March 04, 2020
MOE FY2020 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung
Learn for Life – Ready for the Future
Mr Chairman Sir,
1. Let me start with Ms Denise Phua's question. Ms Phua asked if MOE has a transformation map. Two years ago, MOE launched a reform movement of the education system, called 'Learn for Life'.
2. But Members are probably not very familiar with it, because we did not launch everything we planned to do with a big bang.
3. Instead, we paced out the announcement of each thrust of the movement, adopted multi-year implementation plans, so that schools, parents, and students can fully understand the changes and can adapt to them.
4. Today, let me do three things. One, let me give a short update on what we have done so far. Two, I will then devote the bulk of my speech to talk about some new initiatives. Three, I will tie them all together.
Progress So Far
5. I will start with a progress update. We have rolled out four thrusts to improve the system we have today.
Joy of Learning
6. The first is nurturing the 'Joy of Learning'. Mr Murali Pillai and Mr Lim Biow Chuan have asked for an update on this.
7. Joy of learning does not mean school should only be about fun and games. Joy comes from purposeful learning, from a sense of progress and fulfilment by doing something challenging, something hard and something meaningful. Something that gives you a sense of accomplishment, from which you can derive joy.
8. A major move is the changes we are making to the PSLE scoring system. We will grade students in wider bands, what we call Achievement Levels, rather than differentiating them very finely through today's T-scores. We hope this will change the psychology of students and parents towards PSLE, and reduce the over-emphasis on academic results.
9. The new scoring system, its biggest impact actually, is that it will affect secondary school postings and parents are naturally anxious. We will help students and parents familiarise themselves with this new system.
10. So some time later this year, we will release simulated cut-off points under the new PSLE scoring system for selected secondary schools. This will be based on last year's Secondary One Posting Exercise and PSLE results. Next year, we will release another set of simulated cut-off points based on this year's Secondary One Posting results.
11. So two sets of simulated cut-off points, before the system goes live in 2021. But please remember these are simulations. This does not mean that these will definitely be the cut-off points. There can be changes from year to year, as choice patterns change. And when the system goes live, cut-off-points can change further.
12. Notwithstanding this, we hope that by giving parents information early, we can better support them in making secondary school choices for their children.
13. Another major move is the reduction of school-based exams. All primary schools have removed exams for Primary One and Two. This year, 60% of primary schools would have no Primary Three and Five mid-year exams. By next year, it will be 100%. This is based on our implementation schedule.
14. As for secondary schools, all have removed Secondary One mid-year exams. This year, more than 90% will be removing Secondary Three mid-year exams. By next year, it will be 100% too.
15. Some schools, such as the School of Science and Technology, have removed mid-year exams for Secondary One to Three altogether. When I visited the school, the students I spoke to were very happy with this change, because with more time, they can now explore interesting hands-on activities like coding and making prototypes.
16. With more freed up time, other schools, such as Gan Eng Seng Secondary introduced programmes like the Learning Fortnight. Students take up electives, like in a university. They do projects, learn a new sport, or attend enrichment activities, and enjoy them.
17. However, in general, I will be honest, the responses have been varied. I noticed primary school students tend to be happy with the change. But many secondary school students told me that they prefer having mid-year exams. It may surprise you, but it's true! According to this group of students, without the mid-year exams, they get many more mini-assessments, which they say are more stressful!
18. I told these secondary students that they have gotten so used to exams, which is all the more reason why we need to change! On the other hand, primary school students have yet to form their learning habits, so they welcome the change.
19. I advised the secondary students that these assessments are part and parcel of learning, and are not high-stakes. Focus on the learning throughout the year, rather than cram your studies just before exams. This is a more effective learning habit. Along the way, seek your teachers' help when necessary, and schools will do their best to help you progress.
20. As Mr Lim Biow Chuan pointed out, many students and parents have deep-seated mindsets about exams, which are not easy to change. We are changing the paradigm so instead of tests and exams, the desire and joy of learning, should be at the centre of school life.
21. Indeed as the Member has said, the stakes of exams are high because results affect admissions into the next level of education,- from PSLE to secondary schools, and secondary schools to polytechnics or junior colleges.
22. That is why MOE has been very active in reviewing admission systems across the levels. We reviewed the Direct School Admission for secondary school students, and introduced aptitude-based admissions for our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs). The different admission systems are still being refined, to reduce the over-emphasis on exam results.
