Speeches/Interviews

November 08, 2018

Opening Remarks by Second Minister For Education Indranee Rajah, at the Arts Education Conference

1. A very good morning to all and a warm welcome to our overseas speakers. It gives me great deal of pleasure to welcome you to the 8th Arts Education Conference – jointly organised by the Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts, Academy of Singapore Teachers and the Arts Education Branch, Student Development Curriculum Division.

2. This year’s conference theme, “Arts for the Future – Intersections and Transformation” highlights the role of arts education in developing future-ready teachers and students, who will step up to lead and shape Singapore’s tomorrow.

3. This conference brings together a professional network of arts educators, thought leaders, researchers, artists, and industry partners who believe the arts play an integral role in the holistic development of our students, and you will be engaging in meaningful conversations on your pedagogical leadership as arts educators, and explore how intersections can catalyse creativity, innovation and transform learning in and through the arts.

4. It is the calling of teachers to provide diverse opportunities for students to explore and discover their interests, and develop their passions and turn them into strengths. Let me share some thoughts on the importance of arts education, and how MOE recognises a broader range of talents and creates more pathways for our students.

DEVELOPING SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING THROUGH THE ARTS

5. Arts education is not just about recalling facts of artists or performances. The focus has shifted from skills and knowledge acquisition to a more process-oriented, inquiry-based approach to learning that allows the students’ voice to be heard.

6. Arts educators now design learning experiences that empower students to make choices, and provides opportunities for them to embark on a journey of independent exploration and collective discovery about the world we live in. Students are given time and space to investigate and play; to make sense of the sounds, gestures, visual expressions, and images around them. By engaging in discussions about artists’ inspirations, performers’ interpretations and audiences’ receptions, they learn to value different perspectives, appreciate diversity and respect for others.

7. Art allows for self-reflection and can help create or generate emotions. Ms Ho Si Liang, Drama Teacher from Deyi Secondary School, believes that drama is not solely about acting; it is also about understanding the human condition. Ms Ho creates a safe classroom environment where students express their feelings, take on different perspectives to understand why the characters behave or react the way they do. She asks her students to draw emotional and situational parallels between characters and scenes presented to them in the play, and their own encounters in life.

8. Art Senior Teacher Ms Amy Koh from Montfort Junior School, designed a museum-based lesson to the Singapore Art Museum for a group of students with emotional needs, to learn skills to manage self and relate to each other positively. The school counsellor went along on the museum trip too. During the visit, students learned how visual artists respond to different types of conflict through art. One of the artworks, Lizard Tail, a soft sculpture installation by Japanese artist Hiromi Tango reminded viewers to ‘drop their tails’ of painful memories and traumatic experiences, just like a lizard would under duress and move on. This artwork, and a few others, spoke about the resilience of the human spirit. Back in school, whenever the students would “act up”, Ms Koh and the counsellor would gently prompt them to“Remember the Lizard Tail?” and they would slowly let go and calm down.

9. Arts learning is an important part of developing our students’ social and emotional learning.

FOSTERING A SENSE OF BELONGING

10. Art also fosters a sense of belonging and identity.

11. The world we live in is rapidly changing. Globalisation, social and cultural shifts, and the changing demographics in Singapore can all have unsettling effects. People look for something to hold fast to. It prompts us to ask, “What anchors us as Singaporeans?” “How can we imbue in students a sense of identity and rootedness?”, and “What are the shared values and traditions that bind generations of Singaporeans?”

12. Each generation sees themselves in a particular way, and of course, each generation thinks that the next generation has sort of ruined something. But each generation has its own sense of identity. So music can define a generation. For my generation, it is the music of Queen, like Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You for younger ones, it could be Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know, and for the even younger ones among us, The Sam Willows’ Take Heart. We have all experienced the wave of nostalgia when we hear songs of our youth, or a particular period that makes us happy.

13. Students in our schools may well be singing newly commissioned songs about their shared lived experiences of Singapore such as taking the MRT and looking out at our East Coast sky.

14. Stories We Sing, a pedagogical resource with a collection of 12 songs commissioned by STAR, is a collaborative project that brings together educators and artists, our Singapore composers and poets to write songs about our shared, lived experience in Singapore. What this means is that songs about Telok Blangah may not evoke the same memories in a young person as those of his or her parents or grandparents, but each generation will still have a shared evocative memory of Telok Blangah which is meaningful to them. So I am heartened by the inquiry into shared intergenerational conversations. The approach not only opens up dialogue but explores new ways of understanding what makes us rooted to home.

15. It is great that we go beyond songs like Chan Mali Chan and Di-Tanjong Katong. At future community functions, I look forward to hearing My City, My Sayang which invites us to join in the sensory experiences of Singapore; and En Veetiley (My Home) and 隐形的雪 (The Invisible Snow), which explore family and community ties.

