Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Education, at the NIE Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony, at the Nanyang Auditorium, Nanyang Technological University

Published Date: 02 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Lai Chung Han, Chairperson, NIE Council
Professor Christine Goh, Director, NIE
Distinguished guests
Graduands
Ladies and gentlemen

1. It gives me great pleasure to officiate at this Investiture Ceremony. Let me start by offering my heartiest congratulations to all 465 graduands here today.

2. Today marks the end of one chapter of your lives and the beginning of another. As you enter the teaching profession, there is a big difference that separates the previous chapters in your life and the new one on which you are about to embark.

3. The previous chapters would have revolved largely around your own life, your family and your friends. In this new chapter, what you do will affect hundreds if not thousands of other lives - that of your students. Extensive research has been done globally in the search for the secret of the best educational system. Scholars academics and researchers have accumulated and analysed masses of data in the quest to find the perfect formula. But quite consistently the research conclusions as to what has the greatest influence on a child’s educational outcomes boils down to just two things: (a) the quality of the teachers and their ability to inspire children to learn; and (b) the quality of the parent-child relationship and in particular the interest shown by parents in their child’s educational progress.

4. As you leave NIE to take up your new postings, you will have the ability to shape your students character, to affect deeply and profoundly their perception of themselves and their roles in society and to influence the direction their lives will take in the future. This is no light task. It is both privilege and responsibility, and you must discharge it to the best of your ability.

The Diverse Classroom

5. As educators you will encounter a wide diversity of students. Students come from different backgrounds, with different strengths and weaknesses, and different ways of learning. What this means is that you will need to understand each and every student in your classroom, be able to respond to their different needs, and help each student - and sometimes their parents - to understand that in our system there are multiple pathways and many opportunities, and they should choose what is best suited for each individual.

6. Some of your students will be the kind who excel with very little help - the ones who learn easily, and are well adjusted, independent and self-directed learners who make teaching easy. Your task will be to help them fly as high and as far as they can go.6. Some of your students will be the kind who excel with very little help - the ones who learn easily, and are well adjusted, independent and self-directed learners who make teaching easy. Your task will be to help them fly as high and as far as they can go.

7. Then there will be those who don’t learn quite as quickly, who struggle for various reasons, be it poor academic foundations or difficult family circumstances. Your role will be to help them identify and overcome the things which hold them back, build their motivation and confidence and help them to be the very best that they can be, no matter what their starting point was.

8. You will also encounter students with special needs - some with physical disabilities, some on the autism spectrum, others with learning or intellectual disabilities. Teaching some of them may be challenging but these are the ones who need you most. Here you will have to go the extra mile to reach and help them, accepting that each student is different and that you have to make the effort to really understand the student and customise your teaching strategies to him or her.

9. High functioning or with special needs, your duty is to help them all and, recognising that each has different strengths and talents, empower each and every one to realise their fullest potential.

10. In this, the greatest resource you will need to draw upon is compassion. No matter how many well-intentioned lesson plans you draw up, you might still find a student or two with whom you find difficult to connect. In those moments, do not to be discouraged but draw on compassion as a well of strength, and trust that over time, the small steps you take with a student, coupled with support from the school and a strong partnership with parents, will go a long way.

Education: A Partnership with Parents

11. This brings me to my next point, which is that the holistic development of a student is a shared responsibility between teachers and parents. Both want the same thing for our children - for them to grow as individuals and do well in life. Our children flourish and do best when schools and parents work hand in hand to support them. In recognition of that, MOE launched a set of Guidelines for School-Home Partnership earlier this year, meant to provide greater clarity on how schools and parents can work together.

12. In the course of your career, you will have many interactions with parents. These are opportunities to understand parents’ concerns about their child’s development, to engage them further and forge positive partnerships that bring out the best in the child and prepare him or her for the future. For example, some parents may be concerned that the reduction in school-based assessments makes it harder for them to gauge child’s learning progress and academic performance. This provides the opportunity to engage parents on how best to strike the right balance between academic grades and giving the child time to absorb and enjoy learning. Parent-teacher meetings provide opportunities to discuss the child’s overall growth and development not just in academic areas, but other equally important things like self-management, resilience, wellness and whether the child is happy or stressed. Work with the parents to help the child find the right balance.

