Ms Rebecca Ong Ee Teng has loved the Chinese language since a young age, when she would write her own song lyrics to accompany the tunes that she fancied.
When she graduated from Dunman High School, she had her heart set on becoming a Chinese Language teacher.
“I realised that I wanted to share my passion in the language with the younger ones, and to have them feel the joy that I experienced learning the language myself,” she says.
With that goal in mind, she studied Chinese literature at Temasek Junior College and applied for the teaching scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) after her A-level examinations.
The scholarship paved the way for her to fulfil her ambition.
Today, the 30-year-old is a Chinese language teacher at Anglican High School.
When Ms Ong was offered the MOE Teaching Scholarship (Overseas) in 2006, she remembered feeling “mildly taken aback” as she had been expecting to study at a local institution.
Nevertheless, she chose to pursue Chinese language and literature at Fudan University in China, with the full support of her parents.
However, her friends were baffled by her decision, as studying in China was not deemed a common or popular choice among A-level graduates at that time.
As a new student in China, Ms Ong had to first deal with the culture shock. But it eventually became an experience that she cherishes.
“Pursuing studies overseas does not promise a period of comfort, but the challenges shaped and sculpted me into a more tenacious and resilient character,” she says.
Hungry For Knowledge
Ms Ong was particularly struck by the dedication and thirst for knowledge shown by her Chinese schoolmates.
She recalls that they studied late into the night and held regular after-class discussions with their lecturers, even if it was not the exam period.
She says: “Their self-motivation and zealous attitude towards learning blew my mind and made me reflect a lot on my learning attitude.”
After graduating from Fudan University in 2010, Ms Ong returned to Singapore to complete her postgraduate diploma at the National Institute of Education (NIE) in 2011.
That same year, she started teaching at Ngee Ann Secondary School.
In 2014, she was posted to MOE headquarters (HQ) as a curriculum resource development officer in its Curriculum Planning and Development Division.
During her stint, she led the teams for the Bicultural Studies Programme (BSP) and the H1 Chinese Language “B” syllabus. She received ample opportunities to organise programmes, events and courses, including the annual BSP Symposium and BSP Camp.
“I was able to communicate with the teachers at ground level, as my personal experiences gave me a greater understanding and awareness of the workload and job challenges that teachers face,” she says.
Ms Ong says her two-year stint at the HQ was an invaluable part of her journey, which provided insights that motivated her as an educator.
Now that she is back to teaching, she can identify with the national educational policies better, and have a more informed perspective.”
Another highlight of her career was her involvement in the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL), where she was the leading secretariat for its Outreach and Engagement team.
“Through the experience, I grew professionally, not only as an education officer, but also in other areas. My committee work stretched and moulded me beyond my own expectations,” she says.
Ms Ong says Chinese language teachers are tasked to help learners develop competency in the language within a three-hour lesson span per week. It is made harder by the limited opportunities their students have to practise the language.
“I think the most challenging part of teaching a language is making it come alive and helping students learn to apply their language skills in an interactive manner,” she says.
She admits to being frustrated when her students do not share her appreciation for the language, but she realises that her expectations may be unfair to them.
She says: “How can I expect students to feel the joy of learning Chinese when I am trying to pin my own expectations on them?
“Igniting and sustaining the students’ interest for the language is most important.”
Ms Ong adds that while her job is challenging, what motivates her is “the dynamic work, the ability to touch young hearts and souls, and the opportunities to sculpt our future generations”.