One Secondary Education, Many Subject Bands
23. The second thrust of 'Learn for Life' is 'One Secondary Education, Many Subject Bands'.
24. At last year's Committee of Supply debate, I announced the phasing out of secondary school streaming by 2024, and replaced it with Full Subject-Based Banding or Full SBB. Mr Charles Chong and Mr Murali Pillai have asked for an update.
25. This year, 28 secondary schools are piloting Full SBB. They are implementing the following two changes:
26. First, allowing lower secondary Normal stream students to take humanities subjects at a more demanding level. Of all the Secondary Two students who were offered this option, more than two-thirds took it up. This is encouraging.
27. The second change is more interesting, which is that schools are re-organising form classes so that they comprise students from different streams.
28. The form class takes some subjects together – such as Art, PE, CCE, and Design & Technology. For other subjects, students will split up into different classes based on their subject bands. We have designed this before COVID-19, so now we would need to manage this situation carefully.
29. Some schools have organised the form classes by CCAs, others by their 'House' system. Most schools, like Deyi Secondary School, placed students in classes to ensure a good balance of stream, gender, race, and learning needs.
30. Deyi Secondary held an orientation camp for the Secondary One students to get to know one another. The teachers told me that during the camp, they made it a point not to find out the background and stream of each student, so that there would be no pre-conceived notions.
31. They observed the students, identified those with leadership skills and initiative, and after the camp, they appointed them as class leaders. When they later checked on the profile of the leaders, to their great delight, the leaders comprised a good mix of Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical) students.
32. The character of the students shone through regardless of their streams.
33. Another teacher at Deyi Secondary reflected how Full SBB is changing his subconscious mindset. He spotted a student with long hair. He proceeded to stop the student, and ask the three standard questions which he would always pose in such a situation:
First question: "Boy, what's your name?"
The child told him his name, say Bono.
Second question: "What level are you in, Bono?"
The child said, "Secondary One."
Then he asked the third question: "Which class are you from?"
The child said, "1-Determination."
34. The teacher was stumped. In the past, by knowing the class, he would know the stream of the child. But now, 1-Determination told him nothing as it is a mixed Full SBB class.
35. He then realised that all this while, his line of questioning in such a disciplinary situation was to find out the stream of the child. He reflected to himself: Why is that relevant? This is not about whether an Express, Normal (Academic), or Normal (Technical) student has broken a school rule. Bono needs a haircut – that is all.
36. It is possible that some of us may well have this subconscious mindset. But this teacher was really wise, brave, and honest to be aware of it, and to acknowledge it.
37. Important social dynamics are changing in these schools. We will learn from the experiences of the pilot schools, and roll out Full SBB nationwide by 2024.
Education as an Uplifting Force
38. The third thrust is 'Education as an Uplifting Force'. Inequality is an issue every society has to grapple with, and education is the best social leveller.
39. We are doing a lot more to tackle inequality through education, including investing significantly in pre-school education, setting up more student care centres, enhancing bursary schemes, and implementing targeted programmes that bring together different social and community partners. Second Minister Indranee will speak more about this later.
40. With a good foundation, almost all our students progress to post-secondary institutions today. 70% – the vast majority – of every cohort goes on to our Polytechnics or Autonomous Universities (AUs).
41. Mr Ang Wei Neng was worried about affordability of course fees for the lower income group. That is why at the National Day Rally last year, the Prime Minister announced a significant increase in tertiary education bursary quanta for lower income groups. Students from the lowest income group pay $150 for annual course fees for polytechnic diploma programmes, and about $2,000 a year for general degrees at the AUs, after government bursary. And if it is still too much, they can take up a tuition fee and study loan.
42. When they graduate, 90% of them who want to join the labour force find work within six months. That is our track record. Starting salaries have also been going up.
43. By the time they step into the workforce, they would have more or less pressed a reset button and mitigated their childhood disadvantages. This is uplift in action, where all young Singaporeans can access opportunities, because we have a stable country, a growing economy, and a good education system.
Learning Languages for Life
44. The fourth thrust is 'Learning Languages for Life'.
45. Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Lim Biow Chuan asked about MOE's bilingualism efforts. I thank Mr Lim for sharing his personal experience in two languages. I will answer you in one. He lamented that he only realised the importance of Mother Tongue Language (MTL) in adulthood, when he stepped into his professional life.
46. Unfortunately, some things do not change, and I think many of our students will feel the same way as Mr Lim when they grow up.
47. Hence, it is critical to start as young as possible and get students interested in studying MTL. This requires schools and families to complement each other's efforts. Families can provide an immersive MTL environment at home.
