FY 2010 Committee of Supply Debate: 1st Reply by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence on Strengthening Education for All

(I) Nurturing Future-Ready Singaporeans

First let me thank members who have spoken. All the speeches have a common theme—for instance, Mrs Josephine Teo talked about having students who were “rooted”, Mr Ong Kian Min talked about social aptitude, Mrs Penny Low mentioned “Generation Z”, while Ms Joscelin Yeo touched on the value of learning. Dr Maliki Osman wanted more weightage on the arts, physical exercise, shaping character. On languages—several members spoke on how we can help make the learning of languages more exciting. I thank members for their overwhelming support for our investments in education. This support affirms that we have spent our educational dollars well. As a result, our students across the spectrum of academic ability receive a first class education and at all levels—primary, secondary and in post secondary institutions of ITE, Polytechnics and Universities. The system we have today is a far cry from what we inherited when we became independent—in the first PSLE held in 1960, 55% failed!

Since then, we have persisted in our efforts to upgrade educational opportunities for all—steadily focusing on the fundamentals to build a cadre of good school leaders and teachers, develop rigorous curriculum and ensure that our assessment systems are of high quality and valued by educational institutions and employers worldwide.

Outsiders have noted our achievements too. Let me share one anecdote. Last year, Cambridge University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Alison Richard in her address to the Cambridge alumni here, noted that Singapore was “renowned for its long-term investment in science and technology, for its commitment to nurturing exceptional talent, and also for encouraging students to study abroad—well before it became fashionable”. And indeed she’s right, we don’t do things because it’s fashionable. We focus on the basics. She went on to relate that a hundred years ago, Cambridge Local Exams Syndicate was in Singapore administering school exams and setting educational standards. Today, Singapore is considered a leader of educational innovations and a key partner for its international division—Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). When CIE staff talk to other countries about their school curriculum, these countries say that “we want to be like Singapore”. We regularly receive many delegations from overseas including Ministers of other top-performing systems who visit our schools and institutions. They are impressed with the quality of engaged learning found in classrooms—from school to tertiary level, and the commitment of our educators.

We are careful not to let these praises get to our head. Instead, these positive comments encourage us to continually seek for ways to improve. We engage and listen to MPs in this house as well as broad segments of society for their views on education as an on-going exercise. We view education reform as a continuous journey to equip each generation of Singaporeans adequately for their future. The Government is committed to continue this major focus on Education. We do this not only because it is critical for our economic competitiveness but for Singaporeans, it enables them to move up, as Dr Lily Neo and Miss Indranee Rajah had earlier noted in the budget debate. For those who come from low income families, it provides the uplifting power to break the poverty cycle.

This is why in last year’s Budget, in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis—we continued to increase our spending for MOE. Our budget was $8.7b in FY09, an increase of 5.5% from FY08. This year’s educational budget is a further increase from last year’s—an 11% increase, to $9.7b. While we appreciate the overwhelming support of members for spending on education, MOE will still ensure that spending is prudent, in order to maintain the strong support that members here have given.

Mrs Josephine Teo had asked a very critical question—how MOE approaches funding, how we prioritise spending. I will provide sectoral and numerical details later but first let me say that the broad approach over the last two decades has been consistent and focused on two key aspects. First, to expand opportunities in education for all through building a mountain range of educational programs with more peaks of excellence. Second, to rebalance our system towards building values and skills to achieve broader educational outcomes.

Opportunities for all, more peaks of excellence

Within the last decade or so, we have gone a considerable distance to cater to the diverse spectrum of abilities in all our students. In particular, we want to create paths for those with different learning styles, as well as late bloomers. Let me provide some details of various initiatives.

Across schools, Normal stream students have benefited from more flexibility in streaming. Last year, 4750 Normal stream students benefited from taking a higher level subject. About 1 in 3 N(A) students took an O-level subject, and majority did well. N(A) and N(T) students can also take modules which are delivered in collaboration with the Polytechnics and theITE that provide them with course credits which they can use when they subsequently study there.

