Speech by the Minister for Education Mr Chan Chun Sing, at the Project: It'll Be Alright E-Book Launch, at the National Museum of Singapore

Published Date: 11 December 2021 01:30 PM

News Speeches

1. A very good afternoon to all. It is my pleasure to be invited by Project It'll be Alright to launch their e-book and this special art exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.

2. I'm very encouraged by this group of passionate young people who want to make a difference to their peers around them. They are part of our Youth Mental Well-being Network that is jointly supported by Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Education (MOE). They spent the last year collecting stories of hope and resilience from youths of diverse backgrounds.

3. I would like to thank the team and their Advisor, Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, for their good work in bringing together all the people involved in this project, and seeing it to fruition.

Youths' Lived Reality

4. Today, our youths face multiple pressures in their world. They grapple with managing their social life while balancing their academic and professional pursuits. They deal with expectations that are both self-imposed and imposed upon them by society and their families. They also need to learn to navigate and thrive in a competitive, high-performing environment.

5. On top of this, our youths' face unique challenges that the older generations have never experienced before.

6. Digital technology and social media use have become so much a part of their lives. They live and learn with technology. They stay connected to their friends and families with technology and social media. They organise themselves around meaningful causes through social media and rally one another to advocate for social issues using technology. Technology has transformed the lives of our young people in ways that would never have been imagined a generation ago.

7. However, while our youths have been able to harness the tremendous potential that technology has brought, we can also see how technology and social media use have potentially fuelled feelings of anxiety, distorted their self-image, impacted their self-esteem, and increased social pressure in many of our youths.

8. Many of them commonly use the phrase FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, that drives up their anxiety levels, especially in the online space.

9. Online risks, such as cyber bullying, transcend physical boundaries and often bypass parents' awareness. This makes it difficult for parents to help or protect our youths from these online harms.

10. In addition, the increased stresses aggravated by the prolonged COVID-19 situation have brought youth mental well-being concerns to the fore.

11. Some parents are facing financial and job uncertainty. The resulting tension at home has also affected the mental well-being of the family and their children.

12. World Health Organisation's recent classification of Omicron as a variant of concern has also led to renewed anxiety, uncertainties, and even disappointment as many of our youth were looking forward to the easing of measures.

Update on MOE's Efforts Following Ministerial Statement

13. Our students' mental well-being remains and will always be a key priority for MOE.

14. Earlier this year, I spoke about MOE's ongoing and enhanced efforts to strengthen students' mental well-being in my Ministerial Statement in response to the River Valley High School incident. I would like to take this opportunity to share what we have done with our partners in the past few months.

15. Firstly, as part of the refreshed Character and Citizenship Education, Mental Health Education lessons have been rolled out to all lower secondary students. We aim to equip our students with the knowledge and skills to build their resilience, strengthen their mental well-being and resolve their challenges. This includes seeking help when needed. These lessons will be progressively rolled out to the rest of the primary, secondary and pre-university levels over the next two years.

16. Secondly, since September this year, all schools have dedicated time and space at the start of every term for teachers to check in on our students' well-being.

17. Teachers have been provided with practical pedagogical resources and tools to monitor and support students' well-being. Lesson activities have also been designed to help teachers kick-start conversations with students to share and discuss well-being issues, and reinforce class commitment to look out for one another. This will be a key feature in our schools' efforts to proactively look out for the well-being of all our students.

18. Next, as youths tend to turn to their peers for help and a listening ear, we have also accelerated our efforts in peer support. All schools have a peer support structure in place and are seeking to empower their students to make an impact on the school community. We will continue to widen the outreach and deepen the capabilities of these peer-led self-help communities.

19. Chiam Zhi Quan is a Secondary 3 student from Kranji Secondary School who stepped out of her comfort zone and volunteered to be a Peer Support Leader in her class. She provides a listening ear and reaches out to classmates who are undergoing challenges. Zhi Quan also joined the #SAFESPACE initiative. This is a peer support project designed to create awareness in the school about the impact of hurtful words and how to be less judgmental towards others.

20. Such peer-led ground-up initiatives are powerful. We must continue to encourage our youths to co-create this ecosystem of support for students' mental well-being.

21. Parents and family play a crucial role in determining the well-being of their children as well. I had earlier called for our Parent Support Groups (PSGs) to expand their role to connect with one another and render help to parents whose children and families may need more support. We are glad to share that 25 PSGs are leading the charge through various ways. Some are sharing resources and directing fellow parents to community helplines. Others are organising sessions to share parenting tips and advice on identifying signs of stressors and ways to seek help.