13. I’d like to share with you this video which captures many of the things I have just spoken about. The video features Faith Huang, who teaches the English Language at Farrer Park Primary.

14. Three things which stand out in this video from a teaching perspective.

15. First, how Faith brought the subject to life. Taught in the way that she did, the subject was no longer abstract or theoretical. That’s what good teaching does - it makes a subject real and relatable.

16. Second, how her use of drama to teach the language and other complex concepts sparked curiosity in students and engendered a joy for learning. Again, that’s another hallmark of good teaching - the ability to convey the substance of the subject in a way that makes it enjoyable and evokes a desire to learn more.

17. Third, her compassion, perseverance and partnership with parents. Faith gave a candid account of the difficulty she had in getting through to a particular student. However, over time, her efforts paid off and this student gained the confidence to speak up in class. It was not known at the time, but this student suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which was only diagnosed later. What is not shown in the video is the concerted effort put in by Faith, together with other educators such as the Learning Support Coordinator, and the student’s parents to support the student. Faith regularly communicated with his parents to find out about his behaviour at home and worked with the student’s Learning Support Coordinator to understand him better. She engaged the student outside of the classroom to build rapport; she taught her students to respond encouragingly whenever someone spoke up in class and in so doing made the classroom a safe space for him to speak up. It was only after months of patient engagement and encouragement and the use of drama pedagogy, that she made a breakthrough with the once quiet student.

Preparing Students for Life

18. In the last few years of training at NIE, you have developed expertise in various fields of specialisation. This will stand you in good stead as you teach your students. However, as all teachers know education is so much more than the imparting of knowledge.

19. Your mission goes beyond preparing your student for exams. Your mission is to help prepare them for life.

20. Beyond academics you will have to anchor them in good values, strong morals, to be socially responsible and good citizens. To stand tall and be confident in themselves, yet always with a heart and empathy for others

21. In a fast-changing future where disruption is the uncomfortable norm, you will have to imbue them with a mental mindset to take change in their stride, and make lifelong learning, adaptability, resilience and growth their second nature.

22. In a world that is increasingly polarised, you will have to teach them how to navigate the extremes, to keep common spaces open so that honest and respectful discourse can be had and interactions kept calm even as people hold to different views and beliefs.

23. In the online world rife with news both true and false and saturated with conflicting views, you will have to help them to be discerning, to think objectively, to search out the facts, so that they can arrive at their own independent conclusions.

24. In our multi-racial and multi-religious society, and in the wider diverse world beyond our shores, you must teach them to seek out the commonalities that bring people together rather than the things that foment divisions.

25. As we tackle inequality and work to keep social stratification at bay, you must help them to reach out and make friends beyond their immediate circles and value each other for who we are, irrespective of background, because in this place that we call Home, we all belong.

26. These are tall orders and big asks but they are part and parcel of preparing our children for life ahead.

Professional Development

27. In all of this, you must pay attention to your own growth too.

28. Just as we want our students to do well, we want teachers to be able to gain depth and skills, and grow professionally. Rest assured that you will be supported in your professional development.

29. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) singled out Singapore as a country where “continuous professional development is ingrained in a school’s shared vision of professional learning”, in the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

30. Almost all new teachers have formal induction when they become full-fledged teachers. In fact, nearly all teachers participated in at least one professional development activity in a year. As you embark on this professional journey, I encourage you to keep updated with new developments in your own fields and in the teaching practice.

31. In conclusion, congratulations once again on your achievements, and a very warm welcome to the teaching fraternity. Just as we want our children to have the joy of learning, may I express my heartfelt wish that all of you will experience the joy of teaching!

32. Thank you.

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