SINGAPORE, Jan 5 — Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was interviewed by Mark Jacobson of the National Geographic in July last year. Read the full article here
While most of the social issues confronting Singapore may be the same as in Malaysia, such as growing immigrant population, insecure original Singaporeans, Race and Religious issues (he spoke about the rise of Evangelical Christians) and others, what caught my interest was his comments about Chinese Education.
Read excerpts from the article below ;
Bilingualism and Chinese schools
We’re losing part of (Chinese culture) because the Chinese schools have disappeared. We’re trying to preserve it in English-speaking schools, but the teachers now were also educated in English-speaking schools and have lost the old traditions. So we’re trying to get them to go to China and see how they preserve these qualities. But we find that in the (Chinese) cities, they’re also changing.
But (I’ve no regret emphasising English). I’m a pragmatist and you can’t make a living with the Chinese language in Singapore.
The first duty of the Government is to be able to feed its people. Singapore has no hinterland and no farming. You have got to trade. You have got to get people to buy your goods or services and get multinationals to come here and manufacture for export.
So we brought the semiconductor factories here. We became a vast centre for the production of computers and computer peripherals. But they all speak English — (including) multinationals from Japan, Europe.
The Chinese-educated were losing out. They were disgruntled because they got the poorer jobs and lesser pay. Eventually, our own Chinese-educated MPs said we have got do something. We’re ruining these people’s careers.
By that time, (Nanyang University) was also losing its good students. Because they took in poor students, they graduated them (with) lower marks and so the degrees became valueless. So when you apply for a job with a Chinese university degree, you hide your degree and produce your school certificate.
I tried to change it from within. Most of the teachers (at Nanyang) had American PhDs. They did their theses in English but they’d forgotten their English as they’d been teaching in Chinese. It couldn’t be done. So I merged them with the English-speaking university.
Great unhappiness for the first few years. But when they graduated, we put it to them: Do you want your old university degree or do you want the English university degree? All opted for the English university degree. That settled it.
(China’s ascent would) make no difference (to the emphasis on English). We are not going to tie ourselves to China to the extent that it makes us hostage. We have many investments there because the older generation are Chinese-educated, they feel comfortable. But the younger generation, they have enough Chinese to go there and do business and they can ramp up (their language skills) if they want.
And not everybody wants to go there. We’ve been offering scholarships to their top universities — Beijing, Qinghua — but very few takers. They say: “Nah, I want to go to America or Britain.” They know they’re coming back here and competing in English.
I can only wish that vernacular education champions back here in Malaysia, most of whom are in awe of Lee Kuan Yew, would realise that in the current century and decade, we are simply losing out. Lee’s assertion that feeding the people comes first makes lots of sense. What is the point of preserving and dying for language and culture if there’s no food on the table.
While we complain that taking away English Medium schools saw the beginning of the decline of education standards in Malaysia, coming from a national school, I could always argue that the rise of vernacular schools also contributed to the decline in English as well as unity in this country.
Further to the decline of English, we are fast losing our competitiveness. Having worked in a MNC before, I have had numerous negative comments on both English and education standards of our graduates. For them, apart from whatever degree that the students graduate in, leadership qualities and ability to communicate effectively (not just speaking English) is more important than say, whether you can count.
Even in National Schools back in 80s and 90s, the quality of English education was quite good as the teachers were from English Mediums. Now with each races segregated in 3 major school streams, we get 3 types of accents and not to mention, less united as a society. The rejection of Vision Schools and the end of teaching of Maths and Science in English can only further deteriorate the quality of our students and our overall competitiveness.
I also wonder why Chinese Schools never reject large number of Malay students in their schools. As champions of mother tongue education, they should have rejected Malay and Indian students and advised them to enrol in national and Tamil Schools.
On the other hand, while Singapore is open to accept more immigrants as their future citizens, we in Malaysia appears only interested in segregate ourselves further.