MOE FY 2016 Committee of Supply Debate - Speech by Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng

Published Date: 08 April 2016 12:00 AM

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INTRODUCTION

1. Madam Chair, I would like to thank all the Members for sharing their views and suggestions.

2. All of us value education for personal reasons and as a society. For individual students and families, it is a journey of hopes and aspirations, as well as anxieties. For the country, education is a strategic pillar of nation-building, economic and social development. It is important to take both perspectives as we evolve our education system with the changing times. Today, I will be speaking about:

  • What we must do differently, and how to make a paradigm shift away from an over-emphasis on academics,
  • In order to better prepare our children and our people for the future.

3. This is a significant shift for MOE, together with all our stakeholders. It will involve not just schools, but also our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), parents, and our industry and community partners. Minister Ong Ye Kung and I will talk about this shift today.

READYING OUR PEOPLE FOR THE FUTURE

4. Many Members have spoken about global developments as well as changes in the local operating environment, such as our ageing population and shrinking workforce. These will impact Singapore, our security and our economy.

5. Challenges and uncertainties are unavoidable. But I believe we can be optimistic. With changes, there will be new opportunities, such as the growth of emerging frontier markets, and disruptive innovations like robotics, 3D printing and the Internet of Things. The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is looking at how Singapore can reframe the way we add value to the world, and enable our people to be future-ready.

6. MOE supports this effort closely in our schools and IHLs. Our education system must prepare our future generations to embrace this increasingly complex and dynamic world, and to preserve and strengthen the cohesiveness of our society.

7. This goes beyond providing our children with academic knowledge.

  • It includes helping them learn the right values and attitudes, broader attributes and competencies to navigate the demands of life and work.
  • They will need to be adaptable and resilient to face uncertainties and change.
  • Just as important, they must grow up with a heart for Singapore and fellow Singaporeans.

8. Hence, the education that we gift our children should be holistic. Every child should be provided with opportunities to discover and develop his or her strengths and interests, in multiple domains. Every child should grow up a well-rounded individual, a lifelong learner who pursues mastery and fulfilment in a domain of his or her choice. I believe that this is the best way forward to prepare our young people – and our nation – for the future.

A COLLECTIVE PARADIGM SHIFT TOWARDS HOLISTIC EDUCATION

9. To prepare our children for the future, we need a collective paradigm shift.

10. Let me elaborate what this shift would entail for MOE and schools and, just as importantly, what it means to parents and students.

11. Today, academic excellence is a hallmark of our Singapore education system. Our students rank highly in international benchmarking studies. We are recognised for the high standards we have achieved.

12. However, the focus of our education system should go beyond test scores. Currently, despite our very best efforts to move towards a holistic education, there is still a narrow emphasis on academics and paper qualifications. This is deeply ingrained in our culture, translated into expectations of our children, parents, and teachers. Eventually, this is perhaps even manifested in employer mind-sets in workplaces.

13. We need a better balance in our students’ education journey. This means dialling back an excessive focus on academics. We need to free up time and space to nurture other dimensions that are just as important for our children’s development. Let them not just study the flowers, but also stop to smell the flowers, and wonder at their beauty. We want to cultivate a generation of young people who grow up with a sense of curiosity and a love for learning, asking both the “whys” and sometimes even the “why-nots”.

14. But this would not be an easy or straightforward thing to do. As we often say in education, it takes a village to raise a child. But that also means it takes the whole village to change the way we raise a child. MOE and our fraternity of educators have taken the lead and made improvements to policies, structures and processes over time.

15. But policy changes can only go so far. This is not something MOE can do unilaterally and in a top-down manner. We need a partnership with parents and the community to make this shift, and this will take time. Students, parents, educators and employers must come on-board, and adjust mind-sets and behaviours as well, together with MOE.

16. On MOE’s part, we will address this paradigm shift in three ways:

  • One, we will put more emphasis on non-academic aspects of learning;
  • Two, we will reduce excessive focus on academic results; and
  • Three, we will offer more opportunities for different forms of merit and achievements to be recognised.

PLACE MORE EMPHASIS ON NON-ACADEMIC LEARNING

17. Let me explain the first point on placing more emphasis on non-academic learning.

18. Dr Intan, Mr Seah Kian Peng, Mr Leon Perera and Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin touched on the importance of non-academic learning as part of holistic education. I agree fully that good character, social-emotional competencies and other skills like critical thinking and effective communication are necessary foundations for work and life.

