More funding for learning of mother tongue languages in Singapore

Three committees that aim to encourage the learning and use of Chinese, Malay and Tamil here will get a 50 per cent boost in funding over the next five years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Saturday (Sept 5).

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has raised the funding commitment for the mother tongue language learning and promotion committees to $25 million over the next five years, up from $16.6 million from 2011 to 2015.

About 80 per cent of the amount for the coming years is assured funding, offering the three committees – Tamil, Malay and Chinese – greater certainty to plan programmes and long-term initiatives.

The rest will be raised by the community with the Government matching every dollar raised. This, MOE said in a statement on Saturday, will encourage continued support from the community.

The increased funding will allow the committees to enhance and expand their programmes and activities so more students can benefit, with community partners and families playing a part too, Mr Lee noted.

He added: “Together, we will make our mother tongues living languages.”

These committees were first started 10 years ago to rally support from the communities and have helped create a conducive environment for the learning of the three mother tongue languages that goes beyond schools.

They have launched a wide range of programmes over the past five years.

The committee for the Chinese language has roped in local writers to help inspire students, for one. And the Malay language committee has tapped on the know-how of academics in the National Institute of Education to organise a Malay Finesse Camp for parents and students.

Meanwhile, the Tamil language committee played a role in organising the annual Tamil Language Festival.

New initiatives are also on the cards: The Malay and Chinese language committees, for instance, plan to work with arts groups to foster appreciation for their mother tongue languages.

Mr Lee was speaking at the launch of this year’s Malay Language Month, which celebrates Malay language, culture and heritage. At the launch at Gardens by the Bay on Saturday, he said he was glad to see the initiative – first started in 1988 – has evolved and stayed relevant to a younger, bilingual generation, with concerts and plays among the more than 100 programmes lined up for this year.

He also paid tribute to the pioneer generation champions of the Malay language, like “literary lion” Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, 91. The award-winning writer helped the late composer Zubir Said craft the lyrics for Singapore’s national anthem.

Another pioneer singled out by Mr Lee was poet and novelist Suratman Markasan, 85.

And the youth too are carrying on the work of these pioneers, keeping the flame of the Malay language and culture alive. Young language ambassadors are spreading their love for the language while up and coming talents are reinventing traditional Malay music and performing arts, said Mr Lee, who spoke in English and Malay.

He also spoke of the Government’s commitment to its bilingual policy, adding: “Efforts to promote the Malay language is 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 five decades, and successful Malays are leaders in fields ranging from arts and culture to banking and finance, he said.

But as the Malay community progresses along with the other communities in Singapore, the use of English is rising in the community.

And this, he added, is the case across all communities, though not to the same extent.

English was adopted as the lingua franca in Singapore, giving all the races here equal opportunities through a common language for work and communication, Mr Lee explained. It is taught as a first language in schools.

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

And competence in both English and mother tongue will make Singapore competitive globally.

“This is why our bilingual policy will remain important,” said Mr Lee.

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