48. Schools carry on the work, starting with kindergartens putting stronger emphasis on the teaching of MTLs in pre-schools, which we have started to do.
49. We have also introduced targeted programmes. In primary schools, we introduced a Mother Tongue Support Programme for Primary Three and Four students with a weak command of MTL. Last year, 60 pilot schools enlisted over 1,100 students. It will be fully rolled out to all schools in 2021.
50. For students who are strong in MTL, we introduced the Language Elective Programme in 15 secondary schools this year. The Programme supports students to attain a higher level of MTL proficiency, and acquire a better understanding of their culture. About 250 students took it up, which is an encouraging start.
51. It also helps to have specialised schools, such as the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, and programmes like the Elective Programme in Malay Language for Secondary Schools (EMAS) and National Elective Tamil Language Programme (NETP).
52. In other words, let us not shy away from doing what it takes to preserve the use of MTLs. The world is moving towards bilingualism and even multilingualism. We have an advantage because of our ethnic diversity and bilingual abilities. We must not only preserve this advantage, but strengthen it further.
Refreshing our Curriculum
53. Let me move to the next part of my speech today, which are the new things that MOE plans to do. They have to do with curriculum – what we teach, and how we teach.
54. We need to refresh our curriculum to evolve with the needs and realities of the times. But any changes to curriculum must be very carefully considered. It shapes the values, attitudes, mindsets, and competencies of an entire generation. It gives meaning to MOE's mission of 'moulding the future of our nation'.
55. For example, we introduced Values-in-Action in 2012 to foster social responsibility amongst young Singaporeans. Today, you can see its imprint in how young Singaporeans feel about social issues.
56. As Dr Intan and Mr Ang Wei Neng pointed out, events like the COVID-19 outbreak also offer a valuable opportunity in education. Schools are placing strong emphasis on personal hygiene and social responsibility. If we keep these practices up even after the crisis has blown over, we will have a generation of Singaporeans who will be much more resilient to infectious diseases.
57. Today we face new challenges and realities that necessitate a refreshing of our curriculum. They are in three areas: First, Character and Citizenship Education or CCE. Second, Knowing Asia. Third, Digital Literacy.
58. I will start with CCE. I thank Dr Intan, Mr Zainal Sapari, Mr Ang Wei Neng, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, and Mr Yee Chia Hsing for asking about this.
59. There are a few components to our CCE today, such as the teaching of values, National Education, Social and Emotional Learning, and Education and Career Guidance.
60. In 2016, we started a comprehensive review of the CCE curriculum. The more we progressed in the review, the more strongly we felt that there was an urgent need for change. Why?
61. Because the young of today are different from previous generations in one major aspect – their exposure to technology.
62. For those who read comics and watch superhero movies, the young are like Bruce Wayne who, as you may know, is also Batman. They have one real world life that parents can see, and another one online, which they spend a lot of time on, that parents do not see. As adults who have grown up without this duality, and without this space, I do not think we fully understand what our young are going through.
63. The impact of technology on children is complex and multi-faceted. But let me just highlight one of the most significant effects, which is that technology presents children with influences, choices, and decisions that previous generations never had to contend with.
64. In an online world, you can be anonymous, and there are no policemen, editors or verifiers. A child can choose to be nasty, and get away with it. Whereas in the real world, it is not as easy to say something nasty to your friend in the face.
65. In fact, sometimes there is nothing very social about social media!
66. More importantly, with a powerful device in each of our children's hands, they can decide – do I use it to acquire knowledge for learning, or access undesirable materials? Do I use it to keep in touch with family and friends, or get addicted to digital entertainment? Do I use it to record meaningful memories, take pictures with my friends, or intrude into the privacy of others, or worse, commit a sexual offence?
67. How do we ensure that our young make the right choices, and survive well in an online world?
68. I think digital world problems require analogue world solutions. It goes back to our values, our morals, and our humanity.
69. Values are what distinguish us from computers and machines, and we cannot abdicate that to technology. We apply our moral and values system whether we are offline or online. We determine the purpose of technology. We determine the purpose of devices.
70. Dr Intan said that values are more often caught than taught. I think both are needed. Families play a big part in instilling them in the young at home. But schools can then work with parents and make a big difference too.
71. We need to update the CCE curriculum to reflect this imperative, and reinforce the teaching of values in our children from as young an age as possible. So we will build on the existing CCE curriculum, and strengthen it with the following five changes:
72. First, we will restructure formal CCE lessons to reinforce the teaching of moral values.
73. Today, CCE lessons cover both character and values, and citizenship. For Primary One to Three, we will henceforth devote the bulk of CCE lessons to character and values. As the Chinese saying goes, '品德在先，学术在后' – values before academics.
