Speeches

Address by Ms Ho Peng, Director-General of Education, at the Teachers’ Mass Lecture, at 2.30pm on Wednesday, 26 August 2009, Singapore Expo Hall 2

Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, 2nd Permanent Secretary

Sir Michael Barber, Keynote Speaker

Teachers, School Leaders

Friends and Colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen

Fighting H1N1

I asked for a video to be made, as a record of and a tribute to what schools were doing in the fight against H1N1. As you could see from the video, it was a whole-school effort. And teachers were in the heart of it.

You could see whole schools rallying together, including school leaders, teachers, administration managers, security officers, cleaners, and canteen vendors. All of them worked together as one and went the extra mile to keep schools safe for our children.

We did this with the objective of ensuring that learning and teaching could carry on as normal and as many students as possible could continue with their lessons.

This gave much reassurance to parents and contributed to the high level of public confidence in the way that we fought H1N1.

So on this occasion, I would like to say a very big thank you to all of you teachers and school staff for your extraordinary efforts in fighting H1N1 in our schools.

Thank you all very much.

Singapore Education System at an Inflexion Point

Let me now say a few things about our education system. If we are to characterise where we are now in our education journey, I would say that today, our education system is at an inflexion point.

We are recognised for our strong education system, with high standards of achievement and pockets of innovation. So certainly, we have come some way.

I would like to take us back a little bit, before we move onwards.

There are some significant milestones in the last ten years or so. In my mind, the Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) initiative that started in 1997 stands out. TSLN gave school leaders greater autonomy in terms of school management. We moved away from a top-down approach.

An inspection system gave way to a cluster system under the guidance of Superintendents who served as mentors. Resources were allocated at cluster level, to enable schools to cater to the unique profile of their students. One of the outcomes which exceeded expectations was the rapid professional growth, through sharing by teachers across schools.

In 2005, the Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM) initiative was another significant milestone which saw innovation entering the classroom. Teachers were encouraged to innovate in teaching and learning. The purpose was to make sure that learning was meaningful and enjoyable to all our students.

There was top-down support for ground-up initiatives and we could see the professional growth of people in the schools. We saw, in particular, the growth of curriculum and instructional leadership which involved Principals, Vice-Principals and teachers.

TLLM saw the rapid building up of teachers in curriculum development, research and pedagogical skills. We organised a number of workshops on curriculum development and various pedagogies. We also saw the establishment of the Research Activist Scheme, where up to two teachers from schools in TLLM went to the ministry twice a week to learn about research methodologies. They went back to schools, worked with them and observed what schools were doing to innovate, so as to ensure that educational innovations were sound. I think this is important. There were also different curriculum partners drawn from the different divisions within MOE as well as colleagues from the National Institute of Education.

What can we see today?

I see the growing confidence of teachers; teachers taking ownership in designing learning for students. And that confidence is manifested in the ready participation and sharing at local and international conferences.

I see emerging teacher leadership, which is deeply encouraging and deeply heartening.

If I am to sum up teacher leadership, I would draw reference from what the Institute of Educational Leadership (Washington DC) says, “Teacher leadership is not about “teacher power”. Rather, it is about mobilising the still largely untapped attributes of teachers.” I know there are still reservoirs of untapped attributes in our teachers.

With the rapid professional growth of our teachers, I see Singapore teachers as beginning to chart the future of our profession.

Vision for Teaching Service

So where do we want to go as a teaching fraternity?

In 2010, we are entering a new decade in the 21st century, the next lap of our education journey. It is therefore timely to have a Vision for the Teaching Service, which would express the aspirations of the professionals and points the way forward for us, as a teaching fraternity.

The notion of a Vision was started in 2008. A team was set up, comprising principals, heads of departments, teachers as well as officers from the headquarters. They came together and spoke with groups of Principals and teachers, drawing from them the core of teaching beliefs, as well as their aspirations.

There were four zonal conversations in June, involving about 2,000 teachers. We wanted more teachers to participate, but we contained it because of H1N1. These conversations were very useful in generating a lot of conversations amongst teachers themselves—how they saw themselves, what was meaningful to them, what gave them fulfilment, and what they wanted to see of the teaching service. Many inspiring stories were told of their day-to-day interactions with students.

By July this year, most if not all teachers had been engaged at the school level. Altogether, some 28,000 teachers were involved. Certain words and phrases came up again and again during these conversations, and we put them into different baskets.

The first basket revolved around the word “Care”:

We care
We teach because we care.
We believe in the child.
Go the extra mile.
Every child is important.

The second basket of phrases revolved around the word “Inspire”:

Teachers Inspire
Touching lives.
Making a difference.
I am the one who can change the student for the better.

There is yet another cluster of phrases surrounding the word “Professional”:

We are Professionals
The mentor in me.
Build each other up.
Continuous learning.
Professional exchange.
Community of learners.

In their conversations, teachers also expressed a wish: We need the support and understanding of parents and community. We need parents to work alongside with us, to weave a web of support for each and every child we teach.

It is a challenge to distil all that has been said, and sum it up as the Teachers’ Vision. But finally we have done it, after several rounds of consultation.

Please join me in thanking our teachers for launching the vision, on behalf of the fraternity.

Singapore Teachers—Lead. Care. Inspire.

Let me now unpack the three elements. “Lead”. There are two aspects of leading: “Leading the Learner” and “Leading Learning”. Let me just expand on each of these.

First, “Leading the Learner”. The word “educate” originates from the Latin word “educere” which means, “to lead out, to draw out from the learner”. There is a quote that says, “One mark of a great educator is the ability to lead students out to new places that even the educator has never been.”

