Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), at Henry Park Primary School 40th Anniversary

Published Date: 07 April 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Sam Goi, Chairman of Ulu Pandan CCC

Prof Kumaralingam, Chairman of School Advisory Committee

Mrs Rathi Parimalan, West 1 Cluster Superintendent

Principal Chia Soo Keng, Principals

Current and former staff

Alumni, parents, students of Henry Park Primary

1. I am actually the Minister-in-charge of Higher Education. I usually don’t attend school events, but today is a special occasion, so I am here at Henry Park. Because I live nearby, and more importantly, this is also a homecoming for me. Why is it a homecoming? Henry Park hosts fond memories for me, because I served as a member of the SAC from 2004 to 2011. The Principal for the first few years was Mr Richard Lim; the Principal for the next few years was Mr Ng Teng Joo.

My Time as an SAC Member

2. Now that I am in MOE, I began to realise, that all the problems you see in the school; between MOE and the school, they have figured it all out. And they have all the solutions, but we still have the SAC. And now that I look back, I hope the SAC has not been too much of a nuisance. And that we had offered you some solutions and suggestions that were useful.

3. I know that during my time, Mr Richard Lim would bring to the table problems that he’s thinking about, and he would use us as a sounding board, to just ask us, what would you have done? And we would give him ideas, and I think, with his wisdom, he knew the solutions.

4. With Mr Ng Teng Joo, we also had very intensive interaction, and he too, raised operational issues for us to sometimes brainstorm. I know, of all the things that we brainstormed, one of the things we did discussed at quite great lengths, was the building of the sports hall. At that time, it was a school field, and it was a mostly brown school field. And then we now have a good sports hall. And we spent a few meetings debating if we should have a tennis court. I checked with the Principal, who said that the tennis court is still there, and you have a Tennis CCA. So I think, at least on that, we have contributed something.

5. Another thing that we might have contributed a little, was the persistent traffic problems. That’s why when I left, I asked Colin to join us. Colin worked in LTA at that time. I don’t know where he works now, but I hope he still retains his land transport traffic management expertise.

6. I know for sure that we have contributed in one way, which is every year, the SAC will sponsor the Teacher’s Day Celebrations. I know we have contributed because we actually signed the check, and the check is cleared. And it was always a special evening, where I see all the teachers letting their hair down and celebrating. It is a side of teachers that we seldom get to see, but we know that they fully deserved an evening of fun. So, in our small way, we hope we have contributed to the school.

History of Henry Park

7. Henry Park is a relatively young school, 40 years old, started in 1977, at a time when our education system was at a nascent stage of development, and when the Government’s priority was just to ensure that there was education for everyone.

8. So, Henry Park’s objective, primarily, was to serve the residents around here, in Queenstown and the Holland area. And according to MOE’s records, please correct me if I’m wrong, the school was not named after any renowned tycoons or famous people, it was named after the Apartment Block across the road, which was Henry Park Apartments. And in front of Henry Park Apartments, there was a little park called Henry Park. I used to jog around the area, and I’d go to Henry Park to do my chin ups, and now, SAF says there’s no need to do chin ups. And the park is also gone. So, the Apartment Block is gone, but Henry Park Primary School stays.

9. Back then, Henry Park and Raffles Girls’ Primary School had to share a compound. Some of you will remember those good old days. Henry Park occupied a small, four-storey H-shaped building. And I was told, this was before my SAC time, that there were countless standoffs between the Heriettas and the Rafflesians on the claim to the shared school field.

10. Henry Park started with 287 pupils and 13 teachers assigned from other schools. The school motto established by Mrs Chew Fook Chun, the first principal, is “Honesty in Performance, Pride in Service”, in short, “HPPS”, which also stands for Henry Park Primary School. I didn’t realise it until I prepared the speech.

11. The expectations that she had of their students were for them to grow up to be honest, hardworking and proud contributors to society, looking beyond just academics. This is a simple idea, reflective of what the school believes to be the core of education, and demonstrated through the school’s approach of holistic development of students. This was even before MOE started talking about holistic development and cultivating entrepreneur dare in our kids, so this was well ahead of its times.

12. So in line with this, Henry Park put emphasis on sports and culture appreciation. So by the time the school turned ten years old, Henry Park students were already clinching National Honours in Badminton, Tennis and Gymnastics. More importantly, Henry Park developed a strong tradition in character development, and it is a strong anchor for its approach in education. By the 1990s, students were already taking part in immersion programmes in China and exchange programmes with Japanese children.

