Speeches/Interviews

September 22, 2015

Keynote Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the Ministry of Education Work Plan Seminar 2015, on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 at 9:15am at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre

Welcome

1. A very good morning to everyone and I am delighted to see so many of you here this morning. I would like to welcome our former chair and deputy chair of GPC, Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Ms Denise Phua, COMPASS members, SMC, SAC, Board of Governors and key staff of our IHLs, our PSGs and all the parents and volunteers, Self-Help Groups, and of course our school leaders, teachers and everyone involved in education. As you can see, this is one big MOE family gathering every year, and a very special one this SG50 year.

2. This is our fifth WPS together.

3. From the start, we have been listening and engaging our students, our teachers, our school leaders, our employers, all our stakeholders. MOE’s Our Singapore Conversation on education was a very large exercise, involving over 22,000 people, across 334 sessions, to discuss the future of education. We have learnt a lot and continue to learn from all of you every day.

4. I have learnt how our education system has gone through phases, in tandem with nation’s growth. Survival-driven to efficiency-driven to ability-driven. Interacting with educators, I know how strongly you feel that every child matters. We want to bring out the best in every child, regardless of their starting point. We want to develop children of character, integrity, resilience. Students with deep skills who can go on to embrace lifelong learning.

2011 - 2015: Building Up A Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education

5. That is why in my first WPS, I announced a new phase: Student-Centric Values-Driven Education.

6. That first WPS, I talked about putting values and character development at the core of our education system. We renewed our emphasis on CCE because values shape the character of our young and values shape the character of our society. When we dialogue with the public through platforms such as Our Singapore Conversation, Singaporeans talk about how we must retain strong values. CCE is the hardest subject to teach, but I am so glad that our schools and teachers rise to the task.

7. And there are many encouraging stories of how our children blossom in CCE: A mother wrote to me that she came home with her son one day and saw the lift lobby scattered with litter so the son started picking it up. The mother’s first instinct was to tell him, “Stop doing that, don’t dirty your hands.” She checked herself and decided to ask him why he was doing so. He told her, “this is our home, we must care for it.” The mother realised her son was teaching her an important value. So she wrote to me to thank the school for doing a good job with CCE. So I thank you all for this. You can see that this is a difficult journey but day by day we are making progress, making an impact not just to students but to parents too.

8. That was WPS 2011. Putting students at the centre of education has not changed for the past years. Basing education on values also has not changed. In fact, it grows from year to year.

9. At our first Budget Debate, I used a 5-word phrase for the first time. Five simple words, but full of meaning - Every School a Good School. It is my firm belief, and it is my conviction. So in 2012, our second WPS together, I then explained how we would act on “Every School a Good School”.

10. I announced that we will stop banding secondary schools by academic results. I also shared that Every School a Good School is made up of 3 other Everys: Every Student an Engaged Learner; Every Teacher a Caring Educator; Every Parent a Supportive Partner. We recognise our schools’ best practices in all these 3 areas. And we removed the Masterplan of Awards.

11. In 2013, we worked on how to achieve “Every Student an Engaged Learner”. We started Applied Learning Programmes and Learning for Life Programmes. We announced the Student Learning Space, to help bring the efforts of our schools together, and to make the best use of technology. So I am very happy that schools have indicated ALP and LLP as well as CCE have become the top 3 most beneficial initiatives. So I want to thank all of you for making ALP, LLP and CCE meaningful and engaging learning experiences for students.

12. In the 4th WPS last year, we talked about “Every Teacher a Caring Educator”. We enhanced specialisation and mentoring for teachers; added new apex position to teaching career track; improved HQ support for schools.

13. And I know that every year at WPS, there is always some worry that we introduce new things. In fact, as you can see, it has all along been about a Student-Centric, Values-driven Education. It has been about supporting our schools and teachers to do so.

14. Finally this year in 2015, I am going to talk about every parent a supporting partner. So you can see, each year, piece by piece, we build on the work of previous years. Everything we do is integrated, and mutually reinforcing. Each time we are adding resources in areas that will make a difference in the learning of our children, that will make a difference to how our teachers do their work at the frontlines.

Every Parent A Supportive Partner

15. When we talk about “Every Parent a Supportive Partner”, we need to understand: Why is this important to our work as educators? What do we mean by “Every Parent a Supportive Partner”? And how can we help make this a reality?

