MOE FY2021 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Minister for Education Lawrence Wong

Published Date: 03 March 2021 09:30 PM

News Speeches

Learn for Life: Equipping Ourselves for a Changing World

Mr Chairman

1. Much has been said about the wide-reaching impact of COVID-19. It has forced us to question assumptions we have long taken for granted and it has changed the way we live, work, study and play.

2. In many countries, the impact has been felt sharply by students. Schools have been closed for months; some students have not seen their teachers face to face for more than a year. Worse, the issue has been politicised in some places, creating sharp divisions between parents, teachers and even teacher unions. Many worry that this will impact a whole generation of children – not just struggling to keep up in their studies, but also finding it difficult later to catch up in their skills, job prospects and incomes.

3. Fortunately, this has not happened in Singapore. We had to close schools and move to full home-based learning for a month during the Circuit Breaker. But for the most part we have been able to keep schools open, and ensure learning continues seamlessly. For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to all our educators for their hard work and sacrifices; their ability to adapt and respond quickly; and their dedication to keep our schools and students safe. So I'd like to put on record in this House my thanks to all our educators in Singapore.

4. Beyond the immediate impact it has had on our schools, COVID-19 has added greater urgency to our "Learn for Life" movement, and crystallised what our priorities are moving forward. As Ms Denise Phua said, it has given us an opportunity to re-imagine what our education system could be like in a post-COVID world, and I assure her that is something we are committed to doing. We are not constrained by legacy thinking or existing ways of doing things. No programme or structure in our education system is beyond scrutiny or re-examination. We may put back the stone after turning it over, and there well may be good reasons for the stone to be there, but we will continue to pick it up again and again, and we will take a closer look from time to time.

5. In fact since joining MOE, the question I've been asked the most is: what can I do to better prepare for a more uncertain, turbulent and volatile future? And I think many young people and their parents hope for some guidance on what course of study would give them a head-start. But in fact, there is no "right" or "ideal" subject to choose.

6. Whatever a student studies in school, the content knowledge will need to be constantly refreshed and updated throughout their careers. For example, many young people today want to learn how to code and that's a good thing. Today many learn Python. A few years later, they will have to confront new apps, devices, and programming languages. So students have to be prepared to constantly upgrade themselves, and take on multiple jobs throughout their lifetimes. In fact, some of the jobs they will do in the future may not even exist today.

7. In such a world, what is more important is the ability to learn how to learn – to keep on learning and re-learning, and to enjoy doing so. We want our students to read widely, ask critical questions, analyse data, formulate ideas, and to communicate well. Most of all, we want them to be curious, to enjoy the learning adventure enough to do this repeatedly throughout life, discovering new wonders each time.

8. That is why we have been making bold changes in our education system – to move away from the over-emphasis on grades and exam results and to nurture a generation of students who enjoy learning and are not bogged down by chasing every last mark.

9. As Mr Patrick Tay said just now, we want our system to be ready, relevant, and resilient. So we continue to improve, to learn from other systems, and to try out new approaches. Whatever changes we make, we do so carefully and thoughtfully, not just blindly copying others, but making sure there are genuine benefits and value.

10. Today, let me share about three of MOE's priorities over the coming years. First, to equip our students with competencies and skills beyond book knowledge. Second, to support learning through multiple diverse pathways and throughout life. Third, to uplift our students, and ensure they develop to their fullest potential, regardless of starting point.

Developing Key Competencies for the Future

11. Let me start with how we are developing in our students a broader set of foundational skills and core competencies needed to thrive in today's fast-changing world.

12. This is something several members spoke about earlier, including Ms Denise Phua, Mr Leon Perera and Ms Hazel Poa, and I agree with them that it's important to develop these skills. The competencies that matter for success in the real world go well beyond academic abilities. They include skills like effective communication and teamwork, creativity and innovation, curiosity, resilience and grit.

13. We often call these 21st Century Competencies, or 21CCs, and we are committed to strengthening the teaching of such life skills across our education system. It is not so easy to test or develop KPIs for such skills; the outcomes are not always easily measured, and must be observed over time.

14. So we take a practical approach. In schools, our teachers actively look out for these traits in our students. We also participate in international benchmarking studies. What's encouraging is that our students do out-perform their peers in some areas like cross-cultural skills and dispositions, and collaborative problem solving. Of course there's also room to improve in other areas like adapting to new challenges, and the preparedness to embrace failure. We have made progress, but there are some areas where we can do better, and we will continue to do more to emphasise 21CCs throughout the entire education journey.

