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Address By Prof Cheong Hee Kiat At The Singapore Early Childhood Education Chinese Symposium

Welcome Address by Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences, at the 2019 Singapore Early Childhood Education Chinese Symposium, 1 September 2019


Distinguished speakers,
Guests and friends from the industry,
SUSS colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen

  1. Good morning to all! I am pleased to welcome you to the third Singapore Early Childhood Chinese Symposium.


  2. The theme for this year’s symposium is: Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Living Language for Children in their Daily Lives. For many children in Singapore today, Chinese language has been relegated to second place, used mostly only when in classes. Some of us parents may also share the difficult experience of trying to get our children to converse or chat in Chinese.


  3. This is a worrying trend; we should slow or reverse it.The solution to raising Chinese language proficiency is through a multi-pronged approach.


  4. First, get parents involved.Young children naturally look up to their parents as role models, and parents play a crucial role in helping their child adopt a positive attitude towards learning Chinese and providing a conducive home environment to use the language.


  5. Making daily conversations with their children in Chinese, encouraging them to verbalise their thoughts in Chinese, having regular sessions reading Chinese language storybooks – these are simple actions that can go a long way to language acquisition.
  6. But, it requires effort, purpose and sacrifice from parents.In the home, it starts with the parents.Are they up to it? It can be made into a habit, but like physical exercises, the effort must be regular, consistent.Takes a little effort at first, but it can become a normal part of life.


  7. Next, catch them young.Research has shown that the first three years of a child’s life are critical for language and literacy development. These formative years are a golden opportunity for early childhood educators to plant the seeds for language learning and build a strong foundation for these young and impressionable minds.


  8. Pedagogies must become more immersive and interactive, to make Chinese language-learning fun, while being functional. With theatre plays, storytelling, poetry competitions, songs and musicals, children get to immerse themselves in Chinese language in an engaging manner, which will naturally help arouse interest.


  9. There is a new way to increase Chinese usage - using digital media in our everyday life: social media, online educational platforms and games should be explored in promoting the learning of Chinese.These are more interesting and engaging than memorising words, proverbs, phrases, answers to exam questions.


  10. Thirdly, attract and encourage more dedicated and able early childhood educators (like many among you) and strengthen the provision of early childhood education.I would like to take this opportunity to affirm all specialist Chinese Language educators in the early childhood education sector. Your dedication to impart the intricacies of the Chinese language is of absolute importance for our young learners’ success later in life – more so as the language becomes increasingly important as a common language of use in social and international settings.


  11. In 2012, a Lien Foundation study found that Singapore ranked 29th among 45 countries in preschool provision, 6th in Asia, and behind Korea and Hong Kong.Now in 2019, we’ve come a long way – Singapore spends about S$1B on early childhood education, and this will more than double in the next few years.Almost 180,000 full-day pre-school places have been created since 2012.In his latest NDR speech, PM Lee announced generous financial subsidies that will enable many more low-income families to send their children to preschool.In PM Lee’s words, “We want to start earlier in a child’s life because these years make a big difference in his development.”In my opinion, this early start, and its benefits, also applies to the learning of Chinese.


  12. According to a Channel NewsAsia news report, by the year 2020, owing to demand from parents for places in pre-schools, 3,000 more teachers will be needed in this early childhood sector.SUSS is a key player in meeting this demand, providing practice-oriented education for the sector via our multi-disciplinary early childhood bachelor degree programme (English and Chinese) as well as our Master of Early Childhood Education (Chinese). Concurrently, we are partnering closely with the government and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to further expand the professional development opportunities and the pedagogical resources for the sector.


  13. But, I will want to point out an important consideration: you can give more financial aid, you can create more pre-school places, you can enable more to attend pre-school; but, if you don’t have the quality of teachers and environment, in school and at home, the partnership of parents, we will have a sub-optimal outcome.In the 2012 Lien study, in its performance measures, Singapore scored lowest in terms of ‘quality’.I hope we are in much better position today.


  14. Finally, learning Chinese is more than learning a language. It conveys information at the same time connect us to our identity, heritage and culture.With good language command, it is easier to understand the cultural contexts that shape the information, ideas, beliefs and customs when we interact with others. Our young Singaporeans of Chinese ethnicity should have this ability, and we must get this into them young.


  15. It is commendable that many of you early childhood educators and industry stakeholders have taken time out of your busy schedule to attend this sharing session, especially on a Sunday. I hope you will find your time well-spent, as you gain valuable insights and network with like-minded colleagues.


  16. There are a number of parties I’d like to thank. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge my colleagues from Centre for Chinese Studies @SUSS and SR Nathan School of Human Development for organising and bringing together this community. I would like to also thank our sponsors and the representatives from ECDA for contributing to this event.


  17. Last but not least, I would like to express our appreciation to the four keynote speakers from Shenyang, Tianjin and Tainan, who will be sharing valuable perspectives and expertise on teaching Mandarin as a living language. We are privileged to have them with us today.


  18. I wish you all an instructive and fruitful symposium.Thank you.
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