22. One example is Admiralty Secondary School's "Let Us Chat!" programme. This is organised by the PSG Executive Committee to help parents strengthen their children's self-confidence and well-being by transforming their mindsets on education and shifting their focus towards life-long learning. Facilitators from the PSG share information about underlying factors that may be affecting their children's well-being. Parents are also provided with tips and strategies to start supportive conversations at home and help their children to regulate their emotions.

23. Ms Joey Ching, Chairperson of Admiralty PSG, shared that the programme is a chance for parents and children to better understand one another's perspectives and improve their parent-child relationship. I hear more PSGs will be coming on board, and I look forward to the enhanced partnership with them.

Update on Whole-Of Government Efforts

24. Supporting youth mental well-being requires a whole-of-government effort. Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Janil Puthucheary, is leading the Interagency Taskforce for Mental Health and Well-being. This Taskforce was set up to oversee mental health and well-being efforts on a national level, focusing on cross-cutting issues that require interagency collaborations.

25. MOE and MSF co-lead a workstream that seeks to provide greater support for families, children and youths to enhance mental well-being. Together with MOH and the other agencies, we are working on areas such as helping youths and parents to better access coordinated mental health services, partnering and empowering parents to strengthen and support their child's mental well-being, and harnessing the potential of digital technology and social media while addressing its negative impact on the mental well-being of our youths. We will share more details in the coming months.

Rallying the Whole-Of-Society Effort

26. The issues that affect mental well-being are multi-faceted. All stakeholders – parents, families, the public, private sectors, the community, and the youth themselves – we all need to work together in concert if we want to make a difference to the mental well-being of our youths.

27. Together, we must find ways to make the digital world safer for our youths so that they can fully harness the benefits of technology. As a start, we will need to work with social media platforms to enhance online protection mechanisms for our youths. This includes exploring age verification requirements and addressing the issue of social media users hiding behind anonymity to post hurtful and inappropriate comments. We also need to work together to empower parents in strengthening their children's well-being, especially in the online space.

28. More broadly, as a society, we need to find a way to broaden our definitions of success. This is a fundamental cultural change that we need to bring about. We need to let our children know that success is not based just on how they do in examinations. As a society, we want to embrace a diversity of talents that will strengthen our country's resilience.

29. MOE has made some structural shifts in recent years to reduce the overemphasis on academics as a measure of success. We have evolved the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) examinations, widening the scoring bands so that students do not need to chase down every last mark, and assessing each student based on their own progress regardless of how their peers perform.

30. We value holistic development, such as in character, values, relationships and a wider range of skills, traits, and qualities. Education and Career Guidance is in place in every school to help students discover their respective strengths and interests, and to guide them in their choice of future schools and career.

31. But we still have a long way to go. Despite recent efforts, the prevailing skewed perspective remains that getting a good degree is the failproof way to secure a good future.

32. We need to remove such artificial and incomplete yardsticks of success prescribed by others. In its place, we must recognise and value the intrinsic worth of each and every youth and empower them to find their own path forward, and to chart their own destiny.

33. We want to strive for multiple pathways of success, not just multiple pathways to success, as if there is only one definition of success. Ultimately, we want to see a culture where our young people learn to strive, not just to surpass others, but more importantly, to surpass themselves. That the true benchmark that they ought to have is within themselves.

34. This is best illustrated by one of the stories I read in the e-book that we are launching today. Jia Hui talked about how the pressure to compare herself against others led to more stress and feeling worse about herself. She eventually came to the realisation that "everyone moves at different speeds on different paths, each with their unique journey" and I particularly like what she said - "I have not missed out on what was meant for me".

35. Youths themselves must have the courage to pursue the path that might be less travelled and create their own definitions of success and a life worth living.

E-Book Launch

36. Our youths are the hope of our future. To the youths, I would like to say this – you can shape the world you wish to live in. You do not need to FOMO – you can discover your own passions, interests, and potential. You can find the motivation to live each day seeking to be the best version of yourself. You can build up one another, support your peers, and create a caring and enabling society that ensures that no one will need to go through life's toughest moments alone.

37. And this is precisely what the members of Project It'll Be Alright as well as the story contributors had sought to accomplish. They had faced their own adversities and mental health struggles. Many in their positions would keep these dark moments private, but they have found the courage to share their personal stories of resilience so as to lend strength and instil hope in other youths who might be struggling with similar issues.

38. It gives me great pleasure to be part of this meaningful e-book launch and art exhibition, and I look forward to the panel discussion. And thank you once again to all the hardworking people behind the scenes who have made this possible.

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