Outings to musical performances form part of the BiCEP experience for Chongfu School pupils.
You could call them modules with muscle. In a special programme called BiCEP, pupils get to flex their oratorical skills, explore the world of Chinese literature and wrap their minds around Chinese art, theatre and musical performances. What's more, this programme offered by five primary schools gives pupils a chance to hobnob with peers from Chinese cities as well as get a foretaste of what it's like to be on the bi-cultural track in secondary school.
What the five schools - Tao Nan School, Ai Tong School, Kong Hwa School, Nan Chiau School and Chongfu School - have in common is that they were all founded by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, a clan association that goes all the way back to 1840. During the colonial days, clan associations were active in setting up schools for the community. Today, the Huay Kuan continues to provide support, both educational and financial, to its five affiliated schools and has furthermore helped to develop a programme to cultivate a new generation of effectively bi-cultural youths.
Designing a curriculum that engages
BiCEP, which stands for Bi-Cultural Elective Programme, arose from an idea inspired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the 2004 National Day Rally speech. "PM Lee mentioned that Singapore needs to nurture individuals who are effectively bilingual and who have a good understanding of Chinese history and culture," says Mr Cher Yong Chuan, Level Head (Chinese Language) at Chongfu School.
With this goal in mind, teachers from the five primary schools affiliated with the Huay Kuan set out to design a comprehensive curriculum. What resulted was BiCEP, which aims to instil in pupils a broad appreciation of Chinese culture through experience and immersion. Looking ahead, the curriculum also gives pupils a leg-up should they opt for the Bi-Cultural Studies Programmes offered by some secondary schools and junior colleges.
The BiCEP curriculum is the product of teachers from five affiliated primary schools.
Trial lessons were carried out in 2006, and a year later, BiCEP was launched across the five primary schools. Available as an elective three-year course, pupils can apply in Pri 4 and are selected based on their overall academic results and personal interest in the Chinese language. Each week, the pupils attend two hours of BiCEP lessons, which are held after the normal curricular hours.
The BiCEP curriculum features four classroom modules: Children's Literature Appreciation and Creative Writing; Overview of Chinese Culture and History; Comparative Studies of Chinese and English Languages; and Chinese Oratorical Skills Training. But BiCEP is far from a deskbound affair. A varied line-up of activities is planned to expose the pupils to different facets and expressions of Chinese culture. Chongfu School, for instance, brings pupils on outings to relevant musicals, theatre performances and other cultural events.
"For many of our pupils, this is their very first encounter with professional theatrical performance," says Mr Cher. "This programme is very well-received by our pupils, as it not only raises their interest in theatrical arts, but also allows them to draw connections from what they have learnt in the Chinese Oratorical Skills Training module and Children's Literature."
Myriad of cultural treats
Combined sporting meets bring together pupils from the affiliated schools.
The five schools also hold joint BiCEP activities. Every May, the Huay Kuan's Arts and Cultural Troupe organises a four-day language camp for Pri 4 pupils, where participants hone their confidence in public speaking and get a taste of recording in professional studios at the troupe's premises. BiCEP pupils in Pri 6 also get a preview of the bi-cultural studies programmes offered by Chinese High School and Nanyang Girls' Secondary School in camps led by students from the two secondary schools.
Meanwhile, Pri 5 pupils embark on an eight-day immersion trip to cultural landmarks such as Shandong, Xi'an and Taiwan, where they attend classes alongside their counterparts in local schools.
"The BiCEP Immersion Programme immerses the pupils in a sea of Chinese culture, be it the rich historical heritage of Xi'an, Confucianism in Shandong or the multiculturalism of metropolitan Taiwan," explains Mr Lim Kok Swee, a Chinese Language teacher at Chongfu School. "By giving pupils the chance to interact closely with locals, they acquire first hand experience of the language, customs, culture and beliefs of people in China. They get to relate and apply what they learn during BiCEP at the various locations and this puts them in good stead for their personal development or even their career related opportunities in the future."
Immersion trips to places like Taiwan expose the pupils to foreign peers.
These avenues of cultural enrichment have been both enjoyable and educational for the pupils. "The overseas immersion trip to Taipei was very interesting," remarks Eileen Goh. "I made many new friends and gained a better understanding of Taiwan." Eileen, who graduated from Chongfu School in 2009 and was among the very first batch of BiCEP pupils, adds, "I have learnt a lot from the BiCEP lessons in the past three years. It has really broadened my horizons!"
Kagen Lim, who also graduated from Chongfu in 2009, found the BiCEP lessons both interesting and engaging. "I particularly enjoyed the Chinese History and Culture modules," he recalls. "After learning about Chinese history in class, I have a better understanding of my origins and roots." Another activity Kagen especially enjoyed was a lesson on common translation mistakes. "I learn that translation is an art and is not as simple as we think it is," he quips. "I love BiCEP and am happy to have been in it."
A commitment to support education
The Huay Kuan's role in BiCEP goes beyond curriculum design. The association also helps fund the programme and subsidise the cost of the immersion trips and other cultural outings. Ties between pupils and teachers in the affiliated schools are also reinforced through combined activities such as the annual Sports Meet and Teacher's Day.
Pupils are not the only educational beneficiaries. The Huay Kuan also awards local university scholarships to deserving teachers as well as contribute to the staff well-being fund in its affiliated schools. Through these diverse initiatives, the Huay Kuan has shown itself to be adept at evolving over time to address contemporary education needs and serve as an active partner to schools in fostering new batches of well-rounded, bi-cultural pupils.