Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the ITE Graduation Ceremony 2016

Published Date: 22 July 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Bob Tan
Chairman of the Board of Governors of ITE

Mr Bruce Poh
Director & CEO of ITE

Members of the ITE Board of Governors, Faculty, Alumni,

Distinguished Guests, Parents, and Graduands,

1. Today is a day of great success. You have all worked hard, spent many hours in the workshop, in front of computers, in the laboratory – learning new skills, cultivating a discipline not just in your hands but in your mind. You can be very proud of what you have achieved. Today, it is important to know that your parents, your friends and your teachers are proud of you too. Today many of them are here – and we all applaud your effort. Congratulations to the class of 2016!

Definition of Success

2. You have succeeded in a very important part of your journey – but how you see success today is very different from how I – someone in his 40s – would see success, and even more different from someone in his 70s or 80s consider as success.

3. Let’s think back and recall our days as a young child. What defines success then? For many children in Singapore – too many in my opinion – success means good results during examinations, especially the PSLE. Success means being able to progress to a “good school”, meet the expectations of parents, and make them proud.

4. What does success mean to an elderly person – a member of the pioneer generation? Often, it means strong and fulfilling relationships built with their family and friends. Success often means good health. For them, it also comes from rich personal and professional lives, having made a difference with their choice of work – be it policemen, firefighters, biochemists, technicians, nurses, early childhood educators, teachers, healthcare worker, chefs, or bankers, etc.

5. I do not know of anyone in that age band who still remember their test marks in school, whether they were top in class, and reminisce those occasions as life achievements. As we get older, our definition of success changes – it becomes less about the measurements society imposes on us, and more about what we ourselves find meaningful and good. Less about what we got, and more about what we gave others. Less about what is measurable, like money, and more about the things that cannot be measured, like happiness and relationships.

6. So, there is a gulf between a young person’s definition and an older person’s definition of success. Too often, too many of us impose a cookie cutter definition of success for the young. We expect them to achieve a certain score – be it ‘T’ or banded score, go to certain schools, go to university, earn a certain salary, and get a certain job title. These may not be what matter most to you when you are much older.

7. We may be in need of some alignment as to how we gauge success when we are young and have our lives ahead of us, compared to when we are old and have led full lives behind us. When we are young, we need to work towards what matters to us ultimately.

That is Why Education is Changing

8. If we take that view, then we do not just celebrate good results of students. We should make a special effort to recognise the students who have been kind and helpful to others, contributed to the community, fought through illness, cared for the sick and disadvantaged, or overcame personal difficulties and stood tall at the finish line in school.

9. Every year, the newspapers publish stories of such students and these are the stories I tend to notice and remember. This is also why MOE awards today do not just go out to students with good results, but also students that demonstrated good leadership, character, and other non-academic attributes.

10. We should also celebrate and recognise a young person who is able to discover what he is interested in, has a talent for it, devotes time and effort to become really good at it, and makes a difference with it. In your time here at ITE, I hope you have discovered your strength and your interest. If you have, it is an accomplishment that may be far more important than having a good GPA.

11. At the recent WorldSkills Singapore competition, an equivalent of the Olympics of skills, five ITE students won Gold medals. They are likely to be representing Singapore next year at the WorldSkills competition held in Abu Dhabi. I will be there to cheer them on. I am doing so because it is important to encourage and support the young who found their calling in skills.

12. Because we need to shift the measure of success for the young, our education system is undergoing changes, to dial back from an over- emphasis on academic success, to also recognising more forms of success.

13. This is why under the new PSLE scoring system, students will be graded based on their individual performance, regardless of how their peers have done. This will reflect a child’s learning more accurately.

14. We have also introduced the Early Admissions Exercises for both O-Level graduates and ITE graduates so that passion and aptitude for a course and not just academic qualifications can be considered for admissions into polytechnics.

15. We are also introducing into our institutes more pathways, more hands-on and real life experiences, and more education and career guidance. At ITE, you are provided with a holistic education including overseas industrial attachments and student exchange programmes. All these will help to broaden your horizon and exposure, and help you explore and discover your interests.

Your Journey Ahead – Stories of Donna and Atiqah

16. What does all this mean to you, now that you are graduating from ITE? Our system is not designed with dead ends. Far from it, it is designed as forks with multiple branches and alternate pathways for you to choose from. So some of you may be pursuing a diploma at the polytechnics, some of you may embark on a SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme, some will be undergoing National Service, while others may be looking for a job, and along the way, take up short modular courses to improve yourself. Whatever it is, once you discover your area of interest, your learning never stops – if you want to become really good at what you do.

17. My point today is probably best illustrated by the stories of two ITE graduates, Donna and Atiqah.

18. After taking her N-Level examinations, Donna was enrolled in the Nitec in Service Skills (Office) course under the Traineeship mode of learning. She decided to take this route as she could learn a skill and be paid at the same time. She was offered a Traineeship position with OCBC Bank, during which she handled enquiries from walk-in customers and other operational and administrative work. Through the training, she discovered her ability for handling difficult customers, and was often complimented for her service. Speaking as an MP, I can tell you that it takes special skill to deal with difficult requests.

19. Donna did well and successfully graduated. She applied for jobs in the finance sector, and was offered a position with the Singapore Exchange, beating 800 other applicants. Donna has moved on to join several other local and international banks over the years.

20. Now 35 years old, Donna is a Bank Analyst with Credit Suisse – a leading global financial services company. She works alongside university graduates, where everyone take on the same job responsibilities. In an enlightened company like Credit Suisse, it is your skills and competencies, and not your school results and academic qualifications that matter in what position you hold.

21. When asked if she had to do it all over again – whether she would have chosen to further her studies after graduating from ITE rather than going to work, Donna replied that she has no regrets as she learns better on-the-job.

22. The second story is about Miss Atiqah Hamzah. Atiqah graduated from the Nitec in Laser and Tooling Technology course in 2013. While studying at ITE, she received the National Precision Engineering Study Award from the Economic Development Board. As part of her industrial attachment, she was also attached to Makino Asia – an international manufacturing company. Over the course of her attachment, she worked with the company’s Quality Assurance and Small Unit Assembly Department.

23. After graduating from ITE, she was offered a full-time position at Makino as a Draftsman. She now spends a significant part of her time designing the parts of milling machines, and is an important member of the Makino team and valued greatly by her employer.


24. Like Donna and Atiqah, you are at the starting point of your skills journey. This is an important milestone, but the journey from here will be different for each of you. Some will be more circuitous than others, but the important thing is where you end up at the end of that journey.

25. I started this speech by looking at the different stages and meanings of success. I do not mean that the older one gets, the better one’s definition of success. But I do know that any single definition that measures one person against another, as if we are all fishes in the market, is simplistic, unrealistic, hollow and false.

26. Success must have a deeper and more personal meaning. The courses you have taken in ITE have equipped you with the technical skills to make a difference in other people’s lives. It provides you with a foundation of skills, upon which you can build your future. That is why we call the movement to find our interest and pursue mastery – the SkillsFuture movement.

27. Today, I urge you to choose a more difficult but more real definition of success – success as making a meaningful difference in this world, through perfecting your own craft. Congratulations once again.

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