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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education at WPS 2023, at EXPO Convention Hall

Published Date: 20 September 2023 02:00 PM

News Speeches

1. A very good morning to all of you.

2. In the next 30 years, how do we define success for our students? There are four forces that are impacting us as we speak. In the next 30 years, you can expect that the stable rules-based global security order will be under stress, if not challenged. Today, we have already seen the war in Ukraine, and various parts of the world. This means that our students will have greater uncertainty to deal with, and they may not be able to experience the stability and peace that we have experienced in the last 20, 30 years.

3. We are also facing an increasingly interconnected but fragile global economic system. Things that happen somewhere in the US, China, in Europe or anywhere else could have repercussions across the entire world. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a ship sailing through the Suez Canal got stuck and then the global supply chain went into a turmoil. In the financial system, a bank failing in the US may cause a cascading effect around the world. Again, the rules of uncertainty that we have to deal with – that our students have to deal with in the next 20 to 30 years will change.

4. Increasingly, we are looking at a fractious domestic situation. There are more diverse aspirations, and people are constantly comparing notes with what is happening elsewhere. Diversity in itself is not bad. But the question is, how do we bring people together, to do things together? It is not just in Singapore that we have a more challenging domestic environment. It applies across the world. What does this mean for our students?

5. Last but not least, technology is changing rapidly. Today, many of you have come to terms with the words Artificial intelligence, or AI. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the fragmenting global order, the fragile economic system, the fractious domestic politics and the rapid technological change, what do you think success will look like for our students in 30 years?

6. For us to succeed, every student needs to be a creator, a connector and a contributor going forward. Let me explain why I have chosen these three words to focus our attention on this year. In today's world, there is no credit or bonus for us to teach our students to only know how to answer yesterday's problem with yesterday's answers. Knowledge is increasingly commoditised unlike five to 10 years ago, where knowledge might have been a premium. However, it is no longer the case now because we have educated our people better. Knowing the answers to today's problems or yesterday's problems is necessary, but no longer sufficient. Our students can only distinguish themselves in 20 to 30 years' time if they are able to create something new, and if they can create new value for themselves, for our country and for the global system.

7. Without that, if we cannot distinguish ourselves, if we are just pedestrian, we will be destined to only work for other people who can create new things, which is why every student should aim to be a creator. In this fractious world, we need to learn how to collaborate with other people, not just domestically, but with our overseas partners. The more the world threatens to fragment, the more we need our people to be able to connect with people from different persuasions and different backgrounds. This will become an essential life skill, not just for them in Singapore, but beyond Singapore. If Singapore as a small nation cannot connect with different parts of the world, then our raison d'etre will be gone. This is not just about individual competencies. It is also about our nation's survival.

8. Last but not least, why the word "contributor"? In the next leg of our nation's economic development, we cannot just have a narrow definition of success, where some people who have succeeded academically are seen as the beacon for everyone else. We need to appreciate the diversity of strengths required for our society to be much more resilient. We need to respect one another for their diverse talents. But more importantly, we want every Singaporean to know that in the next lap of our nation's development, everyone can contribute something. It is not just about those who have succeeded academically who can contribute. Every one of us, every student, regardless of our station in life, must have the confidence that they can contribute something, beyond finding meaning in their own personal achievements.

9. This is the essence of broadening the definition of success. It is not just about broadening the definition of success from academic to non-academic, personal achievements. It is broadening the definition of success, from personal achievements to collective contributions. If we can do that, we will have a much more heartwarming society, a much more cohesive society, a society where everyone feels respected and valued. That is what we need to strive towards.

10. One example of how everyone can be a contributor would be Hay Qing Hui. Qing Hui was diagnosed with intellectual disability. He enrolled in APSN Chaoyang School, APSN Tanglin School, and thereafter at Delta Senior School. He learnt to focus on his strengths and on his abilities rather than his disabilities. What can we do with what we have, rather than what to constantly lament about what we may not have? Despite the difficulties Qing Hui faced as a child, he now actively gives back to the community. He spends his evening coaching other youths in sports, teaching other students with learning disabilities, and mentoring them in service learning projects to give them the opportunities to also contribute meaningfully to those around them. He continues to support the community as an instructor assistant in APSN Tanglin, and a volunteer assistant coach in dance sport with Special Olympics Singapore.

11. When I visit the schools, I always asked our students one question: "What makes you special?" I asked them this because I want them to grow up knowing that each and every one of them have a special skill set. They can make a contribution in their own unique way. It is not just about chasing after the same narrow yardstick that everyone else is chasing after. When each and every member of our society understands and respects each other's diverse skill sets, we will have a much more vibrant and heartwarming society.