Character and Citizenship Education

15. In schools, one important approach is through Character and Citizenship Education (CCE). We are progressively rolling out a new curriculum for CCE that will equip our students with the competencies to be more future-ready.

16. The revised curriculum will further anchor our students on strong values, teach them to appreciate diverse perspectives, strengthen their mental resilience, and make them more cyber-savvy. CCE will not just be delivered through dedicated lessons, but it will also be interwoven more deliberately throughout school lessons and activities, as part of the everyday school experience. MOS Sun will provide more details later in her speech.

Blended Learning

17. We are also learning from our experience with Home-Based Learning (HBL), and are incorporating Blended Learning strategies in schools – where students learn not just in classrooms, but also at their own pace at home, enabled by technology.

18. In particular, we will schedule HBL as a regular feature of the curriculum. We will introduce around 2 days of HBL a month in secondary schools, and it can be slightly more for pre-university. That's between 10% to 20% of curriculum time depending on the level – so it's a meaningful and important part of the curriculum. And every secondary school student will own a Personal Learning Device – laptop or tablet – to support Blended Learning by the end of the year.

19. The key motivation for doing this is to give our students more flexibility to chart their own learning, and to equip them with important skills like initiative, discipline and self-management.

20. Besides curriculum coverage, HBL days will also include dedicated time for student-initiated learning, where students can explore areas of personal interest outside the curriculum, like learning a foreign language or musical instrument. We hope this will fuel our students' intrinsic motivation to learn, and help them discover their interests and passions.

21. Beyond HBL and Blended Learning, our teachers are also transforming the in-class learning experience to be more inquiry-based and experiential. Last week, I visited Lakeside Primary School, which is piloting the use of immersive technology to enhance learning. I joined a Primary 5 class for their science lesson on the human respiratory system – very relevant in the pandemic. We put on virtual reality (VR) goggles, and examined a pair of lungs up close in a VR environment and learned about how the lungs function. It was wonderful to see how engaged the students were – they were enjoying themselves, they were curious and asking many questions, and excited about learning.

22. That's just one example of the kind of holistic teaching and learning that our schools are engaged in today. We will continue to find new ways to ignite our students' curiosity, and support their development into self-directed and passionate life-long learners.

Holistic and Interdisciplinary Learning at IHLs

23. Besides schools, the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) are also looking at more holistic education outcomes, something which Mr Darryl David spoke passionately about. They are fundamentally re-thinking existing structures and methods to better meet today's demands. They are also sharpening their focus on the inculcation of life skills that are important across all disciplines.

24. For example, IHLs are putting greater emphasis on experiential learning through projects outside the classroom. Such applied and hands-on experiences help to impart valuable skills like teamwork and negotiation. Often, industry partners are brought on board, giving our students valuable exposure in tackling real-world issues.

25. Another important change is the expansion of interdisciplinary learning in our IHLs' curriculum. This builds on the broad-based education provided in our schools, where our students are exposed to a wide range of subjects. We recognise that some of the best thinking happens when different fields, ideas and disciplines intersect. And that is why it is important to expose students to different ways of thinking to develop hybrid skills as Ms Phua highlighted just now; it is similar to how an athlete does cross-training to exercise different key muscle groups. So interdisciplinary learning is something that is happening across our IHLs.

26. These systematic changes are being made at the Autonomous Universities (AUs) and polytechnics. For example, the universities are enhancing the common curricula for their undergraduates, to equip them with core skills and multi-disciplinary knowledge, and give students more room to pursue electives that they enjoy. As students start specializing in particular disciplines, they will also be given greater flexibility to pursue double degrees, double majors, minors and electives. Likewise, similar shifts are being made in the polytechnics, where students will be exposed to a greater breadth of learning and modules.

Strengthening Educator Competencies

27. When it comes to teaching and learning outcomes, our educators are at the forefront of all our efforts. They too believe strongly in developing students holistically, and in nurturing key values and competencies.

28. MOE will do more to support our teachers in this important work.

29. First, to strengthen our educators' skills in CCE, we will establish a new Centre for CCE at the National Institute of Education. This centre will work with schools to strengthen CCE learning, conduct relevant research, and provide thought leadership. Our goal is for every teacher to be a CCE teacher, and we will provide them full support to achieve this.