13. Henry Park’s approach allowed students with different aptitudes to flourish, and to find their strengths within the system. It has evolved over the years, offering a distinctive education experience, now in a much bigger campus and with a larger student population. Today, it occupies the entire site, and students now have access to facilities like an air-conditioned multi-purpose hall, running tracks, outdoor learning spaces, etc. And it is one of the most popular primary schools in Singapore. In MOE, we always monitor the number of registrations, phase 1, phase 2A, phase 2B. Henry Park is always going, going, gone, very quickly. Much faster than other Primary Schools.

14. But what has not changed, all these years, is the focus on character development and character education. This remains key to the school, and stands Henry Park in good stead as the education landscape evolves.

Evolving Education Landscape

15. And we are indeed living in an era where education is going to change quite rapidly. Educating students and preparing them for the future are no longer just about teaching them through books. In fact, knowledge, information, we can google, but what we cannot google are the holistic stuff: character, working with people, essential soft skills that we have to get through a good school experience.

16. These, therefore can only be acquired through a positive experience in schools, and harnessed through the pursuit of one’s passion and interests even if it means taking a path that is less travelled.

17. So MOE today is focussed on a few tasks ahead. First, we are dialling back on an overemphasis on academic performance and grades. First we revamp the PSLE system, which will come into force in 2021. We are opening up more DSA or Direct School Admission pathways that was just announced, and we are creating space for students to be assessed by their interests and interests when they apply to Polytechnics or Universities. All these, to reduce the emphasis on academics and send a strong signal to parents and students that academic grades are not everything. Education is much more holistic than that. But, for the parents and students who are preparing for the PSLE, please continue to work hard.

18. Second, we are also creating more pathways for students to pursue their diverse and varied interests. It is important that there are no dead ends facing anyone who is prepared to work hard, who is prepared to better himself or herself all the time. So today, when you look at the higher education landscape, we have a course for almost every niche scheme. Even Arts, to Engineering to Social Sciences. We just started a new university on Social Sciences by restructuring UniSIM into the Singapore University of Social Sciences. We have started SIT, which is an applied pathway for Polytechnic students. So, essentially, we are opening up different pathways to ensure that the people who want to upgrade themselves, to deepen their skills, have the means to do so.

19. Third, we are blurring the lines between working and learning. And I think even Primary school students are starting to experience that. This means that learning takes place beyond the classroom, beyond the school compound and extends well into your daily life, and beyond your formal school years. The reality is, most of us, actually we learn from experience, we learn by looking at others and sharing experiences. We learn by actually doing. We need to realise that learning is not the same as studying.

20. Fourth, we want to expose all our students to digital technology and ICT. Because every sector now is affected by and may be transformed by digital technology. All of us need to be comfortable with, and even be able to master digital technologies. In the past, we all knew it was essential for us to learn English because anywhere you go, you have to know English. Today, IT will be the English of tomorrow.

Conclusion

21. The ultimate success of these changes depends on the implementer of all these changes – which are the schools, your teachers and the staff, in partnership with all our stakeholders, especially parents. So that we can create the best outcomes for our students.

22. And Henry Park has a tradition of working closely with parents, as well as all stakeholders. The Parents’ Association plays a vital role in supporting the school in its programmes.

23. Over the next few years, the school also plans to look into more innovative teaching methods and tap on the expertise of alumni to expand the perspectives that Henry Park can offer to the students.

24. As part of your 40th Anniversary celebration, 400 students and members of the school choir will participate in this year’s National Day Parade. And I am sure this is a very valuable out of school experience that they will learn many essential skills.

25. As Henry Park embarks on all these new initiatives, I am confident that your strong foundation of character development and innovative approach to education, will play a significant part in nurturing aptitudes and fostering entrepreneurial dare in all our students.

26. And finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the past and present principals in the last 40 years – starting with Ms Chew Fook Chun, Ms Pauline Ong, Ms Loo Cheng Peng, Ms Violet Khor, Mr Richard Lim, Mr Ng Teng Joo and Mr Chia Soo Keng, for creating, and playing such a huge role in creating Henry Park’s history. And to the students today, the future is yours to make.

27. Thank you, and happy 40th birthday.

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