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Speech by Second Minister for Education Dr Maliki Osman at the 35th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards (PESA) Presentation Ceremony 2022

Published Date: 23 September 2022 05:00 PM

News Speeches

A very good afternoon,

Ms Loo Tze Lui, Vice-President, YMCA of Singapore,

Mr Steven Chia, Chairman, Organising Committee of the 35th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards 2022,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Once again, a very good afternoon. It is a pleasure to hear the speeches presented by the students who delivered them with clarity, confidence, and certainly conviction. Well done to all the students! I look forward to hearing the rest later.

2. I am very delighted to join you today in celebrating the achievements of our students at the 35th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards Ceremony.

PESA 2022

3. This year's Plain English Speaking Awards Competition, or else known as PESA, is a momentous one as YMCA celebrates 35 years of promoting the use of plain spoken English amongst our students.

  1. When PESA first started in 1987, participants from 32 Secondary Schools and 9 Junior Colleges came together for its inaugural public speaking competition.
  2. Since then, PESA has grown.
  3. This year, PESA received a record high of 776 participants, ranging from preschools to Junior Colleges, Polytechnics, and the Institute of Technical Education. The large number of student participants shows that we recognise the importance of clear and effective spoken communication.

4. It is therefore befitting that PESA is able to resume an in-person mode after two years, in time for this milestone.

5. The choice of topics for PESA 2022 is rich and interesting. They allow our students to share their aspirations, challenges and journey of personal discovery and growth. I was particularly intrigued by one topic that goes like this, "My parents are following me on social media?!"

6. Speaking of following others on social media, I have heard that it is not uncommon for young people to have hundreds, even thousands of followers! How many of you have hundreds of followers on social media? Thousands? Probably Steven Chia is the only one with beyond ten thousand followers, but I am sure that many of you have many followers on social media.

  1. So with this increasing popularity of social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, youth today can have an immense reach and influence on people all over the world, not just in Singapore.

The Importance of Effective Communication Today

7. Indeed, the world today is vastly different from when PESA was first held in 1987. The plethora of digital devices and platforms has given us more channels for communication, and access to an even larger audience than before.

8. All these options and possibilities put an even greater premium on effective communication.

  1. The principles of effective communication may be the same both for in-person or online modalities. For example,
    1. clarity of purpose and message,
    2. awareness of audience,
    3. sensitivity to context and culture, and
    4. appropriate choice of language.
  2. We may be more used to applying these principles when we meet in person.
  3. But we will need to work harder so that they are also well-applied in an online space.

9. And the Covid-19 pandemic has supercharged this process. We have moved even more of our daily communication to the virtual space, for example, in learning and at work.

  1. There is greater impetus to learn to communicate effectively and empathetically through our screens.
  2. We will have more difficulty in reading body language and other non-linguistic cues.
  3. This means that we have to be more thoughtful in our choice of words and tone to best convey our messages, and to listen closely before taking turns to respond.

10. But the principles of effective communication I shared are only part of the equation. Effective communication is also grounded in sound values. We not only want our students to speak clearly and eloquently, we also want them to speak responsibly.

  1. After all, words matter. As the lyrics in the Bee Gees song go – "…words are all I have to take your heart away."
  2. Indeed, effective communication happens when we "take their hearts away" that is, to capture the attention and emotions of the people we are communicating with.
  3. In the digital world today, one can easily capture the attention and emotions of people through online platforms. It is also easy to hide behind a cloak of anonymity and be loose with our speech in an online space.
  4. What we say can reach and influence many people.
  5. We must be mindful that what we say can either build bridges, or cause division. We can either sow peace, or seed offense.
  6. We should not be afraid to speak, but we must be responsible in what we say.

11. In Singapore, the role of effective communication in plain English cannot be understated.

  1. Aside from giving us an edge as a global city in an interconnected world, the ability to speak English plainly and clearly is vital to foster strong social cohesion in Singapore.
  2. As a multicultural, multilingual society, English is the common language that binds us. It enables us to expand our common space, bond and unite us more strongly together.
  3. I would like to encourage all of us to continue to hone our communication skills and use them to build bridges of common understanding and forge strong, authentic connections with others.


12. To all award recipients: Congratulations on a job well done, for having the courage and confidence to speak in front of others and share what is close to your heart. Speaking well is not about participating in competitions. It is an important skill developed through a lifelong journey of learning and growth. It is also about articulating your sincere thoughts and feelings in a mutually respectful manner. As you continue to learn and improve, I hope you will also enjoy the learning!

13. I would also like to recognise the contributions of all school leaders, teachers, parents, PESA judges, and partners from the community. Thank you for your continued efforts in nurturing our young and championing effective speaking skills.

14. In particular, I would like to congratulate and commend the YMCA of Singapore for their unwavering commitment to the annual PESA competition through the last 35 years. YMCA has indeed played an instrumental role in promoting effective communication by giving our youth the opportunity to grow into confident and thoughtful adults who can lift others through their words.

15. May this annual celebration of plain spoken English continue to inspire students to use their voice responsibly and for good.

16. Thank you. Have a pleasant evening!