Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education at LEAP Award Presentation Ceremony, Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Cultural Academy

Published Date: 30 August 2021 11:00 PM

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1. A very good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First, let me express my appreciation on behalf of the Ministry of Education to Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK), and your past and present leadership, for your sterling efforts in promoting education and our cultural development in Singapore.

2. The efforts of SHHK extends way beyond the series of Listening Educator for Advancement and Progress Award (LEAP Awards) that we are presenting tonight. All of us know how actively SHHK has contributed to the development of education and cultural development of Singapore. Especially at this point in time, when English has become the dominant language in Singapore, it is all the more important and challenging for us to make sure that we continue to preserve the cultural heritage of our other languages. On that note, thank you the past and present leadership of SHHK for all that you've done. Thank you very much.

3. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the teachers, principals and superintendents who are here today. The last 20 months has been a challenging time for Singapore. As we sit here today, listening to the speeches and reflecting on the accomplishments of our education fraternity in the last 20 months, perhaps it is all too easy for us to forget what we have been able to achieve quite miraculously. If we look across the world today, very few countries have been able to prevent their education system from being disrupted by the pandemic, or to have their education system function seamlessly while fighting COVID-19.

4. We are one of the few countries in the world that has not had our education system severely disrupted. Some might think that we owe it to good fortune, or because we are relatively well-off. We have good infrastructure, IT systems and sufficient bandwidth, and when everyone started working from home, we didn't have to contend with the lack of bandwidth on our network. All these factors play an important part in our education system being able to continue functioning more or less normally for the last 20 months. And this will continue to be the case for many more months as we continue to battle COVID-19.

5. But neither good infrastructure nor wealth is the main reason why we were able to allow our students to continue learning so that they do not lose a year or two of their education. The reason our students are enabled to learn is because we have teachers like yourselves, who have been tenacious in overcoming the challenges. Tonight, I will share two examples.

6. You have seen Ms Aznita from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Tanglin School in the video earlier. Beyond what she shared in the video, she exemplified the spirit of never giving up on any of our students, regardless of their circumstances. During COVID, due to family circumstances, one of her students wanted to stop schooling. She never gave up, but kept visiting and encouraging him. She continued despite facing difficulties. I know there are many, many more teachers like Ms Aznita. The reality is that COVID had hit our students from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest. But it is because of teachers like the ones whom we are celebrating here today, that we never leave any child behind, and that all our students can continue their education. Thank you, Ms Aznita.

7. Another example that I would like to highlight is Mr Lim from Tanah Merah Prison School. He demonstrates the resilient spirit that we have in our teaching service. Some of us will know that Mr Lim was unwell and had his own challenges. But he persevered and continued serving. Despite his personal setbacks, he never gave up. Because of this, he has inspired his students not to give up on themselves. This is the kind of spirit that helps to keep our education system going.

8. When I was young, I was apprehensive about becoming a teacher because I knew the heavy responsibilities that are required. We have a saying in Chinese, "一日为师,终生为父", which means a teacher for a day, a parent for a lifetime. The impact that a teacher has in a day can indeed shape a person for life. Today, our teachers are not just teaching academic subjects. They have gone on to become mentors, counsellors, cheerleaders, and sometimes, social workers, taking care of not just the students, but often the families of the most needy students.

9. Very few people understand and appreciate what our teachers have gone through in the last 20 months to keep our education system going. In fact, the work of our teachers easily doubled, because they must continue to prepare for physical schooling; and at the same time prepare for home-based learning in the event that this is triggered. Even when our students are back in school, the teachers have to prepare their lesson plans in a different way, taking into account the safe management measures in place.

10. A teacher who is in charge of the school band had this to share: "Have you ever seen a school band teacher trying to conduct the CCA in 20 different rooms for 20 different instruments to be played and practised, because the wind instruments could not be played in the same room." This is just a snippet of the extra work that our teachers have done in our schools.

11. When we rolled out the personal learning devices, many of our older teachers had to acquire a new set of skills, to put the conventional syllabus on the Internet, and to design the curriculum differently. In fact, it wasn't just the students learning to use the personal learning devices, our teachers and school leaders were also learning to use the learning devices, adopting new pedagogies and methods. But what was most inspiring was that regardless of age, our teachers never gave up. In fact, everyone helped one another to design these lessons in order to carry our students through all this.

12. On all these counts, I would really like to express my personal heartfelt appreciation to all the teachers out there ahead of Teachers' Day. You are the reason why Singapore does not have a generation who has lost two years of schooling. You are the reason why we can stand proudly and say that despite all the disruptions caused by COVID, our students have been enabled to continue learning.

13. When our students look back at these COVID years, what they will remember is not despair, but the affection, tenacity and creativity of their teachers. I believe that all of these will inspire generations to come.

14. Thank you very much, and I wish you all a wonderful and happy Teachers' Day soon. Thank you.

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