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MOE FY2022 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Second Minister for Education Dr Maliki Osman

Published Date: 07 March 2022 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Learn for Life: Confidence for a New Tomorrow

Mr Chairman,

1. Every child is important to us. MOE is committed to supporting our students to achieve their fullest potential, regardless of their background.

Uplifting Students to Achieve Their Full Potential

2. We agree with Mr Shawn Huang and Mr Leon Perera on the importance of supporting students in disadvantaged circumstances. These students may not have the best environment or opportunities to support their learning. Some may face challenges at home that could translate into poor attendance, motivation and self-esteem.

3. We are committed to ensuring that these students are not limited by their starting points in life. Across the system, we have dedicated programmes and support based on the students' areas of need, including academic and social-emotional support, financial assistance, and provisions for special education needs. Our teachers pay extra attention to them, tirelessly reaching out to their parents, making home visits to understand their circumstances, and providing support when the children are in school. It is very resource intensive. But our teachers do so with passion and commitment. And the support goes beyond the school.

4. A key initiative we have undertaken is UPLIFT (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce). Introduced in 2018, UPLIFT has been actively helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve success.

5. Let me share one example. Last year, I met Hafiza. Hafiza's mother is the sole breadwinner of their family which includes her and her step infant brother. Hafiza's mother was busy with work and was rarely around to guide Hafiza when she was growing up. Hafiza felt lost and unmotivated, and ended up mixing with bad company. She ran away from home several times, missed school frequently, and felt disengaged from her teachers and peers.

6. However, her teachers did not give up. They continued to reach out to her. Hafiza was touched by their concern, and gradually opened up to them. Hafiza's teachers encouraged her to join after-school activities like the Youth Community Outreach Patrol, where she built positive relationships with her peers and mentors, who helped her gain confidence. The UPLIFT Town-Level Coordinator and a volunteer family befriender also worked with the Family Service Centre and other agencies to provide the financial and emotional support the family needed, and find ways to provide a more conducive home environment for Hafiza. For example, Hafiza's mother made alternative care arrangements for Hafiza's infant brother, to allow Hafiza to focus on her studies for her graduating year.

7. Through these efforts, Hafiza achieved good results at the GCE N-Level examination last year and progressed to a course of her choice in ITE. When I met Hafiza, I could see the confidence in her eyes, and was proud to see a young girl turn around and do better with self-determination and support from the community around her.

8. Hafiza's example illustrates three key components of support we will provide our students.

9. First, we will provide a supportive school environment responsive to the needs of each student.

10. Providing customised support and attention to students with higher needs requires time and dedication. We will support our schools in doing so. We introduced UPLIFT Enhanced School Resourcing to provide schools with additional manpower, guidance, and teaching resources to help students with higher needs more effectively. 47 schools are currently supported under this initiative. We plan to expand this to 100 schools in total over the next few years, to support around 13,000 students.

11. Second, we will keep students meaningfully engaged in programmes after school. Many of these students do not have conducive home environments and many of us know about it. Through a structured and nurturing after-school environment, we give them the opportunity to develop routines and skills to succeed.

12. Since 2020, MOE has set up a Student Care Centre in every primary school to provide a safe environment for students to rest, play, do their homework, and engage in meaningful after school activities.

13. We have made fees affordable. With subsidies under the ComCare Student Care Fee Assistance scheme, eligible students pay as little as $5 a month.

14. We are also reaching out to help parents who have concerns over enrolling their child, like providing the necessary supporting documents. Last year, teachers in our primary schools helped more than 700 students from disadvantaged families enrol in our Student Care Centres. We are seeing good progress made by these students – many are more confident, they are more engaged in school and also more engaged in after-school activities. We will continue to help more disadvantaged families enrol their children into our Student Care Centres.

15. Our focus on after school programmes continues into secondary school. About 120 secondary schools provide after-school mentoring and motivational support under the GEAR-UP programme.

16. Third, we are building a strong network of community partners to complement efforts in schools, and address challenges that the families of these students face.

17. We started the UPLIFT Community pilot in 2020, creating a network of agencies including Family Service Centres, Social Service Agencies, and relevant government agencies like ECDA and HDB. The pilot has supported more than 300 students in four towns so far. Most have seen improved attendance, and their families have seen increased community support for them.

