Speeches

Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Home Affairs, at The Early Childhood Conference 2010 on Friday, 18 June 2010, at 9.15am at Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Distinguished guests & colleagues,

Ladies and Gentleman,

Good morning.

Introduction

It gives me great pleasure to be here at the Early Childhood Conference 2010. The theme of the conference is: “Voices for Children”. There is an old saying that children are meant to be seen and not heard. However, we have made advancement in early childhood education over the years and learnt that sometimes, conventional wisdom is flawed. We must listen attentively to the voices of our young if we want to facilitate their growth. As early childhood educators, you represent the voices of these children and are advocates for their interests. I am heartened by the great turnout at this Conference today, and believe that we will be able to draw on one another’s strengths and build the collective wisdom of our community to improve the well-being of our children and prepare them for the future.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Role in Early Childhood Education

I am pleased to note that the Association of Early Childhood Educators (Singapore), or AECES for short, has collaborated with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to organise this conference. Ngee Ann Polytechnic is the first polytechnic to start a full-time Diploma in Early Childhood Education. Since 1999, it has offered several other Diplomas in this field and in early intervention. To date, Ngee Ann has produced over 1,000 alumni, the majority of whom are in the early childhood field as teachers, supervisors, principals, curriculum specialists, entrepreneurs and lecturers. In fact, the average salaries of pre-school teachers have increased by 18% since 2007. This 5-day conference marks a milestone for Ngee Ann Polytechnic in its learning journey in early childhood education.

To students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic taking the Diploma in Early Childhood Education, or Diploma in Child Psychology and Early Education, I commend your decision to join the early childhood education profession and encourage you to make full use of this conference to network and learn from other practitioners. Their wisdom and experience will help you as you embark on a fulfilling career in nurturing our young children.

Professional Development of Teachers

To have high-quality early childhood education, we need high-quality teachers. Teachers are key to ensuring that our children’s educational experiences are meaningful. They ignite the innate curiosity in these young children and facilitate them in realising their potential. But in order to do so, teachers must have the necessary knowledge, skills and disposition to guide children in embracing the world with all its opportunities. As such, teachers need to engage in continual learning to ensure that they have a wide repertoire of teaching skills and capable of differentiating their instruction to engage and enrich a broad spectrum of young learners.

There are a variety of professional development opportunities available to pre-school educators to develop their knowledge, skills and disposition. Today’s conference is a platform for learning, networking and sharing. I understand that some of you have attended school visits and workshops in the past three days. I hope you have been enriched by these sessions, which serve to enhance the quality of learning experiences you provide for the children in your pre-schools.

I am heartened to note the efforts that AECES has put in to promote the continuing education and learning of its members. AECES, for example, has recognised the importance of having positive language role models in young children’s language development. It has developed courses on standard pronunciation, as well as used children’s stories and drama to improve language proficiency. AECES has also provided specialisation tracks for early childhood educators. For example, teachers who have a good command of the English Language could choose to grow in the profession by being Early Literacy Educators. Another track offered is that of a mentor teacher: AECES has trained about 200 PCF principals and about 40 teacher award recipients for this track. AECES is also developing a mentorship programme for student teachers doing their practicum.

Nurturing Physically, Socially and Mentally Healthy Children

I would now like to turn our attention to the state of health of our young children. In the World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2008, it was stated that people are healthier, wealthier and live longer today than 30 years ago. The report also noted that with a higher health literacy in a better-educated and modernising global society, the global health economy is growing faster than gross domestic product (GDP), with a 35% growth from 2000 to 2005.

Despite the rising trend in the world’s health expenditure, Singapore’s total expenditure on health as a percentage of the GDP in 2006 compared quite favourably to the other developed nations. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United States of America spent 15.3% of its GDP on health. For Australia it was 8.7%, Japan 7.9% and Singapore 3.4%. This is strong evidence that investing in an effective school health programme is one of the most cost-effective measures a nation can take to simultaneously improve education and health.

Our pre-schools must also contribute to this national effort to equip our population with the knowledge to a healthy lifestyle: use curriculum-based programmes such as skits to instil nutritional knowledge, provide healthy meals and innovate reward schemes to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables. The Health Promotion Board is another resource preschools should partner with and they have vast educational resource materials that teachers can use to equip our young with the necessary knowledge and skills to shape healthy lifestyle practices.

Likewise, the partnership and joint effort of pre-school, the community and parents will have a powerful and synergistic impact on health promotion for our young children. One such way is for parents to sign their children up with the Singapore Sports Council’s (SSC) SportOn Kids portal — specially designed for parents with young children. Leveraging on the innovative use of the new media, this approach enables the SSC to attract children from 3 to 12 years of age to participate in community sports events.

When our children have developed positive lifestyle habits from young, they will reap the health benefits in adulthood. I strongly urge you to sustain the good work in educating our young children by getting the cooperation of their parents to reinforce your teaching at home.

Launch of “An Essential Companion for Daily Practice”

Today, I am pleased to launch The Code of Ethics Handbook: An Essential Companion for Daily Practice, which has been developed by AECES. The Handbook translates the Code of Ethics, published in 2004, into practice. It provides practitioners with guidance for meeting the standards of practice for a high-quality early childhood programme. The case scenarios highlighted in the Handbook create opportunities for reflection and decision making. It is with continuous reflective practice that educators will be effective in promoting the interest of children, families, their colleagues and the community at large.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am delighted that you are here today to learn from experts and peers to develop your professional knowledge. Through this conference, you will be able to acquire knowledge to enhance your teaching and learning. I encourage all of you to attend the rest of the conference with an open mind and keen heart so that you can be voices for your children. Together we can promote the holistic development of our children and provide a strong start for every child.

I wish you all a fruitful conference and much learning in the days ahead. Thank you.