[lg policy] bibitem: Bilingual Education Policy in Singapore: An Analysis of its Sociohistorical Roots and Current Academic Outcomes

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 10 18:40:25 UTC 2011

Bilingual Education Policy in Singapore: An Analysis of its
Sociohistorical Roots and Current Academic Outcomes

L. Quentin Dixon Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, USA

Using available data from Singapore's national census and economic
reports, national exams, international comparison studies and
small-scale studies, this paper examines the sociohistorical
circumstances that led to the creation of Singapore's bilingual
education policy, the results of this policy on recent academic
achievement and implications for second language acquisition theory.
National exam data reveal increasing levels of achievement for
students in most academic areas; however, an achievement gap persists
among ethnic groups. International comparisons indicate Singapore's
superiority in math and science achievement and comparability in
reading relative to participating countries. Little data are available
on the degree of bilingualism of Singaporean students; however, the
few published studies indicate English dominance in literacy but
Mandarin dominance in oral communication for most Singaporean
students. Singapore's success in educating students through a second
language challenges the assumption of the supremacy of instruction
through the home language but may lend support to the interdependence

Keywords: bilingual education, biliteracy, language policy, language
shift, Singapore Singapore's education system has been hailed as a
great success due to its firstplace mean score in maths (Mullis et al
., 1999a) and second place in science (Martin et al., 1999) of 38
countries on the Third International Math and Science Study-Repeat
(TIMSS-R). These results would be impressive in any country, but they
are particularly remarkable for Singapore because all students are
schooled (and tested) in English, which is not the predominant home
language for most students. Singapore's language-in-education policy,
however, is officially bilingual: from the start of schooling, English
is the medium of all content-area instruction but students are also
required to study their official `Mother Tongue' as a single subject.
The government assigns students a `Mother Tongue' based on ethnicity,
regardless of the student's home language, resulting in some students
studying two non-native languages in school. How did this unusual
policy arise? Does the evidence indeed support the perception of the
Singapore system as successful, in comparison with other countries as
well as by internal measures? Are students of all ethnic groups
equally successful under this system? In this paper, I examine the
historical circumstances that gave rise to this unique policy, analyse
the available data on student academic achievement and proficiency in
English and students' Mother Tongue, and report the evidence available
concerning students' degree of bilingualism and biliteracy.

1367-0050/05/01 025-47 $20.00/0 International Journal of Bilingual
Education and Bilingualism � 2005 L.Q. Dixon Vol. 8, No. 1, 2005

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