74. We will emphasise respect and care for others, honesty, humility, and kindness. They must also learn resilience and courage. Our children need to learn to stand up against discrimination, against bullying – of all kinds, and regardless of whom the victim is.
75. Many of these lessons will be taught in MTL from Primary One to Six. We will therefore better align the CCE and MTL lessons – ensure the standard of the language is appropriate, and engage students in much more interesting ways.
76. From Primary Four to Six, we will broaden the existing Form Teacher Guidance Period to include National Education and citizenship topics – values relevant to us as a nation.
77. For these topics, it is more meaningful to have a diverse class with students from all communities, and therefore, these classes will continue to be taught in English.
78. Second change, we will place more emphasis on cyber wellness.
79. We will devote more time, and develop more materials to teach this subject, so that students will learn to critically evaluate what they read online, be able to tell genuine news from falsehoods, and not rely on social media 'likes' for validation. They need to be able to say no to bad influences, and protect themselves from cyber bullies and predators.
80. Several secondary schools – eleven in fact – have piloted the new CCE curriculum on cyber wellness. I visited one of them – New Town Secondary – and observed a class on the topic of cyber bullying.
81. This was conducted via a video case study, and students were asked at every juncture of the story to vote and decide how the story would unfold. They could see how their decisions led to different outcomes. I could tell the situation resonated with them, and the students were very engaged.
82. To me, the lesson that day was quite clear: if you encounter cyber bullying, seek help and support, do not seek retaliate. That day though, the students voted for retaliation, even though I was sitting right there! And the ending did not turn out well.
83. This is one way we are using more authentic scenarios, immersive modalities, and giving students' more voice and agency to bring CCE to life – not just for cyber wellness, but for all aspects of CCE.
84. Third change, the CCE curriculum will have greater focus on mental wellness, which is closely related to cyber wellness.
85. We already teach students socio-emotional competencies. The new CCE curriculum will seek to strengthen one important aspect, which is peer support. Second Minister Indranee will speak more on this topic.
86. Fourth, we will expand our efforts to engage secondary school students more actively on contemporary issues through the CCE lessons.
87. This is already done today. We will explore more topics, find ways to engage students more deeply, and increase the frequency of these lessons to at least once a fortnight.
88. Climate change, as Ms Cheng Li Hui and Mr Yee Chia Hsing suggested, could be one of these issues. Other examples of topics include Government policies, social inequality, race and religion, online falsehoods, and so on.
89. Mr Leon Perera suggested including a subject like Theory of Knowledge (TOK) into our school curriculum. MOE is quite reluctant to over-crowd our curriculum, especially given that TOK is a pre-university subject for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
90. Some of these contemporary issues and the discussion of it will help hone the critical thinking skills of our students. They can be sensitive to discuss, but they are important to help students better understand the complexities of our country and of life. MOE will develop the resources and methodologies. Teachers will guide students to listen actively, converse respectfully, and be open to differing perspectives.
91. Finally, given the expansion of the CCE curriculum, we need to have more time to teach it. We will have to, as Ms Cheng Li Hui suggested, further integrate CCE into school lessons and activities, such as CCAs, camps, learning journeys, and Values-in-Action.
92. With these changes, every school experience can be a CCE lesson, and every teacher can be a CCE teacher, and every school a good school. It should become a whole-school approach. This is happening in some schools, but we will implement it system-wide, be more deliberate about CCE, and make learning intentional rather than incidental.
93. The new CCE curriculum will be progressively implemented from 2021 in all primary and secondary schools.
94. The second area of curriculum review is Knowing Asia. Several members, such as Ms Foo Mee Har, Mr Murali Pillai, and Mr Teo Ser Luck, have explained why this is important.
95. Suffice to say that Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. Together with China, India, Japan, and Korea – they all form part of our natural hinterland.
96. Singapore-based enterprises need to be able to venture out into the region. And Singaporeans must be able to play a part in it. To do so, we need to be equipped with the relevant knowledge, language, and cultural skills.
97. Like all skills, it takes many years, even decades of experience, to become a country or regional expert. What the education system can do, is to get our students started young, and expose them to the region. As a start, we will do this in three ways:
98. First, through our humanities curriculum. It must provide students with a deeper appreciation of the geographies, histories, cultures, languages, and economies of our regional countries. We will give the study of Asia its due emphasis in humanities subjects.