30. Second, we will launch a new Centre for Teaching and Learning Excellence. We now have one such Centre at Yusof Ishak Secondary School. It allows teachers to train in situ, strengthening the nexus between research, theory and practice. Teachers are able to participate in master classes and demonstration classes, apply their learning in an authentic classroom setting, and explore innovative ideas in curriculum and pedagogy. The Centre has received good feedback from secondary school teachers. To support our primary school teachers, we will start a new CTLE at New Town Primary School from this year.

31. I thank Mr Louis Ng for his appreciation of the difficult and important work that our teachers do, and his suggestions to improve the appraisal framework for our teachers. MOE shares his desire for a more effective performance management system, and we will refine and calibrate how to do this better over time. We will continue to use our regular dialogue sessions with the Public Service Division and the teachers unions, to ensure that our appraisal framework is relevant, fair, and motivates performance and development. We will also look out for the well-being of teachers in specialised subjects like Art, Music, PE and Mother Tongue, something which Mr Patrick Tay highlighted earlier. We will continue to run comprehensive staff engagement surveys – something which we are already doing, and we will do more of that. We will engage all our teachers and support them holistically in their Professional Development as well as their career progression.

Providing More Diverse and Flexible Pathways Through Life

32. Our second priority area is to provide more diverse and flexible pathways for learning. Whenever I visit our schools and tertiary institutions, I see an incredible diversity of talents and passions amongst our youths. Every student is unique, and we must do our utmost to empower each of them to learn, grow and thrive.

33. That is why we are pressing on with major structural changes in our education system, to provide more flexibility for our students to customise their learning experiences, and embrace a wider spectrum of strengths and talents through diverse pathways and through every phase of their learning.

PSLE Scoring Changes

34. One major reform being implemented this year is our PSLE scoring system. It will support a shift away from an over-emphasis on academic results, because with wider scoring bands, there is no need to chase every last mark. Every student will be measured on their own progress, and can set their own goals regardless of how their peers performed. More schools will also have the same cut-off point. So we encourage parents and students to look beyond cut-off points, and pick a school based on its programmes, its ethos and culture, and that best fits the student's interests and aptitudes.

35. Mr Baey Yam Keng and Mr Gerald Giam spoke about this, and indeed MOE has been progressively preparing students and engaging parents for these changes. In particular, our teachers will advise parents and students on the subject combination that best caters to the student's pace of learning, based on their learning outcomes, aptitude and attitude.

36. But this is not cast in stone. If a student who initially takes a subject at the Foundation level shows improvement, then the school will support them to take the subject at Standard-level for PSLE. Students who do well in their Foundation subject at PSLE or later can also take subjects at a more demanding level in secondary school.

37. MOE will continue to put out more information and engage parents on these PSLE changes. In fact, tn the next few months, we will provide the indicative Achievement Level cut-off points for each individual school, simulated based on the latest 2020 PSLE results. Each time we put out this information, parents look at all the details very carefully and I want to remind everyone that the PSLE is just one check point of many in the education journey. Mr David said just now that "it is the mother of all exams" – it is not. It is only one check point of many throughout one's education journey.

Full Subject-Based Banding in Secondary Schools

38. The changes to the PSLE are part of a bigger move to provide flexible pathways for learning, and to avoid locking a student into any fixed path in secondary school and beyond.

39. We are enhancing such porosity in our secondary schools through another major structural change – and that is Full Subject-Based Banding, or Full SBB. We have been piloting Full SBB in 28 schools since last year. In these schools, students of different academic abilities are placed in mixed form classes, and they can offer additional subjects at a more demanding level.

40. The initial findings from these pilot schools are very encouraging. Students in the mixed form classes are learning well; they are making friends with classmates from different courses. More importantly, they are learning to respect and appreciate each other's differences and strengths. With a greater diversity of perspectives, classroom discussions are richer and livelier. Some students attempting subjects at a more demanding level were naturally apprehensive at the start. But with support and encouragement from their teachers and classmates, they have been progressing well in their learning and enjoying their lessons.