12. So why every child a creator? Because it is not enough just to answer yesterday's questions with yesterday's solutions. Why everyone a connector? Because there is a reason why we bring people together. That is our value-add to society and the world.

13. Why everyone a contributor? Because everyone must have a sense that they are able to do so according to their own gifts. If we can do that, then I think we will have achieved much more than what the PISA score tells us about our academic prowess.

Refreshed Framework for 21CC and Student Outcomes

14. This year, taking into account the current context, our challenges and our students' strengths and needs, we will be refreshing our 21CC framework. We will foreground four competencies.

15. The first and second  we will foreground adaptive thinking and inventive thinking. This has to do with what we want our students to be – creators who can invent, create and see something new.

16. The third will be communication skills. Communication skills are not just about talking and speaking, it is an in depth understanding of others beyond ourselves. It starts with the school community, but goes beyond the school community and Singapore in order for us to deeply understand other people's fears, concerns and aspirations so that we can bring people together to collaborate and work with. That will be the third focus area.

17. The fourth focus area for the refreshed 21CC will be civic literacy. By this, we mean everyone appreciating each other's diverse strengths, appreciating Singapore's unique context, appreciating our place in the world, our role, and our contributions that we can make to our society and the world. We wish for everyone to confidently say that regardless of their station in life, they can contribute in their own way to their school, their community, their country and to the world. We will work on this and let you have more details in the coming year as we refresh our 21CC.

18. One of the things that I want all of us to keep instilling in our students, starting with ourselves, is this – our definition of success for our education system is not how well our students score in the first 15 years of their lives. Our real definition of success for our education system is how our students keep growing in the next 50 years of their lives beyond our school system.

19. This applies equally to our teachers. To have good teachers joining us is one thing. To have good teachers who keep deepening their professional competencies, who keep learning, is more important to us because when teachers do that, they demonstrate vividly to our students the real meaning of lifelong learning. This is why we want to prepare you and help you to learn for the next 50 years of your life after you join MOE.

Launch of EdTech Masterplan 2030

20. We understand that it is not easy for all of you. I have always said that I cannot always promise less work for all of you. But I promise you that we will strive for more impactful work, work that is meaningful to our students and to yourself. Let me share this little story that you're all familiar with from Africa. They have this saying: "If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together." In Singapore, what should we do if we want to go fast and to go far? Well, the answer is to use technology. Technology will allow us to go fast and go far together because this is a team sport.

21. EdTech will allow us to go fast and go far together. The first thing I hope that EdTech will allow us to do is to reduce the load of our teachers, to have a greater value proposition in the way they teach and in the way our students learn. What is our biggest challenge today? It is not about educating the masses. We have done that  we have achieved mass education since a long time ago. Mass access to quality education is not our challenge. The real challenge is how to customise and allow everyone to learn according to their needs and abilities.

22. When I was in China, I had an extended conversation with my Chinese counterpart Minister Huai Jinpeng. He gifted me this phrase that neatly encapsulates what we are trying to do. In the past, both Singapore and China faced the same challenge – we could only have one standard way of teaching, which is based on the average abilities and needs of all our learners. So, Minister Huai shared that: "这种教学方法 – 强的学生吃不饱,弱的学生吃不好". In English, it means that with this model of teaching where everything is centered on the average, the high-ability students cannot get enough, while lower-ability students get too much, and not necessarily what is appropriate for them.

23. So the question for us is this – how can we use EdTech to mass customise our teaching and learning so that we will cater to both ends of the spectrum of learning needs? If we can do that, everyone can truly appreciate their own gifts and not compare with one another. Hence, we will be rolling out more tools to enable our teachers to complement and supplement their teaching and learning.

24. But I want to emphasise that the tools are here to complement and supplement. The tools are not here to replace teachers' roles, because nothing can replace your role as the last mile to bridge what we want to transmit to our students and what our students need. Only you can customise your teaching according to the needs of our students based on your observations. So let me share with you some of the examples that we are rolling out, which some of you are already using, including the use of AI.

  1. My first example would be the automation for the purpose of marking, so that you can focus your instructions to the specific needs of the students. Let me demonstrate with a showcase of the Short Answer Feedback Assistant on the Student Learning Space (SLS), a new feature which will be available for schools from December 2023. This AI uses previous experiences to help teachers provide feedback to the students. This reduces part of your work and helps everyone by using not just the individual's personal experiences, but by tapping on the body of knowledge that we have accumulated collectively over the years. The students will benefit from the collective experiences of the previous batches, and that is how we can improve the quality of our teaching and feedback to our students.
  2. The second example would be the example of Bedok View Secondary School, which has a Science department that sources for resources in the SLS community gallery, where they refine their teaching and lesson plan according to their students' needs. There are some resources available in our SLS as every teacher contributes something to it every year, and every school contributes at least one good idea every year. Together, we pool our resources and our collective wisdom will benefit all teachers. Going forward, our education system has not, and will not depend on just a few star teachers. We want the experiences of these star teachers to be able to be shared with everyone across the entire school system.
  3. The third example would be the Singapore Sports School, who is trying a new GPT-powered AI Chatbot to generate the first cut of the lesson plan. This first cut of the lesson plan will incorporate the e-pedagogies and recommendations for relevant SLS feature. If the Singapore Sports School can do this, then all of us can do this.