99. For example, in history, students will learn more about the Vietnam War, and how developments in Southeast Asia intertwined with the complexities of the Cold War. In Social Studies, students will learn about the importance of ASEAN centrality.
100. Second, we will leverage overseas trips. Overseas trips have taken a backseat due to COVID-19, but in time the crisis will blow over.
101.The younger ones in schools attend student exchanges, cultural enrichment, or embark on service learning projects; the older ones in IHLs typically go for overseas internships and immersion programmes in a foreign education institution.
102.These have been effective in building their cross-cultural skills, resourcefulness, and resilience. Students generally enjoy overseas trips, but I think the top favourite destinations are still New York and London.
103.We will organise more trips to Asian countries, and encourage students to participate in them. Students from the West are flocking here to experience Asia, because of the cultural diversity and exciting economic opportunities. Our students should do so too. This is our own backyard and here, we always have a natural competitive advantage. We need that mindset shift that Mr Teo Ser Luck talked about.
104.As announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng in the Budget Statement, our aspiration is "70-70". I would like to assure Mr Saktiandi Supaat that this target includes our ITE students.
105.This means to have 70% of IHL students undergo an overseas stint, and with 70% of that going to ASEAN, China or India. Today, the numbers are about "50-50", so it is not an exclusive experience as Mr Faisal Manap puts it. But there is room to do more.
106.Third, we can know our region better through the learning of languages. A good start is to learn our Mother Tongue Languages better!
107.Where possible, and if the students have the aptitude and interest, we will also encourage the learning of third languages. For most students, this will be at a conversational level, and is not examinable.
108.So to Mr Chen Show Mao's suggestion that MOE make the learning of conversational Malay compulsory in primary school, we think it is better to continue to emphasise the learning of a student's own MTL. As it is, many students are already finding that quite challenging.
109.But we have been encouraging students to learn the language of another community at a conversational level. Today, about 60% of primary schools and 40% of secondary schools offer Conversational Malay and Chinese. We are encouraging more schools to do so, and more schools will do so.
110.There is also value for our young to learn to converse in regional languages, as Members have suggested.
111. We will pair the learning of conversational ASEAN languages with overseas school trips. MOE will start with Vietnamese and Thai. That way, learning is more meaningful and can be immediately applied, and more students can access it.
112. The third area of curriculum review is digital literacy. Ms Denise Phua, Dr Intan, Ms Cheng Li Hui, and Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about this.
113.We all know how digital literacy is important for our young. One popular response around the world is 'let us make coding compulsory in schools!' But that is too simplistic. Not everyone will grow up to be a coder. Many of us only need to learn how to use technology and software, and be comfortable in using them. Further, the programming languages will become outdated by the time the students graduate.
114.Another popular response is 'let us give every student a digital device!' It is not a bad idea, but it can do more harm than good if the device becomes another gadget that is a distraction for the student.
115.If we want to do this, we must do it in the right sequence – make sure that the curriculum is rightly designed and teachers are equipped with the suitable pedagogical skills first, then use the device to enhance teaching and learning.
116.We need to think about digital literacy more deeply and holistically, rather than simply implementing immediate things that come to mind.
117.One way is to think of digital literacy like language literacy. There are important similarities between the two.
118. First, both are generative skills, allowing a learner to access knowledge in other domains.
119.Second, both require an immersive learning environment. We do not teach children language just through formal lessons, but within a holistic and immersive environment. Likewise, we should embed digital literacy within our overall school curriculum, and not as a standalone subject.
120.Third, we can break language literacy down into productive and receptive components – listen, speak, read, and write. In Chinese – 听，说，读，写。 We are conscious about how we teach each of these components and how they relate to and reinforce each other.
121.We too can break digital literacy down into different components. The framework MOE has adopted is: find, think, apply, and create. They represent the different and mutually-reinforcing aspects of digital literacy.
122.Recognising the importance of digital literacy, MOE will launch a National Digital Literacy Programme (NDLP). This is MOE's contribution to the national effort, with a focus on schools and our IHLs.
123.Let me explain what the NDLP entails using the four components I just mentioned.
124.The first component is "find". It means being able to gather and use information and data from digital resources. Our young have no problem doing this. They are digital natives.
125.Their challenge is how to do this in a constructive, safe, responsible, and ethical way. This will be taught through the cyber wellness component of the new CCE curriculum that I spoke about earlier.
126.The second component is "think". This is the ability to manage, analyse, interpret and understand data, and then solve problems systematically. These are skills largely found in computational thinking.