41. The implementation of Full SBB is not a trivial exercise. Significant adjustments are needed – our schools in the arrangement of classes and timetables; our teachers in how they design and teach classes for varying student profiles; and our students in their mindsets and attitudes towards learning. I am glad that everyone has risen to the challenge and embraced these changes, and we are on track in implementing full SBB across the system.

42. We will continue to learn from the experiences of the pilot schools and more schools will come on board the Full SBB. In particular, about 30 more schools will come on board Full SBB next year, and we will roll out Full SBB to the remaining secondary schools over 2023 and 2024. We will then see the end of streaming and a new approach across all our secondary schools – giving students greater agency in their own education, and more opportunities to develop their diverse strengths and interests.

Review of Applied Education

43. We are also expanding and enhancing our post-secondary pathways to better support students with different abilities and talents, and to ensure that they have more opportunities to progress to post-secondary courses that are in line with their interests and strengths.

44. In particular, we will take steps to enhance our polytechnic and ITE education, to ensure that it remains responsive to the aspirations of our students and the needs of our future economy.

45. 2M Maliki Osman is leading a comprehensive review of opportunities and pathways in applied education, and will share more about this later. Let me share briefly some of our thinking.

46. In the polytechnics, we are looking to expand the Common Entry Programmes (CEPs). Through the CEP, students benefit from exposure to different course options within the cluster as well as career guidance support. It allows them to discover their interests and strengths, and better understand the nature of each course, before they decide on a specific diploma course.

47. We will also enhance the ITE pathway. Today, ITE offers 2-year Nitec programmes, and Higher Nitec programmes most of which are 2 years in duration. Around 30% of Nitec graduates today do not progress to Higher Nitec or other publicly-funded upgrading pathways. We want to do more to help these students. So we are reviewing the ITE curriculum structure to see how to enable more ITE students to attain and benefit from a Higher Nitec certification.

48. Many ITE students want to pursue a diploma, and we will help them do so. Some do well at ITE and they go on to the polytechnics. ITE itself offers Technical Diplomas and Work Study Diplomas. These are different from the polytechnic diplomas as they put greater emphasis on technical and applied learning, and they integrate work experience into the education journey. We will expand these distinctive diploma offerings in ITE, so that more students can benefit.

New university of the arts

49. Ms Foo Mee Har spoke about quality Private Education Institutions and how they can complement our public system, and fill talent gaps in specialised fields like the arts. Indeed, MOE believes strongly in the need to nurture more diverse talents through our multiple education pathways. In our next phase of development, we will need this diversity of talent – in STEM, and also in the arts, design and media.

50. We will therefore take steps to strengthen arts education in Singapore. Today, LASALLE College of the Arts (LASALLE) and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) are our home-grown private arts education institutions, supported by the Government.

51. They offer specialised arts and design diplomas as well as degree programmes in partnership with overseas universities, like Goldsmiths, the Royal College of Music, and the University of the Arts London. The programmes are subsidised by MOE, enabling students to access a quality and affordable arts education. They have attracted high-quality faculty, many of whom have contributed significantly to the wider cultural sector in Singapore. Their graduates have forged diverse and successful careers, and contributed to our society and the economy.

52. I've discussed with the boards and management teams in both institutions. We recognise that LASALLE and NAFA have grown from strength to strength over the years, to become centres of artistic excellence, with their own unique character and strengths. We want to retain these distinctive identities. At the same time, both institutions recognise the opportunity to come together and forge closer collaboration, and to leverage their respective strengths and traditions.

53. So MOE, with MCCY's support, will work with LASALLE and NAFA to establish an alliance between the two institutions. Because of the quality and standards that both LASALLE and NAFA have achieved, I am happy to share that MOE will grant the alliance its own degree-awarding powers, and also confer it university status. This will be our first university of the arts in Singapore. It will be a private university, supported by the Government, with LASALLE and NAFA as its two constituent colleges. In other words, both will remain as distinct colleges offering their own programmes, and the university will draw on strengths from both colleges and drive synergies between them.

54. For example, students in future can benefit from a more diverse range of offerings, with more opportunities to access cross-institution modules and projects, as well as share learning resources. Faculty can look forward to more opportunities for joint academic collaborations. More importantly, we envisage the university to contribute more to cultural life in Singapore and the region, and to offer a stronger value proposition to its students and stakeholders.

55. I have provided a broad sketch of what this alliance will look like in the future. There is a lot of work to be done in putting this together. MOE has appointed a Pro-Tem committee chaired by Professor Chan Heng Chee to oversee the implementation.

