Speech by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social and Family Development, at the Eighth Inspiring Teacher of English Award Presentation Ceremony

Published Date: 14 October 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Goh Eck Kheng, Chairman, Speak Good English Movement,

Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching, Deputy Director-General of Education (Professional Development), MOE

Mrs Kelvyna Chan, Divisional Director, Curriculum Planning & Development 2, MOE

Teachers, Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. When I was invited to attend this Inspiring Teacher of English Award Ceremony, my attention was immediately drawn to the word “inspiring.” It is not an easy word.

2. Firstly, it can be both intimidating and confusing. If any one of us were instructed to go off and be “inspiring”, it’s very likely we would feel anxious and would not really know what to do. Secondly, “inspiring” is used a lot and can sound clichéd.

3. So how do we avoid these pitfalls and find real meaning to “Inspiring”? I asked our award winners. Each of them wrote down one memory they have of students whom they felt they had inspired. Their responses were neither frightened, confused nor clichéd. Indeed, they were very meaningful:

4. Ms Ilavarasi Sekaran of Cantonment Primary School recalled a student who was painfully shy in class. By providing him with opportunities to present his ideas and even lead discussions, he discovered his voice - and self-confidence - in the classroom.

5. Ms Arafah Bte Tajudin of Eunos Primary school told a similar story about a girl who grew in confidence through continued encouragement and playing language games.

6. Mrs Tian Cheen Ngee of St Nicholas Girls’ Secondary School got a whole group of students to adapt a Catherine Lim story for younger children. The class even went on to publish an illustrated book of their adaptation.

6. Ms Yogeswari Elangovan of Tanjong Katong Girls’ School is especially proud of a secondary three student who was struggling with English. The student’s confidence blossomed when she was encouraged to take part in an international essay competition. The girl went on to win a gold award and more importantly, began to believe in herself.

7. Mdm Shagun of Mayflower Secondary School remembers two motivated, but inattentive, boys. By giving them the power to decide what their own learning journey should be, the two boys were able to fulfill their potential and, also forge a strong rapport with Mdm Shagun.

8. Ms Dionne Chow of Serangoon Junior College was particularly struck when a student on graduation day, said to her, `I did not think that GP was anything, but now, I see GP in everything.’ This realization was the most important learning experience she imparted to her student.

9. Mr Marc Lim of Catholic Junior College recalled mixing students from different classes into groups and overhearing one of his students guide another in exploring a demanding passage. From this, Mr Lim learnt that those whom we inspire can, in turn, inspire others.

10. What struck me most about all these stories is that the picture they draw of an inspired student is somewhat different from our traditional view of a good student. A ‘good student’ is dutiful, attentive and hard-working, completing assignments diligently - and perhaps even tuition work as well.

11. Now “diligence”, and “attentiveness” are excellent qualities. We certainly wish our students to acquire them. But these qualities, alone, do not make for an inspired student. The stories of our award winners show inspiration comes from elsewhere - when students grow in confidence, find their personal voice, or learn to learn for the love of learning and so grasp the true value of what they learn.

12. It seems to me then that the secret of ‘inspiring’ a student is when a teacher connects with a child as an individual, as a whole person. When this happens, learning becomes something much more than diligence and attentiveness in class. The whole child becomes submerged in learning as a life experience.

13. This is easiest observed in Sports and the Arts - see any group of soccer-mad children at soccer practice- they are living the game with all their hearts. See a budding musician play - their whole being is immersed in the music.

14. The challenge for our English teachers, who aim to inspire their students, is to generate a similar passion and immerse their students in learning as a whole life experience. And all this has to be done during the day-to-day routine of the regular, time-tabled English Lesson - no easy task. But our award winners have shown the way. The teacher must enable every child to find his or her voice, must nurture self-confidence, and help students find their own ways to make their own learning personally meaningful.

15. This process is vital. MOE aims to provide a holistic education for every child and holistic education cannot be seen as confined to just co-curricular activities outside of the classroom. Academic learning itself must become more authentic, more relevant and holistic. We should also not forget that the child who discovers a true love for learning is well-placed to become a life-long learner.

16. Nowhere is this more important than in English Language. Proficiency in English and the ability to communicate effectively provide not only the foundation for learning in all EL-based subjects, but are also vital to the development of one’s personal voice and sense of self. The truly articulate person is one capable of personal reflection, mindfulness and the ability to express oneself.

17. Up till now, I have emphasized the individual teacher reaching out and inspiring the individual student. Yet this must take place within the community: be it the community of the classroom or a community of teachers. You may recall how Mr Marc Lim noted that the students he inspired went on to inspire others. The same holds true for teachers. Even our most inspiring teacher will, themselves, need to be inspired and motivated. This is why these awards also recognize inspiring Leaders of English.

18. Mrs Tina Ng of Xingnan Primary, Mdm Suzanna Hashim of Anglo-Chinese Primary and Dr Lim Yi-En of National Junior College all share two fundamental qualities: they have developed, planned and implemented a strong teaching and learning programme focused on the specific needs of their students. They also reach out to nurture, guide, support and develop their teachers so that their teachers grow in confidence, find their own professional voice, and find their own paths to develop and nurture their love of teaching. This takes us back to where we began: with the qualities which our teacher award winners developed in their students.

19. To be “inspiring” may seem daunting and idealistic. Yet we need not apologize for being idealistic. It is also a very real and important quality that we need to cultivate in our schools to ensure learning is meaningful, real and about the whole child. Awards such as this encourage us all to move in this direction.

20. I’d like to congratulate all the award winners and my special thanks to the Speak Good English Movement and The Straits Times for organizing this award. My congratulations also to the alumni and I’m very happy to hear that you’re still here and you’re a part of this whole group because we need your support. At the end of the day, it is our shared journey to become truly inspiring. I think this is something that is ongoing. We will all continue to learn from, and support each other.

21. Thank you.

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