Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals, at the Ministry of Education HQ (Buona Vista)

Published Date: 03 December 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Fellow colleagues

A very good afternoon to all of you.


1. I am very happy to be here this afternoon for our annual Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals (AACP).

2. I think all of us are very glad that once again, we can come together in the same hall to commemorate this significant milestone event.

3. The AACP is of great significance to MOE.

  1. It is at this ceremony that we vest the authority, autonomy and accountability in our Principals to lead their schools, and in so doing, impact the lives of staff and students.
  2. It is also at this ceremony that we honour our retiring senior Principals for their long and dedicated service to our nation.
  3. It is important for the fraternity to come together: to honour the past, to reflect on the present, and to chart the future.

Recognising Retiring Leaders in Education

4. I'd like to start by acknowledging the extensive contributions of our 15 retiring senior educators. They are:

  1. Father Adrian Danker, SJ; Miss Chew Tock Lee; Dr Irene Ng; Mr Chua Choon Guan; Mdm Rostinah Mohamad Said;
  2. Miss Foong Lai Leong; Mdm Ng Soh Hua; Mr Adolphus Tan; Mr Teoh Tiong San; Mr Wong Poo Mun, Sam;
  3. Mdm Lim Ai Poo; Mr Michel Saw Mun Seong; Mrs Marion Tan Cheng Neo; Miss Esther Lai Choon Lian; and Mdm Cheang Mei Heng.

5. Across their collective years of service are many stories of inspiring leadership. Allow me to share a few of them:

6. Mr Michel Saw has been Principal of three primary schools over the last 20 years, most recently Edgefield Primary School.

  1. An innovative and agile leader, he inspired and supported his staff in pursuing new ideas for teaching and learning.
  2. In partnership with MOE's Educational Technology Division (ETD) and other Principals, he led the Open Classroom initiative which facilitated professional conversations and lively exchange of feedback amongst teachers from more than 20 schools on their classroom practices and e-Pedagogy.
  3. A strong believer in the holistic education of students, he re-envisioned his school's Learning for Life Programme in Dancesport. Through the discipline and art of ballroom dancing, he has inculcated values of teamwork, respect, discipline and perseverance in his students.

7. Mdm Rostinah began her Principalship more than ten years ago in Macpherson Primary School, my alma mater. Today, she is and will continue to lead as the Principal of Zhonghua Primary School.

  1. She believes strongly in unlocking potential from innovation and collaboration.
  2. Using Design Thinking, she taps her teachers' strengths and interests by involving them in action research teams.
  3. Her team developed Zhonghua Primary's signature programme, Thinknovate, to develop computational thinking in students. As early as in Primary One, students learn through screen-free coding tools and mini challenges.
  4. Rostinah worked tirelessly with her staff and rallied community partners to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds through after-school engagement and mentoring programmes.

8. In addition, I would like to specially mention Mrs Teo Khin Hiang, whose leadership brought River Valley High School through a very difficult year.

  1. Mrs Teo could actually have retired in 2020. But she persevered and stayed on to serve for one more year as we wanted to keep leadership stable in our schools during the pandemic.
  2. When the tragedy happened in July this year, she led the Key Personnel, teachers, counsellors and staff of the school, to safeguard the welfare of the students and to assure their parents.
  3. All that while she was undergoing a major medical procedure and treatment. She still found the internal strength to lead the school during this most difficult time, on its journey towards healing. Thank you, Mrs Teo.

9. The fraternity continues to stand together in solidarity with River Valley High School. We will continue to support one another, throughout this pandemic and beyond.

Recognising Rotated and Newly Appointed Leaders in Education

10. Today, we appoint 24 new Principals and 35 experienced Principals to helm another school.

11. Principals have the privilege to realise MOE's mission on the ground: to mould the future of our nation, by moulding the people who will determine our future.

  1. Schools are where the rubber hits the road.
  2. Schools are where policy, people and resources are harnessed by you to transform our aspirations for education into reality.
  3. Your task as School Leaders is not and has never been easy.
    1. But I know that none of you fear hard work.
    2. Because you know this is above all a meaningful journey, a calling to enrich the lives of everyone you touch.