56. I hope the new arts university will take tertiary arts education in Singapore to greater heights –enabling our youths with strengths and talents in this field, to maximise their potential and contribute to our economy and our society.

Next Bound of SkillsFuture

57. Our efforts to expand pathways and opportunities are not limited to the schooling years.

58. In the past, most of us saw education and the workplace as two separate worlds. So we have a fixed period of education, frontloaded when we are young, followed by a fixed period of work. But this model is no longer relevant today. We need a rotational model where work and education are rotated through one's career, and there are multiple entry points for education through life. And that's an important shift we are making across our entire system.

59. So we have to look at the University Cohort Participation Rate (CPR) in this broader context. As suggested by Mr Gerald Giam, we will continue to review the CPR periodically, taking into consideration the manpower needs of the economy.

60. But the CPR for fresh school-leavers is just one pathway to university. We have also expanded opportunities for working adults to pursue a degree, for example through part-time degree programmes. So those who wish to enter the workforce first can get a clearer sense of their interests and areas they want to deepen their skills in, and then make more informed choices about upgrading later.

61. The pandemic has also thrown into sharp relief how essential re-skilling and up-skilling are for our workers today. This is why MOE has enhanced our support for Singaporeans and companies to pursue workplace training during this period.

62. The various schemes have helped our fresh graduates from university, polytechnics and ITE. It has cushioned the impact of the pandemic and allowed us to avoid the high unemployment rates seen in many other countries. We are also paying close attention to mid-career workers whose jobs are impacted and who need help through work transitions. Mr Patrick Tay suggested that we allow PMEs with a local degree to reskill with a second subsidised degree. I appreciate the intent behind this. But a full-time 4-year degree programme will not be the best way for a mid-career worker to retrain to enter a new sector. We will have to review and enhance the various modular pathways to support career transitions, especially into growth sectors.

63. I agree fully with Mr Tay that the IHLs are our key partners in this endeavour. They serve not just as a bridge that students cross to enter the workforce, but also a companion for all Singaporeans in their journey of lifelong learning.

64. Overall, MOE is committed to further strengthening this culture of lifelong learning – not just for work reasons, but as a habit and as a way of life. MOS Gan will say more about this later in her speech.

Uplifting Every Student

65. Let me move on to the third and final area – how we are uplifting every student, regardless of starting point or background.

66. Reducing inequality and strengthening social mobility has always been our priority, even before COVID-19. We have made significant moves over the years to ensure that education continues to be an effective social leveller in Singapore. For example we have invested in quality and affordable pre-school education; we have ensured that those without a conducive home environment can benefit from school-based Student Care Centres and after-school engagement.

67. We are working more closely with community partners to strengthen wrap-around support for disadvantaged students and their families, and we are also providing more support for children with special educational needs, both in our mainstream schools and in dedicated special education schools. 2M Maliki and MOS Sun will share more on these as well in their speeches.

MOE's Needs-Based Resourcing Approach

68. This commitment to uplift every child is also reflected in our approach to resourcing schools.

69. Mr Patrick Tay, Assoc Prof Jamus Lim and Ms Hazel Poa spoke about class sizes. Ms Poa in particular highlighted that there had been a sharp reduction in the teaching force. I believe she is using figures from the Budget Book, and I should clarify that there had been some definitional changes in the Budget Book figures over the years, and so may not provide a meaningful year-to-year comparison. In fact, a better source of information to look at the size of our teaching force deployed in schools is the Education Statistics Digest, which we publish and is made available online. If you look at the data, it will show that while there has been a slight decline in recent years, we have broadly maintained the size of our teaching force. At its peak it was slightly over 33,000. Now it's about 32,000. So it is just a slight decline; not the sharp fall that Ms Phua highlighted.

70. Also, it is more relevant to compare our teacher numbers with our student enrolment numbers – to look at the teaching size in context, compared to the student enrolment. When we compute the Pupil-Teacher-Ratio (PTR) in our school system, we find a very clear trend: over the last decade, the PTR has improved, from about 19 and 16 in 2010 for primary and secondary school levels, to about 15 and 12 currently. This is comparable to the OECD averages.

71. So the question is really about how we choose to allocate our teachers across our education system. Today, we are deliberate in deploying them where they can maximise their impact: as part of our needs-based resourcing approach, we deploy more teachers for students at the earliest grade levels or for those with greater needs.