19. Schools leverage curricular and co-curricular programmes to design meaningful learning opportunities and provide students with regular feedback to help them develop in these non-academic aspects. For example, subjects such as Design and Technology and Project Work provide avenues for students to develop creativity and innovation. Students also get opportunities to develop and apply leadership, initiative and collaboration through Values-in-Action (VIA) projects and co-curricular activities (CCAs).

20. I am glad to share that our schools regularly review the progress of our students and the effectiveness of all programmes in developing our students holistically, not just in their academics. Ms Kuik spoke about redesigning student report cards to reflect non-academic attributes. In fact, this is already being done. At the end of each school year, a Holistic Development Profile of each child is provided in the report card given to parents. Parents are able to see not just academic grades but also the student’s participation and achievement in different school programmes as well as a description of the child’s personal qualities such as responsibility, teamwork and perseverance.

21. We are making progress towards holistic education, but this is a journey. I thank Dr Intan and Mr Chen Show Mao for bringing up the value of CCAs and VIA. Our students can discover their interests and develop their character and strengths through a range of CCAs and school programmes. All these are important educational goals. MOE encourages students to participate in CCAs, even if they do not represent their school. We will strive towards this across schools, subject to limited schools’ resources. They are also given the flexibility to join various CCAs throughout their education journey, or take more than one CCA if they so wish, provided they can cope.

22. Outdoor Education (OE) is another platform that provides rich learning experiences outside the classroom for building resilience, tenacity and ruggedness in our youth. Since 2014, we have set aside formal curriculum time in all primary and secondary schools for outdoor education as part of PE lessons.

23. School camps are another way of immersing our students in authentic, and often challenging situations, where they need to work in teams and learn to take responsibility for decisions they make. These experiences develop a culture of self-reliance and mutual support with their peers.

24. On a recent camp visit, I met some Primary 5 students who were learning how to cook a simple meal outdoors – Maggi mee. For some of them, it was the first time they had ever lit a match stick! On another occasion, I was told the story of a group of Sec 1 students who boiled water in mess tins over an open fire to make hot chocolate. They shared that it was the most delicious hot chocolate they had ever tasted, simply because they had made it. I was heartened that even simple activities like these can help our children build a sense of independence and appreciation for daily comforts. Small as these examples may be, they are meaningful, and I think, much needed experiences.

25. Today, our students participate in about two or three school cohort camps at upper primary and secondary levels. Going forward, I am happy to announce that we will enhance the cohort camp experiences for all students as part of our National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan. Over the next few years, we will progressively:

  • Rejuvenate and upgrade camp facilities at our MOE Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres;
  • Offer new camp programmes; and
  • Raise the competencies of camp facilitators.

26. The school cohort camps and outdoor education in PE lessons will lead up to a 5-day expedition-based camp for all Secondary 3 students, held at OBS Coney Island and Pulau Ubin. MOE will co-design the camp programme with OBS, pilot it with some schools starting in 2017, and roll it out across all schools from 2020. We are also partnering MCCY to build the new OBS campus on Coney Island. This camp provides a unique opportunity for students from different schools to collaborate and overcome challenges in the outdoors. Their common experience will contribute towards building a stronger Singaporean identity, a point raised by Mr Seah Kian Peng.

27. Under the National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan, MOE will also continue to partner outdoor adventure service providers to offer varied programmes to our schools, both locally and overseas. They have expertise that our schools can tap on. Together with OBS and other partners, MOE is committed to raise the quality and quantity of our outdoor adventure learning programmes for our students.

28. To date, many students have benefitted from their OBS experience, including our PM who shared on Facebook how OBS was a significant growing-up experience for him. Michelle Chua is a Sec 4 student from Jurongville Secondary School who also had a memorable OBS experience in Pulau Ubin. She recounted how her team lost their way on the second day of a 3-day land-trekking expedition. This set the team back by several hours, probably delaying their dinner time. Despite hunger and exhaustion, the group of students encouraged each other and sang in unison to motivate one another on the way back. That night, when they arrived back at camp, they were last among all the teams. But they kept their spirits high and were unfazed by this setback. The next day, with better planning and teamwork to navigate and pace their trek, they came in first. Interestingly, it wasn’t the victory that Michelle was most proud of; it was the comeback of the team and the ‘can-do’ spirit that had given her the greatest sense of achievement. This is character building.

