Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the NIE Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony at 2:30pm on Monday 6 July 2015, at the Nanyang Auditorium, Nanyang Technological University

Published Date: 06 July 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Ms Chan Lai Fung,
Chairperson, NIE Council

Professor Tan Oon Seng,
Director, NIE


Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

A very good afternoon to all.

1.This is the 5th year I have spoken at this Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony. And every year, looking at all of you seated in this auditorium gives me much hope. I’ll share more shortly on why I say so.

2.Over the next two days, we welcome 1216 graduands who will be taking the teachers’ pledge, affirming their commitment to the Singapore Education Service. I am glad to see that your loved ones, friends, mentors, and guides, are also here with you today. I am sure their support has made today possible. Let’s have a round of applause for everyone.

Raising the next generation that will shape SG100

3.This is a special year, for you as you embark on this meaningful journey of shaping lives; for Singapore as we celebrate Singapore’s golden jubilee. Just as how the last 50 years was shaped by the students who passed through the collective hands of our pioneer educators, what we celebrate in SG100 will be in your collective hands as a teaching fraternity. You will be the pioneer educators at SG100. [Yes, at SG100, you would be about 70 years old? Think about that — the next 50 years of your life.] Students in our classrooms today will become Singapore’s leaders of tomorrow. Earlier on, Professor Tan mentioned Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In 1959, at the Rally of Teachers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew reminded our teachers that they constituted “the most influential group of 10,600 people anywhere in Singapore” because in their care were “the impressionable minds of young Singaporeans”. Multiply that number by three — and I would say exactly the same thing to our educators today.

4.As a teaching fraternity, how will you raise our next generation of Singaporeans, the next generation of leaders, whom we can entrust Singapore with, and who can see Singapore through the next 50 years? To all of you seated here this afternoon, ask yourselves —

  • At SG100, looking back at the last 50 years of your service in education, what do you want to be remembered for?
  • And what would it take for you to be remembered in these ways?

5.Begin with the end in mind. We want our children to continue learning even after they have left school. We want our children to find creative solutions to tough problems, achieve mastery in all that they do and not be satisfied with mediocrity. We want our children to feel proud to be a Singaporean, and see Singapore as something worth fighting for together with fellow Singaporeans. We want our children to live out lives of meaning and purpose, with integrity and gratitude.

6.Where do all these start? And what does it take?

What does it take?

7.It starts with you, every teacher in the classroom, every one of you seated in this auditorium today. Why? Because no education system can rise above the quality of its teachers. To teach well, strive to be the best learner you can be. You are what you teach, and you teach what you are. You are a leader in learning, and you must first lead yourself in learning. So, I hope you can all do three things:

8.First, I hope all of us will learn for mastery, not just in your areas of content, but beyond. Because teaching is not just about teaching students the content in subjects such as Chemistry, History, Literature, Physics — but more importantly, nurturing in them life skills and the competencies that will stand them in good stead for the future.

9.That includes getting the fundamentals right. Hazelman, one of the six recipients of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award (OYEA), for instance, focussed his energies on making sure students came to school, and on time. He knocked on doors of absent pupils, called employers and even turned up at workplaces. Once, he even drove to a student’s home to wake him for his ‘N’ levels exams. Through whole-school efforts to combat late-coming, he drove the late-coming rate down by 70 percent over 3 years. To Hazelman, every minute a student is late is one minute of learning lost for the student; and each time a late student makes it to school on time, it’s a small step towards growing up to become a more responsible person. I believe our 5 other OYEA recipients, Winnie, Priyadakshini, Premlatha, Dorcas, and Chin Guan all have inspiring and exciting stories to share of how they have strived for mastery and tried to make a difference to their students’ lives. I look forward to hearing from them soon.

10.Second, I hope all of us will continue to learn throughout life, continue to hone your craft to teach better, so that your students learn better. Learning does not stop now that you have walked out of the gates of NIE. And it is through your words and deeds that your love for learning and thirst for knowledge rub onto students under your care. It takes a passionate learner to lead other learners — your students, your fellow teachers — on a journey of discovering the world, of discovering ourselves; as an individual, as a school, as a community, and as a nation. Some of the pioneer teachers I have met tell me that, even after teaching for 50 years, “Every day, I am learning.” That is the spirit I hope you will inherit!