The Direct School Admissions framework has also widened the scope for students to be selected into secondary schools and post-secondary institutions, by recognising strengths beyond exam results. Ms Denise Phua mentioned she was concerned about high tuition rates. We cannot stop parents who want their children to do better, but what we have done is to recognise more types of abilities and talents. For instance, in some of our IP schools today, 1 in 2 students enters through DSA. [Like Elaine Ng, who missed the PSLE cut off for Nanyang Girls High but entered through DSA in view of her talents in Chinese dance. So far, she has done her school proud in winning gold with honours at last year’s Singapore Youth Festival, and is now part of the school’s Maths & Science talent programme.] Through the DSA, we are able to recognise wider domains of talent.

But beyond these systemic measures, as Members have emphasised, schools are ultimately the nurturing ground for our educational endeavours and Denise Phua’s rich suggestions are well taken. We hope to impact every student positively. To maximise our reach, we therefore provide extra resources for all Principals to tap on, to fund deserving programs. Let me give you a feel. For instance—we give each school Opportunity Funds, Edusave grants and Internationalisation Funds. Taken together, this means that a typical primary school has on average an additional $170,000 per annum, while a secondary school would have an additional $300,000, to provide enrichment opportunities for their students. On top of this, primary and secondary schools can also apply for funding of up to $50,000 per year, to develop niche programmes in various fields.

This approach, which incentivises Principals to reach out to students, is responsive as well as productive. As a result, different niches of excellence are emerging across all schools, with teachers and school leaders at the forefront, taking ownership of innovative school-based programmes.

For example, across the board, our schools now offer a broader range of curriculum offerings, and opportunities for students to develop a global mindset and be exposed to different cultures. Our Economic Strategies Committee recommended that we position Singapore as a Global Asian Hub, but if we don’t expose our students to Asia and the region, how will they have that multi-cultural orientation? Mrs Josephine Teo may be glad to know that our schools have around 200 twinning programmes with schools in South-East Asia, China, and India. In 2008, before H1N1 struck—9% of primary students, 29% of secondary and one-third of JC students had a chance to go overseas—be it for school exchanges, international competitions and overseas community involvement stints.

To stretch more academically able students, we started the Integrated Programme in 2004, 6 years ago, to develop more critical inquiry and independent learning. We continue to monitor their outcomes and refine processes along the way. Specialised independent schools for students with talents in Maths & Science, Arts under MICA and Sports under MCYS, are doing well and are making a mark for themselves.

Since its opening in 2004, the Singapore Sports School has produced 4 World Champions and its students have broken 46 national open records in Track and Field and Swimming. Students from NUS High School of Maths and Science, which started in 2005, have garnered 13 awards at international Olympiads over the past 2 years, including a Gold award for Chemistry. It’s very hard to get a gold—you compete with the best. The School of the Arts, which started in 2008, has yet to see its first cohort graduate, but some of its students are already clinching places at summer programmes in prestigious institutions like the English National Ballet School and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the Yong Siew Toh Young Artist Programme.

This year, the School of Science and Technology, with its niche in applied learning and rich ICT learning environment, took in its first batch of 198 students, and is well positioned to be a new peak of excellence in the landscape.

For those students who benefit from a different more hands-on learning style, we have Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School, which gives them a practical education. You will be visibly moved by the dedication and patience of teachers in these schools.

The changes over the years have helped us re-shape the education system, to cater to a wide palette of students interests and abilities, and help every child reach his or her potential. The positive experiences of students in these selected programmes and niche schools add to the offerings of our mainstream schools and strengthen our system. They represent the other peaks of excellence we are hoping to build within the system and provide us with learning opportunities as we expand our capabilities. We will consolidate where necessary or refine and sharpen existing programs. Where appropriate we will also expand offerings in these selected programs and more of such schools to benefit more students.