CONNECTIONS ACROSS DISCIPLINES

16. The power of stories through music, art, drama and dance is a very, very old one – it’s millennia-old and its purpose is to connect people and bridge ideas. The world we live in does not exist in clear compartmentalised segments. Similarly, the learning of subjects should cut across multiple disciplines. We will gift to our students a lifelong legacy, especially when the student is able to see the connections among subjects and between disciplines, and make meaning of the world around him/her.

17. Let me share how Ms Noor Farhana Bte Wahianuar, an art teacher from Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, collaborated with the Literature department to design a semester-long project focused on the essential question “What shapes one’s identity?” During Farhana’s art class, students explored the essential question by looking at artworks by Singaporean artist Lee Wen and American artist Lucas Samaras. In literature class, students read the young adult novel Red Sky in the Morning by Elizabeth Laird, and added another dimension of understanding to the essential question. Through this cross-disciplinary project, students were encouraged to think flexibly and consider multiple perspectives around a complex issue like identity.

18. In the words of American author Robert Greene, “The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” An education for the future must also prepare students to adapt to changes brought on by technology and other disruptive factors.

19. Today, there are many ways for the arts to intersect with technology and other disciplines in creative ways to bring about positive experiences. In the video “Van Gogh-Roosegaarde Bicycle Path” what we saw was a light emitting bicycle path in North Brabant, Netherlands, which pays tribute to Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. This project was created by Dutch artist and innovator, Dan Roosengaarde. Together with his team, he develops projects that merge technology and art in urban environments.

20. Back in Singapore, we have a more modest and fun version. Those who take the North-South MRT line may remember the Stairway of Lights in Dhoby Ghaut station. The path and stairs would literally light up and make music when you walk on it. It was part of the Health Promotion Board’s efforts to encourage people to walk more, and clock at least 10,000 steps per day.

21. We must provide more opportunities for learning that cuts across disciplines, stimulates students’ creativity, and develop their ability to problem-solve in different contexts.

NETWORKS AND PARTNERSHIPS

22. As some of you already know, Museum-based Learning is one of the core learning experiences for the Primary and Lower Secondary Art Syllabi. In 2018, about 38,000 students visited the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum. The partnerships with our art museums as well as with arts organisations expand students’ repertoire of arts experiences; they are nurtured both as artists as well as an audience. For the arts fraternity, such professional exchange, networks and partnerships, builds professional capital that enrich teaching and learning.

23. I am heartened that there are now more opportunities than ever for our students to participate in internship and mentorship with arts industry professionals. Students had the opportunity to experience an internship with 53A, a 6-member local pop/rock band, and mentoring by local playwright, Mr. Chong Tze Chien. Such industry experiences allow students to gain insights into creative processes, knowledge and skills that are contemporary, relevant, and hands-on. Basically, it makes learning come alive.

24. It is important that every student is given the opportunity to discover and develop his or her interests and strengths, and be supported in making more informed choices about their future career pathways.

NURTURING TALENT, EXPANDING PATHWAYS

25. One of the ways that MOE has been strengthening support for the arts is through strengthening the talent identification and development pipelines through programmes such as the Direct School Admissions (DSA) Scheme.

26. I think the story of Alisha Hannah is a great one to share. She is now a Secondary One student in St. Margaret’s Secondary School. Her primary school teacher, Mr Mohamed Fadzeel Abdul Rahman, first recognised her interest in dance back in primary 4. Working closely with the dance instructor, other teachers, and Alisha’s parents, Mr Fadzeel supported Alisha’s artistic development and encouraged her to apply to DSA. Today, Alisha is the level head for her Dance CCA at St. Margaret’s, and I learned from Mr Fadzeel that Alisha still goes back to Admiralty Primary during the school holidays to help nurture young dancers like her.

27. DSA recognises students for their potential and talent in diverse areas that cannot be demonstrated at the PSLE. This year, we have expanded DSA opportunities for all students, by allowing all secondary schools to admit up to 20% of their non-Integrated Programme intake via DSA. In the first year of this expansion, 3000 students received confirmed offers, compared to 2500 in 2017.

REFINING DSA SELECTION

28. Concurrently, we have refined DSA selection processes with a set of selection principles, which are: transparency, objectivity, talent-specificity, inclusiveness, and student centricity. They are meant to help schools identify the potential for greatness in our students, even if these students may not yet have had the opportunity to demonstrate their talent. For example, during the selection for Arts DSA, schools will look out more for potential ability - such as a sense of rhythm, an eye for aesthetics, or the ability to sing in tune - and place less emphasis on whether the child has gone for many competitions or won awards locally or overseas.