29. Let me stress that the safety of our students remains paramount even as we enhance and expand outdoor education. We have appointed an Advisory Panel for Outdoor Adventure Learning to help us raise the quality and safety of our outdoor adventure learning programmes, both locally and overseas. The Panel will be chaired by Dr Tan Lai Yong, who is well-regarded for his work with the youth and community, and who is currently the Director for Outreach and Community Engagement at the College of Alice & Peter Tan at NUS.

REDUCE EXCESSIVE FOCUS ON ACADEMIC RESULTS

30. The second, and a very key part of the shift that we want to achieve, is to reduce excessive focus on academic results.

31. Ms Denise Phua, Dr Intan and Mr Seah Kian Peng spoke on this issue, especially with regard to the PSLE.

32. Today, there is a deeply ingrained mind-set that the PSLE is a very high-stakes exam. Many perceive that a child’s PSLE T-score at the age of 12 determines his or her success and pathway in life. But we know that this is not true, from the many stories of many who have done well in life despite not having done so well in their PSLE. What we observe is that a student’s PSLE indicates the progress that a child has made in his or her learning in primary school; but it does not cast in stone what he or she can achieve in the future, in life.

33. Yet, such a mind-set has persisted. And as a parent, I can empathise with that. It is easy to get fixated on what is measurable. We put a score on something and that makes it easy for us to compare with one another. But what is measurable sometimes may not be what is most important in the long run. Chasing after that last point in an exam could come at a cost to other aspects of our children’s overall development, especially at that young age. Too many anxious nights, too much tuition, and too little quality time for family and friends, for play and for exploration.

34. Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin raised concerns that the amount of homework our children have is excessive. Given appropriately, homework reinforces students’ learning, contributes to their progress and cultivates a healthy disposition towards learning. However, I agree, more isn’t always better, and the amount of homework has to be calibrated appropriately. All our schools have put in place a homework policy and mechanisms to regulate, monitor and coordinate homework across departments and subjects.

35. People often draw comparisons between education and botany. I’m not much of a gardener, but I did plant some green beans for a school project when I was a small boy. I remember waking up each morning, impatiently monitoring my glass jar day after day, waiting for the first shoot to sprout. I soon realised that over-watering my seedlings did not make them grow any faster. In fact, it stifled them. I believe our children, like young seedlings, ought to have time and space to breathe, learn and dream.

36. So, there is a need to reduce this over-emphasis on academic results. We have made several steps in this direction over the last few years. For example, in 2012, we stopped naming the top PSLE scorers. Today we celebrate students’ good performance in all domains, both academic and non-academic. But I think we can do more to change mind-sets and culture.

37. PM had announced in 2013 that we would review the PSLE scoring system. I would like to share an update on this today.

38. The main issue to address is that the way we currently score the PSLE is too precise, and differentiates our students more finely than necessary. A student may score one point more than his friend at the PSLE, but educationally, that one point does not mean that he is better prepared for secondary school than his friend. It also does not mean that he is very much smarter or will grow up to be more capable or lead a more successful or fulfilling life. We should, therefore, in time, move away from such fine distinctions, which are not meaningful, especially at this young age.

39. The way that the T-score is calculated may also have created unhealthy competition among our young children. Because it is calculated based on how students do relative to one another, students may feel the pressure to do better than their peers rather than help each other out to learn. This runs counter to the values we want to inculcate in our children. We can find a better balance between encouraging our students to study hard and get good results, and making them overly-competitive and anxious about outdoing one another.

40. Our overarching objective in the primary school years is to build strong foundations for learning in our children. After studying the issues carefully, we propose to make a few changes to the PSLE scoring system:

  • First, we will replace the PSLE T-Score with wider scoring bands, and the new system will be similar to the O- and A-Levels. Some broad level of differentiation is still needed, to guide students to academic programmes that best suit their interests and strengths. But the scoring will be blunted to a large extent. • Also similar to the O- and A-Levels, we will move towards a scoring system that is more reflective of a student’s learning and level of mastery. Once a student shows a level of understanding and ability that meets the professionally-set standard, he will receive the grade, regardless of how his friends may perform. This is more educationally meaningful than assessing a student’s performance relative to his peers.

41. We know that there will be many questions about how these changes would impact secondary school posting. We intend to make some adjustments to the Secondary 1 posting system as well. It will still be a fair and transparent system based on academic merit. With the move to broader PSLE scoring bands, students will be able to choose a school that is a good fit for them from a wider range of schools of a similar academic profile. In doing so, students can consider factors such as the school’s distinctive programmes, CCAs, and partnerships with the community and industry, and better match these factors with their interests.