I agree with Mr Viswa Sadasivan that Principals are key to the success of schools and programs. Indeed, we have succeeded because there is a healthy synergy between systemic policies and ground-up initiatives. Let me give you one example—when Northlight was first discussed, our approach was that the school would start only if we could attract teachers for the school. Yen Ching is now the Principal, and I hear the school has more applicants than places. They have also evolved an emergency response system where teachers can be activated to help students where needed.

Mr Viswa Sadasivan had suggested engaging a professional CEO for each school, and to free up teachers’ time from “non-core” work. This already exists. The Principal is expected to be the school’s CEO as well as the “Chief Academic Officer” and in fact trained to perform this role well. Mr Sadisavan mentioned a good idea—to get the more experienced Principals to help the others. We do have this, in the form of cluster superintendents. Supported by a dedicated team of executive and administrative staff, the Principal is accountable for all aspects of school life and this includes aspects Mr Sadasivan talked about—National education, recognising the achievements of students and creating a positive school tone. The principal can’t outsource his responsibility.

(II) Enhancing the learning of 21st Century Competencies

Strengthening 21st Century competencies

We have built a good education system but for the next decade, I have announced that it is timely for MOE schools to put more resources to developing soft skills and values—a goal supported by many members—Mrs Josephine Teo, Ms Penny Low, Mr Ong Kian Min and Dr Mohamed Maliki bin Osman. As Mr Ong Kian Min put it, social aptitude—the ability to speak publicly and confidently, and the ability to communicate ideas well, are vital in the new economy.

Last April, MOE accepted the recommendations of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) Committee headed by SMS Fu, which aim to nurture every child into a confident person, a self-directed learner, a concerned citizen and an active contributor.

Let me refer Members to the brochure illustrating MOE’s framework on delivering 21st Century Skills. We want to nurture each child to be a confident person, who can tell right from wrong, is adaptable and resilient, knows himself, is discerning in judgement, communicates effectively and takes responsibility for his own learning. He or she should be a self-directed learner, an active contributor who works in teams, a concerned citizen with a strong sense of civic responsibility, and take an active part in affecting lives. This was developed by our school leaders and teachers to provide a common platform for all MOE schools to anchor various efforts in developing soft skills and character. As many of you had noted, knowledge and skills must be underpinned by values. Values in particular, define a person’s character. They shape his beliefs, attitudes and actions, and form the core of our approach towards nurturing 21st century competencies in our young. The middle ring signifies the Social and Emotional competencies, while the outer ring represents key competencies for a globalised world—global awareness and cross-cultural skills, civic literacy, and critical thinking, information and communication skills.

I agree with members that to do this well, a whole-school approach is required and every teacher or support staff should be aligned to this effort. They will need to work with parents and other community partners. As the proverb goes—it takes a whole village to raise a child.

As several members—Mrs Josephine Teo, Mr Ong Kian Min and Mr Maliki Osman—have suggested, Sports CCAs, PE and the Programme for Active Learning (PAL), in particular, are excellent opportunities for students to develop a range of skills—from acquiring an awareness of physical well-being and developing a sense of self-esteem, to picking up important values such as teamwork, fair play and a “can-do” spirit.

MOE will therefore provide more time, space and resources to schools for PAM programmes. PE curriculum time will be increased across the primary and secondary level. For P1-P2, the increase will be half an hour, from 1.5 to 2 hours. For P3-P6, it will increase from the current 1.5 hrs to 2.5 hrs. At the secondary level, it will increase from 1 to 2 hours across the levels. This will be done in phases, in step with the building of sports halls, the implementation of single-session primary schools and recruitment of specialised teachers. I agree with Mrs Josephine Teo that sports should be for everyone, not just a select few. And indeed, we will work towards the mass of students to be involved in sports competitions. We think it’s possible for us to run competitions but pitched at different levels, and not just restricted to a select group of students.

