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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 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:
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Singapore Press Holdings Ltd
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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 on the same day and time. For enquiries please contact or 6319-8347 Monday - Friday, 9am - 6pm.
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Corporate Communications
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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Corporate Communications
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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Ms Irene Ngoo
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Editorial Projects Unit
English and Malay Newspapers Division
Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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Mr Peter Ong 
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Lianhe Zaobao
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