16. So first, why are supportive parents important to us? Let me share a story that has influenced me deeply in my work as Education Minister. A mother wrote to me in my first few days when I assumed the post. And she said she had only one son. So she was most determined to fulfil her duty as a mother, to see him succeed. And she said: “I just had this idea - he must be a lawyer. So, from the time he was in primary school, all the way, in secondary school, JC, right up to University, I was nagging him all the time, pushing him to work harder and saying “you must become a lawyer. You better study hard, you better do this, you better go for this tuition, that tuition.” But she didn’t ask him what he wanted to do. She ended the email with - Well, I succeeded. He’s now a lawyer. But … he no longer talks to me. I got a lawyer, but I lost a son.

17. I read the email several times, and you can hear the pain and the anguish and the regret. But why did this mother share her sadness so honestly with me? Because she hoped MOE could help other parents avoid this, spare other children from being forced onto a path that was not suitable for them, that they didn’t want. And indeed parent’s expectations and actions can shape the course of the child’s life completely.

18. Yes, a good school and caring educators can do a great deal. And that is why we have a whole range of different programmes. That is why we have over the years been creating more and more different programmes. But ultimately parents have the most impact on the child.

19. If the child goes home to hear, “What did you learn today?” It helps to reinforce the joy of learning. If the child hears “What questions did you ask today?” It helps him to develop a lively and curious mind. But if he comes home and you ask “Huh you got only 48 marks out of 50? How careless of you! I think you can do better. Stop making careless mistakes! ” He will grow up very afraid of doing wrong things, very afraid of taking risks, and very afraid of being inadequate.

20. So indeed, what we do with parents is very important: student-centric values-driven education has to be something we do together - schools and parents.

21. When I speak to teachers, especially beginning teachers, I hear your concerns about how we can engage parents meaningfully. And indeed, we will be firm to draw the line, and MOE will support our educators as long as you are doing the right thing. MOE will continue to equip our teachers to do this well.

22. I am happy that you have, at your seat, a set of role playing cards. We have developed them for our teachers and our trainee teachers at NIE. The cards will help teachers better engage parents productively. This is our continued effort to deepen the professional training and development and support of our teachers, so do use these cards to share your experiences with each other and to discuss how we can do this even better.

23. Let me also share some stories about how parents can be involved in their children’s education journey.

24. These stories show what we mean by “Every Parent a Supportive Partner”. Just as each child is different, parents also have different circumstances and expectations. But all parents can be supportive partners in their own ways.

25. And this particular video is precious for the many words of wisdom. Ms Sharon Ong spoke about how to connect with your child without being a CCTV hovering over him. And it reminds of a friend who came over to me and said “I am going to retire early to look after my son because my son is going overseas to study, and I am going to move in with him.” I was aghast, so I tried to be helpful. I told him you can Skype, so she said “I will install one in his bedroom, one in the hall so I can connect with him 24/7.” I was aghast, so I thought of a magic question: “Do you want to be a grandma one day?” She said “of course, yes”, and I said “So, please give your son some time and space.”

26. Now let me share three ways we hope to encourage every parent to be a supportive partner. First, we bring parents together. We have many parent volunteers here this morning and I thank you all. PSG is a key platform. I have met many of you in PSGs and you are doing wonderful work. Schools and PSGs provide opportunities for parents to grow closer to their children through different activities such as workshops and parent-child camps. In 2012, we provided seed funding to better support PSGs. And since 2014, we have provided top-ups annually. So I am confident that PSG will continue to do great work in bringing our students and parents closer together.

27. Second, we empathise with parents, and understand what you are going through. On the first day of school, Indranee, Ann, Hawazi and I have gone to many schools. We have met many parents, anxious on the first day of primary school. Indeed this is the first important milestone for our children, and we want to do more to help.

28. We have developed an activity book to support parents of Primary 1 children. The book has many suggested activities for parents and students to help with the transition, and in fact you can also personalise the book. If your child is entering P1 next year, you will receive a copy in November this year, and it will also be made available online for our teachers.

29. Third, we support parents with resources. We shared professional insights gathered from parents and educators over the years as well as international research. We have done so through workshops, networking sessions, our websites and other resources. However, we want to reach out to even more parents. We will be putting more of our resources online - whether it is through our websites, e-mailers or through social media. We aim to make Schoolbag a great website for all parents.

30. In particular, we will support parents to play a greater role in Education and Career Guidance. We have enhanced our Education and Career Guidance Guidebook for parents of students at upper primary and lower secondary levels. The guidebook will be ready next month. ECG Counsellors based at our schools, polytechnics, and ITEs will also work together with students and parents to make informed choices among multiple education and career pathways, and you can see from this slide here that we are actually starting very early. This is our MOE Kindergarten, and the gentleman in the black T-shirt is a firefighter telling the kids what it is like to be a firefighter. You can see how excited the kids are! The first 50 ECG counsellors will be deployed by October this year, and we will have 100 ECG Counsellors by 2017.