42. These planned changes are significant, so MOE will not rush the implementation. The current PSLE system is well-established and we must be fully ready before moving to the new system.

43. So we will take the next few years to work through these changes carefully. We have already begun our journey of evolving our school landscape. We want to give all schools time to develop their distinctive strengths and niche programmes, towards the vision of every school a good school. This remains important. Meanwhile, we will need to develop and test the new PSLE scoring and posting systems thoroughly. Most importantly, we want to give enough time and support for parents and students to understand and adjust, so they are ready when the new system takes effect.

44. So, we are planning for the new PSLE scoring system to be put in place from 2021. This will start with the Primary 6 cohort of 2021, who are in Primary 1 this year. Details about the changes to PSLE scoring will be released in the next two to three months. Over the next few months, MOE will be working closely with our school leaders and educators on the proposed changes. We will subsequently also engage parents and members of the public on these changes and provide an update at next year’s COS debate in 2017.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DIFFERENT EXPRESSIONS OF MERIT AND ACHIEVEMENT, ACROSS ALL SCHOOLS

45. The third part of this paradigm shift is to offer more opportunities for different expressions of merit and achievement, across all schools.

46. Academic merit continues to be important in secondary school posting, because our primary school students should be matched to secondary schools that would be a good fit for their aptitudes. However, there is scope for greater flexibility in how we recognise different forms of merit and achievement in the overall Secondary 1 posting system. We want to encourage students and parents to choose schools carefully, so that they can select a school which can best nurture their interests and strengths.

47. The Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was introduced back in 2004 for this very purpose. The intent of the DSA is to open up opportunities for students to be recognised for a range of achievements and talents when seeking admission into secondary school. It also allows some flexibility on the school’s part to admit students with specific aptitudes, so that the distinctive programmes offered by the school benefit the right profile of students.

48. The DSA scheme has benefitted many students. I recently visited Admiralty Secondary School and met a Sec 3 young boy. His name is Jun Heng. He is somewhat of a shy and quiet boy. However, behind his soft-spoken demeanour, I discovered a bright young man full of passion for programming and robotics. There is a sparkle in his eyes when he speaks about robotics. Jun Heng has had an interest in robotics since he joined his primary school’s robotics club. He was so eager to pursue this further in secondary school that he applied through the DSA to join Admiralty Secondary School, which has a well-known robotics enterprise programme and they’ve won many national and international competitions. When I asked him why he likes robotics so much, he said quite simply to me – “because, there are no limits to what you can do”. That is what inspired me about Jun Heng’s story. This young man makes his choices and takes concrete steps towards his dreams with conviction. I am very glad that he chose a school that is a great fit for him and I wish him all the best.

49. There are many more students like Jun Heng who begin to discover their passions early, through CCAs or other activities. These can be further nurtured in secondary school. By 2017, all our secondary schools will each offer two distinctive programmes in various domains, through the Applied Learning Programme (ALP) and Learning for Life Programme (LLP). With a more diverse and vibrant secondary school landscape, we want to enable more students to benefit from the DSA scheme and tap on the range of programmes our schools offer. This will complement the changes to PSLE system.

50. Learning from more than a decade of implementing the DSA, we know that many students have benefitted from this opportunity. At the same time, there is some unevenness in how different schools select their DSA students.

51. It is timely therefore to take a step back and see how to realign the implementation of this scheme with its original policy intent. In this regard, MOE is undertaking a review of the DSA scheme, with two guiding principles:

  • First, we would like to expand opportunities in more secondary schools for students with specific aptitudes and talents to enter a school with distinctive programmes via the DSA. This will provide students with more options when selecting a school that can best nurture their interests and talents.
  • Second, we should sharpen the focus of the DSA to better recognise talents and achievements in specific domains, rather than general academic ability that can be demonstrated through the PSLE.
  • MOE will consider the views on the DSA shared by Ms Denise Phua and Dr Intan, and we will share more details about the DSA review in due course.

52. In sum, with changes in the PSLE, DSA and a more variegated secondary school landscape, we will create more opportunities and choices for students at the Secondary 1 posting juncture.

53. I want to encourage all our students to consider carefully which secondary schools offer education pathways and opportunities that are best suited for you, based on your specific aptitudes and aspirations. Get to know the schools better, beyond their cut-off points. If you do not know yet what you want to do, or are passionate about, that’s okay too. Whichever school you choose to go to, give yourself the time and space to explore different domains and learn new things. Enjoy the learning journey. MOE and our educators will be there to support you.

