Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at the Premiere of CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School Film

Published Date: 12 April 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. It is my pleasure to join you this evening for this film premiere to commemorate the school’s 85th anniversary.

2. The school has come a long way. In 1933, the school started with only 40 primary school pupils, one Chinese language teacher, and along Stamford Road. Small in scale, but big on values and ambition. As the student and teacher numbers grew, these pioneer educators dedicated their lives to serving the community and nurturing girls with a sense of purpose. School enrolment soared, and St Nicholas became a full school. To accommodate its growing population, the school moved to Victoria Street after the War, in 1949.

3. In 1979, in recognition of its rich Chinese culture and strong school outcomes, St Nicholas was selected to be one of the first batch of nine Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools in Singapore. The school then had to spread itself over three locations to accommodate your growing student population.

4. Finally, in 1985, St Nicholas moved to its current home at Ang Mo Kio. In 1995, you then became an autonomous school. In 2013, you introduced the Joint Integrated Programme with Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and Eunoia Junior College.

5. Today, I want to congratulate you on this remarkable journey.

SAP Schools Within our National School System

6. We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of SAP schools. At the event, I thought I had delivered one of the more important speeches I have done as an Education Minister, and it is probably worth reiterating some of the points I said there.

7. We have to remember the historical context of setting up SAP schools – which is to uphold the traditional Chinese school cultural environment, at a time when English education had become very popular and Chinese schools were closing down rapidly. If we had not had SAP schools, we would have lost an important part of our culture.

8. Today, SAP schools are part of a larger ecosystem, in two ways. First, together with government schools, clan-based and church-based Government-Aided schools, as well as Madrasahs, they make up a diverse education landscape, which is in turn a microcosm of the Singapore cultural tapestry.

9. Second, SAP schools are also one example of our range of efforts to promote the learning of our Mother Tongues. We want our students to be multilingual and multicultural, ready to embrace a future where we must be anchored to our roots and at the same time, confident to face the world. So more than ever, knowing multiple languages and cultures will become a competitive advantage. All round the world, people are learning new languages and cultures, and we cannot buck the trend at this critical juncture and dilute our efforts. There is also an awareness that being adept at interacting with people of different cultures and backgrounds is important and I applaud the school’s effort in teaching students about cultural intelligence.

10. However, it is crucial that schools remain open communities, where students interact with peers from all backgrounds, make friends from all races, and grow up in a multicultural Singapore. So SAP schools need to make an extra effort to expose your students to others from other backgrounds.

11. This needs to go beyond the occasional or one-off events, such as celebrating Racial Harmony Day together. We will need to find platforms for deep, regular and meaningful engagements. For example, partnering other schools to offer outdoor learning, Values-in-Action programmes or even joint Co-Curricular Activities.

Learn for Life – A Recap of Recent Efforts

12. Moving to the larger education system we are also changing to better prepare our students for future challenges. Let me briefly recap our recent moves. In a child’s early years, we want to give them the best possible start in life. Thus, we have invested significant resources in recent years to improve the affordability, accessibility and quality of our pre-schools.

13. We also want to dial back the over-emphasis on examinations and academic grades. Across primary and secondary schools, we have reduced school-based assessments, to the great delight of the students. But the purpose is not just to reduce stress. The key purpose is to free up curriculum time for better teaching and learning.

14. We are also in the process of removing the precise PSLE T-Scores and replacing that with broader achievement levels, just like O-levels and N-levels. This will be effective in 2021, and will be a major change. This includes a significant change to secondary school postings, where for students who have the same score, we prioritise by nationality and then students’ school choice and finally, the use of ballot as a last resort for tie breakers. The alternative way is to calculate T-scores to two decimal places.

15. We will also be implementing Full Subject-Based Banding in secondary schools and phasing out streaming in the process. This enables us to preserve the benefits of differentiated teaching which is critical, but at the subject level, and therefore minimising the negative impact of labelling and curtailing of students’ mindset of growth and development.

16. This complements earlier efforts to create multiple pathways and opportunities in our Institutes of Higher Learning so that students are able to pursue their passions, their strengths to achieve success and fulfilment in their own way.

Giving Back to Society

17. And now, let me come back to CHIJ St Nicholas. It is important to nurture students to be kind and compassionate, to help one another, and to give back to society. St Nicholas’ focus on values, gratitude and giving back, 饮水思源, 姐妹同心, has remained constant throughout the years and will serve your students well.

18. These values are best manifested in your alumni. The alumnae network is the bridge that connects generations of students, and the members are important role models to encourage your juniors to blaze new trails.

19. This film is a labour of love by the school’s alumnae and is an excellent opportunity to pass on our values to the next generation by sharing with them the sacrifice and legacy of our pioneers. I hope the students watching the film will appreciate the work done by those who came before you, be inspired and to continue to give back to society.

20. I wish everyone an enjoyable time watching the film. Thank you.

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