Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Opening Ceremony of the National School Games

Published Date: 21 January 2020 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Tony Low
Chairman, Singapore Schools Sports Council

Mrs Lee Hui Feng
Chairman, Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council

Principals, Teachers, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

1. I am delighted to join you at this year's National School Games (NSG) Opening Ceremony, to mark the official start of the school sports season for our students in 2020.

2. Our schools have planned and organised inter-school competitions for our students for the past 60 years. During that time, NSG has grown. Today, it features 29 sports, 400 championships across ten divisions, with 60,000 student participants annually. During the peak season, there will be more than 70 competitions played across the island each day.

3. I thank all our educators and partners for your commitment to sports, and your tireless efforts to innovate and improve the NSG.

4. Sports is an integral part of education. As the education system continues to improve and evolve to suit the times and to better prepare our students for the future, so should the NSG.

5. We want more students to have the opportunity to participate in sports competition, and represent their schools, through which they will develop character and values. We want to conduct the competition in a format that is developmentally appropriate for students of various ages. Competition should emphasise sportsmanship and encourage perseverance and improvement, and not winning at all cost.

Changes to the NSG

6. Today, I will talk about the changes to NSG, and efforts to improve infrastructure for sports in schools.

Higher Participation

7. The first change to the NSG is more participation. This has been implemented in 2019 under the Junior Division Review. For example, we changed the Table Tennis competition from a team to an individual event format. With the change, schools with fewer than eight players, which was the number previously needed to form a team to play, can now field their students individually at the competition, and all of them will get a chance to participate. As a result, 167 more Junior paddlers were able to participate and play at the NSG last year, as compared to the year before.

More Play

8. Second, we also want to encourage more play for participants. Hence, since 2019, secondary school football teams are tiered according to ability and play-off in multiple league competitions. This is not unfamiliar to many of us. Like the Premier League, the Second Division, the Third Division and so on, we are adopting the same format. This has allowed more teams to play more matches throughout the season. Students are also more motivated to compete, as they are grouped with others of similar ability in the same league.

Greater Recognition

9. Third, for young participants, we also want greater recognition. At their age, it is more appropriate to give affirmation for their hard work and achievement, as opposed to telling them "too bad, no matter how hard you have trained, if you don't come in the top three, there will be no recognition or medal for you".

10. The tiered competition has helped. Last year, the NSG accorded five C Division tiered champions and five B Division tiered champions, each a winner at their respective football leagues. And for individual sports at the primary school level, we awarded up to eight prizes – a Gold, a Silver, and six bronzes, to accord greater recognition to our young athletes.

Wider Options

11. Fifth, we want to present wider options to students to cater to the diverse CCA interests and talents of students. This is not quite related to the NSG, but a very important effort.

12. The traditional way to do this is to offer more CCA options in school. But there is a limit to doing so, and more options in school also mean it is harder for each CCA to have a critical number of participants. So there is a challenge there. This is really the reason schools conduct selection trials for CCAs – so as to spread students across CCAs to make them sustainable. So ironically, more options can actually lead to fewer choices for students.

13. We will therefore need to think outside the box, and offer wider options through other means. For one, MOE is collaborating with MCCY to offer centrally run CCAs for secondary schools, called the Strategic Partnership CCA Programme. Under the Programme, strategic partners such as Sports Singapore or the National Arts Council will establish non-school based CCAs, especially when there is insufficient critical mass to establish such CCAs within the school.

14. For example, if there is a small number of students in School A who are keen on Athletics, but School A cannot offer it, the students may be able to sign up for Athletics sessions at ActiveSG Home of Athletics. The added advantage of the Programme is that students get to interact with peers from other schools and of different backgrounds. For a start, MOE is piloting Strategic Partnership CCA for Athletics and Ethnic Dance.

15. Besides Strategic Partnership CCAs, MOE will also be working with a few primary schools to implement an alternate CCA model. We call it the no-trial CCA model. Instead of offering many CCA options with selection trials, these schools will offer fewer options, but with no selection trials and guaranteed admission for primary school students into the CCAs of their choice. Over time, these schools may differentiate themselves with their niche CCA offerings, where students deliver strong performances.

Closer Collaboration

16. Sixth, we want to forge closer collaboration between schools on CCAs. MOE has therefore made provisions to support inter-school CCA collaborations. Two schools can run a CCA programme together, and where appropriate, form a combined team to participate in inter-school competitions or ad-hoc interschool events.

17. For example, when Anglo-Chinese School Barker Road and Queensway Secondary School came together to run Hockey practice, they simply wanted their students to be able to play the sport of their choice and make friends from another school. Little did they expect that the students ended up competing as one combined team at the NSG. Today, while each side has enough players to form their own teams, they continue to train together every week, and they plan to continue competing together at the NSG.

Enhancements to Schools' Facilities

18. Other than changing the formats of CCAs and the NSG, we are also committed to create a conducive physical environment for students to participate actively in sports and play. Hence, MOE will also be enhancing school facilities for Physical Education (PE), Sports and Outdoor Education.

19. Facilities can make a big difference to sports performance. Let me give you an example. The improvement in the standard of Iceland football has caught the world's attention. It is a small country of 360,000 people, close to the North pole with long, cold and dark winters. Notwithstanding, Iceland wanted to play football at the global stage. Over a few years, they improved impressively, and progressed to the quarter-final stage in Euro 2016. Today, their world ranking is 39 for the men's team and 18 for the women's team.

20. This is quite phenomenal. So, what are the reasons? I read an interview given by the men's football team coach, and he said that there were many factors which led to the improvement in Iceland's football standard, among which, one important contribution was their facilities. They built indoor football halls with artificial pitches. With that, Iceland practically doubled the time they could play and practice, and they were no longer held hostage by the long, cold and dark winters.

21. Singapore too faces similar challenges with our weather. It is either too hot, too sunny, raining or the lightning alert is on. That restricted the hours of play in school. To mitigate these problems, MOE will be providing shelters for outdoor play courts at more than 40 schools that currently lack covered play areas.

22. In the coming years, we will also lay acrylic coating over existing cement screed outdoor play courts and build additional basketball shooting boards for all schools, to enhance the facilities for physical activities and sports in schools.

23. Wherever feasible, we will enlarge the playgrounds for primary schools and MOE Kindergartens. Over the next five years, ten primary schools and 16 MOE Kindergartens will benefit from this initiative.

Conclusion

24. From the rigour of practice, to the intensity of competition and rich interaction, sports lend itself naturally to inculcating values and developing character. Each competition and each CCA experience is a lesson in character building, providing valuable learning opportunities beyond the classroom. This summative experience plays a big part in the holistic learning and character education that we envision for our students.

25. I wish all our student athletes a fruitful NSG. Play hard, play clean, make friends and live the spirit of the Games!

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