54. At the same time, we are committed to invest in all schools and provide the resources to develop our students holistically and fully.

55. Mr Png Eng Huat and Mr Dennis Tan asked about how we fund our schools equitably. MOE resources schools based on the needs of students, programmes offered by schools and the enrolment of the schools.

56. Over the years, we have significantly increased funding for education across all levels and schools. In fact, where we could, within our limited resources, we have been more generous in allocating more for our mainstream schools.

57. Besides funding, we also ensure that our schools are adequately resourced with teachers to meet the needs of our students. We decided more than a decade ago to grow the teaching workforce. Over the past 10 years, the average pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) has improved from 23 to 16 for primary schools, and from 19 to 13 for secondary schools. I would like to highlight that PTR, an aggregate measure of our teaching force, is not the same as class size, which depends on how teachers are deployed in schools.

58. Dr Daniel Goh enquired if we could reduce the class sizes in mainstream schools to the levels in OECD countries. Rather than reducing class sizes across the board, we adopt the approach to deploy resources in a much more targeted way, to support areas of greater educational needs. This allows our schools to implement appropriate intervention strategies and give individual attention to low- progress students and students with special learning needs. For example, levelling up programmes are in smaller groups of about 8 to 10 students in pull-out classes; and School-based Dyslexia Remediation (SDR) programme goes down to about 4 students per class.

59. We think this is a better and more inclusive approach to deploy the limited resources that we have. Furthermore, it is not conclusive that smaller class sizes improves student outcomes on a system-wide basis. In fact, studies show that teacher quality matters much more. While we do not rule out further improvements in class sizes, we must balance this carefully with what is sustainable, and not risk compromising the quality of teachers we recruit.

60. We also want to help students to be posted to schools that can cater to their learning needs and interests. I spoke about the changes to the Sec 1 posting and school landscape earlier, which will provide more choices and opportunities for posting.

61. For younger students in primary schools, we recognise that the distance between home and school is also an important consideration for school choices and posting. Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked if MOE could review the current P1 Registration framework to give more priority for students living near primary schools. The P1 Registration Framework carefully balances various factors and is not limited to just home-school distance. Other factors include elder siblings, community involvement and schools’ ties with their stakeholders. Overall, the system works. In the past few years, about 98% of Singapore Citizen and Permanent Resident students obtained a place in either a school of their choice, or one that is within 2 km of their homes. Nevertheless, I would like to assure Mr Lim that MOE will continue to ensure sufficient school places on a regional basis, so that our young children will not have to travel far to primary school.

62. Madam Chair, allow me to say a few words in Mandarin please.

63. 为了积极贯彻全面教育的理念, 我在英语演讲中提到,我们必须调整目前过度重视学业成绩的心态。因此,教育部将对小六离校会考积分制度和中学分配程序做出调整。另外,教育部也将推广户外教育, 培养学生坚韧不拔和刚强不屈的精神。

64. 孩子们就像一棵棵正在发芽的小幼苗。我们不应该急于求成、拔苗助长, 也不应该让孩子们成为在极度保护下,不能承受风吹雨打的温室花朵。我们得了解, 每一棵幼苗的不同需要,取得平衡, 细心灌溉。有了充足的阳光和水分,和适当的空间,孩子们都能自由茁壮成长,成为扎根沃土的大树。

65. 在培育优秀下一代的当儿,我们也需要培养一群对国家有归属感和认同感、也懂得关爱他人的年轻一代国人。因此,我们会继续通过不同的方式,在校园里强调品格教育,让学生从小培养正确的价值观。这些成果虽然很难衡量,但却能让新加坡的孩子更好地迎接未来挑战,一生受益无穷。这样一来,我们就能建立一个全民同心的“新加坡脉搏”,以打造我们共同的愿景。

AN INCLUSIVE SYSTEM

66. Madam Chair, let me now speak about an inclusive education system. We must ensure that every Singaporean can find their own pathway to success and be part of the nation’s progress, regardless of their starting points and background. This is the essence of a united Singapore Heartbeat, which I spoke about in my maiden speech.

67. An inclusive education system is a critical lever to close societal gaps and promote social mobility. While we cannot ensure equal outcomes, we must provide children equal access to opportunities in all our schools. Ms Denise Phua and Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked for an update on what MOE is doing further to level the playing field for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide dedicated support to those who are academically weaker.

