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SPEECH BY MR THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & SECOND MINISTER FOR FINANCE, AT THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE HIGH SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE (NUS HIGH SCHOOL), ON MONDAY 23 APRIL 2007 AT 6.30 PM
Mr Wong Ngit Liong,
Prof Shih Choon Fong,
Mr Wee Heng Tin,
Members of the NUS Board of Trustees
Parents, Students, Distinguished Guests,
1 It is my privilege to be here with you to celebrate the official opening of NUS High School this evening. NUS High is the first of its kind in Singapore. It has broken new ground in several respects. It is the first school to offer a programme of learning specifically customised to the needs of young Maths and Science talents; the first to provide its own curriculum and high school diploma; and the first to be owned by and affiliated to a university.
2 These were each bold steps, and each carrying some risk. Their impact will only be seen in the long term. But NUS High’s progress in the last two and a half years gives much cause for confidence. The efforts of its talented faculty and the support of NUS and all the school’s stakeholders are already bearing fruit in the early achievements of its pioneer batch of students, and in their aspirations for the future. I congratulate the school and all those involved in this existing venture.
3 The journey leading to today’s opening in fact began over 5 years ago, when Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was then Minister for Education, initiated a broad-ranging review of Singapore’s secondary school and junior college system. I was involved in working with Minister Teo on this, as Senior Minister of State for Education at the time.
4 We recognised that our education system had served Singapore well. It produced high levels of attainment by the majority of students by any international comparison, and prepared them well for the workplace and society. However, this was also a continuous game - continually looking forward into the future, sizing up the changes in the global environment that Singapore faces, looking for new ways to develop every Singapore talent, and benchmarking ourselves against the best institutions in each field.
5 We knew that Singapore’s place in the future will be earned in the field of innovation. We needed highly innovative individuals, and highly innovative teams. We also had to groom a diverse range of Singapore talents, from the artistic and creative disciplines to engineering and the pure sciences, and with different methods of thinking and finding innovative solutions.
6 One of the key directions that arose from that review 5 years ago was therefore the need for greater diversity in secondary school and JC education, a diversity that included new ways of nurturing innovative minds.
7 NUS High was one of these new ways. As a specialised school geared towards nurturing bright young students with a special ability in maths and science, it has some similarities with some schools overseas, such as the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the US and the Tokyo Tech High School in Japan.
8 In the Singapore context, however, NUS High was itself a major innovation. I will touch briefly on this, in three respects.
AFFILIATION TO A UNIVERSITY
9 First, NUS High’s affiliation to a university. NUS High is especially privileged to be owned and linked to one of the best universities in Asia and in the top league internationally. There are many benefits flowing from this affiliation, and I am sure the benefits will be developed further over time. Talented students at NUS High School can offer NUS undergraduate modules and be mentored by NUS faculty. For instance, some students have the privilege of having Professor Chong Chi Tat as their tutor for linear point set theory.
10 The affiliation with NUS also provides unique opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas among staff, and a flow of talent between the University and the High School. The Principal of NUS High School, Professor Lai Yee Hing is of course the leading example.
11 As an independent school, NUS High School has also recruited faculty from diverse backgrounds, ranging from former teachers in MOE schools, university staff, as well as fresh PhD graduates. About half of the teaching faculty at NUS High School are Masters or PhD holders. I understand the school intends that all its teachers be given the opportunity to get a Masters over time.
12 Already, the teaching faculty’s strong content knowledge and passion for research and discovery, coupled with their diverse backgrounds, have enabled the school to provide a unique approach to learning based on inquiry.
SCHOOL-BASED CURRICULUM AND DIPLOMA
13 The second novel feature of the school is its self-developed curriculum and high school qualification. NUS High School is one of the selected schools offering the Integrated Programme. However, while other Integrated Programme schools offer either the ‘A’ level or International Baccalaureate at the pre-university levels, NUS High decided to develop its own enriched curriculum framework and its own high school diploma so as to sufficiently stretch students with special abilities and a passion for maths and science. The school’s curriculum is modular, allowing bright students to pull forward modules and accelerate their learning in particular subjects. They can also choose from a range of electives, so as to tailor their learning to suit their interests. The modular curriculum framework also enables the teaching faculty to adopt an integrated and research-focussed approach in their teaching. Besides graduating with the NUS High School diploma, NUS High School students will also offer the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and US Advanced Placement tests.
14 I am glad to note that NUS, in collaboration with MOE, has accredited the NUS High School’s curriculum. We are confident that SMU and NTU, as well as renowned universities overseas, will similarly accept the NUS High School Diploma as a mark of high quality.
UNIQUE STUDENT EXPERIENCE
15 NUS High School’s innovations extend beyond the academic curricula to students’ educational experience as a whole. It seeks to provide a unique student experience. The school assigns a teacher mentor to every student to oversee the student’s personal development, interests and aspirations. It has also introduced boarding in Year 5 for every student, so that they will be able to work closely with their peers and teachers in science research projects, but also to give them full opportunity to develop leadership and rounded characters.
NEXT STEPS - ENHANCING EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
16 NUS High School continues to innovate. As its next step, the school plans to enhance its facilities so as to provide its students with greater opportunity to learn through hands-on experience - by experimenting, tinkering and discovering their own solutions to problems. The idea behind this "experiential education,” is to provide students with authentic experiences that expose them to the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work, and that integrates the teaching of concepts with experimentation using those concepts.
17 This focus on experiential learning also exists in several of the other top schools for maths and science abroad, which have specialised facilities aimed at enabling their students to learn through hands-on activities. For instance, the Bronx High School of Science in the US houses Cisco Networking, which teaches students to programme and maintain Cisco routers. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) houses the Grainger Inventors' Workshop, which allows students to pursue investigation through all its stages - from concept and design to engineering and construction. Similarly, Tokyo Tech High School, which provides bright young students with opportunities to learn in specialised workshops such as for Electronics, where students work with circuit boards and other electronic components, and Mechanical Systems. In each of these cases, the schools believe that these extensive opportunities for practical and experimental learning are essential to their goal of nurturing inventive minds.
18 NUS High School has studied a range of such schools. It plans to enhance opportunities for experiential learning include technical workshops, ‘classroom laboratories’ and specialized laboratories for research and project work:
workshops that allow students to assemble electrical components or be exposed to technical know-how;
classroom laboratories that integrate teaching and experiential learning, so that a concept taught in class can quickly turn to hands-on experiments. These integrated labs can also serve as venues for conducting outreach workshops for students from other schools;
specialised laboratories that allow students to do research, especially in their 5th and 6th years.
19 MOE is supportive of NUS High’s aspirations to provide more opportunities for experiential learning, and will work on the details with the school and NUS.
20 Less than three years after it opened its doors, NUS High is already well-known among students and parents. It has attracted a growing number of bright students from around the island, and also from abroad.
21 The school’s future is bright. With its talented and diverse faculty, and the support of NUS, MOE and all its stakeholders, NUS High has the promise of emerging not only as a distinctive peak of excellence in Singapore, but as one of the top maths and science schools internationally. I am confident that it will groom exceptional young minds keen to expand the horizons of knowledge and dedicated to serving the larger community that they belong to. The students here today from the school’s pioneering batch will I am sure show the way, and inspire future generations of NUS High students.