72. For example, our learning support programmes run in class sizes of 8 to 10. Foundation subjects in upper primary are taught in smaller classes, between 10 to 20 students in most instances. Classes are also generally smaller for secondary students in the Normal (Technical) course.

73. Compared to other OECD countries, we also devote a larger share of our teachers' time to important activities that are crucial for students' holistic development, like CCAs, professional development and lesson preparation.

74. So when members cite our larger class sizes compared to OECD norms, I hope they understand that it is not that we have fewer teachers as compared to other countries. Assoc Prof Jamus Lim also suggested that it is our heavy reliance on private tuition that plays a part in our students doing well in international benchmarks. But that's not being very fair to our teachers who work so hard and give so much of themselves for every child in school. In fact the OECD and other research point to teacher quality as being the critical element in influencing student learning and performance.

75. So we have capable, motivated and a first-rate team of teachers, and we will continue to invest in them and focus their time on what matters. This means continuing to reduce the amount of time teachers spend on lesson marking, and administrative work, including through use of technological tools and additional manpower support. Wherever possible, we will certainly look at having smaller class sizes in more areas, especially in subjects where students may benefit from more interaction and more space for discussion. The bottom line is this – MOE will continue to secure as much resources as we can for the Ministry and we will deploy our teachers in a way that achieves the best outcomes for every child.

76. Whatever resources we have, MOE will have to prioritise them to achieve our desired outcomes. Ms Hazel Poa asked for more support for those who are outside the mainstream system, including home-schoolers and those in private schools. We will continue to look into these suggestions. But I hope everyone understands that resources are always going to be constrained, and we will need to prioritise them for students in our national system.

77. For example, we are seeing students from disadvantaged backgrounds with complex needs – not just in academic and learning support but also in other areas. And that's why we have piloted in some schools a more holistic "whole-school" approach. In other words, beyond support for specific needs through more teachers, these schools are also provided with extra general resourcing – including Student Welfare Officers and Allied Educators. The schools then have the flexibility to identify, monitor, and extend support to such students, and this goes beyond just academic support – it includes mentoring, motivational and even holiday programmes.

78. Let me share how such a holistic "whole-school" approach has benefited one student. She had little motivation to attend school, often playing truant, or turning up late for school. She struggled academically and had difficulties getting along with her classmates. Teachers recognised that her behaviour stemmed from broader issues – low self-esteem, her strained relationship with her parents, and her family's financial difficulties.

79. Her school enrolled her in a mentoring programme, where a volunteer mentor helped her to better understand the challenges she faced and how to overcome them. She participated in group bonding sessions with her peers to strengthen her communication and life skills. Her teachers provided her extra support for her schoolwork; while the school counsellor organised counselling sessions for her and her mother. Her family also received financial support from the school. Today, things are looking up for the student. She is motivated and engaged in school, participating actively in class and her CCA. Her grades have picked up, and her relationships with her parents and classmates have improved.

80. This arose from an actual pilot that we have started. We will study the findings from the pilot, and consider how to expand such holistic support to more schools with similar profiles of students who are disadvantaged and vulnerable.

81. One important aspect of a rich and meaningful school experience is the CCAs and activities outside the classroom. CCAs provide opportunities to develop character, resilience, team spirit and leadership; they are important platforms where students from different schools, different backgrounds and races can interact with one another and form lifelong friendships. It is important we give all our students such exposure. That's how appreciation and respect for diversity is imbued at a young age. I have asked the MOE team to study how we can better support our schools in this area, and ensure that students across all our schools can have a full CCA experience based on their passion and interests.

P1 Registration Framework

82. The importance of keeping our schools open to students from all backgrounds is also reflected in our Primary 1 registration framework. In this framework, we give priority to some groups like children of school alumni because we want families to build connections to their schools, and for each school to develop its own traditions, history, and identity. At the same time, we do not want our primary schools to become closed circles, which you can only access if your parents or siblings went there.

83. It was for this reason that MOE set aside 40 places for children who have no prior connection with the school in Primary 1 – 20 in Phase 2B and 20 in Phase 2C, with priority given to those who live near the school. This has helped to give every Singaporean child a chance to enter a primary school of their choice.

