Funding boost for mother tongues

PM Lee Hsien Loong playing an improvised game of congkak integrated with language and culture with students from Orchid Park Secondary School, while his wife Ho Ching and Mr Zaqy Mohamad (next to him) look on. Mr Lee was attending the launch of Malay Language Month at Gardens by the Bay yesterday.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Three committees that aim to promote the use and learning of Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages will get a 50 per cent boost in funding over the next five years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has raised the funding commitment for mother tongue language learning and promotion committees to $25 million over the next five years, up from $16.6 million from 2011 to this year.

Of the amount, $20 million is assured, giving the three communities - for the three languages - greater certainty to plan long-term initiatives.

The next $5 million will be used to match every dollar raised by the communities. This, MOE said, will encourage continued support from the communities.

Speaking at the launch of Malay Language Month at Gardens by the Bay yesterday, Mr Lee said increased funding will allow the committees to enhance and expand programmes to benefit more students, with community partners and families playing a part, to make the mother tongues "living languages".

The committees were started 10 years ago to rally support from their respective communities, and have helped create a conducive environment for the learning of these three languages beyond schools. For example, the committee for Chinese language got local writers to help inspire students.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of the Malay Language Month committee, said there has been greater interest, especially from the young, to organise projects on the Malay language and culture.

"This support is good motivation for them as they try to build up their identity and use their mother tongue," he said.

PM Lee said he was glad to see that the initiative - first started in 1988 - has evolved and stayed relevant. This time, more than 100 activities have been lined up, including concerts and plays.

Speaking in English and Malay, Mr Lee highlighted the Government's commitment to its bilingual policy, adding: "These efforts to promote the Malay language are part of the Government's consistent emphasis on our three official mother tongue languages - Chinese, Malay, Tamil."

The Malay community has made enormous progress in the last 50 years, and successful Malays are leaders in various fields, he said.

The adoption of English as the lingua franca has also given all races equal opportunities through a common language for work and communication, he said.

"As we use more English, we need to make a greater effort to preserve and promote our mother tongue languages to keep them alive. Mother tongue connects us to our roots, values, culture," he added.

Competence in both English and mother tongues will make Singapore competitive globally, Mr Lee said.

"This is why our bilingual policy will remain important."

This article was first published on Sep 6, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.