Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) and Senior Minister of State for Transport, at the NIE Leaders in Education Programme Graduation Dinner on Friday, 16 October 2015, 7:30pm at The Regent Singapore Hotel

Published Date: 16 October 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Her Excellency Heather Grant, High Commissioner, High Commission of Canada

Ms Chan Lai Fung, Chairperson, NIE Council

Professor Tan Oon Seng, Director, NIE

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening.

I am delighted to be here tonight. To join you for dinner tonight is a special privilege because I view this as a significant event - significant because people like you are a very important part that drives our education system. I remember my principals well. Your dedication, care and leadership would be a key ingredient to make a difference in our kids.

For me, education is a new frontier that I am excited to explore, and I look forward to learning from all of you. You have a wealth of experience that I can tap on to do my job. Together, I think we can succeed in nurturing new generations and develop our schools to be the best that all of us can be.

This evening, I look forward to meeting and chatting with all of you. I want to know more about your lives and I would like to hear more about your learning journey in LEP.

All of you have spent a good number of years in school, and you know when your staff hear that you are going to new schools, I think they are more afraid of you than you being afraid of new Acting Ministers. I think they will be asking, “Will there be more work? How will he or she be like?”

Do not worry, I am not a person who insists on change because I am new. In all the places that I have been to, unless there is good reason for change and refinements, I would not do it. MOE is a strong organisation led by very capable leaders. Singapore has been served very well by all of you educators. But there are challenges coming to our landscape. The world is vastly different. We will have to take some time to reassess our strategic environment and see how we can prepare our kids for the future in a very uncertain world. What is important in education is not just about changing but in ensuring that policies and programmes remain relevant and useful for our students both for the present and for their future. I will do my part to build on what is already in place, and when necessary, introduce value-added change, and most importantly innovate where appropriate to bring our education system to greater heights.

A Sustained Focus on Holistic Education

Take our emphasis on holistic education and character building, for instance. Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Frontier Primary School in their Children’s Day Celebrations. A carnival was in full swing, with many stalls set up by the very enthusiastic Primary 4 children. They had come up with the stall ideas on their own. A boy came up to me to sell some carnival coupons, and I asked him if he knew what the money was for - he replied without a single hint of hesitation, “Yes, it is for charity, Community Chest!” The children were having a ball of a time manning their booths, playing the games, but most importantly, through this experience of running a carnival, they exercised their creativity, developed their confidence, and learnt valuable practical lessons about teamwork and values. What we espouse in MOE about Values-In-Action I saw that day. To me, this is what education is all about - it’s not just about grades, not just about the cognitive development, but the development of the whole being. I was very happy to see Primary 4 kids enjoying themselves and at the same time inviting K1 kids along, showing them what being responsible is about, being part of the ecosystem where each level takes care of the next and educate each other - character building. Well, I am sure when the students graduate from Frontier Primary School, they will contribute meaningfully to the community in Jurong, and I am sure the kindergarten kids have seniors to look up to.

Many schools today have developed strong programmes and platforms to develop our students into well-rounded people. We must continue to work towards ensuring that every programme we do, every learning experience and education initiative is designed to bring out the best in every child.

Catering to the Changing Aspirations of our Youths

Even as we continue to provide a holistic education and focus on developing values in our students, our system also needs to be nimble and adaptable in order to respond to the changing needs of the world around us and our people. The experiences that we had as students many years ago are vastly different from the world that our own children live in today. Many kids today, and some of us too, are perpetually connected to our phones and devices, always connected to the Internet, with instant access to information and influenced by the views and behaviours of social media celebrities half a world away. They may have access to the information but the ability to assimilate and integrate it into a whole is somewhat lagging. Their goals and dreams are not the same as ours used to be. Their outlook about their rootedness to Singapore may not be the same as ours. They have their own aspirations and own dreams but we must find a way to make sure that they remain rooted to our little island called Singapore.

It is incredibly hard for us to predict what the future will look like. But we know that by helping our children understand their strengths, and develop their innate skills, they will succeed. Even skills like the ability to collaborate and communicate well, will carry them far. So in the larger scheme of things, we do not just develop the child but we will need to develop the system to ensure that all our kids will have multiple pathways and programmes that can help them find success in their own ways and chase their rainbows. Our job is to guide, support and nurture them to make good, informed choices as they grow.

I understand many schools are continuing to develop your Applied Learning and Lifelong Learning programmes. These programmes allow our students to explore their different areas of strength and interest while learning how to apply their learning to real life, and I encourage all of you to continue pushing this good work.