I agree too about specialization of teachers. To enhance the delivery of the Arts and Music curriculum, MOE has also decided that all new Art and Music teachers will be trained for single-subject specialisation. In short, they will focus on teaching either Art or Music, and handle Art- or Music-related CCAs and programmes. Existing Art and Music teachers will also move towards single-subject specialisation. PE teachers are currently trained to teach a 2nd subject, but are deployed to teach mainly PE. That’s because some PE teachers do like this ability to be cross-deployed in subjects beyond PE, which also provides them with the flexibility to switch to other subjects later in their teaching careers. MOE proposes to allow more flexibility in the training and deployment of PE teachers. Teachers who prefer to teach only PE and sports-related work can already do so, if this suits the needs of their schools. We will step up the recruitment of PE teachers in tandem with the building of infrastructure in our schools, to allow for more PE curriculum time.

This will have a large impact on our recruitment. In view of single subject specialisation, more PE, Art and Music teachers will need to be recruited. MOE currently has 2,500 qualified PE, Art and Music teachers. To build up our pipeline of PE, Art and Music teachers by 2020, MOE will need to grow this pool by more than 2000, or 80%.

This move will provide an attractive career option for PAM teachers, and enable them to elevate the standards of these programmes in schools to achieve our educational outcomes. We are serious about this. We want them to stay within the system. Our 3 career tracks—leadership, teaching and specialist, will be accessible to PAM teachers. Those with the ability can aspire to positions of school leadership, while teachers with a strong interest in advancing research and developments in PAM education can become our Senior Specialists in MOE HQ. Those who are keen to become “teachers of teachers”, can go on to become Master Teachers at our Physical Education and Sports Teacher Academy (PESTA) and the Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts (STAR).

Mr Ong Kian Min asked about KPIs for PAM programmes while Mrs Josephine Teo suggested introducing new categories in the Edusave Merit Bursary awards to recognise achievements in sports, arts and music. Our schools have clear expectations and learning outcomes for the different PAM domains at different levels. Last year, we also gave out close to 7,500 Edusave awards for Achievement, Good Leadership & Service (EAGLES), amounting to $1.3 million to recognise students for their achievements in sports, art and music.

Communicating in a Globalised World—Enhancing the Learning and Teaching of Languages

Let me move on to communication skills and language ability. I agree with Mr Ong Kian Min that the ability to communicate with clarity, impact and emotional appeal is a valuable asset to develop in our students. Here, English is paramount because it is the lingua franca of the globalised World and Internet. As teachers are role models for the use of good English, it is important that we continue to enhance their English proficiency. New avenues have been created to strengthen in-service training of our language teachers. We need to pool much needed expertise and training resources in teaching English to bilingual learners at the national level. Countries in the region in fact look to Singapore for expertise in this area. The English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS), an MOE entity, will be set up to spearhead efforts to raise the standard of English. SMS Iswaran will provide details.

Mr Ong Kian Min had suggested encouraging more students to learn Malay as a third language. MOE agrees. So far the response from students has been positive. Around 500 Sec 1 students offer Malay as a third language, while 80 offer Bahasa Indonesia. Small proportion of a large base, but at least it’s a start. Of these, 130 students are enrolled in the regional studies programme, which MOE started in 2008, to nurture a core group of Singaporeans with a good understanding of the culture and contemporary developments in the region.

Mr Baey Yam Keng, Mrs Josephine Teo, Mr Low Thia Kiang and Mr Teo Siong Seng had spoken too on the teaching of Chinese language. With the rise of China, being bilingual is a valuable cachet. Similarly too for those who speak Malay or Tamil languages as markets in Indonesia, Malaysia and India expand.

There has been considerable debate on teaching the Mother Tongue Languages (MTL) in recent months, and I need not repeat arguments today. As announced, the Director-General of Education is currently leading a review of the 3 MTLs, to respond to changing language home environments and educational goals with regard to MT language competency. The review is expected to be completed by year end. The Committee will design a MTL curriculum structure that recognises the wider range of starting points and prior backgrounds of our pupils and devise customized approaches for different groups of learners.

Our goal is to evolve a framework that will facilitate the learning of MTL of three broad groups—the majority of children who come from EL-speaking homes, those who are very capable and those who face exceptional difficulties.

