speak Mandarin Campaign: language ideological debates and the imagining of the nation. In J. Blommaert (ed.) Language Ideological Debates 235–66. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2017-0037
Bokhorst-Heng, W. and Silver, R. E. (2017) Reconsidering language shift within Singapore’s Chinese community: A Bourdieusian analysis. International Journal of Sociology of Language 248: 73–95.
Cheah, Y. M. (1998) The examination culture and its impact on literacy innovations: The case of Singapore. Language and Education 12.3: 192–209. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500789808666748
Chew, P. G. L. (2013) A Sociolinguistic History of Early Identities in Singapore: From Colonialism to Nationalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137012340
Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2014) Planning for development or decline? Education policy for Chinese language in Singapore. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 11.1: 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/15427587.2014.871621
Gopinathan, S. (1980) Language policy in education. In E. A. Afendras and E. C. Y. Kuo (eds) Language and Society in Singapore 175–202. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
Gopinathan, S. (1998) Language policy changes 1979–1997: Politics and pedagogy. In S. Gopinathan, A. Pakir, W. K. Ho and V. Saravanan (eds) Language, Society and Education in Singapore 2 19–44. Singapore: Times Academic Press.
Hansard Deb vol 40 (18 February 1981) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 40 (19 February 1981) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 42 (16 March 1983) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 68 (20 March 1998) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 69 (20 January 1999) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 69 (20 January 1999) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 77 (17 March 2004) [electronic version].
Hansard Deb vol 77 (18 March 2004) [electronic version].
Kaplan, R. B. and Baldauf Jr., R. B. (1997) Language Planning from Practice to Theory. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Kuo, E. C. Y. (1980) The sociolinguistic situation in Singapore: Unity in diversity. In E. A. Afendras and E. C. Y. Kuo (eds) Language and Society in Singapore 39–62. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
Lee, C. L. (2013) Saving Chinese-language education in Singapore. Current Issues in Language Planning 13.4: 285–304. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2012.754327
Lee, C. L. (2016) Grandmother’s tongue: Decline of Teochew language in Singapore. In W. Li (ed) Multilingualism in the Chinese Diaspora Worldwide: Transnational Connections and Local Social Realities 196–215. New York and London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315759371-12
Lee, C. L. and Phua, C. P. (2020) Singapore bilingual education: One policy, many interpretations. Journal of Asia Pacific Communication 30.1/2: 90–114. https://doi.org/10.1075/japc.00046.lee
Lee, K. Y. (2012) My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey. Singapore: Straits Times Press.
Li, W., Saravanan, V. and Ng, L. H. J. (1997) Language shift in the Teochew community in Singapore: A family domain analysis. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 18.5: 364–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434639708666326
Lianhe Wanbao (30 October 1983) Shan ‘????·????’ Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/lhwb19831030-184.108.40.206.3
Lianhe Wanbao (11 November 1983) Xiang, M. ‘??????’ Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/lhwb19831111-220.127.116.11.4.1. https://doi.org/10.1353/aph.1983.0040
Lianhe Zaobao (17 July 1985) Yan, M. D. ‘????????????’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/lhzb19850717-18.104.22.168.1
Lianhe Zaobao (22 July 1985) Ru ‘???????????’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/lhzb19850722-22.214.171.124
Liddicoat, A. J. and Curnow, T. J. (2014). Students’ home languages and the struggle for space in the curriculum. International Journal of Multilingualism 11.3: 273–288.
Lim, M. (2013) The Good, the Bad and the PSLE: Trials of an Almost Kiasu Mother. Singapore: Epigram Books.
Nanyang Siang Pau (11 April 1979) ‘“????” ???????????????????????’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/nysp19790411-126.96.36.199
Newman, J. (1988) Singapore’s Speak Mandarin Campaign. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 9.5: 437–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.1988.9994348
Ng, C. L. P. (2014) Mother tongue education in Singapore: Concerns, issues and controversies. Current Issues in Language Planning 15.4: 361–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2014.927093
Ng, C. L. P. (2017) A Study of Attitudes of Dialect Speakers towards the Speak Mandarin Campaign in Singapore. Singapore: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3443-5
Ng, P. T. (2017) Learning from Singapore: The Power of Paradoxes. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315682914
Ong, T. C. (1992) Chinese Language Teaching & Learning in Singapore: Report of the Chinese Language Review Committee [Ong Teng Cheong, chairman]. Singapore: Chinese Language Review Committee, Ministry of Education.
Pakir, A. (1991) The range and depth of English-knowing bilinguals in Singapore. World Englishes 10.2: 167–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1991.tb00149.x
Quentin, D. (2005) Bilingual education policy in Singapore: an analysis of its sociohistorical roots and current academic outcomes. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 8.1: 25–47. https://doi.org/10.1080/jBEB.v8.i1.pg25
Silver, R. E. (2005) The discourse of linguistic capital: Language and economic policy planning in Singapore. Language Policy 4.1: 47–66. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-004-6564-4
Singapore Department of Statistics (2016) Population Trends. Retrieved from https://www.singstat.gov.sg
Singapore Government Media Release (2009) Speech by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor, at Speak Mandarin Campaign’s 30th Anniversary Launch, 17 March 2009, 5:00 pm at the NTUC Auditorium. http://www.news.gov.sg/public/sgpc/en/media_releases/agencies/mica/speech/S – 20090317 –1.html
Singapore Monitor, 2nd edition (14 September 1983) Pereira, B. ‘No change in PSLE this year: Ministry still studying implications of the marking system’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/singmonitor19830914-188.8.131.52
Singapore Monitor (22 December 1983) Ee, B. L. ‘Bilingualism is here to stay: “Mother tongue will still be prominent”’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/singmonitor19831222-184.108.40.206
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2006) Language policy and linguistic human rights. In T. Ricento (ed) An Introduction to Language Policy 273–91. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-044854-2/00407-7
Tan, K. P. (2012) The ideology of pragmatism: Neo-liberal globalisation and political authoritarianism in Singapore. Journal of Contemporary Asia 42.1: 67–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/00472336.2012.634644
Tan, Y. (2014). English as a ‘mother tongue’ in Singapore. World Englishes 33.3: 319–339. https://doi.org/10.1111/weng.12093
The Goh Report (1979) Report on the Ministry of Education 1978. Prepared by Dr Goh Keng Swee and the education study team. Singapore: Textbooks & Publications Section, Ministry of Education.
