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$100m Bilingualism Fund for pre-schoolers to learn mother tongue

Singapore, 28 November 2011 - A $100 million bilingualism fund to spearhead initiatives to teach young children their mother tongue from their pre-school years was announced by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore on Monday (Nov 28, 2011).
 
Announcing the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism at the launch of his new book, "My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore's Bilingual Journey", which comes in Chinese and English editions, Mr Lee said the fund will help pre-schoolers to be exposed to English and their mother tongue in the first few years of their life. It can also be used for key projects to raise the capability of schools and the community in promoting bilingualism. The Bilingualism Fund will supplement efforts by the Ministry of Education to expose young Singaporeans to their mother tongue. 
 
"Our children will master English in school because it will be 75% of teaching time in primary and 85% in secondary school. Early exposure from the age of two or three to the mother tongue will enhance the ability of children to listen, speak and read their mother tongue. Later, we can expand the usage of the fund to cover pre-nursery students," said Mr Lee, in a press statement from the Ministry of Education.
 
To kick-start the fund, Mr Lee will autograph 200 special edition copies of his latest book which will be sold at a minimum of $10,000. He will donate the proceeds of the signed copies - of at least $2 million - to the new fund. Mr Lee will also add another $10 million to the fund.
 
"I hope those who are concerned for the future of their children and their grasp of their mother tongue will donate generously," Mr Lee said in his statement.
 
Over 650 guests attended the launch event. They included Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State (Education) Grace Fu, Members of Parliament, diplomats, leaders of the Chinese community and Chinese clan associations, senior civil servants, community leaders and educators. Overseas delegates who were in Singapore for the 44th Convention of the World Chinese Language Press Institute and members of Business China also attended the launch event.
 
In his statement, Mr Lee noted that Singaporeans are rapidly becoming English-speaking. In 1980, one in 10 Primary One students came from predominantly English-speaking homes. This proportion grew to nearly six in 10 in 2010. 
 
He said several studies have shown that the best time for a child to learn another language is in the first few years of life. "So we should maximise the child's natural ability to learn languages during his or her most vital years. Then learning the mother tongue as a second language will be easier," he added. 
 
The new book by Mr Lee tells the story of his 50-year struggle to transform Singapore from a polyglot former British colony into a united nation where everyone, while knowing English, knows at least one other language, his own mother tongue. He reveals why he did away with vernacular schools in spite of violent political resistance, why he closed Nanyang University, why he later started Special Assistance Plan schools, and why he continues to urge all ethnic Chinese Singaporeans today to learn Mandarin.
 
The reader learns not only about the many policy adjustments but also the challenges Mr Lee encountered – from Chinese language chauvinists who wanted Chinese to be the pre-eminent language in Singapore, from Malay and Tamil community groups fearing that Chinese were given too much emphasis, from parents of all races wanting an easier time for their school-going children, and even from his own Cabinet colleagues questioning his assumptions about language.
 
My Lifelong Challenge is also the story of Mr Lee’s own struggle to learn the Chinese language, which began when he was six years old and his Hakka maternal grandmother enrolled him in a Chinese class with fishermen’s children. In evocative detail, the man born to English-speaking parents recounts his own feelings of rebellion and humiliation at different points in his life, when faced with the Chinese language and his own inadequacy in it. This book describes in matter-of-fact yet vivid fashion his steely determination to improve his Chinese and reclaim his Chinese heritage right up to the present when he is well into his eighties.
 
Also included in the book are essays by a number of persons, including current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, pop star Stefanie Sun, educator Chew Cheng Hai and American-born billionaire investor Jim Rogers, who chose to live in Singapore so that his daughters can receive a bilingual education. The writers recount their own language journeys, giving flesh and blood meaning to policy measures wrought over five decades.
 
Both editions of the books, which went on sale immediately after the launch, have received enthusiastic reviews from foreign and local luminaries.
 
Interested buyers of the autographed copies can email stpressbooks@sph.com.sg to place their orders. For enquiries call 6319 8347 Monday to Friday, from 9am to 6pm. Donors are welcome to give more for these signed copies. They will get 2.5 times tax deduction for their donations.
 
All cheques should be made out to "Singapore Press Holdings Limited" and mailed to:
 
Attn: Clara Wong/Jasmine Wee
Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
c/o Straits Times Press Pte Ltd
English/Malay Newspaper Division
Mezzanine Floor, Information Resource Centre
Level 3, Podium Block
1000 Toa Payoh North, News Centre
Singapore 318994
 
For the retail copies, both the English and Chinese editions of the book are available at leading bookstores at $39.90 per copy (inclusive of GST) from 5pm on Monday, Nov 28. 
 
The book can also be purchased online from Straits Times Press Online Bookstore at www.stpressbooks.com.sg on the same day and time. For enquiries please contact stpressbooks@sph.com.sg or 6319-8347 Monday - Friday, 9am - 6pm.
 
 
 
Issued by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
Co. Regn. No. 198402868E 
 
For more information, please contact:
 
Ms Chin Soo Fang 
Head
Corporate Communications
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
DID – 6319 1216
 
Mr Francis Mah
Manager
Corporate Communications
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
DID – 6319 1028
 
Ms Irene Ngoo
Vice President
Editorial Projects Unit
English and Malay Newspapers Division
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
DID - 6319 1066
 
Mr Peter Ong 
Assistant Editor
Lianhe Zaobao
DID - 6319 2457
 
 
About Singapore Press Holdings Ltd 
 
Incorporated in 1984, main board-listed Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) is Southeast Asia’s leading media organization, engaging minds and enriching lives across multiple languages and platforms including newspapers, with 18 newspaper titles in four languages; 100 magazine titles in Singapore and the region; book publishing subsidiaries Straits Times Press and Focus Publishing; internet and mobile portals; stakes in broadcasting companies MediaCorp TV Holdings Pte Ltd, MediaCorp Press Limited and SPH UnionWorks Pte Ltd; events and outdoor advertising through their wholly-owned subsidiary, SPH MediaBoxOffice Pte Ltd; and other properties including Paragon, The Clementi Mall, and Sky@eleven, developed by SPH's wholly-owned subsidiary, Times Development Pte Ltd. 
 
 
About The Straits Times
 
The Straits Times, the English flagship daily of SPH, has been serving readers for more than a century. Launched on July 15, 1845, its comprehensive coverage of world news, East Asian news, Southeast Asian news, home news, sports news, financial news and lifestyle updates makes The Straits Times the most-read newspaper in Singapore. 
 
The Straits Times also has an online presence at www.straitstimes.com. The site features top stories, blogs and an online forum threads. Also under The Straits Times' umbrella are citizen journalism site Stomp and online television service RazorTV.
 
For more information, visit www.straitstimes.com.
 
 
About Lianhe Zaobao
 
Lianhe Zaobao, the Chinese flagship newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings, is the most comprehensive, contemporary Chinese daily that reflects current issues, expert insights, lifestyles and developments in the local and global Chinese community. It is a trusted and respected source of news and opinion for both Singapore readers, as well as the region’s Chinese literate community. With an extensive correspondent network in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo, Lianhe Zaobao gives readers timely and in-depth coverage of significant events taking place in the region and beyond.