84. In recent years, we have seen competition for spaces in more popular schools intensify, and more schools having to ballot to allocate places. Such popular schools are not limited to any particular locality. Some people have the perception that only certain areas have such popular schools; that is not true. Such popular schools are found across all our towns in Singapore. As a result, even with the 20 places set aside for Phase 2C, some children do not get to attend a school near their home. I am sure Members have received such appeals before. We receive these appeals at the Ministry, and are sympathetic, because there are many good reasons why children should be able to get a place in one of the schools near where they live.

85. So I agree with Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Shawn Huang that we should try to increase the number of places set aside under Phase 2C. This is the open phase for those who do not enjoy any form of priority admissions, and is therefore based on home-school distance.

86. We are reviewing the P1 Framework to see how to do this in an appropriate manner. Of course, we recognise that any increase in places for 2C would mean greater competition under the earlier phases for the more popular schools. We will have to study this carefully and balance the competing demands – to give Singaporean children and their families a better chance at their school of choice, particularly if it is near their home, while still recognising the merits of providing some priority to certain groups.

87. Ultimately, I want to reassure Members that MOE remains committed to ensuring the quality of every primary school. Wherever our children go for their studies, they will be well served, and well supported to reach their fullest potential.

88. Mr Chairman, may I say some words in Mandarin.

89. 冠病疫情给新加坡带来很多新的挑战,也让我们更深地意识到,未来社会需要的人才,必须要具有灵活处理问题、适应新环境的21世纪技能。

90. 知识是有限的,变化却是无限的。因此,我们的教育除了知识和技能的培养,也应该多注重培养学生的综合素质、应变能力和持续学习的热忱。

91. 塑造良好的价值观和坚毅的品格也非常重要,这是每个孩子一生成就的基石。我们将在学校的课程和活动中更有意识地融入品格和公民教育,让学生拥有网络安全意识、培养坚强的意志、并学习尊重不同的观点。

92. 双语教育也将继续成为我国教育制度的重要组成部分。为学生打好母语基础,能帮助他们更了解自己的文化和宝贵的价值观,并把握亚洲快速发展所带来的机会。

93. 我们会不断更新教育制度,为学生的未来学习做好准备。要达成这个目标,只靠教育部是不可能完成的。我们也需要社区、家庭一起发挥作用,为孩子们的长远发展打下健康、坚实的基础。所以,我们期待与教育伙伴继续在教育领域建立更密切的合作关系,以让每个孩子都能发挥所长。

[COVID-19 has brought us new challenges, and has also reinforced the importance of 21st Century Competencies such as creative thinking and resilience, which are needed to thrive in future.

The world is fast-changing and unpredictable. Hence, besides knowledge, we should develop in our students a broader set of skills including adaptability and a love for lifelong learning.

It is also vital that we shape strong values and character, which are the bedrock of every child's success. We will interweave CCE more deliberately throughout our students' entire school experience to teach them to be cyber-savvy, mentally strong, and to appreciate different perspectives.

Bilingualism will also continue to be integral to our education system and national identity. A strong foundation in our MTLs will enable our students to better appreciate their heritage and values and take on opportunities in a rising Asia.

We will continue to transform and reimagine education to ensure that our students are future-ready. But MOE will not be able to do this alone. Our communities and families also have a part to play in laying down the foundations for our children's long-term development. We look forward to continuing our partnership in education with our many stakeholders, to bring out the best in every child.]

Conclusion

94. The pandemic poses huge challenges for countries everywhere. But it is also an opportunity to transform and re-imagine education, and to start realising a vision for the future of learning where our children learn with joy, rigour and purpose in schools and beyond.

95. MOE is seizing this window of opportunity to equip our students with a broader range of competencies; to develop more diverse and flexible pathways of learning through life; and to uplift every child regardless of their starting point.

96. We will stay open to new ideas and we will continue to engage in careful and thoughtful experimentation to keep our education system ready for the future. MOE cannot do this work alone – we work with many stakeholders, including our educators, parents and the community at large, and so all of us have a role to play; to encourage our children to pursue their passions and interests, instead of focusing only on academic results, and to be open to the diverse pathways our children can take throughout life, empowering them to find one that best suits them.

97. We all have a shared interest in bringing out the best in our children. I look forward to continuing and strengthening our partnership in education, to nurture our next generation, and shape the future of our nation together. Thank you.

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