18. Encouraged by the success, we will expand this pilot. The UPLIFT Community Network has been rolled out to eight new towns in 2022. Eventually, when it is rolled out nationwide, 1,800 students and their families will be supported by the UPLIFT Community Network each year. We are grateful to community partners who have been supporting our UPLIFT efforts, and I urge more members of the community to step forward.

19. In addition to support for each student, we are also expanding pathways and opportunities across the educational system to cater to the different aspirations and needs of our students. I will now elaborate on our efforts in applied education.

20. Mr Chairman, through the various initiatives I have highlighted, we will strengthen support to students with greater needs, especially those from challenging backgrounds. While we provide equal access to opportunities to all our children, it is natural for each generation of parents who are better off to be able to give their children a head start a life, sometimes leading to unequal outcomes.

21. The link between social-economic background and student outcomes that Mr Leon Perera has observed and is concerned with, is not unique to Singapore, and in fact is seen across countries. It is part of societal progress and development which results in social mobility for most, albeit at a difference pace. There will always be those who are slower due to challenging circumstances. What is important is that we give them the best support we can, to develop the best that they can, enable them to move up the social and economic ladder, and do better than their parents.

22. As I told the house earlier, we are encouraged by our students from less advantaged backgrounds. They do well compared to their international counterparts. This gives us confidence and conviction to press on with our efforts.

Building Confidence and Resilience to Face Life's Challenges

23. Beyond targeted support and programmes like UPLIFT, we want to help all students be confident and resilient in the face of adversity.

24. I thank Dr Wan Rizal and Mr Shawn Huang for highlighting the importance of supporting the mental well-being of our youth. We agree. As part of adolescent development, our youths face pressures on multiple fronts – from themselves, parents or peers, or from society.

25. This challenge is made more complex because technology has transformed the way our young people live today. Despite its benefits, technology and social media use can also distort their self-image and increase social pressure for many of our youths.

26. Improving youth mental well-being requires a coordinated effort. Minister Chan described earlier how we will give students more opportunities to develop holistically in school, and Minister of State Sun will share how we can equip parents to support their child's well-being. Let me focus on how we prepare students to be resilient as they cope with the pressures throughout their life, and ensure that help is available if they cannot cope.

27. First, we equip students with the socio-emotional skills to be resilient. We want our students to be confident in themselves – to acknowledge their limitations, and celebrate their strengths. They also need to be able to manage their emotions, seek help when needed, and navigate online spaces safely.

28. These topics are taught under the refreshed Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum. For example, one lesson teaches students how people respond to challenges quite differently. Students discover their signs of distress when they reach their limits of coping. They are then encouraged to look out to others for support, and realise that these experiences are normal! At different points in time in their lives, given the circumstances and experiences, they need help, and it is normal for them to seek help.

29. Second, we are strengthening the supportive relationships around students, so no student feels that they face their challenges alone. This is especially important as Dr Wan Rizal says, there are those who are suffering in silence. The more they are connected with friends, we hope the more ready they are to reach out early should they face some challenges.

30. Youths often seek out their peers for a listening ear. Today, every school has a peer support system that empowers students to look out for one another, and build strong social support networks. Activities such as CCAs and camps also help students develop strong connections with their peers.

31. Students also look to their teachers for support. Teachers use CCE periods and form teacher periods to offer pastoral care. Schools have also set aside dedicated time and space at the start of each term for teachers to engage students on their wellbeing, be it managing relationship stress, or other academic stresses.

32. Third, we provide students with access to the care that they need.

33. Teachers are trained in basic counselling skills. They actively look out for signs of distress, offer support, and refer students to counselling resources in school. We will continue to develop our teachers' mental health literacy so that they understand and recognise symptoms related to common mental health issues early. Early identification is critical.

34. We are also increasing counselling resources to our schools. Beyond School Counsellors deployed in every school, we are equipping teachers to help students with more challenging mental health issues, and adjusting their teaching workload accordingly. We currently have 700 teacher counsellors, and plan to deploy an additional 360 over the next few years.

35. Our efforts to strengthen the confidence and resilience of our students extends to our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL).

36. The polytechnics and ITE offer a mental wellness curriculum to all students to provide a better understanding of mental health issues, and where to seek help. They are also equipping more students with skills to support their peers as peer supporters.