For students with the ability and interest to do higher MTL, we will help them develop fluency in all four language skills—listening, speaking, reading, writing. There are good avenues to encourage this, such as SAP schools and the Bicultural Studies Programme (Chinese) (BSP(C)), and Higher Malay and Higher Tamil programmes. We will look to do more for this group of students

For the vast majority, the objective is to cultivate an interest in MTL, and to develop effective communications skills and confidence in using the MTL. Simply put—if they don’t use the language, they will lose it, and we want our teaching methods to encourage students to use the language. This is the point that Mr Baey Yam Keng made.

For those who face difficulties in learning the language, we will help them to acquire competency in oral communications for daily living.

But apart from teaching, as members have noted, how we test students will also shape their attitudes towards the language. DGE’s Committee is doing a wide scan of curriculum and assessment approaches in overseas systems. While this is work in progress, almost all systems are shifting emphases to make language more alive and more relevant to daily living. This strengthens the intrinsic motivation of our students to use their mother tongue in daily life.

Let me give an example. China’s Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK), a proficiency test geared towards learners who are not immersed in a CL speaking environment, adopts the philosophy of encouraging and motivating more students to learn CL, at their own pace. It treats language proficiency as a marathon, not a sprint. It encourages all learners to finish the race at a pace which they can manage. Consistent with this approach, HSK has multiple proficiency levels to make the language accessible—so if you imagine someone at P1 who comes from an English-speaking background, versus someone who comes from Chinese-speaking background, the starting points are different. HSK makes the language accessible, with greater emphasis on listening/speaking skills but less on writing for the beginning levels. Test questions are contextualised to everyday situations (e.g. use of short dialogues). A basic list of 581 characters is used to equip early learners with a foundation to build their vocabulary, and to scope learning and testing. These go a long way towards motivating learners to feel a sense of achievement as they would have acquired enough proficiency to function in several daily scenarios.

I agree with Mrs Josephine Teo that we need not swing to the extreme of teaching our MTLs as foreign languages. Singapore does have a Mandarin-speaking environment in different segments of society and in the media. Similarly, we have newspapers, radio and TV stations, pop culture in Malay and Tamil. We should take advantage of this environment and teach MTL in a way that encourages functional use of the language, by emphasizing effective oral communication, reading in everyday contexts and functional writing.

Going forward, the Committee will look to develop a curriculum structure that effectively creates ladders and not hurdles, for students to progress based on their ability. Students will be guided to select which level of attainment they can reasonably achieve, with the appropriate effort.

This is quite radical, and the new curriculum structure will require time to conceptualise and develop. Recommendations will be ready by year-end. For the next few years, MOE will focus on intermediate changes that will bridge us from the current curriculum into the new structure. Let me highlight the broad approach for CL, but similar changes will be made for ML and TL, although the specifics may differ to suit the context of each MTL.

At the primary level, MOE’s approach will be to build strong foundations for CL learning, by making enhancements to the modular approach and by introducing greater use of ICT, so that learning becomes more authentic and functional.

At the secondary level, we will continue with a differentiated approach for the different segments of students. For those with the ability and interest to excel in CL, we will provide more opportunities for them to excel in HCL and deepen their knowledge of Chinese culture. MOE will also provide more opportunities for potential and current SAP school leaders to have extended attachments in leading schools and institutions in the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. We hope they will come back energized with new ideas, to deepen the SAP culture in their schools.

Across the board, we will see greater use of ICT in the curriculum. Oracy weightings will increase, by 5-20% across the national examinations, to reflect greater focus on functional use of CL.

For those who would benefit from taking CL ‘B’, we will increase access to this option, and look to develop a pool of CL ‘B’ teachers with the aptitude and drive to teach this group well. SMS Fu will provide more details later, on measures that will help us transit to a new, more customized system.

Developing a Quality Higher Education Sector

Let me now turn to the post-secondary sector where we too are building more opportunities and peaks of excellence. But beyond expanding opportunities for student of diverse abilities, our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) are increasingly a strategic asset, as we move towards a knowledge and innovation driven economy. They act as new engines to power Singapore’s next phase of growth.

