Singapore — Teaching in English, an advantage that became a disadvantage

The educational system in Singapore emphasizes on the use of English to teach all the subjects from Mathematics, Sciences to Humanity subjects. It has been important that Singaporeans learn to speak and write good English in order to communicate with the commercial world where English can facilitate easy communication between two foreign parties.

With the rise of China and their foreign investments worldwide, it is not surprising that the Chinese language especially Mandarin has become an important language skill to master. With most Chinese disregarding the need to communicate in English because the economic power belongs to them.

Singapore has produced a nation of followers that rarely feature big on scientific discovery, creative artistry, engineering talent or basically anything. Singapore is a nation of ant like creatures that goes about its job and the job created for them just because they are conversant with the English language.

When Singapore Inc., needed talent to drive growth and development. Singapore had to look elsewhere. They had to look at “non-traditional” centers of talent. They got it right with the talents of Indian origin. The Indians were very good and they could communicate with Singaporeans jointly serving the business giants of the world.

Malaysians were no longer a highly sought after talent as they traditionally were. They were becoming “Singaporean” and offered no real value add and this could be seen from the Malaysians in Singapore’s parliament today as compared to the foreign Malaysian talents we had from Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s cabinet.

Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines and subsequently Chinese talent were sought after. India was a natural choice as they were conversant in English, even if it was not their first language, they picked up the language at light speed and could communicate with the person most important to them, their Indian superiors (in whatever dialect they spoke in).

Singapore business employers soon realised that the Vietnamese, Myanmar and Filipinos were fantastic engineers, nurses, administrators…even though communicating with them were a challenge. It became apparent that being conversant in English isn’t a criteria for being a talent (or at least a relevant one).

The foreigners were good at math and science. They had a thinking capacity that could rival any peers. All without a “first class” education system that Singapore purports itself to have.

The “first class” education system in Singapore was first class indeed, with its delivery of a very good syllabus and very well trained teachers. Yet, this could not produce many forward, creative productive thinkers or any patent producing scientists. The return on capital or bang for its buck is under performing to say the least.

The reason purports by this author is that, math and science should be taught in the language that serves best to the brains of the child. The genetic programming of a Chinese, Indian, Malay child through years of evolution cannot be undone with mere teaching of the English language to be translated to the innate talents of a child. This can be of course be debated.

From the examples of the foreign talents that are helping to grow Singapore’s GDP, it is obvious (by observation) that being taught in English is not a criteria for talent building (science and math) but knowing the English language is important to landing a job.

Basically, you think faster in the language you are most proficient in. Fighting years of evolutionary genetic programming in the brain seems like a futile effort. If you think you are thinking very fast and efficiently in English, imagine if it was in a natural language that was natural in your processing abilities.

For those who disagree, compare the technological advances made by the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese. Were they forced to learn science and math in English? Yet the world is using their products and technologies (enhanced or copied).

I would suggest Singapore start at the basics and allow learning of the math and science most suitable to the language proficiency of the children.

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