68. Children enter our schools with different starting points, abilities and learning needs. We must continue to do our utmost to provide pathways for every child.

  • First, we have levelling-up and specialised intervention programmes for students weak in literacy and numeracy skills, such as the Learning Support Programmes for English and Math in Primary 1 and 2. Beyond Primary 2, low-progress students continue to be supported through other programmes all the way to secondary school.
  • Second, for students who may need a different, more customised approach, we have also developed four Specialised Schools. Students who do not pass their PSLE articulate to Northlight School (NLS) and Assumption Pathway School (APS), while Crest Secondary and Spectra Secondary cater to N(T)-eligible students who prefer an applied curriculum. The Specialised Schools adopt a whole-school approach and customise their curriculum and pedagogy to the learning needs of their students.
  • Third, and very importantly, we resource schools and train teachers to support our low-progress learners. The Learning Support Programmes that I mentioned earlier are centrally-designed and taught by teachers who are specially trained to engage low-progress learners and be able to address not just their academic needs, but also their social-emotional needs effectively. Our goal is not just to help them level up in their studies, but also to develop their self-confidence and self-esteem.

69. As a result of these efforts, the proportion of these students in our system has reduced significantly over the years and is among the lowest internationally.

70. I would like to address Dr Daniel Goh’s specific suggestion for MOE to set up a national corps of specially trained teachers for under-privileged students. As I have explained earlier, we already have differentiated and dedicated support for low-progress learners, including those from needy families. Our context and approach are quite different from many other countries – we are able to centrally train and deploy teachers, being a small country. So I’m proud to say that we already have a national corps of well-trained teachers for all students.

71. Students with financial needs should benefit from a quality education regardless of their family’s circumstances. Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap asked about the extension of assistance schemes, awards and funds. MOE heavily subsidises the cost of education for all Singaporean students in our schools. In addition, we provide targeted assistance for needy Singaporean students in our schools through various schemes, such as the Edusave Merit Bursary, MOE and school-based Financial Assistance Schemes (FAS), and the Post-Secondary Education Account.

72. Many members, including Mr Zainal Sapari and Dr Lim Wee Kiak have asked what more we can do in early childhood to provide every child with a strong start. Minister of State Janil Puthucheary will give more details on MOE’s efforts in this area. He will also provide an update on how we are enhancing support for children with Special Educational Needs. This is an issue that Ms Denise Phua, Ms Chia Yong Yong and Mr Zainal spoke about passionately just now.

CONCLUSION

73. Madam Chair, let me conclude. I earlier used the metaphors of flowers and seedlings. Well, there is one more. The Chinese proverb “十年树木,百年树人” compares the task of nurturing people to growing trees – it takes ten years to grow trees, but a hundred to nurture people. While education is a far more complex and arduous task than growing trees, nevertheless, we can extract useful insights. As gardeners, we must tend our seedlings with great skill, care and love: by ensuring the plant has sufficient, but not overly harsh sunlight, and watering the plant based on how much the soil can take. Most importantly, as the seedlings grow and take root, we should hold back and give them enough space and freedom to flourish. We must not over-shelter them or suffocate them with much watering and over-fertilising, but allow them to grow upright, strong and sturdy, and resilient to any storms.

74. Today, I fear we are over-crowding our young ones with a narrow focus on academics. While we have their best interests at heart, too much of one thing impedes rather than supports overall growth.

75. I believe the changes in PSLE system, the DSA review, and the Outdoor Education programmes are critical to preparing our children for the future. These changes will contribute to reducing emphasis on exam results and give more time and opportunities for every student to develop as a well-rounded individual. However, there is no easy solution, no silver bullet, to the issues of stress and competition that Members raised.

76. I started out saying that education is both a personal journey as well as a societal concern. Hence, while MOE can change policies and structures, ultimately, this is a personal journey for every child, parent and family. It is a partnership between MOE, educators, students, and parents and even employers. Collectively, our choices will determine whether we can succeed in making this paradigm shift to free up time and space for holistic education.

77. So let’s make this journey together. Let’s help our children make good use of their time to branch out to explore other interests and passions and to pursue what they want to do in life. Let’s help them make good choices about their educational and career pathways based on their aptitudes and aspirations. Let's help them to be ready for the future. This indeed will be the best gift that we can present to our next generation. Thank you.

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