SINGAPORE: In a fragmented world, bilingualism will be more “important, pertinent and salient than ever before”, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday (Nov 24).
Mr Chan was speaking at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism. The fund, which was started by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, has committed S$27 million for close to 200 projects over a decade.
These include workshops, performances, books and multimedia resources for pre-schoolers and young adults.
“In a world that threatens to bifurcate or fragment according to competition or differences in ideology, cultures or system of governance, it is more important than ever for us to distinguish ourselves by being able to bridge these differences to connect with different parts of the world, with different people of different perspectives,” Mr Chan said.
As China, India and Southeast Asia grow in their economic, political and cultural heft, Singapore’s ability to be bilingual will help in understanding these different cultures, connecting with them and staying relevant to them, he added.
He said that bilingualism goes beyond the understanding of languages, offering Singaporeans “a set of shared values and perspectives to define our national identities”.
“Otherwise, we may unwittingly be drawn into cultural contests happening in other parts of the world, or we may be influenced by external forces and lured into simply applying a plug-and-play model here without proper understanding of our own needs and context,” he said.
“CORE” OF SINGAPOREANS’ IDENTITY
He emphasised that bilingualism “goes to the core” of Singaporeans’ national identity, with English as a common language for all, while staying connected to the rich and diverse heritage of different ethnicities through the bilingual policy.
“Our commitment to bilingualism goes beyond encouraging and enabling our people to learn, use and master English as a working language together with our mother tongues,” he said.
“It is a commitment to build our distinctive identity as Singaporeans who can understand and bridge differences across cultures, competing perspectives and contesting ideologies.”
Mr Chan concluded that being able to appreciate more than one language, bridge different perspectives and value systems is a great advantage, and that this should continue to “distinguish us as Singaporeans”.
The Education Minister also announced that the fund committee wants to explore and encourage more user-generated content that is accessible through more channels, and welcomes collaboration with more diverse partners to reach a wider community.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a pre-recorded message at the event.
“The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism was set up by Mr Lee himself. He wholeheartedly believed that bilingualism was crucial to Singapore’s success, that every child should start bilingual learning early, and that the Fund would play a catalytic role in promoting a love for language learning,” he said.
“Over the years, the fund has kept true to its vision and mission. It has supported many worthy projects … Let me congratulate the fund for 10 years of promoting bilingualism.”