Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at Playeum’s Gala Dinner Event on Friday, 8 May 2015, 8:15pm, at The Ballroom, Level 1, MICE Building of Amara Sanctuary Sentosa Resort

Published Date: 08 May 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Ms Sumitra Pasupathy and Ms Jennifer Loh
Co-founders of Playeum

Friends, boys and girls

1.My invitation card says that I must come in playful attire and I thought I have the perfect attire for that. I will wear what I always wear to office every day. Because our work ought to have elements of play. It is only when you find joy and wonder in what you do that you can sustain what you do and enjoy every moment of it. Thank you for inviting me to this event.

2.When I met Sumitra and Jennifer two years back, it was a time when we were thinking very hard at MOE about how we could help children to learn better. One of the things we were thinking about was how we should do our MOE Kindergarten curriculum quite differently. So I went round exploring this whole subject of play. By sheer coincidence, Sumitra and Jennifer sent me a proposal, saying that they would like to demonstrate what ‘play’ means and wanted to go to some site to show me what they were doing. I thought why not? They came to Tampines Community Club and had two events there. I saw what they were doing, and saw how the kids were very engaged. More importantly, parents too were very engaged together with their kids, and there was lovely communication and bonding between parents and kids, and among the children themselves. I must say they did it very creatively. Congratulations to Sumitra and Jennifer.

3.Playful moments like these help children learn many important things. Indeed, through play, children interact with, discover and learn about other people and the world around them.

4.Play is very important to our growth, development, and well-being. Especially for younger children, in fact, we can see how children are very engaged in play. An engaged mind is really the first step to a motivated mind. When we are not engaged, we cannot be motivated to do what we want to do.

5.Outdoor and physical play has been found to have a great deal of benefit, in ways which science is just beginning to discover.

6.Play with other children helps young children develop their language abilities, and learn more about themselves and others. They learn to manage their own behaviour and emotions, and to develop empathy.

7.In some types of play, children become young explorers and experimenters, trying to figure out for themselves what they want to do and how they can do it. Pretend-play, for instance, which all of us indulge in with our kids, involves make-believe, and provides opportunities for children to develop their imagination. This process of open-ended exploration, experimentation and imagination helps children develop, without us knowing it, a core range of critical skills that are important in life, in their own growth and in the joy of being a child.

8.In this respect, I am very intrigued to learn that Playeum has an Advisory Board with members who are kids, the youngest being six years old and the oldest about twelve! I am looking forward to meeting them this evening. I believe they must be the youngest board advisors ever!

9.Every time I meet parents, they say that our schools are so stressful. Let me assure you that MOE is trying very hard to incorporate elements of play in the curriculum.

10.I mentioned how we started MOE Kindergartens. I visited them on quite a few occasions and I interacted with the kids. Our main way of helping them to learn is to learn through play. Even a simple game, like the tag game, helps them to learn motor skills such as running and sliding, in a game setting. At the same time, they learn how to work as a team and learn how to make friends.

11.Some parents say yes, that is good in the kindergarten but when you go to primary school, that’s when it becomes stressful. But we are bringing play into lower primary too. If your kids are in the lower primary, you know that we now have this Programme for Active Learning (PAL), where, through sports and games, and a whole range of activities, our children experience a range of very creative and fun ways to learn.

12.As our children get older, the form that play takes will be different. Through our whole range of CCA activities, in sports, in arts, in music or the uniformed groups, they learn in many interesting and diverse ways.

13.Many of you in this room who are of my age will remember our school days. My school was such a poor school and all that we had was one big field. But what is fascinating is what you can do with one big field and not even a ball.

14.What we did was divide ourselves into two groups of good cops and bad robbers and designed all sorts of rules to play ‘cop and robber’. We had great fun just running around the field. Some kids would save up enough money to buy a small little rubber ball. I find it amazing till today, how a small little rubber ball can provide such great amount of fun to so many kids. We had a whole class of thirty to forty kids chasing after one small rubber ball.

15.In my school, what we did was we started devising many different ways that we can use one small rubber ball to play with one another. A simple game involved throwing the ball as high as you could, but whoever caught it earned the right to ‘hantam’ somebody – to aim it at somebody.

16.Today’s parents would think that we were so cruel and that it was such a bad game. But I found that you actually learn a lot of things through that game. Nobody in my school ever got hurt being hit by a rubber ball. I got hit many times by boys many times my size. And I am still okay! It helped us developed courage, and we devised our own rules. Like, you cannot hit somebody if he is too near you. You don’t hit him at close range, you count to three, and you let him run as fast as he can. In that way, you learn how to be merciful as well. The games got more complicated as we got older.

17.My message is that actually, when we look back, what really matters and what we remember of school are moments like these that make us remember that school was enjoyable. I do believe that play has very important effects on us. For instance, for the first twelve years of my career, I was a cop. As a police officer, you have to be prepared that someone might hit you. Because I went through that game involving people hitting you hard with a ball, it made me feel a lot more confident that it’s alright.

18.I can understand why parents feel the need to send their children to enrichment class after enrichment class, and at a younger and younger age. But I encourage parents to remember that unstructured play provides valuable learning opportunities that cannot be gained any other way. Do provide for unstructured time in the day for children to play with others, rather than fill their days to the brim with structured activities. I urge parents too to spend some time to play with your children, so that you will get to know them and understand them as individuals.

19.While our children are playing, resist the urge to step in to tell them what to do. One of my colleagues at MOE, Mrs Jenny Yeo, is a retired principal with many years of experience. She writes articles for the MOE website Schoolbag.sg. In a recent article, she told a few stories about “saviour mums” and “saviour dads”, well-meaning parents who try to protect their children but inadvertently deprive their children of opportunities to learn by making decisions, making mistakes, and understanding the consequences. So, we should all resist the urge to be saviour mums and dads unless there is danger! Let our children benefit from play by sorting things out among themselves.

20.Finally, remember that play is important even for older children and adults. Some parents may appreciate the value of play when their children are very young, but think that, once school starts, play ends and children ought to study harder. This could not be further from the truth. Prime Minister just opened our fourth autonomous university SUTD. With technology and design, we hope to create a very different university education. Whether it’s in academic subjects or otherwise, I think that playful attitude is important in all our lives.

21.On that note, I hope that all of you have fun, both as parents and as individuals, and I hope that we have a playful evening. Let me congratulate Sumitra and Jennifer once again and I hope that you will have plenty of fun and play as you take Playeum forward. Congratulations!

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