127.But we do not need a new subject called computational thinking. The elements are present in existing subjects, especially mathematics, where there is already a strong focus on problem solving. What schools can do is to explicitly draw out the learning points.
128.Let us take teaching of prime numbers as an example. Today, teachers typically explain the process to identify prime numbers as follows: for a set of numbers, say 1 to 100, cross out 1, then all higher multiples of 2, 3, 5, 7 and so forth. What is left is a list of prime numbers.
129.In future, to be more explicit about developing computational thinking, teachers can challenge students to write a simple program to follow that same logical sequence.
130. Through such an exercise, students learn various programming structures such as loops and conditions. One common programming logic is "if, then, else". In this example, if a number is a multiple of 2, then it is not a prime number, or else retain it as a possible prime number. Then loop back to 3, and so on.
131.With this, the already renowned Singapore Mathematics curriculum has received another upgrade!
132.The third and biggest component is "apply". We need to teach students to use software and devices productively to learn, work, and for daily living, across different contexts.
133. A major initiative in this area is the Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS). This is a dynamic online learning portal. Almost the whole of our curriculum is on SLS, complete with animation, interactives, videos, assessments, and other resources.
134.To Mr Chen Show Mao's question, we started building it a few years ago, way before there was COVID-19.
135.The idea is not to make students learn completely online and not have to go to school. The quality and outcomes of e-learning will never be the same as a physical learning environment with teachers, friends, CCAs, and a social setting.
136.Neither are we using SLS to make the classroom high tech and futuristic.
137.What we want to do is to use SLS to enhance the classroom experience. Let the technology fade into the background and let the interaction, thinking, and discussion come to the fore.
138.Flip the classroom, give students more voice, make learning become collaborative. Then students are more likely to internalise the lessons and achieve better education outcomes.
139.So we got eight schools to start a pilot project where teachers conducted lessons using SLS and every student had a personal learning device to access the SLS portal. We learned many lessons from the pilot schools.
140.First, teachers cannot teach the traditional way using e-learning. They need new pedagogies – e-pedagogy. I witnessed some of these lessons. They are nothing like the lessons that I went through as a child.
141.At Orchid Park Secondary, I saw how a mathematics teacher, Mr Marwin Low, used SLS to teach students about angles within a diagram.
142. After the students logged on to SLS, they were shown a quadrilateral on screen. The students could drag each of the corners and change the shape and size of the quadrilateral. But no matter how they manipulated the diagram, a display showed that the addition of all the interior angles was always 360 degrees. The concept is presented visually, and is very clear.
143.They were then presented with various tasks, which they had to solve and use SLS to key in their answers. Students can remain anonymous and can see each other's answers. They can comment on them, or pose questions. In this online space, anonymity is put to good use, as the students experience a much higher level of psychological safety in learning, as Professor Lim Sun Sun puts it.
144.The teacher could monitor the answer given by every student in real-time, through a heat map.
145.If the heat map is filled with green dots, it means everyone got the answer right – the lesson carries on. All red dots means everyone got it wrong and the teacher had better re-teach the concept. If it is mostly green with some red dots, it means that some students need coaching, and the teacher will know who they are, and can intervene accordingly.
146.At last year's Malay Language Anugerah Arif Budiman Teachers' Award, one of the winners was Cikgu Siti Mariam from Crest Secondary. I asked her how she managed to make her MTL lesson interesting and engaging.
147.She said she used digital technology. In her case, she incorporated her students' interest in photography into the lesson. The students would take photos using their mobile devices, prepare a photo story in Malay, and then upload it on an online platform to share with all their classmates.
148.There are many ground-up digital lesson plans that teachers have created and uploaded onto the SLS platform to share with their colleagues. So we are now crowd-sourcing digital lesson plans. And we are still scratching the surface of this powerful SLS tool.
149.A second important insight from the pilot is that to conduct e-learning, it is very useful for every student to have a personal learning device. Device sharing makes learning sub-optimal. A device is as essential for e-learning in a digital learning classroom, as paper and pen are for a traditional classroom.
150.A third lesson is that having issued a device to every student, there has to be controlled access so that the device is used for education and learning, and not other distractions!
151. The pilot schools have effectively addressed this through device usage control. It can access educationally meaningful sites on the Internet, but online games and watching Korean drama series are out. It will also monitor students' use of the device.
152. Some students are naturally disappointed with the restricted functionality of the device, but it is the necessary thing to do. This is consistent with a common school practice where mobile phone usage is disallowed during school hours.
153. We are now ready to expand the pilot programme. Over the next few years, MOE will progressively roll out this new way of teaching nation-wide, to all secondary schools.
154. By 2024, we will equip every school with e-pedagogy capabilities, and every single Secondary One student with a personal learning device. This could be a tablet, laptop or chromebook. By 2028, all secondary school students will be equipped with a digital device, and this will address the concerns of Ms Denise Phua and Dr Intan.
155. We will make sure that the device is affordable. Given that it is primarily used for learning and education, we do not intend for it to be a high-end device. We will use bulk tender to lower the price further – probably a few hundred dollars.
156. Students can pay for the device through their Edusave accounts. The Government contributes to it annually. Last year, we raised the Government's annual contribution to their Edusave accounts. We also provided a $150 Bicentennial Bonus top-up for all primary and secondary Singaporean students.
157. This year, and in anticipation of the full roll out of this initiative, we will provide another $200 top-up to the Edusave accounts of all Singaporean students in primary and secondary school. This will cost a total of $75 million.
158. We expect most students to have enough balance in their Edusave accounts to pay for the device. Some who have used more of their Edusave funds might have to fork out a bit of cash. But MOE will provide further subsidies for students from lower income households and ensure that their out-of-pocket cost is $0.
159. The last component of the digital literacy framework is "Create". It is the productive mode, i.e. the ability to code a program, develop an app, create a website, or design a game, and collaborate with others in the process.
160. Many secondary schools are leveraging Applied Learning Programmes to get students to develop software or program robots.
161. We will also expand the number of schools offering O-Level Computing, from 22 to 30 schools; and A-Level Computing from eight to 10 JCs.
162. To Ms Denise Phua's question, MOE has also partnered the Special Education (SPED) schools to customise digital literacy to the learning needs of their students. For example, Pathlight School offers O-Level Computing. For home-schoolers, they can refer to materials that MOE has made available to the public.
163. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about the efforts at IHLs in pushing digital literacy. IHLs are setting baseline digital competency requirements for all their students.
164. For example, at the Singapore Management University (SMU), students take a module on Introductory Statistics. At Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), computational thinking is a compulsory foundational Year One module.
165. The IHLs are also upgrading their curriculum for sectors that require more advanced digital skills, such as cybersecurity, finance, manufacturing, and logistics.
166. In the last three years, the AUs have trained about 1,000 ICT graduates annually. But the AUs know the industry is hungry for more talent, and have been working hard to expand the capacity of ICT courses. Today, they are taking in 2,800 ICT students a year – almost three times more than before. We will find ways to ramp up the capacity further if need be.
SkillsFuture for Educators
167. I have spoken about many changes in the education system. Let me now tie them all together.
168. The most important common success factor for all the changes we are making is our teachers. I think we have the best teaching force in the world to make our education reforms a success.
169. Over the years, we have been able to recruit very good teachers. Many are attracted to the noble mission of education in helping to mould the future of our nation.
170. Having recruited teachers, we need to continue to invest in their professional competencies, a point alluded to by Mr Murali Pillai and Ms Cheng Li Hui.
171. So MOE surveyed our teachers and asked them – given the changing education landscape, what kind of skills do you need most? The following are six competencies that teachers told us they needed:
172. First, assessment literacy. As we reduce exam load, teachers want to learn to use other assessment tools such as project work, quizzes, and class presentations.
173. Second, inquiry-based learning. They want to be able to design and conduct a class that encourages active learning, giving students more time to explore, pose questions, and find answers.
174. Third, differentiated instruction, so that in more diverse classrooms, teachers can teach in a way that caters to the different strengths and learning needs of students.
175. Fourth, support for students with special educational needs. About 80% of our students with special educational needs are in our mainstream schools today. Teachers want to have a better understanding of their needs and support them better.
176. Fifth, e-pedagogy so that they can use digital technology effectively to enhance learning, especially with the NDLP.
177. Finally, CCE, so that every school experience can be a CCE lesson, and every teacher a CCE teacher.
178. Some may ask, how will older teachers keep up with all these new demands in education?
179. I think it is a misperception that older teachers, and for that matter older workers, cannot keep up with changes.
180. SMS Chee Hong Tat was the guest of honour at the Distinguished Chinese Language Teacher Awards Ceremony last year. The most experienced award recipient was Mdm Lee Pick Siew, who has taught Chinese for 24 years at St. Joseph's Institution (SJI).
181. SMS Chee spoke to her about education technology. It turns out that Mdm Lee is a firm believer in using technology to teach languages. She told SMS Chee that technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who know how to use technology will replace those who do not.