37. Each polytechnic and ITE student is assigned a personal tutor, who they can turn to for guidance and support. We will strengthen professional development so that these tutors can provide better care for their students, and study ways to enhance their contact time with their students.

38. Another area we are studying is the coordination of care and support for students with more complex needs in the polytechnics and ITE, as it often includes working with external stakeholders.

39. The Autonomous Universities have also introduced mental wellness programmes, including online modules and training workshops to equip students to help look after their mental and emotional wellbeing. They also have in-house counsellors available for our students.

Enhancements in the Polytechnics and ITE

40. Mr Chairman, let me now talk about enhancements to our Polytechnics and ITE. We agree with Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Abdul Samad and Mr Shawn Huang on the need to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, especially given the pace of industry transformation. IHLs regularly review their course offerings and curriculum in collaboration with industry and economic agencies, to keep pace with the latest developments and ensure our students secure good jobs.

41. Our polytechnics and ITE are a key part of our higher education landscape, catering to seven in ten of each primary cohort. As we prepare our students for the future economy and their future, we also acknowledge the growing diversity in interests and aspirations amongst our young people.

42. This was an area studied by the Review of Opportunities and Pathways in Applied Education launched last year. Let me give an update on our efforts in the Review.

43. First, we agree with Dr Wan Rizal on the importance of providing flexible pathways for students to discover and pursue their interests. This gives students ownership of their learning, and a more fulfilling educational journey, that helps them find meaningful careers.

44. We have expanded admissions to allow students to enter the polytechnics and ITE based on their interests and aptitude, more than just their academic performance. Today, 20% of each polytechnic intake enters through the aptitude-based admissions. The expanded range of Common Entry Programmes in the polytechnics also allows students more room to explore their interests before specialising.

45. From AY2022, all polytechnics will pilot the offering of flexible modular loads to students who need the time to build stronger foundations or pursue side interests such as entrepreneurship.

46. Second, we will continue to equip students with deeper industry ready skills. This was consistent feedback that we received from both students, industries and other stakeholders.

47. Indeed, rather than just learning in a classroom, we want our students learn from active practitioners and be inspired by the range of opportunities out there. More than 9 in 10 polytechnic and ITE students today complete structured internships in the final year of their study. We will pilot the provision of earlier industry exposure opportunities for students in the polytechnics from AY2022, beyond their final-year internships.

48. We agree with Dr Shahira Abdullah on the importance of securing good outcomes for our ITE graduates. This is why we introduced the enhanced three-year ITE curricular structure last year, to meet the aspirations of our ITE graduates to deepen their skills and upgrade beyond a Nitec qualification. Under the enhanced curricular structure, ITE students will be exposed to two linked industry attachments to deepen their industry exposure. I am pleased to share that the ITE recently welcomed their first cohort of about 2,000 students under their enhanced curricular structure. I am confident that these students will be well-supported, and able to make full use of the opportunities in ITE to discover and pursue their interests.

49. ITE will review the outcomes from this first phase of implementation and move more courses into the enhanced curricular structure after AY2024.

50. As more ITE graduates obtain a Higher Nitec qualification, we will provide them options to deepen their skills and meet their aspirations.

51. I would like to assure Dr Shahira Abdullah and Mr Abdul Samad that ITE continues to prepare its graduates well. Despite the pandemic, 8 in 10 graduates from the ITE Class of 2020 found employment within 6 months of graduating, with a median salary of $2,000 for those who were in full-time permanent employment, which is comparable to the year before. Results for the Class of 2021 will be ready later this year.

52. Besides our polytechnic diplomas, ITE's Technical Diplomas (TDs) and Work-Study Diplomas (WSDips) provide an alternative form of learning with a greater emphasis on learning-by-doing. Some students actually learn better this way.

53. I met Sharon for example, a graduate from ITE's Higher Nitec in Cyber and Network Security. Upon graduation, Sharon pursued her interest in F&B initially. However, she discovered that she still had a strong passion for IT, and wanted to deepen her knowledge and skills. Sharon was informed about the WSDip programme in Cyber Security & Forensics by her ITE lecturer and decided to take it up. This allowed her to embark on a career in a cybersecurity firm, in a sector that is increasingly important.

54. Preliminary outcomes of the WSDips are promising. Among the batch of graduates in 2021, around 80% have stayed on with their host companies after graduation. These students saw an average increase in salary of about 20% upon completion of their diploma, with many taking on higher-level job roles.

