In telling Singapore's bilingualism story, this book breaks new ground with never before published revelations about education matters in Singapore. It is also a comprehensive resource for all who are interested in the interplay between language and politics in Singapore. We learn of the many policy adjustments and the challenges Lee Kuan Yew encountered - from Chinese language chauvinists who wanted Chinese to be the preeminent language in Singapore, from Malay and Tamil community groups fearing that Chinese was being given too much emphasis, from parents of all races wanting an easier time for their school-going children, from his own Cabinet colleagues questioning his assumptions about language. We learn of the pain of teachers forced to switch from teaching in Chinese to teaching in English almost overnight, and of students who were caught in the transition from a Chinese medium of instruction to an English one.
My Lifelong Challenge is also the story of Lee's own struggle to learn the Chinese language. This book describes vividly his steely determination to improve his Chinese and reclaim his Chinese heritage, right up to the present when he is well into his 80s. Lee distils his experiences of 50 years into eight precepts that he spells out at the end of his narrative.
Part 2 of the book is a compilation of essays by 22 Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and pop star Stephanie Sun, who recount their own language journeys. Readers will be able to empathise with the anguish of some of these writers who experienced the drastic changes in Singapore's language education policies, and perhaps rejoice with others who have prevailed and succeeded, or come to terms with their own language-learning challenges.
Also included is a DVD containing rare footage of Lee's speeches in Hokkien, Mandarin, Malay and English from the 1960s onwards.