The Straits Times (22 November 1963) Singapore Ministry of Education ‘Primary leaving exam results’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19631122-1.2.30
The Straits Times (3 May 1966) ‘“Promote Mother Tongue” campaign by Chinese in Singapore’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19660503-1.2.68?ST=1&AT=search&k=strait+times&P=951&Display=0&filterS=0
The Straits Times (8 May 1967) ‘“Send your children to Chinese schools” drive begins’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19670508-220.127.116.11
The Straits Times (20 May 1974) ‘No reason for any fears of slide in standards: The second language controversy – Govt replies’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19740520-18.104.22.168
The Straits Times (11 February 1978) Lee, K. Y. ‘Lee: reason for optimism over bilingualism and higher education’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19780211-1.2.57
The Straits Times (7 April 1978) ‘Lee looks to the day when 80 pc of the people are bilingual’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19780407-1.2.74
The Straits Times (29 March 1979) Toh, C. C. ‘Bilingualism: Error to give equal weightage to Chinese and English, says Toh’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19790329-22.214.171.124
The Straits Times (8 September 1979) Lee, K. Y. ‘Lee’s plea: Use Mandarin’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19790908-1.2.3?ST=1&AT=advanced&DF=&DT=&NPT=&L=&CTA=&k=+badminton%26ka%3D+badminton&P=2004
The Straits Times (21 August 1980) Tan, K. Y. T. ‘Bilingual Policy no bar to pupils moving up – Dr Tony Tan’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19800821-1.2.36
The Straits Times (26 October 1981) Lee, K. Y. ‘PM lays down the line “nobody should use dialects”’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19811026-1.2.2
The Straits Times (30 October 1983) Tan, J. and Tarmugi, A. ‘NUS relaxes rule on second language: To redress imbalance between male and female undergrads, but “failures” must pass language exam in varsity – or no degree’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19831030-1.2.4
The Straits Times (20 December 1983) Alfred, H. and Tan, J. ‘Chinese stream enrolment at all-time low’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19831220-1.2.2
The Straits Times (24 April 1984) ‘English “is still a problem for many students”’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19840424-126.96.36.199
The Straits Times (16 July 1985) ‘Teachers, MPs hail move on languages: Principals allay fears about standards’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19850716-188.8.131.52
The Straits Times (17 July 1985) ‘Language is still important: Union’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19850717-184.108.40.206
The Straits Times (2 August 1985) ‘“More accurate” streaming’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19850802-220.127.116.11
The Straits Times (29 December 1985) ‘About-turns of the year: Dr Tony Tan’s education and CPF announcements’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19851229-18.104.22.168.11
The Straits Times (6 July 1986) ‘Few students speak English often at home’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19860706-22.214.171.124
The Straits Times (31 January 1999) Chan, S. S. ‘CL “B” is syllabus of last resort, says Soo Sen’. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/issue/straitstimes19990131-1#
The Straits Times (6 August 2007) Liang, W. K. ‘Singapore can’t afford to become monolingual’. Retrieved from https://www.asiaone.com/News/The%2BStraits%2BTimes/Story/Singapore%2Bcan%2527t%2Bafford%2Bto%2Bbecome%2Bmonolingual.html
The Straits Times (1 December 2009) Mak, M. S. ‘No pain, no gain, so stop whining’. Retrieved from https://www.asiaone.com/News/Education/Story/A1Story20091130-183193.html
The Straits Times (25 April 2010) Ng, E. H. ‘MOE to weigh differing views’. Retrieved from https://www.asiaone.com/News/Education/Story/A1Story20100423-212015.html
The Straits Times (29 May 2019) Teng, A. ‘More mother tongue programmes in school’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/more-mother-tongue-programmes-in-schools
The Straits Times (29 July 2019) Ong, Y. K. ‘New PSLE scoring system part of significant reform to education system: Ong Ye Kung’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/new-psle-scoring-system-are-part-of-significant-reform-to-education-system-ong
The Straits Times (3 September 2019) Teng, A. ‘28 pilot schools to push ahead with full subject-based banding and new form classes from next year’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/28-pilot-schools-to-push-ahead-with-full-subject-based-banding-and-new-form
The Straits Times (22 October 2019) Lee, H. L. ‘Speak Mandarin Campaign marks 40 years: Singapore must guard against losing bilingual edge, says PM Lee Hsien Loong’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/speak-mandarin-campaign-marks-40-years-with-local-lexicon-pm-lee-hsien-loong-says
The Straits Times (2 August 2020) Parker, P. ‘Fears of a PSLE mum’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/fears-of-a-psle-mum
The Straits Times (22 August 2020) Wong, S. H. ‘PSLE and O, N, A levels to proceed with special safety measures in place’. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/psle-and-o-n-a-levels-to-proceed-with-special-safety-measures-in-place
Zhao, S. H. and Liu, Y. B. (2010) Chinese education in Singapore: Constraints of bilingual policy from the perspectives of status and prestige planning. Language Problems & Language Planning 34.3: 236–258. https://doi.org/10.1075/lplp.34.3.03zha
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.