Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the NIE’s Teachers' Investiture Ceremony (Online) on 4 February 2021

Published Date: 04 February 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Lai Chung Han, Chairman, NIE Council,
Professor Christine Goh, NIE Director, 
Mr Wong Siew Hoong, Director-General of Education,
Distinguished Guests,
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am very happy to join all of you for the Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony. Today we celebrate the start of your professional journey as educators. My heartiest congratulations go out to the Class of 2020, and to all 951 teachers who completed your studies with NIE last year. 

2. In fact, we were unable to have this ceremony last year, so I’m very glad that we are able to do so this time. It’s being conducted in a virtual format so it’s not quite the same as before. But I think we are always grateful for small blessings, and this online investiture ceremony is something that we can all be grateful for.

3. All of you come from different programmes. We have students who have completed a 4-year degree programme at NIE, we have many who have completed your Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and a number of who have completed your 1 to 2 year diploma programmes, including that in Special Education and School Counselling. 
 
4. While all of you have joined NIE at different times, you will all have the common experience of entering our schools at an unprecedented time. I hope you have gained useful lessons and also forged close friendships over the past year.

5. I know it hasn’t been an easy journey. For some of you, you have been impacted by COVID-19 in your own lives, your studies may have been disrupted and you’ve also had to adjust to home base learning. So I want to recognise your grit and determination in completing your studies. For example, one of your graduates today, Ms Adelina Lee, who is a graduate from the Diploma in Special Education programme, had to go through quite a tough journey. She had to juggle between her NIE studies while caring for her four children, some of whom have special needs, and doing all these while her husband was out-stationed for a project. I believe that this determination and resilience is an inspiring example for all of us. And kudos too to her tutors and course mates who supported her along the way.

6. I would also like to take this chance to congratulate all our award winners. One of their stories stood out to me. Ms Jermayne Wong was initially enrolled in the Diploma course in NIE. Her two years of hard work was recognised when she was offered a chance to transfer to the Bachelor of Science (Ed) programme. Her tenacity has also led her to be the recipient of two book prize awards today. Jermayne has shown that one’s academic achievement at a particular point in life does not limit what we are capable of in the future. I hope that all of you will all remember this as you interact with your students. Your belief in them will mean the world to every child. 

7. For all of us, COVID-19 has underscored the importance of preparing our children for a more uncertain and volatile future. We know that education is not just about equipping them with academic knowledge to pass examinations. More importantly, it’s about instilling competencies and values in our young – to guide them through life, and to enable them to become self-directed lifelong learners. I recently visited NIE some months ago and one of the NIE professors shared with me, that in NIE, you prepare teachers to be teachers, not of subjects, but teachers of learners. In other words, you are not just an English, Math, Science or Mother Tongue teacher, you are a teacher of the whole person.

8. We see the importance of such a holistic approach during the Circuit Breaker. Schools were closed and students had to adapt to new routines and new ways of learning. This was not easy, and for many, it was a test of their discipline, self-confidence and problem-solving skills. But our students learnt self-management along the way and they grew more self-directed and resilient during this crisis. So we must continue to encourage and develop such qualities amongst our students. And as teachers, you play an instrumental role in this endeavour. 

9. I’m very glad that our teachers have used a full range of innovative lessons to encourage such self-directed learning. One example is Ms Mitchelle Ang, a beginning teacher who was teaching narrative writing to her Secondary 2 class. She saw that her students loved to write, and encouraged them to create their own e-magazine to showcase their best stories. The students took ownership of the project. They curated, edited and did the layout for the magazine online. They created a publication they were proud of and shared this with their peers. This is one example of how supportive teachers and access to technology contribute to the joy of learning and can galvanise our students into action.

10. Our teachers are also very good at seizing teachable moments to impart values, and we saw many examples of this last year. Many schools helped their students to internalise lessons from the pandemic and encouraged them to connect with and help those who were in need. In Bukit View Secondary School, for example, the students tried to lift the spirits of migrant workers who were relocated to their neighbourhood through a series of creative virtual performances as they believed the arts would be a way to bridge the language barrier. 
In many other schools, students penned appreciation notes for the frontline workers and donated welfare packs for the needy to show their support. 

11. These are valuable teaching moments where our students engage with contemporary issues and try to contribute solutions in support of their wider community. We will continue to identify these opportunities for learning through our Character and Citizenship Education. I believe all of you are aware that we have just updated the CCE curriculum and it is being rolled out this year. The new curriculum will have greater emphasis on values, to develop students who care for their fellow citizens and the community. It will also cover salient and contemporary issues like cyber wellness and mental health. We want CCE to be fully integrated in school activities and lessons, so it should not just be a standalone subject, but it should be part of the daily life of students, so that they can see how values can be applied in different contexts. 

12. So in short, going back to what the professor had shared with me earlier,  every teacher is not just a subject teacher, but you are also a 21st century competencies and you are a teacher of citizenship and character. And by doing so, you are grounding our students with the values and competencies that will put them in good stead to thrive in an uncertain future. 

13. I know to do all of these things is not easy. These are very demanding challenges and I will make no pretence of it. Teaching is a very demanding job. My mother was a teacher and I grew up seeing how hard she had to work. I think it’s much harder now than it used to be. This is because kids these days won’t just sit down and listen to everything you say. You need to get their attention and you need to be able to motivate them to learn. For some groups, you need to spend more time advising, counselling and even mentoring them.

14. I would also like to express my deepest appreciation for those who are in special education and counselling. These are areas which require specialised competencies. They are challenging work but they are also very important and meaningful work and we are grateful that you have chosen this path. 

15. To all our educators, I want to assure you that at MOE, we will give you our full support, and help you to the best of our abilities. It may seem daunting to take your first steps in the education sector. But you are not alone in this journey because we will be there with you all the way.  

16. Ultimately, teaching is a special calling. As one of our graduands today Mr Kishan Kannan said, anyone can be an expert at a subject, but not everyone has the calling to be a teacher. All of you have been called to this path of being an educator and teacher. So you should never lose sight of your core values as an educator, and all of the reasons why you decided to take up this special calling. No doubt, being an educator is not easy, but it is also rewarding and there are benefits. 

17. One of my mentors in the public service Mr Lim Siong Guan used to say that teachers are virtually the only ones amongst all the professions who have found the secret to happiness in life. Why is that so? This is because if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the highest need amongst humans is not self-actualisation, it is transcendence. Transcendence comes from helping other people become the best that they can be. And that is what teachers do on a daily basis – you help every child to be the best that they can possibly be. The more your students succeed in life, the happier you will be 

18. So always remember, teaching may be challenging and demanding, but it is also highly rewarding, and it is perhaps the key to unlocking transcendence and happiness in life.  On that note, I thank you for answering the call to make a difference to young lives and wish you every success in your teaching careers.

19. Thank you.
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