Pupils at Holy Innocents Primary School build up their oratorical skills and enrich their appreciation of Chinese culture.
Most children now speak English at home and take to Western culture like ducks to water.
With so many kids losing touch of their Asian roots, surely it'd be a huge challenge to get them even a little excited about the Chinese language and culture? Well, drop by Holy Innocents Primary School and you'd get a pleasant surprise.
There's 'rapping', drama, cross-talk and tongue-twisting poem recitals - all in Chinese in a lively concoction of performing arts so fun and engaging the pupils almost forget they are actually learning Chinese oratorical skills.
Since July this year, pupils at Holy Innocents Primary School have been attending various Chinese performing arts classes such as speech and drama, xiangsheng (cross-talk) and kuaiban, a rap-like story-telling method accompanied by the rhythms of bamboo clappers. These activities are the result of a new Chinese Language-Related Flagship Programme that MOE is helping every Special Assistance Plan (SAP) School to develop by 2012.
Based on a progressive structure, the flagship programme allows pupils to develop and enhance their oratorical skills as they move from lower primary to upper primary.
In Pri 1 and Pri 2, pupils receive extra help to develop their vocal fluency and intonation. When they reach Pri 3 and Pri 4, pupils are exposed to various forms of Chinese performing arts. By the time they are in upper primary, they will learn different language techniques that will help them become more eloquent in expressing themselves.
Besides helping pupils become more confident and articulate in speaking Chinese, the programme aims to cultivate an appreciation of Chinese culture by introducing them to a variety of Chinese performing arts, explains Mr Ho Sin Chan, head of the school's Chinese Department.
Talents in the making
Pri 3 and Pri 4 pupils learn the art of kuaiban, a form of Chinese 'rap'.
When this year's programme wraps up in November, the pupils will be putting up performances to showcase what they have learnt. "Some of the pupils have already taken part in a recent competition and won," shares Mr Ho.
He is referring to a group of Pri 2 pupils who took part in a South 1 Cluster Language Performing Arts Competition on 24 September 2009. These budding artistic talents so impressed the judges that they bagged a gold award and few would have known that they had only started learning Chinese drama earlier this year. The pupils went on to perform before the public at the Hougang Mid-Autumn Carnival on 3 October.
In addition, a group of Pri 3 pupils and two Pri 5 pupils also performed kuaiban and cross-talk respectively during the competition in September and received praises for their enthusiastic performances. Not bad at all, considering that the flagship programme consists of weekly, hour-long sessions.
Say it with a clap
A group of Pri 2 pupils bagged a gold award at the South 1 Cluster Language Performing Arts Competition.
Achievements apart, the programme has also become an eagerly awaited session by the pupils.
"I like the programme because it is fun and interesting," says Pri 3 pupil Shawn Lim. "I learned how to use the bamboo clappers and rap according to the rhythm. We put up a performance on stage with music and actions. I feel very proud of myself and hope to continue learning kuaiban next year!"
Equally enthusiastic, Pri 5 pupil Damian Kiew states, "I enjoyed reciting the tongue-twisters as they really challenged my pronunciation of Chinese words. I also enjoyed performing with my friends and learning the origins of cross-talks and their different techniques of presentation."
Apart from boosting their oral skills and linguistic dexterity, the pupils have also gained lifelong insights into Chinese culture through activities that help them relate to their roots.
"Our instructor taught us some old Chinese sayings which I personally found very meaningful," says Pri 5 pupil Annadine Yeo. "The programme has helped me develop confidence in speaking Mandarin."
According to Mr Ho, pupils can look forward to an enhanced programme come 2010. Pri 6 pupils missed out this year due to their PSLE preparations. But the new batch of Pri 6 pupils will get to have their say in the cross-talk and kuaiban sessions when the sessions begin anew in January. As for the other levels, the school plans to conduct performing arts classes throughout the year and pupils who show a knack for performing or a passion for Chinese repartee will get a chance to sharpen their wit and wordplay skills at specialised enrichment programmes.