Opening Remarks by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Law, at the SG50 Public Exhibition: “Good Morning ‘Cher: Our Schools, Our Teachers, Our Stories”

Published Date: 29 August 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Hello everyone. Great to be here, great atmosphere.

1. Today’s exhibition is “Good Morning ‘Cher”. Why did we choose that title? It’s because it’s something that’s common to every Singaporean who has every passed through our national education system at MOE. Everyone recognises this - the moment when you have to stand up, of course, we would have said it in a slightly different manner at that time, “Good Morning ‘Cher”. You’ll remember that. It is a common experience to all Singaporeans who have ever gone through the system and it binds us together. So we thought that it would be an apt title.

2. Now when you go through this exhibition, you’ll see that our teachers had a big part to play in building up the nation over the past 50 years. It ranges from things like showing our children how to brush their teeth, I don’t know whether some of you remember, but when I was in school, I recall I had to kneel down by the drain and brush my teeth and we had the little plastic mugs. Our teachers also run CCAs that teach our young people resilience and teamwork. They teach our students how to sing our National Anthem back when it was still an unfamiliar tune.

The role of the teacher

3. Teachers’ Day is coming up on 4 September, next Friday. It’s a good time for us to reflect on the educators. You notice that MOE doesn’t call them teachers anymore, we call them educators, and there’s a reason. “Teach” just implies that you are telling somebody something, but an educator’s role is much bigger. Yes, you tell them and you teach them, but you’re also helping them to learn, to acquire, to get a holistic education, something that makes them a complete and whole person. So our teachers are more than just teachers, they are educators. Let’s give our teachers a big hand, or I should say, our educators. So we want to reflect on what our educators, past and present have done, and the difference that they’ve made to us.

4. There are quite a few pioneer educators featured in this exhibition, and I hope you’ll take some time to read about the challenges they faced, and how they overcame them. Some were recruited as young as 16 years old, sometimes straight out of the exam hall where they had just taken their O-levels! Just imagine today, our students, 16 years old, would you ask them to be a teacher? Probably not, you’ll want them to do quite a few more levels and time in higher education before they start work, but that was what it was like back then.

5. I was taught by a number of pioneer educators myself, when I was studying at Marymount Convent Primary and Secondary schools in the 1970s. Many of them left a deep impression on me. Some were strict, some were funny, some were kind, but they all made sure that they taught us not just in terms of grades, but also in terms of values and in bringing us up as young women who would one day be independent, self-sufficient and resilient. They also taught us to be kind, to be compassionate, and to stand up for what was right.

Teachers guide our young people to make good choices

6. Teachers like Mrs Thwaites from Marymount, she taught me drama, the literary arts. Mrs Thwaites, most unfortunately, died in the SQ crash in Taiwan. When she passed away, she left behind many cohorts of girls who had passed through her hands. But you know, because of what she taught me during the drama and singing lessons, but most importantly the stage work, that is why, as a Member of Parliament, as a politician, as a Minister, I don’t have a problem standing on stage and speaking, because she always used to say you have to stand here, where the light is, you have to throw your voice out, you’ve to make sure you don’t block other people, you have to always be aware where you are, and you have to make sure that your message reaches the audience. At that time, I was just learning how to act in a school play. I was not really thinking in terms of life lessons, but the most important part of all those stage lessons was the art of communicating. And to that, I owe Mrs Thwaites a big debt of gratitude. I did not know at that time, that what she taught would come in so useful in later life. So even though she has passed on, the legacy that she has left to myself, and my schoolmates, is something that endures even beyond her lifetime. And that is the value of an educator.

7. Our teachers play a huge role in helping young people develop their strengths, discover their interests, and find the chance to hone their skills in different areas. There are a few educators among us today doing exactly that. For instance, the teachers-in-charge of the student performers you saw earlier, from New Town Primary and Beatty Secondary; and the teachers supporting our students presenting at the school showcase booths. Maybe I can just ask them to raise their hands, all of those helping out, can I have a show of hands - Big round of applause for them. I want people to remember this - while you are walking through this exhibition, going shopping, eating and having a good time, those teachers who are helping out are on duty. This is their Saturday, this is their weekend. They have come back to do this, to support MOE and their students because they feel this is a part of the work they do. They too make a lot of sacrifices. They are here, on a weekend, in addition to weeks of preparation before, because they believe experiences like these help their students to blossom into confident speakers, dancers, and musicians. And among our ambassadors who will guide you through the exhibits, there are teachers, too, who also helped prepare our student ambassadors. Once again, a big round of applause for the students as well as the teachers.

8. Your efforts make a big difference - my staff told me how one of the students presenting at the previous exhibition at Ang Mo Kio Hub, Rica of CHIJ St. Joseph’s Convent, said that this was her first time performing in public, and, “it was so different from rehearsing in the school library”. She said it’s “a bit scary but really helps to build my courage”, and she felt more confident, thanks to the exposure. Don’t worry Rica, this is only step one, one day you will captivate on stage and who knows one day, you might be doing it in Parliament.

Let’s celebrate and encourage our teachers

9. All of us have had teachers who made an impact on us. Maybe you can take the chance - during Teachers’ Day - to get in touch. Drop them a note, or better still, pay them a visit! Especially for the retired teachers, many of them remember their students fondly, many of them remember the work they have done. It is always good to drop them a line and let them know you still appreciate them. For those of you still in school - why not write your teachers a letter, or draw them a card? I can guarantee it will mean more to your teacher than anything you may buy. So even as we celebrate the work of our pioneer educators, let’s also encourage our teachers of today, who work hard to make learning fun and meaningful, every single day in classrooms across Singapore.

10. With that, I’ll leave you to enjoy the exhibition. Have a great weekend everyone. Thank you.

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