55. Students can look forward to more opportunities as ITE works with industry partners and other educational institutions to expand their diploma programmes. We have made progress in our plans to provide 1,000 WSDip places per year in 2025. In 2022, ITE will offer 36 WSDip programmes, catering to over 500 students.

56. ITE also offers 3 TDs in Automotive Engineering, Machine Technology and Culinary Arts, catering to around 100 students per intake. They plan to expand their TD offerings to other engineering, business and services domains. Employment outcomes of TD graduates have been very promising, with 9 in 10 employed within 6 months of graduation, and their salaries comparable to graduates from the polytechnics.

57. Third, beyond the technical skills, I am pleased to inform Mr Shawn Huang and Ms Mariam Jaafar that we will strengthen our focus on softer skills and competencies, for work and life.

58. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Clerks to distribute a copy of the LifeSkills framework developed for our IHLs. Members may also access this through the SG Parl MP mobile app.

59. Mr Chairman, this framework prioritises 10 skills, including critical thinking, collaboration, as well as mental resilience. These skills will prepare our students for the future workforce, where they are expected not only to excel in their domain, but also to have confidence in working with their colleagues locally and globally. We will strengthen these skills through experiential opportunities outside the classroom, including internships, student activities, and overseas exposure.

60. The polytechnics and ITE will enhance their curricula so the incoming batch of students in AY2022 will benefit from the enhanced baseline competencies across all 10 LifeSkills.

61. Building on this common framework, the Autonomous Universities will also embark on enhancements to their curricula to ensure graduates are equipped with baseline competencies in the same LifeSkills, but adapted to their student profile.

62. Through these enhancements, we will continue to support the diverse needs and aspirations of our students, and prepare our graduates to learn for life and succeed in a wide range of fields.

Our Vision for the Future of Education

63. Mr Chairman, allow me to say a few words in Malay.

64. Pembelajaran Bahasa Ibunda merupakan bahagian penting dalam visi kita untuk membantu para pelajar kita terus kekal teguh dan menghargai budaya mereka.

  1. Semasa perbahasan belanjawan, Encik Faisal Manap menyuarakan kebimbangan beliau tentang kemahiran anak-anak Melayu menggunakan bahasa ibunda.
  2. Saya ingin meyakinkan beliau bahawa pelajar Melayu masih menunjukkan prestasi yang baik dalam mata pelajaran bahasa ibunda mereka di mana peratusan yang lulus dalam peperiksaan nasional kekal tinggi sehingga sekarang. Ini sesuatu yang harus kita banggakan walaupun kita akur akan cabaran yang mereka hadapi kerana pendedahan kepada penggunaan bahasa Inggeris dalam kehidupan hari ini.
  3. Dalam pada itu, kita akan meneruskan usaha untuk menarik minat pelajar dan mengekalkan prestasi dalam pembelajaran bahasa ibunda mereka.
  4. Kita akan terus menyediakan peluang kepada pelajar kita untuk memperdalamkan pembelajaran bahasa ibunda di sekolah dan meningkatkan minat mereka terhadap bahasa ibunda melalui aktiviti-aktiviti yang dianjurkan oleh Jawatankuasa-Jawatankuasa Pembelajaran dan Penggalakan Penggunaan Bahasa Ibunda.

65. Di peringkat dasar MOE pula, kita akan meneruskan usaha gigih kita melaksanakan berbagai perubahan penting dalam sistem pendidikan kita. Kita harus bersedia untuk menghadapi masa depan di mana:

  1. putaran teknologi dan perniagaan akan lebih singkat dan permintaan kemahiran akan lebih dinamik
  2. dunia kita semakin terkutub (polarized) dan terpecah-pecah (fragmented), meskipun kita kekal terhubung dan saling bergantung di arena serantau dan global
  3. struktur sosial kita terus berubah dengan aspirasi dan perspektif warga kita yang lebih pelbagai.

66. Visi sistem pendidikan kita bertunggak daripada tiga elemen utama:

  1. Pertama, kita mahu semua warga Singapura yakin dengan diri sendiri serta yakin akan keupayaan kita untuk terus berkembang dan memaksimumkan potensi kita.
  2. Kedua, kita mahu warga Singapura terus mengekalkan kelebihan bersaing menerusi semangat belajar dan terus belajar dan berlatih semula serta mengekalkan keterhubungan kita dengan dunia.
  3. Ketiga, terus menghargai dan meraih kepelbagaian sedang kita membina identiti kita bersama.

