Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the ITE Graduation Ceremony, ITE College Central

Published Date: 17 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Bob Tan, Chairman, ITE

Ms Low Khah Gek, CEO, ITE

Your Excellencies

Members of the ITE Board of Governors, Staff, Alumni

Colleagues, Parents, Graduands,

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. To all graduands here today, congratulations on completing an important milestone in your life and education journey. Let’s take a moment, to thank the teachers and staff of ITE, and also your parents and loved ones for their care and support.

2. For the past four years, I have made it a point to attend ITE’s graduation ceremony. This is because ITE is a vital part of our education system. The Government’s investment in ITE students is growing – from $260 million in 2009, to $400 million last year. And ITE’s mission is very clear – it helps you to discover your interest and passions, develop your skills, and puts you on a lifelong journey to master your skills.

3. Recently, I read news with some delight. An alumnus of ITE, Mr Nicholas Chan, was admitted to NUS Yong Loo Lin Medical School. The media covered it quite extensively. Great credit goes to the Medical School for its enlightened admission approach. I read another story in the papers featuring Mr Kawal Pal Singh, a former EM3 and ITE student who went on to Law School, started a legal career, and is now a partner in a law firm.

4. I am sure we are all very happy for Nicholas and Kawal, and I am also very confident that in time to come, many more ITE students will go onto an academic or professional track and do well. But I am also mindful that these students may not be reflective of the majority. At ITE, the majority of you are trained in skills, are good in skills, and will more likely pursue your careers in that direction, rather than the academic or professional tracks.

5. Here I share another two stories, which may be familiar to many in the audience. In a few weeks’ time, the WorldSkills Competition, which is like the World Cup of skills, will begin in the city of Kazan in Russia. Singapore has been able to do well in this international arena, notwithstanding our small size and population. Our contingent is dominated by students from ITE and Polytechnics. This year, we have 6 participants from ITE, out of a total of 35. I will be flying over to Kazan to support them, and regardless of the results, I am going to be very proud of them.

6. Mr Koh Han Jie won a Medallion for Excellence in the 2013 competition. He attained a Nitec in Western Culinary Arts, and went on to do a Technical Diploma in the same field. He then became the first intern at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, became a Chef de Partie at Les Amis, and is now a Head Chef at El Fuego at the Jewel at Changi Airport. From ITE, he pursued the skills, got better and is now serving the world.

7. Ms Siti Mariani, who also pursued the skills path, graduated in 2014 with a Nitec in Aerospace Technology. She went on to do an Earn and Learn programme in Aerospace, got herself trained in various aircraft engine types. Now she is working for Rolls Royce Seletar Engine Assembly and Testing Unit as an inspector.

8. There are many examples. I meet so many ITE graduates working in hospitals. You start as Enrolled Nurses, and many went on to upgrade to become Registered or Staff Nurses a few years later. I also have met many ITE graduates who used these skills to start their own businesses, in design, floristry, fashion, beauty, F&B etc. What they have achieved, I think, are what the great majority of ITE graduates can achieve.

9. And we will continue to support ITE students in such skills based paths, especially when we describe skills development as a lifelong journey. No single grade point average (GPA) is going to determine your life. The key is to make sure that beyond ITE, you continue to learn and improve your skills. And we do not have to frontload all your training and education before you start work, because that is not how skills acquisition and skills mastery work. You start work first, practice, gain experience, and then go through formal training, and restart that process cycle again.

10. We have already made many changes to support this. We now have Early Admission Exercises implemented across the polytechnics and ITE that look at the specific talent, aptitude and passion of the applicants, instead of their examination scores. For skills training, aptitude matters a lot more.

11. Since 2018, ITE started to issue its own diploma – the Work-Learn Technical Diploma which is now rebranded into the Work Study Diploma. It is apprenticeship based, and the most practice-based diploma in the market today. We have started 14 courses so far, and I am sure that ITE will be adding more in time to come.

12. We are also adding many more modular courses for Singaporeans to upgrade their skills. They are offered at ITE, Polytechnics, Universities, private training centres, ranging from culinary, robotics, service excellence to cyber security, coding and data science.

13. Last year, we also opened the doors wider for working adults into ITE and Polytechnics. So working adults who want to upgrade their skills can come back to school either full-time or part-time. In every ITE graduation, I will see working adults amongst you. Some are university graduates coming back to ITE to learn a new skill to do their jobs better.

14. This also means that for ITE students who did not attain the requisite GPA to further their studies at Polytechnics, you can always work first, accumulate good experience, and reapply to Polytechnics later on. They will consider your work experience and demonstrated abilities, and not just your previous academic results.

15. I met one such student at the Singapore Polytechnic café the other day. His name is Jerome Tan, 27 years old, and doing a Diploma in Optometry. He was an ITE graduate in Business Administration. His family runs an optometry business, so after National Service, he applied for the course in Optometry at SP, but did not succeed. So he started work with his family business anyway and that went on for a few years. But one day, he heard the news from his brother via the radio that polytechnics now welcome adult learners, so he decided to try again. And this time he was accepted after an interview. What has changed? Not his GPA from ITE, but his working experience, and that he could show he was serious about doing optometry, has the passion, and is already in the business. Based on these considerations, SP accepted him.

16. So at this graduation ceremony, I only have one advice for our graduands and all our ITE students. Build upon the skills that ITE has given you. You have your whole life to do this. It may not be straight forward. There will be bumps and obstacles, but that is what life is about and what makes life exciting.

17. So I hope you will value what you have today, and use it as a foundation to build it up. Whenever we run an admission exercise I will get hundreds of appeals from parents and students. We are going through a Primary One admission exercise now, so it is a Primary One appeal season for me.

18. The interesting thing about appeals is: for every appeal of a student disappointed that he got allocated to a particular school or institution and want to go somewhere else, another is appealing to enter the same school or institution. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Many polytechnic students appeal to MOE hoping to secure a place in University, yet so many students appeal to get into Polytechnics. And every year I will also get a handful of appeals for students who for whatever reason missed out on their education, and wish to enrol into ITE.

19. We always wish for the better, and may forget what we have in front of us is very valuable. We have friends, we have teachers that are going all out to help us, and a system that supports us to continuously learn and become better.

20. So your graduation from ITE marks the start of a new exciting journey. Make use of it. Whatever you do, do it with gusto and passion. Chart your success. We must put our talents and skills to serve others, provide for our families, contribute to society, and make our home a better place. As I said last year, ultimately, what we are good at doing, and what we do with our expertise, define who we are. I wish you all the best. Thank you.

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