29. All schools, including the Integrated Programme (IP) schools, have thus refined their selection processes to be more judicious in identifying and recognising potential and specific talent. One positive change is that schools no longer administer general academic ability tests during their DSA selection. Doing so brings our schools’ DSA process and objectives back to the original intention of recognising specific talents, not general academic talents.

NEW ONLINE DSA PORTAL

30. Next year, we will launch a new online DSA portal. The portal will simplify the process of applying for DSA, and students and parents will only need to fill up one application form, instead of going to multiple schools to apply individually. We have also removed all application fees for DSA, to encourage more students to apply.

SUPPORTING MULTIPLE PATHWAYS

31. Apart from the DSA, there is another change to our education system that I would like to talk about. The change is in line with our broader efforts to better recognise non-academic aptitude and skills, and support the multiple pathways taken by our students with various interests.

32. A few months ago, Minister Ong Ye Kung raised the suggestion to review the current practice of having O-Level results make up 20% of polytechnic students’ University Admissions Score when they apply to our Autonomous Universities. This practice perpetuates the impact of the O-Levels on their future, even though many of these students go on to do very well at the polytechnics. We have since completed the review.

33. Starting from 2020, our Autonomous Universities will no longer hardcode O-Level grades as part of the polytechnic University Admissions Score. Polytechnic students will be assessed primarily based on their polytechnic GPA, which provides a better and more current reflection of the knowledge and skills that they have gained during their polytechnic education. Students can, however, continue to submit their O-Level results relevant to the course of study as additional information to support their applications if they wish to do so.

34. This, along with other initiatives such as the Discretionary Admissions, is in line with the other changes we have made to our education system to allow students with different learning styles to be evaluated more holistically. It also better recognises late-bloomers, and creates more opportunities for those who flourish after discovering their interest when they are older.

RECOGNISING OUR ARTS EDUCATORS

35. Now let me move on from changes to our education system to talk about educators who make the difference. Arts educators play a critical role in the pursuit for excellence through multiple pathways. They shape and advocate for students’ development in different ways.

36. This is evident in the works of 16 Art and Music educators featured in a publication that is launched today. “Portraits III: Narratives of Singapore Arts Educators” documents stories of arts educators who are pioneering interdisciplinary learning in the classroom, building networks with local and regional arts practitioners, and creating change in their communities.

37. One of the educators featured is Mr. Tan Kuo Cheang, Principal of Xinmin Secondary School. As a practising musician, Kuo Cheang has been advocating how teachers and students can develop a sense of empathy through music by engaging the community. He recalled a recent collaborative performance where he participated in, between The Philharmonic Orchestra and dance company Arts Fission. Senior citizens from a day care centre performed a choreography that included movements from daily life such as stirring a cup of coffee as part of a larger conversation of how artistic inspiration can be inclusive.

38. Kuo Cheang actively balances his roles in and out of school, encouraging art and music teachers to continue to hone their arts practices. This he believes, will in turn inspire students to continue to pursue excellence in multiple fields.

39. Another educator is Ms Jasjit Kaur, a former graphic designer, now an art teacher at St. Hilda’s Primary School. Six years into this second career, Jasjit still draws from her graphic designer experience to illustrate how creative professionals must conduct research and generate ideas in an iterative process. Jasjit encourages her art students to be curious, to consider alternatives while instilling upon them the values of perseverance and resilience.

40. Jasjit also believes in creating a culture of care in the art classroom. One year, she noticed this Primary 6 class seemed particularly disengaged. Instead of forging ahead with her art lesson plan, she asked the students to visually present reasons for their disengagement. As students reflected on their attitudes through drawing, Jasjit passed along these drawings to other teachers who had been frustrated by their inertia. This simple gesture helped teachers better understand the students’ state of mind, and they in turn, tried new approaches to engage the students.

41. I strongly encourage everyone in this room to create your own stories of success and share them so that others may learn and be inspired.

ROLE OF ARTS EDUCATION AS THE CATALYST FOR CHANGE

42. We believe in the power of the arts to move beyond the aesthetics into work that enables individuals and communities to effect change, whether in attitude or in action.

43. I encourage you to continue to tap on the transformative power of the arts, to influence and impact students’ lives. Arts education plays a part in nurturing the whole child. It continues to be a pivotal platform for students to cultivate a sense of curiosity, discover their interests and talents, grow their passions, and develop life skills, and a love for life-long learning.

44. A critical dimension of your teacher leadership is to champion and shape how learning in the arts can impact and influence communities locally and globally. For the shift to succeed, we will need to work together as a community, with our stakeholders and partners.

CONCLUSION

45. In conclusion, let me wish all of you the best for the conference as we learn from one another and engage in exchange of creative ideas and sharing of insights. These initial discussions will spark intersections that I’m sure will flourish into transformation in and throughout the arts.

46. Lead with confidence and courage. Thank you very much.