Earlier this year, The Straits Times reported on a shortage of preschool Mandarin teachers in Singapore. Singaporeans – most of whom speak English as their mother tongue – are not choosing careers in early Mandarin education in numbers adequate to keep up with the demand. To fill the gap, many preschools are turning to native Mandarin speakers for these roles. Native speakers expose children to different accents and styles of speech (they’re more “poetic and flowery”, said a woman quoted in the ST article), and they come with a rich knowledge of Chinese culture and traditions. One preschool that fully embraces native Mandarin-speaking teachers is White Lodge International Preschool. Each of its seven preschools across the island has at least one native speaking Mandarin teacher.
“It’s good to have a mix of nationalities in this role,” says Wang Hong, White Lodge’s Head of Mandarin. “Cultures in China do differ from province to province within the north and south of the country. It’s good for children to experience different Chinese accents to get exposure to the language in different ways.”
When recruiting teachers from China, Wang says the preschool carefully selects candidates based on their work experience and positive personalities. Teachers must be well educated, committed and have recognised Early Childhood Education qualifications. “We look for those with a keen interest to work in a diverse school community and country like Singapore. We place great importance on providing a supportive work environment, and we want teachers who are dedicated to providing a nurturing atmosphere for the children, too.”
All new Mandarin teachers are given an induction not just in the curriculum, but also on how to live independently in Singapore. Wang says she is personally involved in the planning and training of all new teachers, and she is pleased they embrace the White Lodge culture quickly.
White Lodge’s Mandarin curriculum is based on Singapore’s local school curriculum. Preschoolers attend either local or international schools after leaving, so the school aims to prepare them for both. The language is taught in themes that mirror a child’s real life experience so that learning is easier and more meaningful. Mandarin listening stations were recently installed in every centre for Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes so children can listen to books in Mandarin while following the characters on the page. White Lodge often receives positive feedback from international schools on the grasp of Mandarin that their “graduates” have.
“Our children move on from White Lodge with great confidence to speak and read Mandarin, and they have a genuine interest in learning the language,” says Wang. “We are very proud of that.”
Wang attributes this to the school’s curriculum, but more so to the Mandarin teaching staff. “My personal views are that you need to be a great person before being a great Mandarin teacher. We look for teachers who take pride in their roles and who always give their best.”
Power Hour White Lodge preschoolers can attend an extra hour of Mandarin in the mornings (from 8 to 9am) or after school (from 2.15 to 3.15pm) for less than $20 a class. This is in addition to their daily morning and afternoon Mandarin lessons.
White Lodge has seven centres across Singapore. whitelodge.edu.sg
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