31. So we are creating many platforms for our parents to be meaningfully engaged. We appreciate that parenting can be a fulfilling and joyous journey. It can also be an anxious and challenging one. But we are not alone. We can come together to share and align our efforts, so that together we can bring out the best in every child.

Multiple Pathways, Meaningful Pathfinders

32. Let me now talk about multiple pathways and meaningful pathfinders. Learning takes place in school, at home, and beyond. Imagine - everyone in our community, everyone in our society, making a positive impact on our students. We are fortunate that in Singapore, so many step forward to work together with our schools. Many schools have done good work in partnership with our community. This year, we have 24 schools receiving awards - 21 for Best Practices in various areas, including 14 schools for their Best Practices in Partnership.

33. I’d like to now share how the community can be supportive partners.

34. As you can see, our community provides many opportunities for learning - learning beyond schools, learning beyond home, and it is heart-warming to see how many come back to contribute to our schools.

35. At this point, let me say a bit more about Zhangkai. I think you all have heard of Zhangkai. PM mentioned him at National Day Rally. Zhangkai went to EM3, and almost failed PSLE. He then went to Normal Technical course in Loyang Secondary, then ITE, Nanyang Polytechnic. And along this journey, he discovered his talent in digital animation. He has just graduated with a degree from the prestigious SIT-Digipen Institute of Technology. He got his dream job as an animator. PM has said Zhangkai’s story is the Singapore story.

36. But there is more to this story which I would like to share today. Zhangkai reached out to me some time back. He saw me at his SIT graduation, but did not have a chance to talk. So he wrote a long email about his education journey. I was very intrigued so I wrote back to him asking “who has made a difference to your life?” And this part is very touching - he wrote back another long email listing all the teachers along the way, in primary school, in secondary school, in Poly, in ITE, in Digipen, who made an impact on him. He listed exactly what they did, exactly what they said to him, that made a difference to him.

37. There was one teacher, he remembers, who gave him one-to-one remedial lessons. He asked the teacher, “Why do you bother to help me?” The teacher said, “As long as you will learn, I will teach.”

38. I met Zhangkai and his girlfriend, Jessica. It turned out Jessica took exactly the same learning journey as Zhangkai and is an animator too but she works for a different firm. So I think they have very animated discussions. I am very happy that Zhangkai and Jessica are here with us today.

39. Zhangkai also told us something interesting. He said: “ITE and Poly really drill your foundation - you do a lot of projects. Every time you do a new project, you are unlocking a new achievement.” During his final year, Nanyang Poly hired 2 industrial guests to teach the final year project. Zhangkai said of his experience “It was enlightenment. What we learnt up to that point was like level 1 but when you are exposed to real world projects, you move up to level 3; we learnt things that we could never have thought of.”

40. It was interesting that it was a bright spark of enlightenment. What Zhangkai and Jessica shared sums up very well why we must partner with parents and the community if we want to bring out the best in every child. You see MOE can work on the schools part, the teachers part, even the student part - but a good catalyst makes a difference - the difference between Level 1 and Level 3 - and by bringing in perspectives and challenges from the outside world, they can bring a certain kind of inspiration.

41. The instinct to guide our young to succeed is quite natural. Many of our schools’ alumni, like Ian Tan, continue to support school programmes. Ian is also with us this morning. Others, like Linus Ng, help inspire our students by sharing their own stories. I have met many people who have approached me to ask how they can contribute, not just in the schools they were from, but in other schools which may need more support.

42. Not all schools have the same access to these people. Some of our newer schools for example do not have strong alumni. Some of our schools may not have the same profile in the community. We want to help every school, and provide them with resources. This is how we can further our goal of Every School a Good School.

43. We want to pool resource persons so that our schools can draw on their support to strengthen their programmes. They will be our Pathfinders, collectively the Community of Pathfinders in Action or COMPACT.

44. At MOE, we can be path builders. As path builders, we can build multiple pathways, diverse pathways, distinctive pathways. Through our learning programmes, our policies, our assistance programmes, our resources for schools, we lay out the multiple pathways that our students can embark on.

45. And in our schools, teachers equip our students with the inner compass and the navigation skills to chart new paths, build new paths, and navigate new paths.

50. Pathfinders, on the other hand, will help us build and light up these multiple pathways. Our pathfinders have walked interesting paths themselves - paths less travelled, or well-known paths in which they have gone further. And they can bring new meaning to our understanding of success in life and our contribution to society.