In building this strategic asset therefore, we must be careful that we do not expand to meet aspirations but at the expense of quality. Our prevailing benchmark is that all our IHLs must strive to be the best in their class globally—whether vocational ITE, Polytechnic or Universities. This is the best way to serve Singaporean students, because they are then assured that their graduation certificates are worth something and will not diminish over time.

The Polytechnics andITE are key pillars in our system, catering to the vast majority of our students. Of a typical P1 cohort, 42% goes to Polytechnic and 22% to ITE.

We continually upgrade ITE and our efforts have improved outcomes. Some of you may have visited ITE College East at Simei which commenced in 2005 has received widespread recognition from parents, the community as well as international visitors for its role in transforming the lives of its students. Last year, MOE announced that ITE would consolidate its smaller campuses into two remaining regional colleges by 2013. We are on track for this, with ITE College West due to be completed in July this year, and College Central by the end of 2012.

Over the years,ITE graduates have also seized opportunities to upgrade their qualifications. Let me give you some figures. In 1995, only 12% progressed to polytechnics. Now the proportion is 19%. Among the Higher Nitec graduates, 37% subsequently did well enough to directly enter the Polytechnics. We will continue to help our Polytechnic andITE graduates upgrade in their working careers.

By 2015, we expect 45% of a P1 cohort to access polytechnic education. To keep pace with growing demand in the long run, MOE has decided to invest up to $1 billion to increase capacity in the five polytechnics by 20%, over the next 4 years. SMS Iswaran will provide more details.

Last year, MOE announced that the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and our polytechnics would work with selected overseas universities to start programmes in 2011. It will offer to Poly graduates a wide array of reputable universities to choose from right here in Singapore. I mentioned that we intended to start these programmes in 2011. I am happy to report to the House that we have made good progress on this major effort, and as a result can start these degree programs ahead of time. SIT and our polytechnics will launch 8 new degree programmes with 5 overseas universities this year. These 5 overseas universities are leading institutions who are global leaders in their respective fields.

They include the Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen for electrical engineering and information technology, the Newcastle University for naval architecture, offshore and marine engineering, the Digipen Institute of Technology, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for Hotel Administration, and Culinary Institute of America. These leading partners will add value and recognition to our Polytechnic diplomas as they provide advanced standing for our Polytechnic graduates, because our Polytechnic graduates will be able to obtain degrees after only two years instead of 3 or 4 year courses.

Together, these programmes will add some 500 additional university places for AY2010. In steady state, SIT targets to offer places for 2,000 full-time students yearly by 2015. MOE will also provide subsidies for Singaporean students enrolled at SIT, so that the programmes are affordable. SMS Iswaran will provide details on fees and other aspects for SIT later.

Undergraduate intake will be 15,300 places this academic year, more than the number of places taken up in AY2009 even though the size of this year’s cohort is smaller. This will cater to about 26% of the cohort, up from 25% in the last two years. With SIT and SUTD, we are on track to achieve our target cohort participation rate of 30% by 2015.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design, or SUTD, will add to the dynamism of the university sector. Members will know that this is done in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Zhejiang University—it brings together the best of East and West, and will benefit students and faculty alike. SUTD will also serve as a new receptacle for high-quality talent and give its students the impetus for knowledge creation and entrepreneurial activity.

The SUTD represents another response to meet high expectations of Singaporeans students and parents. We celebrate when more students do exceedingly well in their A-level exams. But as more and more do well, we also have a problem—a good one, but nonetheless one that poses a challenge. Our top performing students are targeted by leading foreign Universities. Regularly, top Universities from UK and US come to Singapore and even offer fully funded scholarships to our top students. Countries have recognised that those who win this “war for talent” will have a strategic advantage over others. The US is a prime example who has benefited immensely by attracting and absorbing the cream of the World.

