Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Education at the 2019 Teaching Scholarship Presentation Ceremony

Published Date: 01 August 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. It gives me great pleasure to be here today at the Teaching Scholarship Presentation Ceremony 2019. Let me begin by congratulating all 117 outstanding young people who will be receiving your Teaching Scholarship and Awards today.

Dr Ruth Wong, Pioneer Educationist and Teacher Extraordinaire

2. As we commemorate our Bicentennial, it is an opportune time to remember our pioneers, and the firm foundations that they laid on which we continue to build.

3. One such pioneer is the late Dr Ruth Wong Hie King, the first director of the Institute of Education, today known as the National Institute of Education (NIE). As a trailblazer in Education – Dr Wong was known not only for her innovative ideas but also for her courage in delivering on them. Under her leadership and advocacy with regard to the training of teachers in educational research, and tightening the nexus between research and practice, recognition for teachers grew, as they gained knowledge, skills and professional expertise.

4. Dr Wong herself was a skillful teacher with tremendous energy in the classroom. She once said: “a teacher who is not an inquirer is hardly likely to provide the right intellectual climate for pupils to ask constructive questions or develop critical ability.” That observation remains true today and as you begin your journey as a teacher, let me pose six questions for you to reflect on - What, Why, Who, Where, When and How.

Six Questions to Reflect on

What am I working for?

5. The first is “What”. What am I working for? This question gets to the heart of why you have chosen to take up this award today, or rather, why you have chosen to teach. It is a fundamental question you should continue to ask throughout your journey as a teacher, because it will keep you grounded and steadfast through all the challenges that this vocation may bring.

6. I use the word “vocation”, rather than “job” or “career” because teaching is so much more than a job or career – it is a calling, and one that requires a deep sense of mission as you take on the heavy responsibility of shaping the lives of young people under your charge. Given that the wealth of our nation lies in our people, your role in helping to shape the lives of your students will have a tremendous impact on moulding the future of our nation, and in determining the character and the spirit of Singapore in the next generation. Remember this, as you ask yourself, “What am I working for?”


7. The second question is “Why”. This is a question all children ask. But it is also the question that has driven all the progress that humankind has ever achieved. It is the question that led Galileo to discover that the earth revolved around the sun. That same question led Louis Pasteur to prove germ disease and paved the way to pasteurization which we all benefit from today.

8. This question will keep you curious and ever ready to learn. To role-model the joy of learning for your students, teachers must yourselves enjoy learning, and consider yourself a student amongst students. Your pursuit of university studies, should not be passive acquisition of content knowledge, but rather a joyous journey in cultivating a spirit of intellectual curiosity and an adventure in the quest for knowledge. Be inquisitive, ask bold questions, learn from those around you, and dare to ask why.

Who do I serve?

9. Third, “Who do I serve?” - a timely reminder that teachers work with people, and with people, relationships matter. So get to know the different students in your class not just by name, but learn their background, discern their learning styles, understand their strengths and passions and help them grow. Get to know the Artist, the Scientist, the Athlete, the Musician – listen to them speak, and gain their trust. As with all relationships, there is no magic formula. Building rapport requires time and commitment.

10. Some of your students will come from difficult and challenging backgrounds. They will need all the extra support and encouragement that you can give. Make full use of your time in the classroom and go the distance for such students, for those that have come before you have demonstrated that one teacher can make a world of difference.

11. Let me share one such story. There was a schoolboy whose family was struggling financially and he had no choice but to work part-time to supplement their income. Then, he lost hearing in his left ear due to a sudden illness. He might have been overcome by this major setback if not for the genuine care of his civics tutor, Mr Low Kian Seh, who took special care to motivate him. Ten years later, this schoolboy, Mr Lim Chuan Li, has become an educator himself, and he continues this mission of caring for and inculcating resilience in his students at Temasek Junior College. In fact, both Mr Low Kian Seh and Chuan Li are recipients of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award and their stories exemplify the long-lasting impact that good teachers have on their young charges.

Where do I go from here?

