Feb 13, 2006
Good English for S'pore to be education hub
I READ with interest the report, 'JC - Is it a tough climb?' (ST, Feb 9).
The subhead, 'English not so good - how to survive GP?' requires a closer look by educators and all interested parties. It is wrong for O-level graduates to think polytechnic education is an escape route from the General Paper (GP). They must know GP will help to build a better command of English and keep up to date with the changing world. It is important that the education system helps students communicate effectively in English and be knowledgeable enough to compete in the job market and international arena.
Perhaps polytechnics should offer GP as an optional paper in the course syllabus and encourage more students to study it in addition to their main discipline.
It is important to be aware that Singapore's reputation as an education hub depends to a large extent on the high standard of English practised by Singaporeans. Therefore, O-level graduates should make use of every opportunity to study English and not see GP as an obstacle or a source of fear when deciding their further study.
To encourage more students to take GP, I suggest the following.
First, teachers should not discourage O-level students from attempting the argumentative writing topic in their English paper. I have heard many students say teachers do not encourage them to try the argumentative writing topic because it is hard to score good marks. Teachers do not do students any good by this because they develop a fear of argumentative writing, and A-level GP essays are mainly on this type of writing.
Second, junior colleges should invite professional journalists to talk to JC1 and JC2 students on good writing skills and discuss current affairs. Newspapers should publish more reference magazines like No Sweat by The Straits Times to aid students in their reading and arouse more interest in current affairs.
Simon Ng Yap Peng
The first thought that strikes me is a rather ironic one. Some Singaporean students shy away from junior college because GP is a compulsory JC subject and failing it would impede their subsequent attempt to enter the local universities. However, our local universities throw their arms wide open to students direct from the PRC. In other words, as far as university places are concerned, we discriminate against Singaporean students with a poor command of English, but we welcome foreign students who never did GP at all and who speak and write even worse English than those Singaporean students.
Well, well. Yet another disadvantage of being a citizen in Singapore.
The second thought that strikes me is that the PRC students tend to do extremely well in Singapore's universities despite having a poor command of English. This is also quite easy to understand. The PRC students flock in large numbers to our Engineering Faculties, where mathematical aptitude is far more important than linguistic ability. The PRC students are conspicuously absent from faculties such as Law, Arts, Mass Communications or even Business Administration. So it's a matter of knowing where your strengths are.
My third thought is that if PRC students can be bad in English but still make great engineers, then Singaporean students who are bad in English may also nevertheless make great engineers (or mathematicians, or IT programmers or chemists). Which in turn leads us to realise that it could be rather stupid for local universities to deny places to Singaporean students on the grounds that those Singaporean students did badly in GP.
Instead the local universities should give greater consideration to the kind of courses that the Singaporean student wants to study. If the Singaporean student failed GP but wants to study English Linguistics & Literature, then we may justifiably be sceptical or dismissive. But if he wants to study a course which requires some kind of proficiency other than proficiency in the English language, then really the poor GP grade should not stand in the way.
Fail, fail lor. GP only what.