Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at MOE Year 2022 Main Promotion Ceremony at Resorts World Convention Centre

Published Date: 28 April 2022 06:00 PM

News Speeches

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. I'm sure you are all very happy to be here in person.

2. First, let me congratulate all of you on your well-deserved promotion, and the senior officers on the Teaching Track and Senior Specialist Track, on your new appointments.

3. This is the first time in two years that we are having a large-scale promotion ceremony to celebrate this occasion. We are most happy to get together once again to catch up and bond with one another.

Tribute to Teachers and the Education Community

4. When the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced the further easing of measures last Friday, our nation heaved a collective sigh of relief. There must be a strong sense of relief in the schools as well, as some of you shared with me before entering this room.

  1. Two years of COVID has certainly taken a toll on most of us, even more so for those of you working on the frontline, because you hardly had any opportunity to take a break. You have done everything you could to keep our schools open, to continue teaching and to allow our students to continue learning amidst additional COVID duties.
  2. Every new wave and variant was met with worry and distress from parents and students. But our school leaders, teachers and staff courageously faced the challenges head on, despite the fatigue that came along with it.
  3. It has been a long and arduous journey, and to everyone who has been on this journey with us, I am grateful for your dedication, and I want to thank you sincerely.

5. I joined MOE in May last year, right when COVID measures were tightened again, and cases were appearing in schools. Shortly after, MOE announced that full home-based learning would be implemented again.

  1. I witnessed first-hand how colleagues were able to pivot within short notice, even though we are such a big system.
  2. I always share with our HQ colleagues that we must do all we can to make our decisions and communicate them to our schools early, to give teachers and leaders enough time to react before asking them to implement the new measures; because it is not easy to prepare teaching resources or to reconfigure classroom arrangements overnight.
  3. I must also credit the various teams at HQ who have come together many nights and weekends to deliberate and to recommend the best course of action for MOE; this sense of urgency and responsibility is highly commendable.

6. In my past year with MOE, I have heard many stories about school leaders, teachers, and staff going the extra mile and overcoming the constraints of COVID, but at the same time seizing the opportunities that come with COVID. Two such stories are of Mr Tham Kine Thong, Principal of St. Andrew's Junior College, and Ms Nuraini, School Staff Developer from Changkat Changi Secondary School, who are here with us at this ceremony today.

7. Kine Thong joined St. Andrew's Junior College in 2021, in a time when the college was adapting teaching and learning to COVID, while ensuring holistic development and well-being of students. He led the college to articulate more explicitly the skillsets that students needed to learn; moving staff, students, and parents away from overly focusing just on examination preparation, and towards deepening learning and understanding.

8. Nuraini played an instrumental role in driving the blended learning efforts at Changkat Changi Secondary School, and in equipping teaching staff to be competent and confident users of technology in the classroom. She also led the staff development and well-being committee, and during the circuit breaker, her team continued to provide support to lift the spirits of colleagues by pivoting to online means to reach out and connect with them.

9. Kine Thong and Nuraini's stories are not uncommon. All of us know a Kine Thong and a Nuraini in our schools. The stories may be different, but they embody the same sense of care and commitment.

10. Outside of work, you are also parents, spouses, siblings, and have elderly parents to care for; and being a teacher does not exclude you from your personal responsibilities, needs and fears.

  1. I know you were worried about possibly bringing the virus home with you, infecting your family.
  2. I know you worked long hours to do contact tracing for your students.
  3. I know some of you caught COVID too and felt guilty for falling sick and passing on more work to your fellow teachers.

11. We have all felt one anothers' anxieties, and I have seen your hard work, and heard your frustrations. But even through the toughest times, you have stepped up to answer your call of duty, to ensure that your students' learning needs were met, and their well-being taken care of.

12. Teachers are truly exceptional – the profession often entails putting others above oneself.

  1. But let me take this opportunity to remind all of you to also take care of your own well-being, to take care of one another. Know when to give yourself a break, find pockets of time today to rest and recharge because the journey is long.

Future of Teaching

13. Now, we are recovering from COVID and bringing back normality to our schools and students. However, we are not going back to our old ways. COVID has accentuated many trends in education, teaching and learning. We need to seize the new opportunities and overcome the new challenges together.