25. Today, we will launch our new EdTech Masterplan for 2030. We will put more resources in the following areas. Firstly, we will make sure that every school cluster has two dedicated persons to help with the EdTech proliferation. Why proliferation? I spoke with our Educational Technology Division. The question is not whether we have enough good ideas for our EdTech. From what I observe, we actually have many good ideas, but our speed of proliferation is not fast enough. This is because there are ground challenges that we need to overcome when the EdTech Masterplan is being rolled out. We will make sure that we resource the community properly. We will provide each school cluster with two officers to support us on this journey.

26. We will need to do more for EdTech. We'll also revamp the curriculum at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and what the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) is doing for professional training. We cannot assume that because we have graduated from NIE many years ago, that we would still be up to speed.

27. We must remain committed to keep sharing. All the resources and technologies will not come to any good outcome if we do not commit to learn or share.

28. At the same time, I know that many of you are concerned with issues regarding mental health, as well as the proliferation of devices in our school system. That is yet another area that we must strengthen our abilities to help our students, in order to complement the rollout of the devices, and the role of technology. Therefore, how you manage all these must also change. We can do so by stepping up our efforts to equip our educators to help our children to manage many of these new challenges since the students are exposed to this bewildering world of technology with overwhelming information. So please remember to use technology wisely, and to use it as an enabler, but never believe that technology will replace your critical role on the ground.

29. We must not be complacent. Just because we have good teaching resources and good teachers, does not mean that we don't need to rely as much on EdTech. In fact, it must be our mission, that we will also use technology to complement our teaching and learning to make a breakthrough.

30. How do we use technology to create new teaching methods? What are new insights to how we can be more effective in the way we teach to ensure that our students learn? That is our next lap of challenge. The highest value-add for us is to have a breakthrough in the way we teach different students according to their needs, interests and abilities.

31. Mass customisation is not just for students. We must start with our teachers. Teachers also have different learning needs and we must be able to customise our own resources for our own teachers.

32. The third segment  moving from the school as our world, to the world as our school. We are humble enough to know that not all cutting edge knowledge lies with us. Not all the best practices are with us. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to know the world and learn from the world so that we can help our students learn better and faster.

Establishment of MOE Partnerships Engagement Office

33. Singapore's competitive advantage must be that we can close the gap between frontier industry practices. Singapore must be one of the top countries in doing so. Therefore, our ability to produce good students with relevant knowledge is not just about how much we teach them, but rather how able we are to push them to the frontier of new developments at the cutting edge.

34. Our emphasis now is to partner stakeholders  families, communities and also the industries. We will also refresh our school environments to make sure that we give ourselves the best opportunity to collaborate with our partners beyond school. So many of you have already started exploring partnerships beyond schools, and I want to cite a few examples to encourage all of us.

  1. First, Gan Eng Seng Primary School recognises that the future of work will become increasingly complex and will continuously evolve. They therefore took the initiative to organise learning journeys to partners like lyf@Funan, SBS Transit, AI Singapore, and TheSmartLocal to stay updated on changing industry needs. This is part of their continuing education program for their teachers in service of their students.
  2. Another example is ACS(I) working with Grace Orchard School. This year, seven students from Grace Orchard School with mild intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder have joined ACS(I)'s Secondary 4 classes for PE, CCE, recess and VIA projects. There will be more of such partnerships to come. These are just some examples of how we can broaden the exposure of our students beyond what's happening in the books.

35. On MOE's part, we would like to announce that we have set up a Partnerships Engagement Office (PEO) in MOE HQ to help you to facilitate link-ups with partners elsewhere. My aim is that every school will at least have one community or industry partner that can work with you to offer your own specialised programme and Applied Learning Programme. When we say that every school is a good school, we also mean that every school is a special one with its own special niche area. This will allow students with different abilities to choose a school that plays to their strengths, and not just base their choice on academics.

36. There are many of you that would like to link up with partners. PEO will try to source for those partners and link them up with the school to develop a long-term relationship. We will do our best to make these partnerships happen. While we want you to explore partnerships beyond the school, we also want industries and community partners to get into schools.