12. Fourth, “Where do I go from here?” Teaching is not a destination but a journey. That journey will bring its fair share of challenges - in those difficult times, do not give up. Be resilient, think flexibly and be quick to adapt to a dynamic, changing environment.

13. This is what Mr Matthew Ong did when he struggled to teach English to a boisterous class of boys from St. Andrew’s Junior School. Undeterred, Matthew came up with a brilliant game to capture their attention. In the next few weeks, his students were transported to a fascinating world of mystery and intrigue. The ultimate baddie, LetterPillar, was stealing words from the English language, along with evil fiends, like Nounsense and Punktuator, who messed up nouns and punctuation marks. It was up to the boys to save the day. Suddenly, Matthew’s students began to look forward to English lessons, and it was all because their teacher rose to the occasion and saw possibilities amidst challenges. For his creativity and willingness to try new teaching methods, Matthew was awarded the President’s Award for Teachers in 2018.

When should I stop?

14. Fifth, “When should I stop?”. This question may come as a surprise because one would expect that a teacher should always go beyond the call of duty. That is true, but up to a point. Drawing on the experience of teachers who have been in the service for many years, those who are in teaching for the long haul must learn to ask themselves this very question.

15. In all flight safety videos, passengers are instructed to put on their own oxygen mask before attending to others. Because, if you run out of oxygen, how will you be able to help others with putting on their mask? In the same way, before teachers can go the extra mile for their students, you must take care of your own well-being and consider how and when to rest, reflect and recharge.

16. As you embark on your university studies, countless exciting opportunities await you. But even as you dive into these, make sure to build in time for rest and reflection. Learning comes about not just from doing, but from thinking about what we do. Cultivating this habit of mind will put you in good stead for the hustle and bustle of life as a teacher.

How can we do it together?

17. The final question I have for you is “How can we do it together?” This question will remind you that you are not alone as an educator. First, you have been inducted into a fraternity that supports and cares for one another. In schools, Beginning Teachers will be assigned mentors, who can share their experience, give feedback and lend a listening ear. The people beside you here today will also form your community of care and marketplace of ideas and resources. Some of you will even become dear friends and future colleagues.

18. Second, a teacher is but one part of a larger ecosystem of support for students, and you must learn to tap on the assets that the community has to offer. It is not just about asking “What can I do?” but also “Who can I partner with?”, especially when you encounter students with challenging family issues.

19. Last year, MOE set up the “Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce” (UPLIFT), with the purpose of strengthening support for students from disadvantaged families, so they can reach their true education potential. A key area of work is strengthening partnerships between schools and the community, and in particular, harnessing the resources, ideas and passion of citizen volunteers to meet local needs.

20. I am delighted to know that there are many amongst you who are actively serving the community around you, and doing your part to pay it forward. One example is Miss Nur Diana Binte Ishak, who volunteers her time tutoring and mentoring underprivileged primary school children at Lakeside Family Services. As part of her Values-in-Action project as a student in Jurong Junior College, she worked with Fei Yue Community Services to organise outings and activities to engage disadvantaged families. Diana is a recipient of the Teaching Award this year and will be pursuing her undergraduate studies at the National Institute of Education, majoring in Malay Language.

21. I hope that many of you will continue to serve the community around you and deepen your understanding of the needs of the children you will come to serve as well as their families.


22. What am I working for?
      Who do I serve?
      Where do I go from here?
      When do I stop?
      How can we do it together?
      Let these six questions accompany you as you embark on your journey as a teacher.

23. Let me conclude with another quote by Dr Ruth Wong. She said “A teacher is not a pot-filler; he is a lighter of fires.” The awards you receive today signify the Ministry’s faith in your potential to become a good educator, one who will ignite in our children the passion and joy of learning, and who will teach with conviction and a sense of mission.

24. As you head off to university to pursue your undergraduate studies, strive to challenge yourself and graduate with distinction, but at the same time, remember in your heart the vocation you have chosen and the students you will eventually come to serve.

25. I wish all of you the very best.

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