Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the NIE Leaders in Education Programme Graduation Ceremony, at National Institute of Education

Published Date: 04 December 2020 02:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Lai Chung Han, Chairperson, NIE Council,
Professor Christine Goh, Director, NIE
Mr Wong Siew Hoong, Director-General of Education
Professor Subra Suresh, President, NTU
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Afternoon.

1. I'm very happy to join you this afternoon for the graduation ceremony of the Leaders in Education Programme (LEP). My heartiest congratulations to the 31 graduands. I know it's a different experience this year. You undertook your programme under very difficult circumstances. You could not go overseas and many of your modules would have been done over Zoom and virtual dialogues. But you can take pride in being the COVID-19 LEP graduands – and wear it as a badge of honour.

2. The LEP programme is a milestone for educators leading our schools.

  1. Over the past 7 months, you would have gained insights and exposure to different views of what it means to be a leader in education.

  2. I trust that this has not only broadened your thinking, but also broadened your vision.

  3. Today we celebrate the lessons learnt, and the start of a new phase of your leadership journey.


3. We all know that teaching is a special calling

  1. Sometimes you will hear people say that teachers are only focussed on teaching the contents of the curriculum, and they just want their students to do well in their exams.

  2. I think that is a very narrow view. It is certainly an over-generalisation and, in many ways, an unfair caricature of our system and the work our teachers do.

  3. All of our teachers, I believe, embrace the broader mission of education, which is much more than teaching to the exam. It is to nurture the joy of learning in our children; to imbue in them the spirit of inquiry and that ruggedness of character, so that they can continue learning through life, and meet any future challenges with confidence. I heard from my NIE colleagues just now, that teachers are teachers of learners, not subjects. That is what all our teachers do. You are not just teaching to a subject, you are helping our students grow to be effective lifelong learners.

4. That is very important work. To help our teachers uphold this mission, we need a select group of people amongst our educators who are not just educators but also leaders.

  1. Our school leaders represent the values we stand for as an education fraternity, and help drive the changes in our schools and in our education system.

  2. This is a challenging and complex task. Our schools and society are becoming more diverse, and our needs have grown significantly over the years.

  3. We need decisive and visionary leaders with the strong sense of conviction in our goals in education, and the wisdom and empathy to manage stakeholders and their expectations. They need to be able to drive change in our education system.

5. Not everyone will be called, or will want to take on such leadership roles

  1. Many of you know that my mother was a primary school teacher years ago. She told me she was once offered the chance to be a Vice-Principal. But she turned it down as she did not think that was for her and she preferred to stick to teaching.

  2. I know many educators might feel similarly because teaching is their passion. That's OK. And we now have the teaching track for those keen on furthering their expertise in pedagogy and developing better lessons and practices in the classroom.

6. But for those who have the ability and aptitude to lead, we want you to step forward and make your mark

  1. We will equip you, as we are doing through the LEP, empower you, and support you in your leadership roles.

  2. In turn, we hope you will take your leadership responsibilities seriously, and be our catalysts for change.


7. These are exciting times to be a leader in education. Our education reforms are underway, and many changes are afoot in our education system – to better support our students and prepare them for the future.

  1. We are transforming the way we teach and learn.

    1. COVID-19 has already brought about changes. It has motivated all of us in the education fraternity to accelerate the move towards digital learning, and see how we can mainstream blended learning to encourage greater self-directed learning.

  2. We are doing more to go beyond book knowledge and to emphasize 21st century competencies (21CC). This is something we are already doing, but we are making an even bigger push next year.

    1. We want every teacher to take this as seriously as they do their subjects; so every teacher is a 21CC teacher.

    2. We are also making curriculum changes so CCE will be integrated in school activities and lessons, and will be expanded to cover salient and contemporary issues like cyber wellness and mental health.

8. There are also several significant structural changes we are making to ensure our education system remains on course to develop motivated learners and help each of them reach their full potential.

  1. Many of you know that the new PSLE scoring system will kick in next year.

  2. Full Subject-Based Banding is also being progressively implemented in our secondary schools, and will give students the opportunity to pursue subjects at a pace suited to their strengths and interests. This is a massive change. I have visited some schools piloting this, and the changes they have to put in place in terms of scheduling and class organisation is quite complex.

  3. Major re-organisation will be needed across all our secondary schools.

9. As we go about this work, we must continue to ensure that education remains an effective social leveller and help to uplift our students.

  1. We are committed to doing more to tackle social inequalities.

  2. School leaders and teachers know that students come from very diverse backgrounds.

    1. Some have excellent home support and come into our system already highly motivated to learn. Their parents are very motivated for their children to learn as well.

    2. Others may come from challenging home environments; they may not do so well in school, and may even lack motivation to learn.

  3. There is a diverse range of students and we must understand and address the diversity in our midst. We need to do everything we can to support those who need more help.

  4. That is why MOE has been taking the approach of needs-based resourcing, where we will provide more resources to schools with a higher proportion of students who need help. We will continue with this approach and help principals leading schools with a higher proportion of these students, so that they get extra support and resources, and empower them to implement appropriate programmes to help these students.


10. Implementing these changes well is crucial. Leadership matters greatly. That's why all of the LEP graduands play such an important role.

  1. Your actions will make all the difference between a sluggish education system and one that keeps on moving forward.

  2. Your actions will determine our ability to continue transforming our system to bring out the best in every child. I hope you will help us to continue pushing the education system and make it even better.

11. I believe our graduands have found the time spent at LEP instructive and rejuvenating, with this protected time to reflect and focus on your learning.

  1. You had the chance to be mentored by veteran principals who are a treasure trove of knowledge and experience.

  2. I hope you are energised by the new perspectives you have gained, and ready to join us in the pursuit of new possibilities and opportunities for our students.

12. This is not the end, but rather the beginning, of your leadership journey.

  1. Keep on learning to be better leaders.

  2. There's no clear roadmap for this; everyone develops in their own way as leaders. People have different styles of leadership, and this cannot be copied.

  3. But remember: leadership is not just about knowing what to do; it's also about getting people to want to do the right thing.

  4. This is the most difficult part of leadership. It doesn't come from barking orders from on high.

    1. You need to build confidence and trust.

    2. You need to have words that are aligned with actions, and with values and vision in a consistent manner.

    3. You need to get people involved in the decision-making process, and feel a sense of shared ownership. That is when change happens, when people believe in the same shared goals, and move forward in the same direction.

    4. So be open to feedback and be humble, because there is always so much we can do to become better leaders.

13. So go forth and lead with courage and conviction – be prepared to make bold changes that you believe in, and get everyone on board the process.

  1. Recognise that the signals you send to the ground are important. You may not realise it, but people are observing you.

  2. The teachers you lead will be able to tell, and will feel motivated and supported when they can see that there's a good leader in charge who cares for their wellbeing, and they will want to charge forward together with you.

14. Finally, my appreciation to NIE and the Centre for Educational Leadership under MOE's Schools Division, for developing this thoughtful programme to help our school leaders make sense of the link between theory, policy and practice.

15. Congratulations once again to all our graduands on successfully completing the LEP. I look forward to your contributions, and to working with all of you in the days ahead. Thank you.

Share this article: