Speeches/Interviews

March 05, 2018

MOE FY2018 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Minister for Education (Schools), Mr Ng Chee Meng

1. Mr Chairman, I thank members for their cuts. MOE is committed to giving every child the best start in life – not just in school, but for the future.

2. Ms Denise Phua, Mr Seah Kian Peng, Ms Foo Mee Har,and Mr Zainal Bin Sapari highlighted the driving trends of today and asked how we will prepare our children for the future economy. I agree with them that given the trends, tomorrow’s jobs will require innovation. We will prepare our children from young.

3. We start from a position of strength. Over the years, we have developed an education system that is effective in inculcating students with sound values and equipping them with a strong academic foundation. We have built on this base in the last few years.

4. One, we have strengthened our focus on the holistic development of every child. We have dialled back from an over-emphasis on academic grades.

5. Teachers today co-ordinate to manage the assessment and homework load. We took steps to reduce the competitive pressure in our system, so that students can focus on their learning. For example – from 2021, the new PSLE scoring system will measure how well a student has learnt, and not how he has done in comparison to his peers.

6. Ms Denise Phua asked if we can pilot no-PSLE through-train schools. I understand her good intentions, as well as the stress that parents and students face. Stress arises from a complex mix of factors: policies, expectations, perceptions, mind-sets and ground realities. The PSLE changes we have made are important changes at the policy level. However, it will take time for the effects to be felt on the ground – including other measures like Subject Based Banding which will increase the porosity in our schools.

7. We do not think removing the PSLE is the way to go. The PSLE is a useful checkpoint at the end of primary school to help us determine where each child’s academic strengths lie. This guides the child to a suitable academic programme in secondary school – one that best fits his learning needs. The PSLE does not however, cast in stone what students can achieve in school, in life or anytime in the future.

8. Removing the PSLE and having a through train will only transfer the stress on parents and students elsewhere, such as at the P1 registration. Like what Ms Foo Mee Har said, it will be a 10- to 12-year race to safeguard their child’s interest. The stress will be tremendous, and it will make the O-Level and N-Level exams most stressful – a single exam in the whole career of a child’s life.

9. Mr Faisal Manap suggested for MOE to introduce psychology in the secondary school curriculum. Psychology is an abstract discipline and is not an age appropriate subject at secondary school level.

10. A better approach to fulfil the same intent, is to focus on 21st Century Competencies in our curriculum, create more space for informal learning, learning through play and encourage opportunities for character building – inside the classroom, outside the classroom, in the CCAs or through our enhanced outdoor education. These support the socio-emotional development in our children.

11. Ms Denise Phua asked when we last reviewed our 21CC framework. We reviewed and refreshed the 21CC Framework, and updated schools in 2014. When I joined MOE, I also took a fresh look at the 21CC framework. Our teachers are provided with professional development and resources to support their 21CC development efforts to keep them updated with the various pedagogies, andragogies and heutagogies that Ms Phua mentioned.

12. Two, we are creating multiple pathways to success.

13. We introduced Subject-Based Banding to allow upper primary and secondary school students to take subjects they are strong in at a higher level. Beyond academic strengths and interests, we are providing many opportunities for discovery and talent development in the sports and the arts.

14. Mr Edwin Tong made good points about sport in schools and developing sporting talent.

15. Today, primary school students learn different fundamental movement skills in different sports in their PE lessons – a wide range. Primary 4 and 5 students who are interested in sports CCAs not offered by the school can consider joining MOE’s centrally-run Junior Sports Academy programme, which offer a variety of sports modules. In secondary school, students learn at least six sports, and take part in at least three inter-class sports competitions. A third of our students enrol in sports CCAs. Of these, 60% are non-school team players.

16. Our schools understand that the value of sports cannot be measured by performance merely in the inter-school games. MOE also promotes programmes organised by ActiveSG, to encourage our students to participate in sports in the community.

17. Three, we are developing positive attitudes and dispositions for lifelong learning.

18. I highlighted repeatedly in this house and beyond – the need to nurture the Joy of Learning and Entrepreneurial Dare. These are important, because they sustain self-directed, lifelong learning, and instil an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit in our children. These may not be measurable, but certainly observable. They are of utmost importance to shift us away from simply studying for exams, to learning for life.

19. Mr Low Thia Khiang asked that MOE complete our transformation by changing the “entrenched” culture of an over-emphasis on academic results. He understands it will take time. I agree. And I thank him for his cut and will consider his suggestion for the study.

20. The many changes I have mentioned are meant to take pressure off parents and students, and reduce chasing of the last mark in our school system. Ultimately, I hope to partner parents, and students themselves, to reduce their anxieties and stress.

21. Many parents I have spoken to tell me they agree with the directions we have taken. They also ask, like Ms Foo Mee Har - What will all these mean for our children’s learning experiences in school?

22. As I mentioned earlier, our education system today equips our students with a strong academic foundation and sound values. These are significant strengths.

23. Mr Pritam Singh mentioned education systems in Israel and Finland in the Budget debate. Indeed, there are strengths in these systems that we can learn from.

24. But we are circumspect when we study other systems and do not simply adopt new trends. In fact, these countries are also looking towards Singapore and wanting to learn from us.

25. I visited Israel and looked at their strong talent development and innovation ecosystem. It has strengths in this area, but overall, it has “weak averages”. If we use PISA as one indicator, Israeli students underperform the OECD average. There is also a significant educational outcomes gap between the average and the top Israeli students.

26. We don’t want this in Singapore. Here, we have high averages where our students regardless of SES outperform most of their peers in different countries. Rather, we will improve our education system by building on our existing strengths, even as we explore new possibilities. And not throw the baby out with the bath water.

27. As such, on top of strong academic foundations and sound values, we want to get our students to move beyond the classroom and apply their knowledge in the real world.

28. This will help nurture our next generation of “change-makers”. Our students must be able to connect their “Head” knowledge to their “Hands” and create value. Their “Hands” must also be connected to their “Hearts” – so that they contribute their knowledge and skills to the betterment of society.

29. Education must go beyond the classroom and academic grades. This is key.

30. I will focus the rest of my speech on how we will anchor this within our education system, through the lived experiences of our students.

APPLIED LEARNING – CONNECTING THE “HEAD” TO “HANDS”

31. First, let me tell you a “Story of Two Cars”. I met two 10 year-old boys at a community event some time ago. They wanted to show me their toy car and I thought to myself what was this about. But when I saw the car, I got interested.

32. The car was really plain, made of cardboard – the boys took some of their mother’s old shoe boxes, cut out the top and bottom and fashioned a flat chassis. They then got a set of wheels, mounted them on together with some rudimentary drive train and wired them up. They then applied what they learnt about energy in their science class, put on top of the chassis, miniature solar panels and made their own solar powered car. And it worked brilliantly.

33. Their eyes sparkled as they talked to me on a Saturday morning and showed me their solar toy car. This was a toy car made out of pure fun and curiosity. These boys, all of 10 years old, applied what they had learnt in Science class to build their own toy. Impressive!

34. The second car is also a solar powered car – but this time, it is a racing car. This car was built by a team of Singapore Polytechnic students taking part in the 2017 World Solar Challenge. They competed against 39 other teams from all over the world, including Cambridge University, and Stanford University. They took 20 months to make the car using a high tech carbon fibre–reinforced composite body. The top speed of this solar car is 100 km/hour. Built by 18 to 20-year-old boys.

35. The team had a difficult race. They met with rough weather and an accident and unfortunately did not finish within the deadline. However, I want to celebrate their success, and included them in my speech. This car was built out of passion, deep skills and resilience. Though they might not have won, the learning in their journey is invaluable.

36. These two cars may be miles apart in technology and horsepower. But educationally, they are part of the same journey – from curiosity to mastery; from knowledge to application.

37.We want all our students to be able to make this type of learning journey. Our vehicle is Applied Learning.

38. What is Applied Learning? It is a mode of learning for all students. Not just a separate track for vocational students. Students learn by applying and by doing, and they learn beyond the classroom. They see for themselves what they can apply what they have learnt to the real world. And from all the interactions I have had with the students, I see them enjoying learning and they are self-motivated or become self-motivated. These are powerful learning experiences and they stick for life.

Applied Learning – a natural vehicle for innovation

39. Since 2013, we have encouraged schools to develop their own Applied Learning Programmes (ALPs). All secondary schools now have ALPs. It is a diverse, colourful and exciting landscape, catering to a wide range of interests: STEM, Languages, Humanities, Business, Entrepreneurship, Aesthetics, Inter-disciplinary Fields and I will now include STEAM as Ms Denise mentioned, to include arts into STEM. All the ALPs encourage exploration, ideation and creativity.

40. There are no tests or exams. I have emphasised this to MOE. Students learn through experimentation – they try, fail, try, learn from it and try again.

41. Let me share with you some of the experiences with students. I recently met some Fuchun Secondary students. They tell me their school has an ALP called “Innovations in Science & Technology for Sustain-Ability”. They all learnt basic coding and programming and apply their coding skills to program robots. They do it in Secondary 1.

42. I met one Secondary 4 boy, his name is Zee Cheen. and together with his team, Zee Cheen designed and built from scratch a robot that could move on different terrains, even on water, to retrieve and transport objects. Zee Cheen told me that when they started “Everything was in a mess.” They had to learn to work as a team, put in place a plan, work each bolt, gear and wire step-by-step to fulfil their design. They went through many iterations.

43. Surprisingly, Zee Cheen said that his biggest lesson learnt through this ALP, was not just in creating the robot. You see, his team brought their robot to the Science Centre’s Maker Faire and he had to practise public speaking, and he said it was not his forte. He had to explain their robot to every visitor interested in his robot. In his words, he said “these are things that I cannot learn in a classroom”. This is the value of applied learning in real life.

44. Some of our primary schools have also developed ALPs. I visited Teck Whye Primary which runs an ALP called “Media Whiz Kids!”

45. I met Maisarah, a Primary 5 student. She wanted to help her schoolmates tell fake news apart from real news. So she worked with her friends and teachers to make a short 3-minute video. In the video Maisarah explains what Fake News is and why people create it. She also suggests how to tackle it.

46. We all debate about Fake News in this very chamber. Through Applied Learning Programmes, our 10-year-old students are teaching it in their own way in school. It is a refreshing take on a very real concern.

47. Maisarah and her friends narrate and present with great confidence and clarity. Importantly, Maisarah’s teachers not only use the video to raise information literacy among the students, but also inculcate values. The video has been uploaded onto the school’s Facebook page. I encourage all of us to take a look.

48. I am very proud of the confident and creative students our schools have nurtured through their ALPs. But I am even prouder of our teachers – who have committed their time and effort to develop Applied Learning experiences for their students.

49. Ms Elaine Koh, a teacher I met from Fuchun Secondary, told me the difference she saw in her Secondary 4 Normal Technical students, Viknesh and Kumaran after they have participated in the Maker Faire. She shared that they were very engaged and focused when they tinkered and built things.

50. When I met Viknesh and Kumaran, they told me they are interested to study aeronautical and mechanical engineering at ITE. They want to design and build aeroplanes and racing cars. ALP has ignited a passion in them, to want to continue their learning and their maker journey.

51. Applied Learning Programmes are intentional ways to spur innovation in our students. MOE will build on the good work done on ALPs.

52. I have directed all primary schools to set up Applied Learning Programmes by 2023. We will also support schools with ALPs to further enhance and strengthen their capabilities and programmes. This is an investment worth making to nurture innovation and creativity. And importantly, prepare our children for our future.

53. MOE will make another major investment to prepare our children for the future. We will put aside a significant budget to develop the new Science Centre.

54. The new Science Centre will play a key role in providing such Applied Learning experiences for all students when it is completed by the mid-2020s. It will bring science to life – through immersive and interactive exhibits and experiences. It will partner home-grown and international companies to provide a wide range of programmes for our students and youth -- Hands-on maker workshops, experiments in specialised laboratories, and opportunities for mentorship and research. I will remember to add the artistic element as well.

Applied Learning makes languages come alive

55. It is not just in the applied fields where Applied Learning is relevant. Our teachers are making a big effort to infuse Applied Learning experiences into their day-to-day teaching.

56. For example, we are using Applied Learning to make our Mother Tongue Languages come alive for our students. This will help foster their appreciation for the languages and strengthen their proficiency, which Ms Tin Pei Ling spoke about, and which Mr Azmoon Ahmad and Mr Low Thia Khiang also mentioned in the Budget debate.

57. Mr Chair, in Mandarin please.

58. 虽然我国的教育体系一向受到国际认可,但很多国人仍然关心:在一个越来越自动化的未来,我们的下一代是否会被机器取代吗?

59. 他们的担忧我可以理解,但我有信心,只要我们的教育体系能赋予孩子创新能力和良好的价值观,我们的下一代将有能力掌握未来的良机。

60. 为了从小培养孩子的创新能力,教育部正着重推广应用学习项目。我们的学生已经拥有扎实的学术基础,但我们不希望他们只会纸上谈兵,成为会说不会做的 “书呆子”。他们必须懂得如何把 “知识转为力量” ,应用在日常生活中。

61. 只有活学活用,学以致用:才能在有限的知识里,开创无限的可能性!

62. 我举个例子:永青中学的学生在中文课上创作歌谣。学生通过创作歌曲,加强语言能力,也更了解和感受语言的美。

63. 其中一位学生,郭子锋,的作品《我妈》,歌词感人,旋律优美。表达了他对母亲的爱与感激;也在《2017年“新空下”新谣歌唱与创作比赛》得奖。子锋的创作,也让我们体会到正确价值观的重要性。

64. 人拥有再好的知识基础,再强的创新能力,如果价值观偏差,只会对社会带来更大的伤害。因此,我们在学校推行各种活动项目,灌输正确的价值观,教导孩子以德为本– 这是我们一贯秉持的教育理念。

65. 应用学习不局限于任何一个科目或课堂上。我们希望所有家长在日常生活中也给予孩子应用学习的空间和时间,培养良好的价值观。家长和学校合作,能为我们的孩子打造更美好更充实的未来。 

VALUES-IN-ACTION – CONNECTING THE “HANDS” AND THE “HEART”

Nurturing Values

66. I will now move on to connecting the “Hands” and the “Heart”. It is critical that we equip our children with the right values, and develop in them a heart for others. Without the right moral compass, talented individuals can do more harm to society than good. That will be tragic.

67. Just like knowledge, values cannot remain simply in the “head”. They must be acted out in the real world. Mr Ang Wei Neng encouraged schools and students to work with their communities.

68. I mentioned my visit to Teck Whye Primary earlier. During my visit, I met a Primary 6 student, her name is Zer Jynn. She showed me a pair of chopsticks that she and her team designed for people with weaker muscular control, such as the elderly.

69. Zer Jynn explained that she and her team had first thought of a “catch-and-release” mechanism to allow users to use the chopsticks with minimal strength. She then built a model, using simple materials – ordinary chopsticks, straws, a spring and masking tape. Nothing fancy. She designed this model to help the elderly pick up food. She experimented several times until she was satisfied with the “catch-and-release” function. With these designs, she went on to 3D-print a plastic prototype, with the help of her teachers. However, she is not satisfied with the plastic prototype as it did not work as well as her initial prototype. I suggested some possibilities to her and she told me she will work to improve her prototype.

70. Zer Jynn is not alone. Her schoolmates in the Teck Whye Primary iDesign Club have built learning aids for their peers with dyslexia, and other prototypes to improve the quality of life for the physically disabled or the elderly. Through the iDesign Club, they not only learn about design principles, but equally important, they are tacitly learning to care, to empathise and serve others in the community.

71. Zer Jynn and her schoolmates may only be in primary school, but under the guidance of their school and teachers, they exemplify what we want to nurture in our young: the connection between the heart, the head and the hands – innovating to improve the lives of others, developing leadership, empathy, care and importantly, resilience. Applied Learning in real life is much more effective than just learning in the classroom.

72. Besides developing solutions for the community, our schools and students have also partnered the community to strengthen culture and heritage.

73. A good example is Bulan Bahasa – the Malay Language Month. I worked with Minister Masagos on this. The community hosts activities such as writing workshops and story-telling that broaden students’ exposure to language and culture. Students in turn contribute to the community. They set up activity booths for the public, they also take on the roles of Rakan Bahasa, or “Friends of the Language”, to serve as museum guides at the Malay Heritage Centre.

74. The two-way partnership between schools and community not only enhances the learning of students, but allows them to put values into action and serve the community.

75. In a separate event at Fiesta Bahasa, this time round at the National Library, I was very happy to see a group of Hwa Chong Institution boys participating. They were learning Malay and spoke it fluently. These Chinese boys from a SAP school were interacting with our Malay students and parents naturally, without a hint of any language barrier!

76. Mr Chair, this is applied learning in action, in languages, to promote our Singapore’s unique cultures and heritage.

Empowering Individuals

77. As we strive to build a caring and inclusive society, we must make sure that no child is left behind. Last year, the Government announced major plans to strengthen the pre-school sector – to give every child a good start and the best chance to succeed in life.

78. This included upgrading the pre-school profession to attract good teachers and careers. I welcome Dr Intan’s suggestions. I am quite happy to update that we are on track for National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) to be fully operational by January 2019. NIEC will offer a range of quality programmes to prepare those who aspire to join the Early Childhood (EC) sector with a good foundation for a career as an EC professional.

79. I would like to reassure Dr Intan that EC training today is already delivered with a heavy emphasis on practical skills. Most faculty are experienced practitioners in the preschool sector. It will be no different in the NIEC. Separately, MOE has facilitated professional exchanges between MK educators and primary school teachers. This helps develop mutual understanding, which smoothens the transition of MK children to Primary 1.

80. MOE is also committed to providing quality and affordable education to all Singapore Citizens regardless of their financial circumstances. Our education today is heavily subsidised at all levels. Ms Denise Phua mentioned Digital Equity, as more learning is done online.

81. This year, we will be rolling out the Student Learning Space (SLS) to all students. SLS will provide high-quality, curriculum-aligned learning resources and online learning tools for students. This will drive self-directed learning which can take place anytime, anywhere and hopefully reduce the reliance on tuition as well.

82. MOE has provided funding to schools, which can be used to subsidise students from less advantaged backgrounds, for them to purchase mobile learning devices.

83. Mr Edwin Tong and quite a few others in the Budget debate asked about Edusave contributions. We will increase the annual Edusave contributions from 2019. With this increase, students can participate in more activities, such as creative writing programmes and learning journeys, to broaden their learning experiences.

84. The Government also provides a range of financial assistance schemes to assist those who are in need. Dr Lim Wee Kiak and Ms Cheng Li Hui asked about this. At the primary to pre-university levels, Singaporean students who need assistance can tap on the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS).

85. We will do more for students from lower-income families by enhancing the MOE FAS. We will raise the income criteria for the Gross Household Income per month from $2,500 to $2,750; as well as the per capita household income per month from $625 to $690. We will increase the annual bursary quantum for pre-university students, from $750 to $900.

86. We will provide 10 meals for secondary school students under the School Meals Programme. An increase from the seven we provide currently – this is in response to Dr Daniel Goh. We will also increase the income eligibility criteria for the Edusave Merit Bursary and Independent School Bursary.

87. Overall, with these enhancements, the various financial assistance schemes will cost the Government close to $100M per year, it will benefit around 90,000 students in total.

PARENTS AS PARTNERS IN CHANGING CULTURE

88. Mr Chairman, I have said what MOE, our schools and our teachers are committed to doing. But let me emphasise that we cannot do this alone. We need the whole nation to move with us towards holistic education and parents play a most important role.

89. I strongly urge all parents to give our children the Time for their minds to imagine; Space for them to experiment and learn to embrace and take risks; and Opportunity to learn from failing, trying, re-learning and trying until they succeed.

CONCLUSION

90. Mr Chairman, let me conclude with a story. I visited Assumption English School last July to open their upgraded school site and the opening ceremony hinged on robots programmed by the students.

91. I was invited to participate in a robot race on stage, to move the robots, in order to switch on an array of bright-coloured light bulbs to mark the official opening of the school. The robots were powered solely by wind and controlled by an iPad. I thought they could easily fail to function and not light up the bulbs. A whole hall full of students, parents, teachers and MOE senior officials.

92. After the ceremony, I congratulated the then-principal Mrs Mabel Leong, and quietly asked what she would have done if the robots did not work. What was the backup? She told me quietly “Minister, there is no back up.” She said that if the robots did not work despite all their planning and efforts, she would have simply stood up, apologised to me and sought my understanding to skip the segment.

93. In spite of the risks, she decided to keep the robot segment, I suspect because she is proud of students and it showcased her students’ pride and their learning. I must tell you, I smiled the widest smile in an entire week, knowing what Mabel was doing.

94. Our principals and schools are moving in the right direction. More of them are taking calculated risks, for their students to have the time and space for experimentation, to try, fail, try again, even in front of the Minister.

95. Seeing how the schools and educators are changing, I sincerely urge all parents to join us in creating similar opportunities for our children. The results of such opportunities may not be immediately apparent. But the true test for all of us, is not any single exam. It is the test of life. It is such opportunities that will benefit our children for a lifetime – much more than cramping their free time with excessive tuition.

96. I hope all parents will encourage their children when they participate in their school’s ALP, Outdoor Education Programme and Values-in-Action activities. Engage them in conversation over their Applied Learning experiences, share in their successes and setbacks, share in their joy and empathise with their failings and create more of such learning experiences for them outside of school.

97. With the full support from educators and most importantly parents, our children will get the best start in life. Whatever the future may bring, they will acquire the skills and values to thrive in the future. A brighter future of greater fulfilment awaits them.