Speech by Mr. Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the Closing Ceremony of the National Engineers Day 2015, on 24 July 2015, 4.50pm at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, Summit 1 (Level 3)

Published Date: 24 July 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Engineer Chong Kee Sen,
President of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES),

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.A very good afternoon to all. A friend sent me an insight about the way engineers see things. It says: The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The optimist sees the glass as half full. And the engineer? He sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be. The engineer approaches the world by asking two questions: ‘What is wrong and, how can we fix it?’; and ‘What is right, and how can we do better?’; In other words, how do we apply knowledge to solve real world problems?

2.So it is nice to join a room full of people who are constantly looking for ways to improve things. All of us should always think about how to make things better. We should also reflect on and appreciate what we got right. I am very happy to commemorate National Engineers Day and SG50 with you today, to jointly celebrate how far we have come, and set our sights on what more we can do.

From visions to creations

3.As part of SG50, we have been celebrating our pioneers. Amongst our pioneers are visionary engineers who contributed skill and foresight to transform Singapore. They include Mr Tan Gee Paw, master architect of Singapore’s water supply; Professor Lui Pao Chuen, whose contributions permeate our research, economic, and defence systems; and Professor Lee Seng Lip, emeritus professor of civil engineering at NUS, and many more who are featured in the book by IES.

STEM’s role in continual transformation of Singapore

4.For the last 50 years, we have made great strides in Singapore because we have been able to tap on the power of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and integrate STEM with what we need to do to take Singapore forward. This must continue in the future. The more we are able to tap on the power of knowledge, be it in the fields of STEM or the arts and humanities, the better we will be able to take Singapore forward, the better we can transform Singapore. This is how we achieve a high quality of life, keep the economy vibrant, make productivity improvements, and create great jobs for our people. This is how we make a better home for all of us. And importantly, this is how we inspire everyone, especially our young on the beauty of discovering and creating things.

5.There will be a lot of potential for us to innovate in new, creative ways, be it in the expansion of Changi Airport, and projects like the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS). Engineers will continue to play a big role in our journey of nation-building. As a people, it is increasingly important for us to constantly ask how we can do things better.

6.This is why I support STEM education. I said before that we should make three fundamental shifts in transforming the way we learn. This is equally relevant in STEM education. First, beyond learning for work, to learning for life: mastering and applying STEM knowledge and skills enable us to achieve breakthroughs and improve lives. But we should also appreciate the beauty of discovering, making and doing things to make our lives more colourful. Second, beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life: enable us to keep up with continuous technological advancements, and adapt them to solve more problems. And finally, beyond learning for grades, to learning for mastery.

Government’s commitment to STEM education

7.Learning for mastery builds valuable skills in our students. MOE is constantly looking for ways to help our students learn better for mastery, including in the learning of STEM. We start students on STEM from a young age and encourage those with the passion to go as far as they can. To develop STEM talents, we recently established new schools, such NUS High School of Mathematics and Science; and School of Science and Technology. We introduced other initiatives such as “Code for Fun” programmes in primary and secondary schools, and STEM Applied Learning Programmes (ALPs) in many of our secondary schools (e.g., Science Centre staff work with teachers to bring STEM applications like underwater robotics and vertical farming into the classroom).

8.Many countries are coming to realise the power of STEM. In the UK, there is significant renewal in emphasis on STEM education, especially in Mathematics. We are in a good position because we have been staying on our course. All our students study science and mathematics at the primary and secondary levels. 60% of our O-Level students take Additional Mathematics. This helps to build a strong foundation to pursue STEM-related courses in polytechnics or Science courses in Junior Colleges (JCs). 80% of our A-Level students take Mathematics and at least one Science subject. This opens their doors to a wide range of STEM-related courses in universities. Many courses in our ITE and polytechnics are in STEM-related areas, which open up a range of exciting careers.

9.Indeed, demand for mathematical knowledge has grown. Apart from sciences and engineering, fields such as finance and business all require applications of advanced mathematics and quantitative analysis to solve complex problems. MOE has been in discussion with university faculties on how best we can build a rigorous foundation for students to undertake this discipline.

10.I am pleased to announce that MOE will be introducing Further Mathematics as a H2 level subject in the A-level curriculum from next year. Students in JC1 in 2016 will be able to take up this subject. This will create more opportunities for our young to develop stronger interest and foundation in STEM. Further Mathematics will expose students to advanced mathematical concepts in areas like linear algebra, numerical methods and statistics, with a focus on knowledge construction and applications. Students will appreciate how the application of mathematics lies at the heart of modern innovations (e.g., internet search engines, machine learning and intelligent system, and financial modelling). I hope that students with the passion for mathematics will seize this opportunity to take the subject and achieve greater mastery in the pursuit of STEM.

Conclusion

11.In closing, my heartiest congratulations to IES for organising this National Engineers Day, to celebrate engineers and the engineering spirit. Thank you once again, and happy National Engineers Day to all.

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