67. Untuk mencapai visi ini, kita perlu memikir semula pendekatan pendidikan kita. Pendidikan tidak lagi berakhir apabila kita meninggalkan bangku sekolah tetapi satu perjalanan yang berterusan sepanjang hayat kita.

  1. Di peringkat usia yang muda lagi, kita akan membina asas yang kukuh untuk semua pelajar, menyuntik rasa ingin tahu dan semangat untuk belajar.
  2. Di sekolah, kita akan terus meluangkan waktu dan ruang untuk pelajar mengenal pasti kekuatan dan membina kecekapan yang siap sedia untuk masa depan.
  3. Di peringkat pendidikan tinggi, kita akan terus menyediakan pelajar-pelajar dengan kemahiran dan kecekapan untuk berjaya apabila mereka menyertai dunia pekerjaan.
  4. Pada masa yang sama, Institusi Pengajian Tinggi kita akan meluaskan peranan mereka sebagai institusi pembelajaran berterusan, bekerja rapat dengan industri untuk meningkatkan kualiti dan memudahkan para pelajar dewasa mengikuti program-program peningkatan diri dan kemahiran mereka .

68. Tuan pengerusi, kita akan terus mempertingkatkan sistem pendidikan kita demi masa depan anak-anak kita dan negara kita. Kita memerlukan sokongan setiap warga Singapura dalam usaha ini. Para pendidik, ibu bapa, masyarakat dan rakan kongsi industri semua memainkan peranan penting dalam membina masa depan yang membolehkan warga Singapura yakin dalam menentukan arah tuju mereka sendiri dan daya bingkas untuk bertindak dengan perubahan dan gangguan.

69. [The learning of Mother Tongue languages is an important part of our vision to help our students remain rooted and appreciate their culture. During the budget debates, Mr Faisal Manap expressed his concerns about how our children would develop strong Malay language skills. I would like to assure him that the percentage of Malay graduates passing their mother tongue subjects in national examinations has remained high and comparable across the years. This is something we should be proud of, although we know that our children face the challenge of using English in many aspects of their lives.

We must continue our efforts to get students interested and engaged in learning their mother tongue. We will continue to provide opportunities for students to deepen their learning in mother tongue languages in schools, and increase interest in mother tongue languages through activities organised by the Mother Tongue Language Learning and Promotion Committees.

At the MOE policy level, we are pressing ahead with important reforms to our education system. WE need to be prepared for a future where:

  1. Technological and business cycles are more compressed and the demand for skills is more dynamic.
  2. Our world is increasingly polarised and fragmented, even as we remain more interconnected and interdependent.
  3. Our social fabric continues to evolve, with more diverse aspirations and perspectives amongst our people.

Our vision for the education system has three key elements. First, we want all Singaporeans to have confidence in our abilities and ourselves, so we can keep growing and maximise our full potential. Second, we want all Singaporeans to continue to maintain our competitive advantage, through the ability to learn and re-learn, and our connectivity with the world. Third, we want to continue to celebrate diversity, even as we work to forge a shared identify.

Achieving this vision requires us to rethink our approach to education. Education is no longer something which ends in schools, but a continuous journey throughout life.

At a young age, we will build strong foundations for all students and spark their curiosity and desire for learning. In schools, we will continue to free up time and space for students to discover their strengths and cultivate future-ready competencies. In higher education, we will continue to equip students with the skills and competencies to succeed as they transit to the workforce. At the same time, our Institutes of Higher Learning will also grow into their roles as institutes for continual learning, working closely with industry and enhancing their programmes for adult learners in terms of quality and accessibility.

We require the support of Singaporeans to join us in achieving our vision. Educators, parents and community and industry partners all play a key role in developing a future where our Singaporeans have the confidence to chart their own path, and the resilience to respond to changes and disruptions.]

Concluding Remarks

70. Mr Chairman, as we embark on the enhancements to our education system, we will help our students to make the best of these changes. Together, we will nurture generations of confident and resilient students who are prepared to face the challenges and opportunities of the future economy. Thank you.