37. The aspiration for this year's Work Plan is for every one of you to decide as a team which partner you would like to collaborate with and stay the course.

  1. Changkat Changi Secondary School stayed the course with aerospace partner SIA engineering for many years. Today, many batches of students know that if they want to do aerospace engineering or aeronautical engineering, they should go to Changkat Changi Secondary School as they have a niche in this area. They even have aircraft simulators in the school. Their Physics lessons also closely involve avionics. That is the kind of specialisation that we would like to see in every school.
  2. Kranji Primary School is another example. They were looking for an ALP in STEM and Eco Stewardsip Programme, and PEO connected them with EM Services, an estate and property management company looking after some of our Town Councils and focusing on various environmental community projects. Kranji Primary School and EM Services are now working through the details of this partnership, but when the programme is implemented, we hope to see our students being able to experience real world operations in a company which will help bring their learning to life.

More Funding for Schools to Refresh Learning Environments

38. Many of you have also shared that you want to make sure that you catalyse ideas in your school besides partnerships. So today, we're going to introduce a $64 million School White Area and Canteen Grant. Every school will receive $170,000 to $270,000, depending on your school, so that the school environment can be improved according to students' needs, to enhance our 21CC effort.

39. From January 2024, schools will be able to progressively invest in new furniture and equipment to support the different learning activities and learning experiences. Schools can decide how you are going to change the environment using the resources available. But do not just spend the money buying tables and chairs. Use the money to catalyse new ideas with your students on how we can improve and change the learning environment.

40. I have a very simple motto: As long as you understand the objective, you can do whatever you think is necessary. MOE will provide the resources and support needed, and our educators can go forth and do great things in their own domain.


41. In conclusion, I will sum up by saying three things.

42. First, success comes with our conviction to stay the course. Second, we need gumption to break new grounds. Third, we must always remember our unity and purpose, and diversity of practices.

43. Let me talk about conviction first. Whether we can get to where we want to be has less to do with the quality of our ideas than the consistency of our practices.

44. A well-executed average idea consistently beats a great idea that is not well-executed and not consistently carried out. In fact, if you look around the world, many other countries have better ideas than us. But in MOE's system, we have been able to execute our ideas consistently. That is why the greatest thing that cheered me the most was that over the last 20 years, we are the only country that has made consistent progress. I am not trying to compare with other countries. I am not trying to surpass other people in an exam, as I tell our students. We are trying to constantly surpass ourselves, but in order to do that, we must have the conviction to stay the course and not be distracted by short-term goals.

45. Our yardstick is never measured by what we have achieved here and now, but how our students fare many years later. Your greatest joy is to see your previous students come back, acknowledge you, greet you and show you what they have done for themselves and their families.

46. The next thing I want to touch on is gumption – gumption to break new grounds. Today, we have given you a lot of resources and new ideas. All these are necessary, but not the most important. The most important thing is whether we walk out from here with the gumption to break new grounds.

47. Last but not least, unity of purpose and diversity of practices.

48. We all need to move fast to evolve our pedagogical practice, adopt technologies, understand the world, and bring the world into our school system. At the same time, we must stay firm, in the kind of values that we want to transmit to our students, the conviction that we will benchmark our success in 30 years' time and not in the immediate term. We have to find our own balance.

49. The more interesting thing is, do we standardise the individual or individualise the standards? In fact, people will tell you that individualising the standard is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as individualising the standards, but if we truly want to bring out the best in every one of our students, we have to look at what each of them is capable of achieving, stretch them, challenge them and in that process, mass-customise and individualise the standards. That is our evergreen challenge.

50. MOE can provide you with a suite of support, but ultimately, you must lead. That is your responsibility and I put my trust in you that you will close up the last mile because there will be students at both ends of the curve that we need to individualise the standards for, either to stretch them or to uplift them. There will also be students that we need to help, they fall in the middle and we must move them along.

51. How do we use the different methods to inspire each and every one of our students? That is where I need all of you. AI can never replace what you do in the school. It is you who will make the judgement in your respective schools, and find the balance to strike between lifting everyone up to a certain standard, and challenging everyone according to the standards that they can achieve.

52. I want all of you to remember that your job is to showcase to our students, our family, our country what we can achieve. You have been the pride of our nation and I have faith that you will continue to do all this for many more years to come. So long as we understand and never be complacent. So long as we understand that it is no longer enough just to have yesterday's answers for yesterday's questions and that everyone is a creator. So long as we understand that our value-add comes from our ability to connect, and that everyone can be a contributor regardless of our station in life.

53. On that note, I look forward to doing greater things with all of you. I have every confidence all of us will rise to the occasion for ourselves and for our country.

54. Thank you very much and have a good Work Plan discussion.