51. They can help students find meaning, purpose and passion. In particular, Pathfinders can help with the ALPs and LLPs in secondary schools, and in primary schools, in the various domains - Languages, STEM, Humanities, Business & Enterprise, Aesthetics, Sports & Youth Leadership. They can give talks, conduct workshops, design programmes, provide experience, provide exposure, contribute their expertise and resources, connect to their networks, and so on and so forth. In fact, the possibilities are endless! Their interactions with schools could be directly with students or they can impact students indirectly by working with parents and teachers and MOE HQ.

52. MOE HQ will facilitate and match Pathfinders with the needs of our schools, especially in ALP, LLP, CCE and ECG. We will have 300 matched Pathfinders by end-2016, and scale it up to 1000 matched Pathfinders by end-2018.

53. And I am very pleased that many inspiring individuals from a wide range of expertise have already come on board. Let me briefly introduce them.

54. We have entrepreneurs, such as Elim Chew, Joshua Soh, Edward Chia and Low Cheong Kee. As entrepreneurs, they constantly ask - how can we do better? How can we create value? How can we innovate? How can we create value for society? They can help our students stretch their imagination on new possibilities and create new and innovative things.

55. We have scientists and researchers, such as Dr Bidushi, Professor Neo Kok Beng, rocket scientists who have launched satellites in space; scientists like Dr Ong Soh Khim, Dr Juliana Chan, and other A*STAR scientists from our research institutes who are passionate about Science & Technology, and how we can apply Science & Technology to improve lives for everybody, and they can share with our students the passion for the wonders of science and technology and engineering.

56. We have poets, filmmakers, composers and media personalities, such as Prof Edwin Thumboo, filmmaker Royston Tan, Susan Ng, and Liang Wen Fu, who are creative, see the world from unique perspectives, and share these with us in new and creative ways.

57. We have historians like Prof Tan Tai Yong, who can stimulate our students to think across time: to think about the significance of events in the past, and how they impact the future. . We have from the field of youth leadership, sports and humanitarian work, Ishak Ismail, Dr Ben Tan, and Dr Tan Lai Yong.

58. Some of our Pathfinders are with us this morning. They are special in their own ways but what they all have in common is a passion to inspire our youth.

59. So you see this is a very exciting initial list and this is just the start. MOE will draw more resources from the wider community. Every school will have rich opportunities to expose our students to inspiring individuals, and resources to craft programmes for our students.

Conclusion

60. Let me conclude by reiterating the importance of every school a good school. It stems from a simple conviction - that every child is a child of Singapore, every child matters to us. Every educator, in every of our schools, makes a difference to the life of each child whom you lead, care and inspire.

61. Every parent, hopes for his child to grow up to be at his best. We share the same goal. When parents, teachers and the community work together. We multiply our efforts to make every student an engaged learner. We multiply the domains in which our children can find success. We multiply the pathways to success and indeed together we create new pathways to success.

62. Every School a Good School also encapsulates an important principle in our education system - that every educator, every school, is part of something larger. We do not want just a few high peaks. Rather, we want every school to rise in distinctive ways - in ways that can best serve our students. That way, we can give the best possible education for each child. I am confident that this spirit of sharing, of spurring one another on, among our schools, among our educators, among our parents, among our volunteers, will grow even stronger in the coming years.

63. Finally, good schools, good education, these alone are not enough. If Singapore fails, our students will fail. They will have to find opportunities elsewhere in the world. While our student-centric approach seeks to bring out the best in each child, our values-driven education must seek to enable each student to see himself as part of something larger, and contribute to that.

64. Our schools, while seeking to be distinctive in their own ways, are also members of the MOE family, members of our neighbourhood community, members of our society. Our schools can contribute to the building of a more caring and gracious, vibrant and successful Singapore, and that’s what moulding the future of our nation is all about.

65. Every Pathfinder, every volunteer, every member of society who has something to contribute is part of something larger. Together we can continue to make Singapore successful. We can make our modest contribution to the world.

66. I am convinced that by bringing out the best in every child, by making every school a good school, we will bring out the best in every Singaporean. We must and we will build upon the foundation that has been laid by our pioneers, and together we will bring up a generation of new pioneers who are rugged, adaptable, caring, and gracious.

67. I am extremely proud of all your work - in our HQ, in our schools, in IHLs and in every part that touches the lives of our students. Let us continue this journey with our Singapore Spirit! Together we can look forward to SG100. Thank you.