Addressing concerns that Mandarin standards are slipping, the Prime Minister said last night that it is not appropriate to compare today's social and linguistic environment with that of the 1950s.
Speaking in Mandarin at a dinner to mark the 75th anniversary of Chung Cheng High School, Mr Lee Hsien Loong defended the Government's bilingual policy and presented a different perspective on the issue.
"If we did not introduce the bilingual policy, promote Mandarin, and start SAP (Special Assistance Plan) schools, Singapore might be a completely English-speaking society," The Straits Times online quoted him as saying.
"To achieve the standards of Mandarin we have now, in an environment where English is the lingua franca, is quite an improvement."
He pledged that the Government will continue to work hard and do its best to help Singaporeans achieve their highest potential in their mother tongues.
Besides the utmost support the Government has given to SAP schools, it has also extended resources to all schools to help more students excel in Mandarin, said Mr Lee.
Last year, 30 per cent of Chinese students took Higher Chinese at O level, almost double the rate in 2000, he said. Some 100,000 teachers, parents and students take part in programmes by the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning every year.
Citing these examples as evidence that the Government's efforts have been effective, Mr Lee laid out the main policy direction, which is "to ensure that all Singaporeans stay rooted in their mother tongue and culture, have good values and do not forget their roots".
Noting that these are values that Chung Cheng High has always taught its students, Mr Lee said the school's history and achievements also underscore the Government's commitment to strengthen the learning of mother tongues in schools.
The SAP schools were set up, for instance, to develop bilingual and bicultural students firmly rooted in Chinese traditions and identity, while being integrated into a multiracial and multicultural Singapore, said Mr Lee.
This article was first published on July 11, 2014.
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