The Importance of School Leadership in Achieving the Desired Outcomes of our Education System

As school leaders, I agree fully that you play a critical role in shaping the future of our nation. You lead the way in helping our stakeholders understand our policies, and their intent. Any policy is only as good as its implementation, and you are the linchpin in influencing the rest of our educators to bring them onboard, to inspire them into action when they teach our children. MOE has over 33,000 educators working hand in hand to provide our children with the best education experience we can. In your schools, you don’t just inspire your teachers; you also directly influence your students through your words and actions.

I would like to encourage all of you to constantly engage with and seek to understand your staff, parents and students, and welcome the feedback that they provide on policies and practices in your schools. Likewise, I urge you to provide your honest feedback to me on MOE’s policies, so that we are able to hear you and work together to improve our education system. We encourage our students and teachers to be lifelong learners; and we, as leaders within MOE, should do the same, always seeking to improve our own processes, and together, make our education system stronger.

Our education system serves stakeholders - parents, students, staff and community partners - from diverse backgrounds, with different levels of understanding, and who bring with them a range of perspectives. Each of these stakeholders has something to contribute to our education system, and we should harness this wealth of perspectives. What we are doing here is building relationships that will help us to do our work better.

The carnival that I spoke of earlier was not only born from the ideas of the students, but also from the support coming from their parents, teachers and the rest of the Jurong community! I met a young lady, Talia Astapura, and her mother, Mdm Julianah Johar. Talia had a hearing deficiency and had to go for an implant when she was younger. In her childhood therefore, she found comfort in books and developed a deep interest in reading. So she came up with this idea called the ‘Bookworm Club’, where she wanted to sell books and give the money to charity. At her stall, it was quite interesting to see a demure Primary 4 girl running the shop with four parents at her call and beckon - a Primary 4 kid commanding four parents! What struck me about this was the coming together of the community to support the youngest dream. Mr Martin Koh, the Principal, told me that Talia wrote him multiple emails over six months to convince him to let her do this project, and I am glad that Martin made it happen, and turned a child’s idea into reality.

So I encourage you to think beyond the boundaries of your school, and reach out to people who can add their expertise and experience to your schools’ programmes.

Learning through the LEP

The LEP has already given you opportunities to see beyond your schools, and beyond our shores. I understand you have all participated in a two week international study visit across five learning syndicates. I think it’s great that you have had the chance to see a different education system and culture, and I hope you’ll use your observations as a basis to challenge our thinking regarding our own system. We can always be better.

The syndicate that travelled to Germany saw how educational institutions, industries and government worked closely together, and noted that we could do more to move Singapore towards a meritocracy of skills. In a way, our system has already embarked this journey under SkillsFuture, and we will see more developments in the years to come. In our schools, we can play a part by helping our students understand the importance of lifelong learning from a young age, and giving them many opportunities to pursue their passion and develop their skills.

There are among us seasoned mentor principals who have helped mentor the LEP participants throughout this programme. The transmission of values and knowledge from experienced school leaders to aspiring leaders is critical. It was a pleasant coincidence to find that the Principal of Frontier Primary, Mr Martin Koh, whom I met last week, was in fact one of the principal mentors for the LEP! He said he was learning from the colleagues he mentored, too. Indeed, the mentoring process allows for two-way learning and dialogue and I am delighted to see that through this process, both sides have role-modelled lifelong learning. Let’s give our principal mentors a round of applause, to thank them for their efforts.

Conclusion

To the 35 graduands here today, including the four friends from Brunei Darussalam, congratulations on completing this challenging six-month journey. This is only the beginning for you, as it is for me.

Leadership is a heavy responsibility that is not easy to shoulder. You will be making many decisions, some of which will be tough ones. Let’s all continue working towards making every school a good school, a good fit for our kids, by bringing out the strengths of each child and let them succeed in life. Just as we create multiple paths for our students to succeed; as leaders you will need to find your own ways to achieve success for your schools, as defined by the needs of your students and the good judgment of your leadership teams. As long as we keep our students at the core of everything we do, I’m confident that, with your teachers, staff, and partners, you will do your best to prepare our youths for the opportunities ahead and to meet the challenges of the future with confidence, tenacity and resilience and all the good things that will keep Singapore successful.

Thank you in advance for your critical role in our schools. I look forward to serving MOE and Singapore, together with you.

Thank you.

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