Leading the Future of Learning

12. Even more so as you play your part in "Leading the Future of Learning" – the theme of this year's ceremony.

13. To Teach and Learn effectively, we must be able to anticipate the future. To shape the future of learning, we need to look beyond schools, and urgently.

  1. Technology has disrupted labour markets, and the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many industries.
  2. Global interconnectedness brings new ideologies and also new opportunities.
  3. The rate of change has sped up. It will continue at an accelerated pace with greater unpredictability.

14. Our students will need the agility to spot and seize opportunities, and the desire to keep learning for life. They need the cross-cultural and communication skills to work in diverse teams. They also need to be grounded in values, in the face of anxiety, unrest, uncertainty and competing ideas and ideologies.

15. More so than ever, we need leaders who will give their teams the confidence to operate in conditions of change, and to find opportunities in every challenge.

16. How can we do this?

Confident Learners, Purposeful Lives

17. First, we need to be committed to the belief that all students, regardless of their starting points, can become confident learners who go on to lead purposeful lives.

18. I heard from two youth about their stories of passion and purpose.

19. Mr Jaden Teo is the co-founder of the peer-to-peer mobile learning platform Kalpha, which aims to facilitate knowledge-sharing and make learning accessible to all.

  1. First launched in Singapore in 2019, Kalpha entered the Vietnamese market in 2020.
  2. This year, Tech in Asia listed the platform as one of the key players in the region's growing educational technology scene.
  3. His team's vision is to eventually expand Kalpha's user base across the whole of Southeast Asia.

20. One might not guess that Jaden had few chances in childhood to travel abroad with his family.

  1. But he cherished every opportunity he was given to travel with his schools: to Malaysia as a student in Bowen Secondary School; further afield to Vietnam and China with Ngee Ann Polytechnic; and then to Kazakhstan and Russia while studying in Singapore Management University.
  2. Jaden was candid in sharing his father's "traditional" expectation for him to do well in school. But at the same time, he was always given the space to make his own choices.
  3. He scored eight distinctions at the O-Levels and chose to continue his learning in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

21. Ms Lee Zi Xin has an equally compelling story. She is the co-founder of a youth non-profit, The Young SEAkers, which has chapters in all 10 ASEAN countries and China.

  1. Zi Xin's father, who is a teacher in a secondary school, has always encouraged her to have a heart for others.
  2. He persuaded her to take up Malay since secondary school, to connect better with fellow Singaporeans.
  3. She went on to volunteer at Meet-the-People sessions, using her Malay language abilities to connect with older Malay residents in Kampong Chai Chee.

22. She believes that youth need to hone cross-cultural competencies in order to seize emerging opportunities in Southeast Asia.

  1. She shared that the schooling years are the best time for students to learn about the region.
  2. While she was in Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), she took part in local experiential programmes as well as overseas immersions.
  3. She cites the Regional Studies Programme and a particular teacher, Cikgu Nisa, as key influences in building her particular passion for Malay language and culture.
  4. These are but two examples of how our teachers have touched the lives of our students.

23. MOE's national curriculum focuses on the total curriculum: one that promotes well-rounded development through subjects, activities and programmes.

24. Stories of outstanding youth like Jaden and Zi Xin make it clear that learning is so much more than the pursuit of examination grades.

25. In fact, a blanket emphasis on book knowledge and examination scores, at the expense of the rich learning experiences that our schools provide, could hobble our students.

  1. Instead, we need to help our students discover their individual strengths and interests, and gain confidence in the process of doing so.
  2. They need opportunities to develop and apply these strengths.
  3. Most importantly, they need to be charged with the conviction to contribute to their families and serve the wider society.

26. This way, we ensure that education continues to be an uplifting force for each and every one of our students, and for Singapore.

Constantly Refreshing, Actively Fulfilling

27. Second, we need to make sure that our teachers are constantly being refreshed and updated with what is happening in the world.

28. Teachers are the designers of our learning experiences. They support and inspire our students. And we know that the success of schools depends very much on our teachers.