14. And as a fraternity, we will embark on this journey together. The best ways to care for our teachers are to make sure that,

  1. We have a shared understanding of our opportunities and challenges,
  2. We equip our people with the skillsets and mindsets to do their jobs well, and
  3. We support them continuously in all ways possible, so that they can best take care of our students.

15. To grow our students, we must first grow our teachers. Teaching is no longer just about the transmitting of knowledge and skills, and learning is no longer just about receiving them. So, how we redefine teaching in the road ahead, and how we equip and prepare our teachers to better support learning will be the critical challenges for us as a community moving forward.

16. Today I will share three areas where I see us putting greater emphasis on:

  1. One – strengthening the competencies of our teachers to deal with the demanding social-emotional development needs of our students,
  2. Two – leveraging technology to manage workload, and
  3. Three – enabling and encouraging greater agency in our school leaders and teachers.

Greater focus on students' social-emotional development

17. We all know – learning, especially academic learning, can only take place when children are well-adjusted and when their physiological and psychological needs are well taken care of.

18. We have all spent more time, and most likely will have to spend even more time, to ensure a good foundation in our children's social and emotional development, before we even talk about their academic development. There are more special needs and high needs students whom we are aware of. Part of it can be attributed to demographics; part of it, to better diagnosis.

19. So, our teachers will need to be better equipped with the ability to mentor and guide our students.

  1. Beyond the teaching of conventional pedagogies to prepare our teachers, we have, and we will continue to strengthen the skillsets of our teachers to manage and support the social-emotional development of our children, especially those with higher needs.

20. But our teachers cannot be expected to do this alone. We have to partner parents and the community every step of the way. Hence, we will also have to equip our teachers with the skillsets and mindsets to work more closely with parents and community partners.

21. Within our own system, we must also strengthen our processes to better support our students as they transit from pre-schools to primary schools, secondary schools, and post-secondary education institutions.

  1. Improving handover processes will also help alleviate the workload of our teachers, as we don't have to restart our diagnosis and interventions whenever a child transits between schools or between different levels in the same school.

22. Without strong and stable social-emotional support, it is difficult for our children to even start to focus on their academic development.

Greater utilisation of technology to manage workload

23. Next, as we rebalance teacher workload to focus more on social-emotional development of our children, we must look at how we could free up resources, time, and bandwidth to do so.

24. Reducing class size has often been touted as a solution. Unfortunately, it is not likely to be the panacea to all our challenges.

  1. It is most unlikely that we can significantly increase quantity without compromising quality.
  2. It is also unworkable to expect our teachers to work twice as much if we halved every class in a non-targeted manner.

25. Instead, our solution is more likely to come from using new technologies and pedagogies to scale up our efficiency and effectiveness in delivering to the masses, while freeing up resources, time, and bandwidth to focus on students with greater needs.

26. We are and we have been on this trajectory. But we need to do more, faster and better for the benefit of our teachers and students.

27. Technology could be used to help minimise unproductive administrative work. But it is not just about technology alone. Fundamentally, it is about our processes – how do we simplify and streamline them?

28. But the biggest payoff from applying new technologies will come from how we use them to scale the preparation of teaching resources; how we use adaptive learning systems to stretch our students based on their different abilities; and how we use blended learning to focus the use of our teaching time.

  1. More and more of the plain transmission of knowledge will be done through the use of self-paced access to internet platforms.
  2. Classroom and contact time with teachers will increasingly focus on connection, collaboration, and creation of new ideas.
  3. Teachers will require new skillsets and mindsets to facilitate connection, collaboration, and creation for our students.
  4. It is no longer about trying to help our students to answer yesterday's challenges with yesterday's known solutions. It will increasingly be about helping our students to frame tomorrow's challenges and to create new solutions for tomorrow.

29. Another way to help manage our teachers' workload is to have greater sharing of the best-in-class teaching resources across all schools. We have already been on this journey for some time.

  1. I hope we will have an 80-20 rule. 80% of our basic teaching resources to be readily accessible, a common pool for our teachers to choose from. 20% of the resources to be customised according to our students' needs.
  2. In China, I heard they even gave out awards to recognise teachers who excel in creating interesting content to share with others. I am thinking of doing the same – creating a marketplace of the best ideas for our educators to choose the most appropriate teaching resources that can most effectively meet the needs of their students.

Greater agency to customise learning

30. My third point today has to do with the agency of our teachers and school leaders.

31. In my early days in MOE, I read up various articles and books, and watched various videos on education and the future of education.

