What lies ahead in bilingual journey

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to your 11 Dec 2011 editorial on Lee Kuan Yew’s bilingual policy. You said the policy was, from LKY’s perspective, first and foremost about the integration of segregated ethnic communities through a common tongue of international economic value.

It may be worth noting that the bilingual policy was first proposed by Mr Lee Kong Chian in 1953 (The legacies of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chian: http://thelegacy.nl.sg/exh_education.html) and that LKY merely continued that policy. In fact, Lee Kong Chian introduced bilingual education to the Chinese High School as early as 1949 (Singapore Infopedia: http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_978_2006-06-16.html) and that many vernacular schools were already teaching English before that.

If LKY’s overarching purpose was to unite the disparate communities of Singapore, it would have been better promoting trilingualism instead of bilingualism. Learning the language of other races will go even further in reaching out to those races than just learning a common language like English. In fact, Lee Kong Chian did champion trilingualism while LKY only practised it just before and during our merger with Malaya. Page 80 of the book “The political economy of social control in Singapore” by Christopher Tremewan writes of the PAP emphasising both Malay and English to establish credentials for merger with Malaya and when ejected from Malaya subsequently, emphasized English only. Thus, Malay was discarded as a common tongue the moment it lost its political usefulness, never mind its value in national unity. This short episode suggests that LKY’s primary motive was political gain, not national unity. It also debunks LKY’s frequent claims about choosing a neutral common tongue that didn’t favour any race.

You dismissed the story about the PAP leadership killing Chinese schools as conspiracy theory because LKY had made it clear that the government always supported all four language streams and that market forces destroyed them instead. Page 79 of the book by Mr Tremewan writes of the government being the largest employer in Singapore which could have given better job opportunities to the Chinese educated but refused to. In other words, even if PAP didn’t kill Chinese schools, it let them die without lending a helping hand. Page 89 of the book “Behind East Asian Growth – Political foundations of prosperity, business, politics and policy” by Stephan M. Haggard writes of the questionable political loyalty of local Chinese businesses as a possible reason why the PAP government favoured GLCs and MNCs over local entreprises then. Thus, intentional or otherwise, the PAP cultivated the market such that more and more of it came under its control or influence. So if the killer of Chinese schools was market forces, the master behind the killer was PAP leadership.

Page 62 of the book “Identity and ethnic relations in Southeast Asia: racializing Chineseness” by Chee Kiong Tong writes of the PAP promising equal treatment for all language streams but not equal employment opportunities for people from non-English streams.

Page 150 of the book “Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control” by Carl A. Trocki writes of the PAP systematically undercutting Chinese education as it saw the Chinese educated as both political and cultural threats; the PAP set about neutralising Chinese schools, which were powerful auxiliaries to labour unions and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce which is the major funding and controlling body for Chinese education in a bid to control education; the PAP, through government policies, strengthened social and economic forces that reduced the number of Chinese schools; the PAP quite often levelled the charge of “chauvinism” on prominent businessmen of the SCCC to destroy them.

Page 81 Mr Tremewan’s book writes of the PAP seeking to destroy Chinese education, page 84 writes of the racial integration policy as a cover for an all-out attack on Chinese education, Page 85 writes of the PAP undermining Chinese education autonomy while attempting to win Malay support by appearing to be multiracial, Page 89 writes of the 1969 bilingual policy as one that appeased Chinese public opinion while completing the demolition of the Chinese education system.

Thus, a number of authors disagree with LKY’s version of the truth.


One Response to “What lies ahead in bilingual journey”

  1. patriot Says:

    Factually speaking, all the Vernacular
    Languages were badly damaged such
    that few Singaporeans have good command
    of their own Original/Natural Languages
    (so-called Mother tongue).
    most Singaporeans have lost their Ethnic
    Cultures as well due to the CHANGE OF


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