Speeches

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education, at the NIE Teachers' Investiture Ceremony at 2.30pm on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at the Nanyang Auditorium, Nanyang Technological University

Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chairperson, NIE Council

Professor Lee Sing Kong, Director, NIE

Colleagues

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.

I am delighted to be here today to celebrate this occasion with the 357 graduands who will formally join the Singapore Education Service today. Let me extend my warmest congratulations on your achievement and on behalf of all my colleagues at MOE, a warm welcome to the MOE family. From today, you will become the next generation of torchbearers in our education system.

I commend you on your decision to be teachers. Each one of you here has made the right decision to be a teacher. You have passed a rigorous selection process and you have demonstrated the necessary qualities to take on the important task of guiding, nurturing and inspiring future generations of young Singaporeans. It is a tremendous responsibility but few careers offer an experience quite as rewarding as teaching.

Good Role Models

I am happy to note that many of you here have participated actively in community work and service learning, despite your busy schedules as a student teacher in NIE. You are indeed good role models for your students.

I would like to give special mention to several of you here today. I would later ask you to stand to be acknowledged by the audience. Mr. David Tay. Besides successfully leading a group of 18 fellow PGDE colleagues on a service learning project last year, David is also one of the founding members of the NTUC Youth Membership Club also known as nEbO (No one Enjoys Being Ordinary) and Chairperson of the NTUC nEbo Entrepreneurship Community. In his own time, David organises seminars for JC students and gives talks on successful business role models from local and international companies.

Lim Pia Leong and Derek Lin received commendations from the Vice-Principal of St. Gabriel’s Secondary School for the excellent service learning project they conducted. They organised a two day–one night camp to help integrate special needs students into the school. These two student teachers went beyond the stipulated hours and scope of work for their service-learning course and inspired their team members to do the same. They subsequently took time to share their experiences and reflections not only at the service learning presentation held on 23 September 2009, but also with school mates who were pursuing a course related to working with special needs students.

Jenny Tan and her peers decided to help foreign workers learn English as their service-learning project for their Group Endeavours in Service Learning (GESL) course. These student teachers travelled to a workers’ dormitory on Pulau Brani two nights a week over three weeks to conduct the lessons. They were able to use the skills and knowledge they learnt at NIE to help 180 foreign workers learn simple conversational English through methods such as songs and role play.

It is encouraging to know of many fine individuals who will be teachers in our schools.

Enhancing Teacher Education

Singapore is well-regarded internationally for its education system. The single most important influence on the quality of any education system is the quality of its teachers. Consequently, the quality of teacher education and preparation programmes becomes of prime importance to any education system.

The National Institute of Education (NIE)’s aims to provide the theoretical foundation for our “thinking teachers” through university-based education programmes, while partnering key stakeholders and the schools to provide a strong practical component to develop teacher professionalism.

Last year, NIE embarked on a review to bring teacher education to a higher plane in order to be ready for challenges of the future. In this review, NIE has consulted widely and drawn on the perspectives of various stakeholders. The result is the “Teacher Education for the 21st Century” (or TE21) Model.

TE21 has a strong focus on imparting values to our student teachers. There are three aspects in the model. First, placing the learner in the centre of your work. Second, building a strong identity as a professional. Third, service to the profession and community.

For many beginning teachers, being equipped with basic skills may be a pre-occupation. This is understandable. Students expect their teachers to “perform’ as soon as they step into the classroom. A beginning teacher is eager to establish himself or herself in a position of authority.

However, having good classroom management skills or content knowledge is not enough. Beginning teachers soon realise that they need a strong sense of inner purpose and drive for the long haul.

This is why a lot of effort is being invested by MOE and NIE to build up a strong sense of professionalism among teachers. The vision for the Singapore Teaching Service calls for Teachers to “Lead, Care and Inspire” and to acknowledge their position of privilege and responsibility in nurturing the young. By words and deeds, teachers touch and shape the lives of their students. Teachers inspire their students to believe in themselves and be the best they can be. In January this year, 405 student teachers who started their training at NIE were presented with a compass to mark the beginning of their professional journey. The compass is a symbol of a teacher’s role in leading and guiding our students to become good persons and useful citizens of Singapore.

For subsequent intakes of student teachers, a senior education professional will be there to welcome the next generation of teachers. One specific recommendation in TE21 is to enhance the partnership in practicum training, to reinforce the theory-practice nexus. The proposed “Enhanced Partnership Model” re-affirms the collaborative relationship between our schools and NIE and our shared values and goals to give our student teachers the best possible preparation.

A key benefit of the practicum lies not just in the learning of skills, but the imparting of values, from one generation of teachers to another. All great professions have strong traditions of mentorship by seniors. Senior doctors spend much time guiding their younger colleagues. Senior teachers similarly are expected to guide and mentor the new teachers

In Finland, the senior teachers spend a considerable amount of time developing the student teachers. The student teachers are attached to supervising teachers in small groups, allowing them to work under the close mentorship of their supervisors, yet benefit from the sharing of learning and best practices with peers in the same group. Their supervisors would provide regular feedback to them on their lessons with the objective of building up their strengths and teaching personality.

And you do not have to be a very senior teacher to lend a helping hand to new colleagues. In 2008, a group of 5 student-teachers doing their practicum in Lakeside Primary School decided to join hands and compile a handbook for student teachers. It was a practical guidebook, from what to do on the first day of practicum to a list of recommended eating places near the school! In the same year, four of them started their careers as beginning teachers in the same school. Joined by two other colleagues, they compiled another handbook, this time for beginning teachers. This guidebook is more serious, and contains tips on classroom management, motivating pupils, and, so on. As a sign of the many duties of a teacher, they have a section on “Teachers’ Responsibilities” and a “Guide to Forms”. But no recommendations on eating places. On a serious note, we hope that teachers see the responsibility as their profession and will encourage each other to do a better job.

Even if you have overcome the initiation, your learning journey will and should never stop. Professional development is a lifelong quest. MOE is committed to giving you the support you need. You will have access to a range of professional development opportunities throughout your teaching career. MOE provides teachers with courses in content, pedagogy and assessment as well as in other key areas such as classroom management, counselling skills and reflective practice. Schools have also set aside dedicated time for the professional development of teachers.

Beyond attending courses organised by MOE, teachers must take the lead in their professional development. The Singapore Teachers Centre will be set up to develop a culture of professional excellence and enhance teacher professional development. The Singapore Teachers Centre can be a one-stop centre for Research and Resource, equipped with new technologies and be a repository of learning and teaching resources for all educators. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are also being piloted in around 50 schools today, serving as platforms for teachers to learn from one another. I urge all of you to make full use of the opportunities and resources available for professional development. Just like a medical doctor has to keep up with the latest developments in medical science to provide the most effective treatment to his patients, we need teachers who are always on the look- out for more effective ways of teaching.

Conclusion

Teaching is more than just a career; it is a calling. Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, a member of the NIE International Advisory Panel and the first recipient of the Honorary Doctor of Education awarded by Nanyang Technological University has this to say about teachers: “Teaching is the profession on which all other professions depend. Indeed, everybody who is somebody was enabled to become somebody by a teacher”.

I hope that you will achieve your aspirations as a teacher and make a positive difference to your students as you mentor and nurture them. Be the teacher who leads, cares for and inspires every student under your charge to realise their full potential. I wish you a highly satisfying and fulfilling career ahead.

Thank you.