Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at Virtual Dialogue Session with Newly Awarded Teaching Scholarship and Award Recipients, Via Zoom

Published Date: 21 August 2020 12:00 AM

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1. Mr Wong Siew Hoong, our Director-General of Education, scholars and award recipients, good afternoon, very good to see all of you. Let me start by congratulating all of you on receiving your scholarship and awards. We have 132 recipients this year, it is a bumper crop.

2. In normal circumstances in previous years we will have a large gathering, a big ceremony and give you the scholarships and awards face-to-face. Unfortunately, we are not able to do so this year but we are still very happy that you can join us this session and that so many of you have chosen to join the teaching fraternity.

3. Teaching is a very special calling – it is a demanding job. I recall my own experiences when I was a relief teacher. I did that for a short while after I finished my studies, before I started work. This was way back in the mid-90s, and I went back to teach at my old primary school before my Ministry work started. I discovered for myself how demanding it was - and this was in the mid-90s, compared to now where the students are likely to be more engaged, more active.

4. The demands of teaching have certainly increased even more due to COVID-19. At some point the crisis will be over, but I think the heightened consciousness over safety and health requirements for our staff and students will remain. Even after COVID-19, some of the new requirements that we have put in place are likely to continue. In particular, the push for Home-Based Learning (HBL). We would certainly like to push for more blended learning models to find innovative and new ways of enhancing the learning experiences of students. Even after COVID-19 is over, some of these things will become part of the new norms that we embrace for the teaching fraternity and for our students – new safety requirements and new forms of learning.

5. More importantly teaching is not just a matter of imparting knowledge from you to your students because you also have to engage the students and you have to motivate them to want to learn. If you are teaching very bright kids, then you need self-confidence to manage them, to take their questions which sometimes can be very difficult, and occasionally you may have to admit you don't know all the answers. If you are teaching more challenging students, then it's also demanding because beyond teaching, you need to become a counsellor and mentor to these students. Finally, you have to engage and build relationships with parents who may themselves have very strong views about how their children should be taught.

6. People do have many views about the education system in Singapore, some of you might also have your own views about the education system in Singapore but no matter what we do with the system - it's not a perfect system, we are constantly looking to fine-tune and improve the system - at the end of the day, it's the teachers who make the difference, who nurture, care and inspire. In other words, all of you on the frontlines are our greatest assets. As you go about this journey in becoming a teacher, mastering the skills for this new vocation, I'm sure you will equip yourself with a whole array of teaching techniques and methods. These are all very useful and important but please also remember that good teaching cannot be reduced to technique. It's not about the technical skills of teaching – good teaching comes from the identity and the integrity of teachers. Good teaching is about infusing your own identity and passion into your work, to be able to open your heart and connect with your students in the service of learning. That's why whenever we receive compliments from the public about our teachers, it's about who our teachers are, how much they care about their students, how much heart they put into their jobs, about their enthusiasm and passion they have for their subjects. These are the kind of compliments we receive, rather than about their technical abilities.

7. I share with you what I saw for myself growing up because my mom was a teacher, for a long time, for more than forty years, in Haig Boys School, which I incidentally did relief teaching at. It is now part of Tanjong Katong Primary School. She had a reputation for being one of the strictest teachers in the school, a strict disciplinarian – no nonsense type. You would have thought the students would have disliked her for being so strict but I think many of the students saw that she meant well and she cared deeply for them. From time to time, whenever my mom and I were out, she would still bump into someone she taught over the years and they would tell her how much they appreciated what she had done for them.

8. Even just recently, after I shared my story about my mother, a present teacher from one of our schools wrote to me a few days ago, and I quote, "I studied in Haig Boys School in 1978 and I was taught in Primary 6 by a teacher named Mrs Wong. Please convey to her my heartfelt thanks for her kindness when I was a student and let her know that she was an inspiration to me and one of the reasons why I joined the teaching force". This is how a teacher can truly make a difference and there are many other examples we receive in MOE – all tributes to teachers who one way or another have touched the hearts of their students and inspired them. The impact and legacy of what you do is truly long-lasting and it's this strong sense of purpose and mission that has helped MOE and our teaching fraternity navigate the current uncertain and challenging times, particularly over the recent months.

9. In short to become a teacher, you need great commitment. You will have to wear many hats and take on a wide range of responsibilities. There will be days where you feel that your efforts are not appreciated. There will be days where you feel disappointed and you will start to ask yourself, did I really choose this path for myself? Is this really what I wanted in life? You have to be prepared to go through some of these peaks and troughs in your journey as a teacher. Having this clear sense of purpose and mission is important to help you go the distance. Always remember and remind yourself why you chose this path, and that sense of purpose will help to keep you anchored and keep you going. Use that as a compass and guide for the road ahead. At the same time, I would encourage all of you to make the most of your time in university. This is probably one of the best times of your life – to go out, to explore, to learn as much as you can. Bring your ideas and diverse experiences back with you when you complete your studies. They will be valuable in helping us chart the way forward for our education system.

10. Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all 132 of you for your achievements, and welcome to the MOE fraternity. I look forward to seeing all of you in MOE after you have completed your studies. Thank you very much!

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