11.I am happy to note that among our award recipients today, we also have in-service teachers who embody that spirit of lifelong learning — 42 recipients of MOE’s Postgraduate Scholarship and Postgraduate Award, who will continue their lifelong journey of discovery in their own way.

12.Third, I hope all of us will learn not just for our work of teaching better, teaching more skilfully, but also learn for life — for enriching our lives and making it more fulfilling. It takes a lively and spirited teacher to nurture a lively and spirited class, students with a zest for life and a love for learning.

13.So let me say this again — even as teachers, keep learning and growing. Learn for mastery, learn throughout life, learn for life. Our leaders of tomorrow, our pioneers of SG100 start with how you interact with them, day-in, day-out, in the classrooms, outside the classrooms.

14.And it is not just about how well you teach your respective subjects. However well our students know their subjects, they cannot succeed if Singapore fails. Take a look at what is happening in Greece today. ATMs are shut and rationed. Youth unemployment rate is at about 50% — picture that, one in two students graduating from school, unable to find a job, faced with the prospect of a bleak and uncertain future. So it is important for our students to also take a lively interest in what makes Singapore work — what it takes to enable Singapore to succeed, what will secure Singapore’s exceptional success for another 50 years. So it is important that you too take a lively interest in these issues, so that you can share these with our students.

15.Singapore’s stability and growth is not something we can take for granted. Understand Singapore’s challenges and opportunities. Constantly ask yourselves what these all mean for how you prepare our students for the future, how you nurture in them a sense of citizenship and nationhood. Your classrooms are where your students begin to appreciate how exceptional our Singapore story is, and how much work went into beating the odds. So I urge you to bring these lessons into your classrooms, because this is about every one’s future.

You are not alone

16.If by now you feel that I have set out a daunting task, fear not. You are not alone in this journey. Looking forward, your fellow educators, mentors, MOE and of course your loved ones will support you at every step of the way. Looking back, you are building on the precious legacy left by our pioneer educators, you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Underpinning all that we need to do are the enduring values of a Singapore educator, the unchanging values embodied by our pioneer educators that we hope that you will inherit — resourcefulness, resilience and responsibility. Over the past year or so, I have met many past and present educators at MOE’s pioneer educator events. Through the stories and insights shared, I am well convinced that these values resonate deeply within all of us as educators and as a fraternity. In fact, this Saturday, I’ll be launching MOE’s SG50 exhibition, called “Good Morning ‘Cher”, that will allow us to remember how we started and how far we have come, because of the values we have held dear. I encourage you to check out the exhibition as it makes its way around the island over the next 2 months. As you give of yourselves in the service of education, may these values continue to guide you in all that you do.

17.When the going gets tough, remember that your work has deep and lasting impact. Take Justin Ng, for example — one of the graduands in the audience today. He used to be the shy boy in class who didn’t speak up, and thought he was not good at anything. That changed when he met his secondary school Chemistry teacher, Mrs Vivien Low, who, he says and I quote, “believed in him more than he did in himself”. Mrs Low is now the principal of Fengshan Primary School — and though she is no longer his teacher, she remains his staunch supporter. In fact, she continues to cheer him on as he begins his own journey to bring out the best in our young people, just as Mrs Low has been and continues to do. I am sure many of you have similar stories as Justin’s and Mrs Low’s to tell.

Conclusion: SG100 is in your collective hands

18.I started out today by saying that looking at all of you gives me much hope — why? Teachers play a central role in nation-building. Together, you are part of something much bigger — in spirit and in purpose, in mission and in heart. The little successes you experience in every classroom accumulate to contribute to the huge steps we take as a nation. The young people you teach will be the pioneers of SG100. Through your collective hands, you will raise the generation that will take Singapore forward in the next 50 years.

19.I hope you return to your classrooms striving yourself to learn for mastery, learn for life and learn throughout life, and wanting to pass this on to the next generation. I hope you remember that SG100 is in your collective hands — it is yours to shape, to nurture. Lead by example, be the next wave of pioneer educators, and live out the same pioneering spirit to raise this next generation.

20.I wish you all a fulfilling career ahead. Make the next 50 years even better and brighter than the last 50. Welcome to the Singapore Education Service!

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