The starting point is how we relate to the learners, drawing them out of their shell, and drawing out the potential in each of them through the opportunities we provide them. And I would like to relate a story told by Mr Eddie Tan Chong Seng from Temasek Secondary.

Mr Tan had a student that was quiet and reticent but extremely IT-savvy. One day, Eddie was making a presentation when it vanished from the screen. Eddie asked the boy for help. The boy, after tinkering with the computer, was able to make the presentation come back to the screen and after looking at the teacher’s slides, was able in fact, to make various suggestions to make the slides even more attractive. So the boy became the IT guru for the teacher from that day onwards. But that is not the end of the story.

Subsequently, Eddie appointed the student as the IT manager for an enterprise programme for the school, and the student grew, in terms of organisational ability, in terms of passion, in terms of commitment. He then went on to win the Lee Kuan Yew All-Round Excellence Award in 2005 and cited the teacher as having been the greatest influence in his life.

Leading learning. I would like to start off by saying that the teaching track has been successful in nurturing teacher leaders and we’ve seen many more colleagues now coming forward to lead their colleagues. I quote Mrs Lim Tuck Thong of Townsville Primary and she said this, “An invaluable experience gained will become an experience lost if we do not seek to enrich others.”

As a senior teacher, Mrs Lim has worked with younger colleagues as a mentor. Beginning teachers often approached her for advice on managing pupils and she has also shared her knowledge and experiences with teachers learning to take on the role of mentors. In her words, “It gives me great fulfilment when these teachers move on to take on greater responsibilities and in turn, to develop others.”

Going forward, Professional Learning Communities are powerful platforms for teachers to learn from one another, and for teachers to be leading teachers. There are 51 Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) today. We will in fact increase the number of these PLCs as we go forward. PLCs are a way of learning that can help level up teacher professionalism in a quick and effective way.

The second element is “Care”. Care is core to what we do every day as teachers. I think all of us know it. There are many stories told during the conversations about teachers who go the extra mile to show kindness and care for their children. We care because we are concerned for the well-being of the child in a holistic way. Physical safety, moral character—being able to do the right thing, at the right time and at the right place—as well as being well-adjusted, socially and emotionally. Here, I want to recount my own personal story.

I taught in a rural primary school, a village school, in the 1970s. I was fresh out of A-levels for about six months and I think those were very instructive months. The students were mainly children of farmers. They would come to the school from time to time with flying foxes and offer them to the teachers for their cooking pots.

There was a little girl that I taught in a Primary Three Science class, who would often come to school barefoot, unkempt and dishevelled. And she was often laughed at by many of her classmates. It was to the surprise of her classmates when I asked this girl to participate in class activities. I remember getting her to hop round the class to teach the concept of distance. Gradually, I saw this little girl come alive, becoming happy.

This episode has been deeply etched in my mind. Looking back at the point when I was deciding what to do after university, I think this experience must have contributed to my decision to become a teacher. The power of love and care can do so much to a kid’s life.

“Inspire”, the third element. Great teachers inspire, through love of the subject, teaching skills, the care of students, or because it simply personifies certain time-honoured values. I just want to share what Ms Lucy Oliver Fernandez from Catholic High School did. She is one such inspiring teacher.

Her passion is in Literature and this passion rubbed off on her students. In her class, the students initially called themselves “Lit Laggers”, who could not do anything much about Literature. So Ms Fernandez organised several sessions to help them in their work and gradually, the class started to call themselves by different names. From “Lit Laggers” to “Lit is for the Brave” and finally when you know that they have made it, “Lit for Life”.

Eventually, her students started to win trophies at the school’s annual Literature festival. But I think the greatest satisfaction to many of us teachers, that you know you have made it, is when many of the students go on to take the subject at the next higher level. Many of her students went on to junior college and continued to take Literature.

“Singapore Teachers—Lead. Care. Inspire.” Let me now read the full explanation:

“By word and deed, through the care we give, we touch the lives of our students. We make a difference—leading and inspiring our students to believe in themselves and to be the best they can be.
As individuals and as a community of professionals, we seek continually to deepen our expertise. Respectful of fellow educators, we collaborate to build a strong fraternity, taking pride in our work and profession.
We forge trusting partnerships with families and the community for the growth and well-being of each student.
We Lead, Care, Inspire,
For the Future of the Nation Passes through Our Hands.

We Lead, Care, Inspire,

For the Future of the Nation Passes through Our Hands.

So how do we take this vision forward?

Now as a community of practitioners, we can take some time to reflect on the Vision and also on the explanation. Think about the professional values that you hold dear and see how these are aligned to the Vision. Share this from time to time in school with your colleagues. Record your own journey in a log. I think we would like to hear from all of you. Continue your conversations about the Vision so that we can refine it.

Finally, as we grow as a fraternity, there is a need for teachers to come together as a family for learning and growth. We need platforms for professional exchange, for in-service courses and simply to come together socially just as what we have seen before the beginning of this session. We had in fact, two teacher groups, a jazz group and a cappella group. I would like to see such a place run by teachers for teachers. And therefore it is timely for a Teacher Development Centre to be set up, as a home to all Singaporean teachers. I hope that the Teacher Development Centre could be set up in time for us to run the next lap of the educational journey well.

In conclusion, it is together as a fraternity—teachers to lead, care and inspire—that we can continue to do the best for our children and the best for Singapore. I know that Teachers’ Day is just around the corner so may I take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a happy Teachers’ Day.

Thank you.