182. That is coming from the most senior teacher that evening.
183. Others are concerned that with professional development, teachers will have one more thing to worry about, on top of their teaching and administrative duties.
184. Professional development is not new. Teachers have been doing so for many years.
185. Our teachers were very forthcoming with their input because they want to learn, be good at what they are doing, and grow in their careers. They do not see professional development and teaching duties as a zero-sum game.
186. But to make sure that training is useful, it is important that teachers decide for themselves the kind of training they need.
187. This is the essence of professional autonomy – teachers taking ownership of the tools of their craft. It is essential in determining the standards of practice, developing mastery, deepening capabilities and instilling professional pride. If you cannot do that, you are like a chef that just reheats the food that somebody else cooked.
188. The concept of professional ownership applies to all industries, trades, and crafts, and is in fact the core philosophy of SkillsFuture.
189. So when we were deliberating on a name for this significant initiative to upgrade the skills of our teachers, we decided to call it SkillsFuture for Educators.
190. Mr Chairman Sir, let me conclude and summarise the key thrusts of our reform efforts. With your permission sir, may I request that the Clerks distribute a handout to members please?
191. This diagram is what Second Minister Indranee calls, Tree for life". The ground represents our mission, which is making sure every child has opportunities. No child is left behind because of their family background.
192. Second, the roots represent the cornerstone of our education system – bilingualism and learning languages for life.
193. The stem and branches represent significant structural changes that we are making.
194. The first structural change is to nurture joy of learning, by making changes to the PSLE scoring system and reducing exam load.
195. The second structural change is to phase out streaming and replace it with Full Subject-Based Banding.
196. Fifth, the leaves and fruits, represent what we are populating the classroom with, which is refreshing our curriculum to prepare our students to be future ready – in CCE, Knowing Asia, and Digital Literacy.
197. Sixth, the sun represents what is critical for the system to work well – our teachers. Through SkillsFuture for Educators, we are upgrading their skills and professionalism.
198. Together, these six thrusts form the 'Learn for Life' movement for schools. It will guide our efforts to raise the school education system to a new level, in the next five to ten years.
199. I hope this is the transformation map Ms Denise Phua asked for. I hope it is as thoughtful as it is bold.
200. The constant improvement of our public systems, like education, is a core aspect of our governance approach and social compact.
201. Technology and globalisation bring about great opportunities, but they can also aggravate inequality and stifle social mobility. To tackle these challenges, we should not penalise the schools or individuals who have done well. For which parent does not want his child to do well and be the best that he can be?
202. That is why our approach is 'not to cap the top, but lift the bottom.' Extend more help to students who need assistance most. Devote resources and implement programmes that lift the quality, standards, and experience across the board.
203. When I visited Orchid Park Secondary, one of our pilot schools to implement the use of personal learning devices, Mr Ramesh, a chemistry teacher, said something to me, which left a very deep impression.
204. He said that the most profound implication of the initiative is not the technology nor the new pedagogy. It is that now, every student is similarly equipped in terms of computing and learning resources.
205. With the SLS, he readily hears the voice of every child in class. The teacher can now more easily detect and zoom in to help students who have fallen behind.
206. In other words, the initiative has further levelled the playing field for all students – that is the most significant outcome of the Programme.
207. That is also the objective of MOE's other initiatives rolled out over the years, whether it is Applied Learning Programme, Values-In-Action, Outdoor Adventure Learning, Language Elective Programme, or the Junior Sports Academy. We are always improving the common experiences of our students.
208. In many countries, social stratification worsened partly because the national system deteriorated. The affluent therefore opt out of the national system and pay for market-based solutions.
209. Over time, this further entrenched the gap between rich and poor, who live in worlds far apart.
210. In Singapore, we counter this trend, by ensuring that whether it is in healthcare, public transport, housing or education, we deliver a national system of high quality, even world class quality.
211. That is why the education system must always be a work in progress. Always be honest in identifying our strengths as well as the gaps and areas for improvement, and keep engaging and working with the stakeholders to improve it. And doing all these, while keeping school fees to a few dollars a month for the large majority of schools. We will make sure no one is denied a good education because of their family background.
212. Within these commons, we enable social mobility, we help children from poor families break out of poverty, we build a platform for all Singaporeans to mingle and build bonds, and we can fulfil the aspirations and dreams of successive generations.
213. From Learn for Life to SkillsFuture, we will inculcate the spirit of lifelong learning in our young, and ensure that they will be ready for the future.
214. Thank you, Mr Chairman.