Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the 2015 A*Star Scholarship Award Ceremony, 15 July 2015, 3pm, at Matrix Auditorium, Biopolis

Published Date: 15 July 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman, A*STAR,

Your Excellencies,

Scholars and parents,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to all of you.

1.I first want to extend my heartiest congratulations to all 114 recipients of the A*STAR scholarships and fellowships. It is a very proud moment for you and I see many proud parents and family members, so the very heartiest congratulations to all of you.

2.When I was here the last time, I spoke about creating opportunities and why it was important for us to groom young Singaporeans so that we can secure the future of Singapore. Now, this is a very special year, the SG50 year when as a nation we come together to reflect on our journey as a people, how we have made progress, how our pioneers have taken us so far, and how we can continue that legacy to build a better future together.

3.One of the fundamental aspects of our progress is our belief that people are our greatest strength. We must create opportunities across our education system to develop everyone to be their best. It is not just about providing scholarships for a few students, but about creating opportunities for every child in Singapore. This is not easy because it takes a lot of dedication from our teachers to achieve that. Our scholars have all benefited, I believe, from the excellent schools, junior colleges and polytechnics they have been to. All of you have now been given this opportunity to develop your talent in an area that you are passionate about. Let me say a few words about how you can make an impact and why this is important.

4.The first way is by advancing the frontiers of knowledge. The adage “knowledge is power” is as true today as it was before, and it will be even truer in the future. Many strands of scientific knowledge were ahead of its time. When Newton came up with his Newtonian laws, I don’t think he quite anticipated the impact that it would have on the world. Similarly, till today, we are still applying the theories of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity to understand the world better. In Singapore, one of our centres, the CQT, is doing very good work in this area, but its impact on the world is something that we have to explore. Also, the human genome was decoded and there was great excitement at the time that it was announced, but we are still learning how to make full use of our knowledge. I hope that our scholars will go on to advance the frontiers of knowledge and that one day, one of you will win a Nobel Prize and join the many other Nobel Laureates in the world.

5.The second way is to advance the frontiers of innovation. All the modern conveniences we enjoy today - in transportation, the production of goods and services, the way we live, work, learn and play - have been transformed significantly by technology. All these are made possible because of innovation, and this innovation is based on the application of knowledge in science and technology. This is in fact, the mission of ASTAR - not to replicate what the universities are doing, because the universities have specific research functions, but really to think about innovation, the application of science and technology in our daily lives, and how we can make an impact to the lives of people in Singapore, around the world and to industry. This is going to be very important for Singapore in the future. It is no longer possible to grow the economy by having more and more manpower - there is a limit because of the size of our island. Therefore, our future growth is going to be powered by a knowledge-intensive, innovation driven economy. This is where ASTAR and A*STAR scholars will play a critical role in our future. Your ability to add to this, to create a system of innovation and enterprise in Singapore to power this growth and create solutions to a whole range of problems that we are going to face and a whole range of new challenges, will be critical. Your ability to come up with solutions that will impact the world and the region will be very important. This has a lot of implications on how our students are going to approach their study. I’ll touch on that in a minute.

6.The third way that our ASTAR scholars can make an impact is to advance the frontiers of learning. How do you challenge yourselves to learn and be even more independent in your learning? How do you explore the new frontiers of knowledge, and think out of the box to think about innovation and the world’s problems? You can also advance the frontiers of knowledge and the frontiers of learning by creating interest among our other students to have an interest in science and technology. All of you are passionate about science and technology, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken up the ASTAR scholarship, but I hope that your lively interest and your passion for STEM can be rubbed off onto younger students so that we create a continuous stream of students with a deep interest in science and technology.

7.I’m glad that already many ASTAR scholars have made an impact. For example, Dr Tan Yann Chong took up the ASTAR scholarship, and while undertaking his PhD research at Stanford in Immune profiling technology Yann Chong founded Atreca, a biotech company in California. He is now in the final stage of fostering a research collaboration between Atreca and ASTAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore. Dr Lim Xinhong is another example. Just two years after completing his PhD at Stanford, Xinhong now leads a team of scientists and technicians in studying molecular mechanisms governing skin stem cells for tissue regeneration and disease. The team is also working with a major industry partner ranked within the Fortune 500. Finally, Dr Cheu Eng Yeow, also an ASTAR Graduate Scholarship recipient, conducted research at A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research, and is now a Principal Technologist at Rolls-Royce where he is doing research and development of practical computational software solutions for its business units. These are very good examples of the progress we can make if we put our minds to it.

8.Let me address the question of why it is so important for our ASTAR Scholars to make an impact. The first reason is simply self-actualisation. There is joy in being able to develop to your full potential, to develop your gift to the fullest, to use it to make an impact, and to do something meaningful and derive joy out of that. Hence, I am happy with the way that ASTAR institutes are working on research on cancer genetics and making a difference to the lives of people.

9.The second reason, and here I’m speaking as the Minister for Education, is that we all have a responsibility to continue to make Singapore successful. I must tell you, A*STAR scholars, that I have a very strong view against bond breaking, because I believe strongly that those who receive must give back. Every dollar spent on you could have been spent on someone else for another purpose. Resources are limited. Hence, for every dollar that is spent developing you, we hope that you can go on to not only develop yourselves, but come back and make an impact. In that way, we can grow the pie in Singapore together by creating more resources. Indeed, this is what has been happening in Singapore over the years. We have been very fortunate to be able to create this virtuous cycle where our focus on people and developing our people has allowed us to create more and more opportunities. Your generation has many more opportunities than my generation. I hope that in turn, when we celebrate SG100, you can look back and tell the young people that their generation has more opportunities than yours. Hence, we need you to come back and create a strong system of research, innovation, and enterprise in Singapore that allows us to continue this virtuous cycle and to continue to improve our society and our economy. This will help create an exciting future for you, and an exciting future for people elsewhere.

10.Thirdly, if you join hands with like-minded scientists, innovators, and policy makers around the world, we can help to contribute in small ways to help solve the world’s most major challenges and to making advances for humanity. The world today faces a huge number of important challenges - climate change, wars and terrorism that continues in many places or even basic problems of malnutrition, disease and poverty in many parts of the world. We all live on a common planet; we all have a responsibility to safeguard this fragile planet; and, we all have a responsibility to advance the cause of humanity. Societies that have made progress did so because some of the best minds dedicated themselves to advancing the lives on earth, for humanity and for all living things. If all of you do that, not only will you make Singapore valuable, but I think you will also help to solve some of these challenges.

11.Let me now briefly end by talking about what that means for your learning in the coming years. I hope that you learn widely, because a lot of these problems and challenges in the world will need a range of multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary solutions. One of the jokes about doing a PhD is that you know more and more about less and less. I hope that you do not fall into that trap! Research work is intense and therefore you do need to drill deep into something, but I hope that that process of delving deep into something and doing a deep dive into something also trains you to have some peripheral vision and that you can look at the issues that are relevant. Indeed, if you want to be innovative and if you want to make new discoveries, you need a curiosity about the world, and not just about the specific subject that you are studying.

12.I also hope that you take the time to make friends with people from all over the world, because the intersection of different cultures allows us to appreciate different perspectives better. Those perspectives help us work with people around the world better, and we can join causes and make further advances together.

13.This is a rather long speech. I don’t know how much you can remember of what I said. If you cannot remember everything I hope you can remember just these few words: ‘make an impact’ and ‘give back’.

14.On that note, thank you very much.

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