  1. At the recent Schools Work Plan Seminar, I spoke about the 3 'C's – Care, Capabilities and Confidence – to support the well-being and development of our education fraternity.
  2. Our priority is to build a system and community that cares for our fraternity. We must enable our fraternity to build up the capabilities required to prepare students for the future, as we develop confidence in our teachers to nurture future-ready learners and guide students through a changing world.
  3. I firmly believe that if we take care of our people, our people will take care of the mission. Once they are prepared to take care of the mission, they will go forth and enhance their capabilities and build up their confidence in overcoming any challenges that they may face.

29. Even as we nurture our students, our teachers too need to be refilled, and fulfilled.

30. A recent National Institute of Education (NIE) study investigated the question: What keeps teachers committed to their careers?

  1. The findings from teachers across 16 schools, with teaching experience ranging from a few months to more than 30 years of service, were unanimous in stating that positive work relationships, autonomy and respect as a professional, and opportunities for growth had kept them going.
  2. We need to empower our teachers: to broaden their perspectives of life and work, and make learning more relevant and authentic for their students.

31. In my Teachers' Day Message, I shared that MOE will expose our teachers to diverse experiences beyond the classroom.

  1. From 2022, the enhanced Teacher Work Attachment Plus (TWA-Plus) will provide such opportunities to teachers.
  2. To date, MOE has secured over 150 work attachment openings from both the public and private sector organisations.
  3. Teachers will also be able to identify and initiate work attachments across industry clusters and sectors of their choice, including in the areas of sustainability, e-commerce and data analytics.

32. We need to actively support the learning of our teachers, especially those who have never experienced work in a non-teaching context.

  1. In this way, our teachers can be refreshed, and in turn, refresh others.
  2. Our fraternity will be refilled with new insights, ready to actively fulfil the mission of education. When they go out, they will bring back not just new knowledge, but also new connections. They will speak with confidence, with the experience necessary to guide our students in this world of many opportunities.

Leaders with Vision and Conviction

33. Third, we need leaders with vision and most importantly, conviction.

34. In preparing to lead a school, Principals may take guidance from MOE:

  1. Master plans and strategic roadmaps;
  2. Write-ups on policy initiatives;
  3. Implementation budgets, guides and handbooks.

35. However;

  1. MOE HQ can only provide a menu of options and support that you can choose from.
  2. You will need to customise them to the varied needs of your different schools.

36. Mdm Cheang Mei Heng has founded schools twice in her leadership journey.

  1. She started her journey as founding Principal of Compassvale Secondary School.
  2. She then served as Cluster Superintendent in MOE HQ, and Principal of Serangoon Junior College.
  3. She is retiring today, having built a well of "beautiful thinking and goodwill to all", that is, Eunoia Junior College.

37. Every school and role brought together new and diverse groups of stakeholders, staff and students, each with their own needs and dreams.

38. In her own words: "Everyone who comes to a new school wants to replicate an aspiration they brought along with them from the previous school. But in embracing the voices, we can bring the disparate good together, to form a more coherent and forward-looking purpose".

39. Espousing collective leadership, she worked closely with teacher leaders to develop a student-centric curriculum for Eunoia that they believed in.

  1. For example, through the college's flagship Life Coaching programme, each student is paired to a member of staff for regular one-to-one conversations to uncover purpose and passion.
  2. An annual "Unconference Day" aims to dismantle the traditional notion of the teacher, and puts learning in the hands of the student.
  3. Students realise that the universe is their classroom, and that they could choose what to pursue: whether it be coding from a classmate, or floral arrangement from their Principal.

40. In this way, the vibrancy of the college has bloomed. By letting leadership happen at each level, her legacy now resides:

  1. Not just in a name or school building, but
  2. In each and every one of its people.

41. In 2022, Christ Church Secondary School will be implementing Full Subject-Based Banding (Full SBB).

  1. Starting from their 2022 Secondary One cohort, form classes will comprise students from the different courses. In these mixed form classes, student will take a set of six subjects at a common level. For the remaining subjects, students in the same form class could be taking them at different levels based on their strengths and interests.
  2. We know from our 28 pilot schools that this requires a big effort on the school's part in terms of scheduling the lessons in the timetable.
  3. Yet this will not be the first year that Christ Church Secondary has reimagined their timetable and schooling structure.
  4. In fact, the school has had a four-day lesson week since 2010.
  5. On Fridays, there are no academic lessons in school.
  6. The school believes in setting aside a full day for their students to arrive refreshed, to focus on their CCAs, and on Character and Citizenship Education (CCE).
  7. Students, and teachers, can attest to the difference it has made to holistic learning. They enjoy the dedicated time set aside for activities beyond the classroom.
  8. Students develop soft skills, positive values and greater confidence in themselves.
  9. Their current Principal, Mr David Lau, continued this practice from his predecessor. In 2022, with Full SBB and under the leadership of their new Principal, Mr Adrian Tay, the school intends to continue to make this happen for their students.
  10. I particularly want to highlight this example of Christ Church Secondary for a reason. They started this in 2010 not because of any directive from MOE. They started this because they have leaders on the ground with the conviction to do what they need to do to cater to the diverse interests and abilities of their students.
  11. I hope all of us will have such aspirations to enable our students to do justice to the gifts that they have.
  12. MOE will support you. MOE will provide a menu of options, but ultimately, you will be the one who will put all these together for the benefit of your students and staff. If everyone of you can go forth and do this, we will have a landscape of diverse opportunities to cater to the diverse abilities of our students.

42. Such unique offerings define our schools. Each school gives a new strategic advantage to their students.

43. In the past two decades, we have diversified the system by introducing specialised schools. We now have the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, Singapore Sports School and School of the Arts; NorthLight School, Assumption Pathway School and School of Science and Technology; Crest Secondary School and Spectra Secondary School.

44. We have also diversified school admissions with the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme, to consider student achievements and aptitude that are not reflected through results from national examinations.

45. We are stepping beyond grades and going beyond academics.

  1. Results were recently released for the first graduating cohort under the PSLE Achievement Level (AL) scoring system, where students are no longer so finely differentiated in their examination results.
  2. From more than 200 possible T-score Aggregates previously, there are now only 29 possible PSLE Scores.
  3. Results are also standards-referenced, so that our children should focus on their own learning and progress, and not how they compare to others.

46. We will not stop here and we cannot stop here.

47. We need the wisdom and conviction of our Principals to consider how you can:

  1. Pivot and build from the traditional strengths of your schools.
  2. Find synergies with existing school programmes and across initiatives.
  3. And cultivate what is essential, staying true to policy intent and most importantly, your vision for the school.

48. By developing different centres of excellence in each school, we can cater better to different aspirations, and become more robust as a system.


49. I want to conclude with three challenges.

50. The first is for our schools, to further distinguish themselves through distinctive programmes, building a strong ethos and culture. We want every school to have their own distinctive programme. We want every school to have their own distinctive culture, while we all share a common set of values.

51. The second challenge is to commit our educators, to look further to re-shape our schools, our students and the future of our nation. We will equip our educators to do this. We will expand opportunities for our educators to refresh themselves to acquire new skills, not just for the classroom, but also for their own personal development, so that every educator will be a leader in a specific field, and inspire the children under their charge. They will demonstrate, through their actions, what it means to learn for life.

52. And finally for parents, and indeed, for all Singaporeans: we hope to inspire a culture that looks beyond a singular yardstick of success, and make choices for our children with their future in mind. Our challenge is to develop a culture where we seek to surpass ourselves instead of trying to surpass others, so that we do justice to the gifts that we have. If we can do this, we will take a giant step towards a new culture of learning for life.

53. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. While we continue to tackle this challenge, we need to filter the noise and strengthen our resolve to prepare our young for the world ahead.

54. To the newly appointed and rotated Principals: you are appointed today in the presence of others who have come before you. Take up your torch with courage and conviction.

55. I asked for this ceremony to be organised this way because I believe in having our new Principals appointed in the presence of their predecessors. To all our new Principals: you are not doing this alone. This is part of our collective ongoing journey to build a better future for our next generation.

56. We will keep working on this -- what cannot be completed in this generation will be worked on in the subsequent generation and beyond. We will live up to the Singapore spirit, where every generation will want to do something even better for the next, where we will never define our success by how well we do for this generation alone. Instead, it is about enabling the next generation to do even better than us.

57. On that note, I thank you all for serving our schools, our country, and growing a new generation of Singaporeans with the right values and confidence to compete and thrive in the new world.

58. All the best in your onward journey as Principals and leaders in our education system.

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