Speech by Minister for Education, Mr Lawrence Wong at the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation's 30th Anniversary

Published Date: 27 April 2021 05:08 PM

News Speeches

Mdm Gurdial Kaur, Chairperson, Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF);
Mr Malminderjit Singh, Chairman, Sikh Advisory Board;
Mr Inderjit Singh, former Member of Parliament;
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls

1. Thank you for having me at this 30th anniversary of the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation, or SSEF. Let me start by extending my heartiest congratulations to everyone involved in the SSEF, and the entire Sikh community in Singapore, on this very important milestone.

2. In fact, the SSEF marked its 30th anniversary in December last year.

  1. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, you had to postpone your celebrations.
  2. But I am very thankful that we can still gather today to mark this momentous occasion.

SSEF's Contribution to the Sikh Community and Singapore

3. The SSEF crosses this milestone in unprecedented times. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on countries everywhere in the world, and that impact is still continuing today. We see countries experiencing third or fourth waves of infections, and countries still subject to lockdown and some even imposing new restrictions.

4. It reminds me of something that a renowned physician used to say. Sir William Osler is sometimes regarded as the father of modern medicine. He said late in the 19th Century that humanity has but three great enemies: fever, famine and war. Amongst the three of them, the greatest and most terrible enemy is the fever. More than a century later, despite all the marvels of modern medicine, I think that saying still rings true today, as we see in pandemic.

5. Perhaps we don't quite experience it to the full extent, but if you are living in America, you will know that more people have perished from COVID-19 than everyone combined in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. So it is no surprise that the fever, or plague, or the pandemic, is truly the greatest enemy of humanity.

6. In Singapore, I think we are fortunate that we have been able to keep the infection under control. But every time I go to an event or I meet people, I keep reminding everyone that we must never be complacent. We must never assume that we have seen the end of the pandemic and that victory is in sight, or that we can relax and start letting our guards down.

7. In fact, the situation is so unpredictable that you will never know – we are just one infection away from yet another outbreak, or another major cluster emerging. That's how tenuous the situation remains for all of us, even in Singapore. So whatever you do in the coming weeks and months, please comply with all the safe distancing measures. For those who are medically eligible, please go and get yourselves vaccinated. If you haven't, register on the website, and a few days after registration, you will get an SMS to book a slot for vaccination.

8. We just need to remember that it was only about this time last year, precisely around early April, that we had to push the button, and impose a circuit breaker right here in Singapore. It was a very difficult sacrifice for all of us to make, to impose such drastic restrictions on our way of life and our lifestyles in order to bring the infection under control.

9. That marked a change in the trajectory. After the circuit breaker, we were able to bring the infections down. Since then, there has been some ups and down but generally, I think we have made good progress. So, let us not waste the sacrifices that all of us have made over this difficult period, by relaxing too early and letting our guard down too quickly. Let us stay alert and vigilant and see through this difficult pandemic.

10. Despite these challenges all around us, I am confident that the Sikh community will continue to stay cohesive and resilient and you will rise to the challenges that you all face.

  1. The resilience that you have shown was evident from the beginnings of the SSEF.
  2. Back in 1990, it was your founding chairman Mr Bhajan Singh, and a team of educators and professionals, who saw a need for Sikh students to learn Punjabi.
  3. They mobilised resources, set up classes and registered students in various centres around Singapore.

11. Throughout the last three decades, the SSEF has dedicated itself to the teaching and learning of the Punjabi Language.

  1. You support MOE's bilingual policy by nurturing generations of effectively bilingual Sikhs.
  2. And learning Punjabi itself is more than just a means of communication for the community. As with all languages, it is an important way to connect with your rich history and culture, and to preserve this important heritage in our diverse multiracial society. That's why the Government is more than happy to partner with you, and to support the teaching and learning of the Punjabi Language amongst the community.

12. The SSEF itself is also very dedicated in going the extra mile to meet the needs of its learners.

  1. You not only implement the curriculum developed by the Board for the Teaching and Testing of South Asian Languages (BTTSAL), but you also developed your own materials, and I saw them just now at the exhibition. You have your own enrichment and learning material developed in-house to supplement those that are developed by the Board.

13. Besides passing on knowledge to the next generation, I am very heartened to see how the SSEF has helped to instil in our young, the spirit of serving others.

  1. For example, around 100 students from the SSEF, together with volunteers from the Young Sikh Association and others, came together to spend time with families under the care of the Marine Parade Family Service Centre in 2019.

14. Last year, not much could be done because of COVID-19, but hopefully, as restrictions ease, we can see more students doing their part to serve the community.

15. These examples are all a powerful testimony of how the Sikh community in Singapore, while small in numbers, has truly distinguished itself.

  1. You have demonstrated tremendous adaptability and resilience.
  2. Over the years, you have continued to strengthen your spirit of solidarity and unity, and your distinct sense of identity.
  3. At the same time, all of you appreciate and understand the need for mutual support and serving the community.
  4. As Mdm Kaur said just now, there is in the Sikh community a very strong abiding culture of giving and indeed, you have grown your links with other Singaporeans, and contributed to our society at large in many different ways.

16. In particular, the SSEF's focus on serving its community has come to the fore during this COVID period, and especially during the circuit breaker last year.

17. And I applaud everyone in SSEF for your efforts in ensuring that learning was not disrupted.

  1. SSEF educators had to adapt very quickly and pivoted to home-based learning. We sometimes think that it is so easy, teaching in the classroom and teaching at home – what's the difference? It's a huge difference. It's not just conducting the lesson on Zoom; you have to adapt the curriculum and master new technologies, and we are very grateful that the SSEF educators rose to the occasion and were able to make these changes very quickly, ensuring that learning was not disrupted at all.
  2. You were supported by volunteers from the community who helped them to make the transition to teaching online more seamless.
  3. Once again, a big thank you goes out to the leaders, the educators and volunteers of the SSEF. Thank you very much.

18. It is also very inspiring to hear about how some of the SSEF staff have embodied the spirit of service and resilience.

  1. One example is Madam Gurdial Kaur, who was part of the team in 1990. She was a Centre Principal, a Vice-Chair, and now Chairperson of SSEF leading the organisation.
  2. Two other ladies who will be receiving the Long Service Award today, and they too have inspiring stories of service.
    1. Madam Gurmeet Kaur has served as Centre Principal of the Clementi Weekend Centre for 27 years, and has had more than 450 students studying in the centre with 20 educators under her charge. She has served as the Vice-Chair of SSEF for six years, and her leadership has helped to steer the organisation through challenging times, including this pandemic.
    2. Madam Manjeet Kaur has also a long history with the SSEF, joining as an educator in 1990 and staying on for 30 years now. I am told that she is a skilful educator who inspires her students and readily lends them a listening ear. Respected by students and colleagues alike, she also develops resources for teaching and learning and helps to mentor and guide her colleagues in their craft. It is interesting that we have three female examples here – women power in the Sikh community.

19. The Long Service Award that they will receive is a testament to their hard work and dedication through the years. I am sure this anniversary will be particularly meaningful to them as they look back on their contributions to the community.

Conclusion

20. To conclude, the SSEF has indeed many, many achievements to be proud of in its 30-year history.

  1. It is an organisation driven by committed leaders and staff who have placed education at the heart of its mission.
  2. I am sure that the SSEF, with the support of the Sikh community in Singapore, will continue to grow and have a tremendous impact on the teaching and learning of the Punjabi Language here in Singapore.

21. Once again, congratulations to the SSEF and everyone in the Singapore Sikh community on this important milestone. Thank you very much.

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