Our Universities must also compete in the race to attract top talent if they are not to be relegated to “second division” Universities. NUS, NTU and SMU, though young, have done well in this regard. For example, NUS and NTU rank 4th and 13th within Asia in the Times Higher Education Supplement World University rankings. Both have established Research Centres of Excellence, such as the Cancer Science Institute at NUS, and the Earth Observatory of Singapore at NTU. SMU is in turn regarded as a respectable business and management university, ranked 3rd in Asia in the 2009 University of Texas at Dallas Worldwide Business School rankings. To stay in the first division however, strategic partnerships count. This is why NUS tied up with Duke University on the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, and forged alliances with global institutions such as the Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University, to set up the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Similarly NTU has partnerships with top British (e.g. Imperial College) and US universities (e.g. Carnegie Mellon) on joint post-graduate programmes and research projects, while SMU was established with strong linkages to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

This is the rationale for SUTD to team up with MIT and Zhejiang University. However, such research intensive Universities are expensive. There is a strong demand for top faculty and Universities are willing to pay well to hire them. State of the art facilities also require significant investment in resources. The Government recognises that it must build leading institutions to provide our brightest Singaporeans an education here that can match that of other leading Universities elsewhere. However, it would only be fair for such benefiting students to bear a fair share of the costs. This is because they would have received much heavier subsidies than other students.

For SUTD, we want to move towards a funding model that is more equitable, that reflects the higher cost borne by public funds to educate its students. Normally, we would seek to recover 25% of cost in fees i.e. government subsidises 75% of the cost. This applies to the SIT courses just announced and other courses in existing Autonomous Universities. But similar to more specialised courses such as Medicine, Dentistry and Music, the total cost of SUTD can be up to two or three times that of other traditional courses. Students at SUTD can expect to receive much higher subsidies of over $50,000 per annum.

For SUTD, it is therefore appropriate that we aim for a higher cost recovery ratio than 25%. I am announcing this to set the principle before SUTD takes in its first intake, so that the public, students and parents can understand the rationale.

For SUTD, we want to move towards a funding model, based more on endowment, scholarships and grants. This is a more equitable model for higher education, and practiced by leading private Universities in the US. In that model, students who will be the prime beneficiaries after graduating from the prestigious Universities and who would often benefit from higher starting pay and successful careers, are asked to pay much higher fees. For example, MIT charges roughly S$53,000 per year. Philantrophists who believe in education and successful alumni lend their support to maintain the standing of their University by contributing to its endowment. This creates a virtuous cycle for successive generations of graduates.

We are setting the principle and model of funding for SUTD for fees to be higher than the 25% cost-recovery ratio (CRR). But for the first few batches of students at SUTD, who will be in the interim campus, we will not aim to achieve more than the 25% CRR. The fees will be set around $11,000 per academic year which is only about 17% CRR. Once facilities are built up, students would be expected to bear their fair share and fees will go up to attain the higher target cost-recovery ratio.

Nevertheless, we will still maintain our standing policy for SUTD that no student who can benefit from its education will be denied that opportunity due to lack of means. Similar to undergraduate students at NUS, NTU and SMU, SUTD’s students will have access to various Government-funded financial assistance schemes to finance their studies. A Singaporean student can obtain up to 100% funding for his tuition fees and living expenses through a combination of loans and bursaries.

Investing in Education

Opportunities for all and a range of peaks that match the abilities of our students—these are our guiding lights. I have provided a panoramic view of current and future initiatives within our educational landscape, that illustrate how we are spending the education dollar. Mrs Josephine Teo also asked if we should fund by outcomes instead of by levels.

Let me say here that spending more does not always guarantee better outcomes. As a percentage of GDP, countries like the USA spend more on education compared to the OECD average, but do not fare as well. So we should look at outcomes, as well as how we spend our education dollars.

Over the past decade, MOE has consistently been spending on average 3.5% of GDP to raise the quality of education. During this ten-year period, our budget has increased by 45%, from $6 billion in FY2000 to $8.7 billion in the current fiscal year. I expect it to increase by another 11% to $9.7 billion in the new fiscal year. Our share of total government expenditure has remained fairly constant at around one-fifth, significantly higher than countries such as Korea (15%), Japan (10%), UK (12%) and the US (15%).

