Speech by Minister for Education, Mr Chan Chun Sing, at the Singapore Institute of Technology Graduation Ceremony

Published Date: 19 October 2021 02:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Ng Yat Chung, Chairman, Board of Trustees, SIT

Professor Tan Thiam Soon, President, SIT

SIT colleagues, Class of 2021, Parents, Guests

1. A very good morning to all of you and congratulations to the Class of 2021.

  1. Very happy to join you this morning, to mark an important milestone in your learning journey.
  2. As Professor Tan said, it has not been easy for you to be here today. The last two years have been especially tough because of the COVID-19 situation. We are proud of your tenacity and the resilience that you have displayed. And indeed, we are not defined by circumstances, but how we choose to respond to circumstances.
  3. Today, as I congratulate you on this milestone, I thought about what to share with you, and decided on two simple stories.

2. About 30 years ago, I was like you seated here, watching my own sister graduate with an accountancy degree. It was a proud moment for my family because she was the first university graduate of the family. With a university degree in accountancy, she went on to join one of the "Big Four" accounting firms. On her first day of work, her boss told her what will be etched in her mind forever – "You can start learning now."

  1. For a fresh graduate who had spent much time and effort picking up all the relevant accountancy skills and to join a "Big Four" and be told on the first day that "You can start learning now", was perhaps a bit of a shocker to say the least. Why did her boss provide this piece of advice? Simply because whatever we learn in the school and university is simply the foundation. Work life is a process of continuous learning. It is not about how much we know at the beginning, but how fast we learn and relearn that matters.
  2. Learning and working are like the double helix of our DNA. They are closely intertwined and we should always remember to put into practice at work what we have learned, and at the same time through our work, continue to pick up skills. That really is the essence of lifelong learning.
  3. Many of you here today already exemplify this spirit of lifelong learning. You chose to enrol in SIT not just in pursuit of a degree or the credentials that it might afford you. Instead, we believe it is a reflection of your lifelong pursuit to upgrade your skills and knowledge so that you can better contribute to your life, your family and our country.
  4. As Professor Tan mentioned, you will have the opportunity to come back to SIT throughout your life. Please do come back and continue to pick up new skills and share with subsequent generations of SIT students what you have gathered and learned in your journey in life.
  5. I encourage you to see SIT, your alma mater, as your lifetime partner, that will journey with you throughout your life and this is why I always prefer to refer to the Institutes of Higher Learning as Institutes of Continuous Learning.

3. Now, let me share with you a second story, which is also about accountants. Some years back, I was working in NTUC. I met 400 accountants and posed a simple question to them - in five years' time, did they see themselves as having more or less opportunities?

  1. Interestingly, 200 of them said that they felt threatened - that in five years' time, their accountancy degree or expertise might no longer be relevant, and that their jobs might be displaced by perhaps Artificial Intelligence or robots.
  2. On the other hand, the other 200 other accountants in the same seminar told me that in five years' time, they expected themselves to be much more competitive and able to compete for jobs in Singapore and beyond. They believed that technology would enable them to transcend the confines and boundaries of Singapore. It would open up a much bigger market for their professional services across the world.
  3. The question is: which of the 200 would be right? For both groups, the reason that underpinned their answers was the same: technology. For some, technology was threatening their livelihood; for others, technology opened up new vistas for them. So the moral of the story is really this - technology is neutral. Whoever can master technology and leverage it will join the 200 that go forth and have opportunities in and beyond Singapore. But on the other hand, if we do not master the evolving technology, then we will be like the first 200 who fear that in five years' time, our jobs will be taken away by Artificial Intelligence and robotics.
  4. So therein lies a lesson for us: there is nothing to fear about technology. Everyone in the world is facing the same challenges and opportunities, but the difference is who will be those who are brave enough to master it, leverage it and combine it with their skills - as Professor Tan said, the ones who embrace the high-technology, high-touch and high-trust approach will survive and thrive.

4. As an SIT graduate, I hope that you will remember these two stories. You will have a running start with the industry experience and networks that you have acquired through your education here. SIT has been a pioneer and at the forefront of applied learning pedagogies, and you have a deep and wide network to start with. Do leverage it and continue to grow. As you journey forward in life and benefit from the experience of SIT, I hope one day, you will look back and define your success not just by how well you have done for yourself. Remember that your success is defined not just by taking care of yourself or your family, but also by your contribution to society and our country.

  1. On this day of your graduation, I hope that you will reflect on how you got here. You are seated here because you have supportive peers who have walked this journey with you. You are here because of your family members who believed in you. You are here because there were people before us who have worked hard to build this place. In fact, this used to be the site of my former army camp! We are all here not just because of our hard work and intelligence. In the world today, there are many people who are perhaps as hardworking and intelligent, if not more than us. But not every one of them have the opportunity to be seated here because they didn't have the previous generations pay it forward for them to be here. I hope that every generation of Singaporeans will continue to define our success not just by how well we do for ourselves in this generation, but how well we enable the next generation to do even better. That in time to come, when you are seated watching the next generation graduate, you too will remember this day, and that we all got here because of our friends, family and societal support. And therefore, it is our responsibility to pay it forward too, to the next generation.

5. On this note, I wish you all the very best and success in your future endeavours. As Professor Tan said: once a SITizen, always a SITizen. Be the alumni who will always remember to pay it forward for the next generation of SITizens to do even better than yours. Thank you very much.

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