  1. One particular YouTube video made a deep impression on me. It asked the question – why do we still need teachers and school leaders in an Internet age?

32. The stronger the curriculum branch in any HQ, be it in Singapore or elsewhere, the more tempted we are to think that we have it all figured out for our students.

  1. But I have this standing joke with our teachers whenever I visit the schools – if we take a centrally directed curriculum and mindlessly apply it to all our schools, we will always be 100% wrong! Why?
  2. Because any centrally directed curriculum, if it caters to the average in a spectrum of learning needs, it will be 50% too tough for some and 50% too easy for others. So, 100% wrong at the individual level!
  3. Jokes aside, this is the reason why we need teachers and why we must strengthen the agency of our teachers and school leaders.
  4. No amount of centrally directed instructions can cater to the specific and unique needs of our students. Every child is different. Every school is unique in your students' profiles and backgrounds.
  5. Only our teachers can close the last mile to customise the curriculum according to the needs of your respective students.

33. I want every teacher to know that while HQ will provide you with a menu of options and support you with the resources, only you can cook the dish in your own ways, for your students.

34. I want you to know that HQ is supportive of you adapting your approach according to your students' needs. Indeed, we expect you to do so. And in the process, sometimes, HQ may even learn from your best practices!

35. We need to be clear that our education system and our teachers should strive for excellence, not perfectionism.

  1. The pursuit of excellence is always in context. It is a dynamic pursuit that adapts and adjusts as circumstances evolve.
  2. While perfectionism is without context. It is a single-minded pursuit of an ideal or an unchanging yardstick, even if it becomes out of context and irrelevant over time.

36. And our context is one where the world evolves rapidly, and every future generation grows up in a very different and uncertain environment. We will have to learn to deal with uncertainties and messiness because there is no way for us to eliminate all of them.

37. We should not be obsessed about cleaning up every last bit of uncertainty and untidiness in pursuit of "perfectionism", while weakening the opportunities to develop resilience in our students.

  1. Our focus is not to comprehensively get rid of every minor uncertainty and imperfection for our students. Our focus is to incisively deal with the most important issue at hand, to strengthen our children's resilience and adaptability, to create an environment for them to grow and overcome uncertainties.
  2. Every new structure and rule we put in place to eliminate yet another uncertainty and imperfection imposes a cost to our time, resources, and bandwidth.
  3. We should ask ourselves if the work we do will deliver a better outcome in terms of building our students' resilience and their ability to deal with uncertainties and imperfections.

38. School leaders and teachers must also have the agency to chart the course for our students. Diversity of approaches for the diversity of needs. Do things differently, do different things, explore student-initiated learning and even student-initiated CCAs. Nurture our students' discipline and maturity to take the lead, and to learn from the process and even failures.

39. In my weekly visits to the schools, what cheered me the most has always been your gumption as school leaders and teachers to try new things according to your convictions of what is best for your students. That's why I keep going to schools every week, keep encouraging you, and keep getting inspired by what you are doing for your students for the last mile to bring out the best in them, and help each and every student realise their full potential.

Conclusion

40. While there are many new skillsets and mindsets that we must acquire, what remain unchanged are the values of the teaching profession and our commitment to enable each and every student to achieve their full potential.

41. Our teachers are never afraid of hard work. Our teachers are only afraid of work that is not meaningful.

  1. Many of you have shared that throughout COVID, despite the steep learning curve when picking up ICT tools and platforms for learning, there was also a spark of thrill and excitement that came with discovering the new worlds that opened through these doors.
  2. I urge you to continue to carry the same positivity as you did when you were catapulted into full home-based learning for the first time, when you became experts in running virtual lessons and video streaming almost overnight.
  3. Carry that same level of vigour and conviction and find new ways to engage our students, new ways to instil the joy of learning, and new ways to convey your love towards your teaching subject and your profession.
  4. Step out of your comfort zones, try out an attachment or acquire a new skill, develop a new connection, and come back to the classroom with fresh perspectives.
  5. Exemplify to our students that we no longer graduate from learning. Instead, we continue learning throughout our lives.

42. Every promotion is a recognition of your contributions, and more importantly, a reflection of our faith in your potential.

  1. We will support you to realise your potential in all ways that we can, just as you help our students realise theirs.
  2. In you, we entrust the future of our students. In you, we entrust the future of our nation.

43. Thank you.

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