We have spent judiciously, to invest in providing more opportunities for students across all levels. We have deployed the education budget across the different sectors. Each year, about 50% of the budget is invested in the school sector, 41% in post-secondary education and the remainder in HQ and its statutory boards.

In two other sectors—pre-school education and special education needs, MOE works in partnership with other agencies and community organisations to provide services. MOE will do its part and will expend more resources to upgrade the quality of provision. SMS Fu and SPS Masagos will speak more on these areas later.

Investing in critical enablers

At the heart of our educational system are its people. We need good teachers to raise academic standards and help our students build good character, acquire soft skills and mould positive attitudes. Ms Denise Phua suggested we study how Finland attracts teachers—I have visited Finland 3 times, just to learn from them. We have invested heavily in building up a quality teaching force. As a result, the teaching force has grown from 24,000 teachers in 2000, to 30,000 today. MOE is moving towards all-graduate recruitment by 2015. A new career track for Allied Educators was also introduced last year and 1,217 Allied Educators were recruited. By 2015, we will double the number in our schools to about 2,500. Associate Professor Paulin Straughan had proposed reducing the class size in secondary schools to 20 per class. Pupil-teacher ratios, or PTRs, have improved at both the primary and secondary levels. Primary PTRs are 19.6 at present. For secondary schools, it is 16.9. Our approach is to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in schools, and let schools decide how best to take advantage of the improved provisions. With more resources, schools can better customise programmes to meet various needs of their students.

Our goals for the next decade will require new engines to enable teachers to move our education system into a higher plane for the next decade. To provide a central focus and driving force for professional development, I recently announced the set up of the Singapore Teachers Centre. The STC will be the professional home for teachers, to focus on professional standards and also serve as a one-stop centre for research and resources. To strengthen the quality of PE, Art and Music Education, we are also investing in two new engines to support teachers and deepen teacher expertise—the Physical Education and Sports Teacher Academy (PESTA) and the Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts (STAR). These outfits will leverage on expertise from NIE, tertiary institutions, schools and practitioner communities here and abroad.

For our Mother Tongue Language teachers, we have the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language (SCCL), Umar Pulavar Tamil Language Centre (UPTLC) which was recently upgraded and the new Malay Language Centre of Singapore, to cater to the professional development needs of our Malay Language teachers.

New infrastructure will also need to be put in place, to support the delivery of more holistic outcomes. We have upgraded the infrastructure and facilities in schools, and will continue to do so particularly for the enhancement of the primary school infrastructure. This includes outdoor learning spaces, and additional venues for performing arts. Indoor Sports Halls will allow PE lessons to be conducted even in inclement weather—these have been built in 89 primary and secondary schools and another 18 schools are on track to have their Indoor Sports Halls completed this year. We have designed these facilities such that they are also accessible to the public, so that usage can be optimised. All government primary schools will eventually move to single session, so that they have more time and space to implement non-academic programmes.

In summary, MOE will need to spend more in education in the next few years. We expect our budget to increase to around $11b over the next few years, with a very important caveat—if our economy continues to grow as planned. If we continue to grow, we can continue to invest in our education system and build up more peaks of excellence in the school landscape and tertiary sector.


To sum up, teachers and schools know when they have made an impact, even if the public at large do not. Recently, a former student of Pioneer JC who wrote in to the ST Forum Online recently, Tang Shangjun, had this to say, in responding to why it was so difficult to get into top JCs like RI and HCI—“I would not trade my time at Pioneer JC for a place at any of the so-called elite schools, because I have received an excellent JC education.” Shangjun has done his teachers proud and for him even if others do not recognise it, they have met his KPI. Students are finally the ones that tell us if we have succeeded in our educational efforts.

SMS Fu, SMS Iswaran and SPS Masagos will add details to my overview, as well as answer specific queries from members. Thank you.