Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the National Institute of Education (NIE) Leaders in Education Programme (LEP) Graduation Ceremony

Published Date: 01 December 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

1. A very good morning to all of you, including our colleagues and friends online.

2. First, let me congratulate all the graduands on your completion of this seven-month full-time programme.

  1. I am sure you are looking forward to your next assignment and your next challenge be it in schools or MOE headquarters.

3. I hope the last seven months have given you time to reflect on your own leadership development and the future of our education system.

  1. Incidentally, this is also my seventh month in MOE.
  2. I have also been reflecting, like you, on the future of our education system and the development of our educators, especially our school leaders.

4. Today, I will share three reflections, which I hope can set us thinking about the way that we as a community and fraternity can move forward.

  1. First – the way we learn has changed; and will continue to change.
  2. Second – the way we teach must therefore change; if learning has and continues to change.
  3. Third – given the changes in teaching and learning, our educators must then be equipped with new skills and new competencies to overcome challenges and seize new opportunities.

5. And to have these new ways of learning, new ways of teaching, and new skills to equip our educators - we must constantly keep our eyes on the future. And we need to look beyond schools.

Learning Has Changed – the Way, the Speed, the Span of Time

6. My first point is this: learning today has changed – its mode, speed, and span.

7. Conventionally, it is easy for us to fall into this trap to think that learning is just the acquisition of knowledge. And if learning is an acquisition of knowledge, then teaching is the transmission of knowledge.

8. But what if the Internet has democratised the access to information?

  1. And what if robotics and Artificial Intelligence have democratised the honing of various competencies?

9. Consider that schools and classes today are no longer the main channels of content and knowledge transmission.

  1. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine learners coming to schools today already equipped with more knowledge and information than ever before.
  2. Superiority of information access is no longer sufficient for us to teach – neither as parents nor teachers.

10. If so, then, what do learners come to schools and classes to learn?

  1. We must remind ourselves that the education system has to refresh its strategy in this evolving environment.

11. Second, the speed of learning has changed.

  1. With global interconnectedness, the pace of disruption in the market has increased significantly.

12. The market demands today are often dynamic and short-lived.

  1. We need to be able to acquire new skills at the speed to meet these changing demands.
  2. Just imagine, from the moment a person chooses their course of study, to the time they graduate.
  3. In that span of a few years, within many frontier industries, the knowledge that the student had acquired might already become obsolete.

13. Accordingly, the cycle of knowledge generation and sharing has also accelerated.

  1. To keep up, our people would need to be equipped:
    1. With the agility to spot and seize opportunities,
    2. The nimbleness to turn setbacks into prospects, and
    3. To respond with dexterity when confronted with unpredictable developments.
  2. The consequences we face if we do not will be becoming irrelevant and displaced by technology and global competition.

14. The third dimension is the span of time for a person to learn has changed.

  1. "Learn for Life" has a new meaning.
  2. Previously, our system may have worked towards equipping a person with 15-20 years of compulsory education to prepare him or her for life. We learn for life – we learn for the rest of our life.
  3. However, nowadays no amount of upfront education and learning can prepare a person to have "learnt for life", with no further learning required for the rest of his or her life.
  4. Today, a more appropriate interpretation of "Learn for Life" is to be able to interest and enable a person to keep learning throughout life.

Teaching Must Change: Evolving Our Education and Teaching Methods

15. With these changes, what does it mean for us in education?

16. With these shifts in the mode, speed and span of learning, our teaching methods must therefore change.

  1. We must ask ourselves: How do we evolve in a way that we educate our people – not just the young but also the matured?

17. First, learning in classrooms and schools will be necessary but insufficient.

  1. How do we take learning beyond the physical classroom to also include the cyber domains?

18. Second, teaching is no longer about the transmission of knowledge alone. It is about equipping our people with the skills to sense-make in a bewildering world of information overload.

  1. The ability to learn fast, unlearn and relearn has become more important than ever.
  2. With it, we need to train up skills to constantly look out for our own blind spots and become aware of what we do not know and seek out new knowledge.

19. And third, teachers would become facilitators enabling the search, sense-making, and creation of new concepts, beyond the conventional transmission of knowledge.

  1. Given that learning today is no longer hierarchical but also social, it is imperative to create environments to help our young develop cross-cultural skills, communication skills and teamwork to be able to work in diverse teams and harness the knowledge of diverse people in the team to create something new and something more.
  2. Much has been talked about on the need for creativity in the new economy. And much has also been discussed if we can ever teach creativity in our schools. While some think creativity is about a light bulb coming on suddenly, creativity has actually more to do with the disciplined pursuit of ideas and breakthroughs.
    1. As the saying goes – if we truly want to be creative, we need to fall in love with the problem statement, rather than the solution.
    2. And that would inspire us to keep challenging ourselves to develop a new and better solution, product, or process. And very importantly, in this whole process we learn to pick ourselves up and keep trying. Because there will be more failures than successes. So truly, no one has failed until they stop trying.

New Skills for Educators

20. Now, if you agree with the first two points on how learning and teaching has changed, then we must also agree that we need to be equipped with new skillsets.

  1. One, teachers must be skilled in the innovative applications of technology, and
  2. Two, teachers must learn to inculcate values in our young through leading by example.

21. Let me touch on the first point about technology.

22. One advantage we must harness from technology is in the management of teachers' workload.

  1. Workload has always been a challenge for our teachers, especially given the need to also nurture the socio-emotional development of our children, over and beyond their academic development.
  2. Every one of us hopes to reduce class sizes.
    1. But we can't double our resources overnight.
    2. And even if we did, it would be challenging to maintain their quality.
  3. So how do we use technology to scale up "class size" to paradoxically allow us to reduce class sizes for those who really need it? We can't change the average class size, but we can certainly increase the class size for some in order to decrease the class size for others so that we can apply our resources in a much more targeted and surgical fashion to help those students in need.
    1. Can we imagine a future where we leverage technology to a greater extent to prepare, share and scale up class materials?
      • Consider the 80-20 rule where 80% of our baseline teaching resources are made available online. These are done by the best teachers across our community and shared across the community for all our teachers to access and having our teachers to customise the remaining 20% according to the needs of their students and respective classes.
    2. Or consider how we can use technology to customise learning for our diverse students' needs and to allow them to pace themselves in their studies.
      • Today we have the Student Learning Space (SLS). We have gone quite far but we can go even further. Today, the thing that we lack in the SLS is a feedback system and diagnostics. Imagine a future where students who have gone through SLS would be able to let the teachers know prior to the physical classes the areas which they need more attention, and the areas that they are strong and weak in. When the teachers come into the class and conduct the lesson, the teachers already have thorough information and analytics on what to focus on. This would make their teaching much more interesting, exciting, and targeted in using our finite resources, particularly the time of our teachers.
    3. There is much that we can do. We are not there yet. We will get there by building a wider system where we have the learning technology to help us do mass customisation. We mass customise to the different learning needs of our students and enable them to pace themselves. We can have adaptive learning and testing systems so that everyone can learn at their own pace and we can better focus on students in need.

23. Second, to help our learners navigate an uncertain and changing world, we must also inculcate values by living our lives as examples.

  1. This is the reason why I want to enable our teachers to keep learning, and to do so beyond schools.
    1. Our teachers must be refreshed and updated with what is happening in the world outside the classroom. So that our teachers can speak with authority and conviction, and bring those connections to the classroom for our students.
    2. Therefore, I am very keen to create more attachments and posting opportunities for teachers, so they can acquire new knowledge, connections, and perspectives to bring back to our students.
    3. In the foundational years, our teachers are like the mother bird, foraging far and wide to feed our young birds in the nest.
      • Before teaching the young ones to go forth and forage for themselves.
    4. Our students must be imbued with the values and desire to keep learning – and there is no better way to inspire them than to demonstrate by example. When they see that our teachers and principals keep learning, they too would be inspired to keep learning.
  2. Teachers, through the power of their examples, must show they are not afraid to explore new knowledge, have their ideas contested, and yet have the confidence in their own set of values to guide them in a world of competing perspectives and value-systems. Again, it is about the power of example that we need our teachers to demonstrate to our young ones. Therefore, for our teachers to show and demonstrate to our young ones, we must equip them with both skills and exposure as necessary.

Conclusion

24. In summary, the basic hypothesis is learning has changed fundamentally, so teaching must change too. And to keep pace with these changes, our educators must be equipped with new skills.

25. In recent years, we have done much to evolve our systems and processes, from the changes to the PSLE Scoring system to Full Subject-Based Banding.

26. But ultimately, transformation must go beyond systems and processes to building an embedded culture. Without which, nothing will change. And we have much more work to do in order to achieve this cultural change. Starting from MOE and then amplified to the rest of Singapore.

  1. We want a culture of broad meritocracy. To define success not just based on academics alone but to embrace a diversity of talents for our country's resilience.
  2. We want a culture of continuous meritocracy where excellence is defined beyond just achieving success in schools or even at any single point in life.
  3. And very importantly, I hope to see a culture of striving to surpass ourselves, beyond just trying to surpass others. With or without others setting the pace, or setting the benchmark, we will constantly spur ourselves to do justice to our respective talents. And bearing in mind that we are all gifted differently, we should stretch ourselves accordingly. This is not easy to achieve. If we are able to do that, we would feel more at peace with ourselves, be content with our achievements and be much more self-directed in the way we learn for life. Therein also lies the challenge for our new generation of educators. It goes beyond the transmission of knowledge and equipping our students with the skills to sense-make in an uncertain world. We must enable our students to realise their own potential and for them to discover their own motivation to try to surpass themselves every day.

27. If we can achieve these, we will have gone a long way in transforming our education system.

28. And finally, I want to say a big thank you to all the educators in this room and online, and even those who are not with us today. Without your dedication, without your commitment, we would not have been able to continue enabling our students to learn amidst the pandemic. But more importantly, without your commitment to education, we will not be able to have hope that we can all be inspired to aspire to an even better future for our children and education system.

29.I look forward to our future conversations on how we can take our education system to the next level where we enable every Singaporean to do justice to their gifts, and in turn, use their gifts for the good of our society and country.

30. Thank you.

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