March 27, 2013

Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education at the Launch of “The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew: Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues” on 27 March 2013, NUS University Hall at 6.40pm

Mr Tan Tat Chu
President, Asia-Pacific Group, Cengage Learning

Mr Kwa Chong Guan
Chairman, National Archives of Singapore Advisory Committee

Ladies & gentlemen

The first phase of The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew: Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues was launched on 30 September 2011. These first 10 volumes spanned four decades, starting with Mr Lee’s speech delivered to students at the Malayan Forum in London on 28 January 1950, to his last interview as Prime Minister of Singapore on 26 November 1990, with BBC TV.

Today, it gives me great pleasure to be here for the launch of the second phase of The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew, comprising volumes 11 to 20 covering the period 1990 to 2011. The first entry in this latest publication is Mr Lee’s wide-ranging interview with the NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, covering Mr Lee’s thoughts on the development of Singapore as a nation and, as a much respected elder statesman, his opinions on China and Japan. The last entry is a speech at the 50th anniversary of the NTUC, where he paid tribute to its leaders and members and transported us to the very start of his political life as a determined and effective advocate for trade unions. These are but two examples from a comprehensive and definitive resource of Mr Lee’s speeches, interviews and dialogues, some of which are published for the very first time.

As with the first phase of the publication, volumes 11 to 20 have been researched and produced through the joint efforts of the National Archives of Singapore (NAS), the Office of the Press Secretary to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Cengage Learning Asia. I am very happy that their efforts have come to fruition in a rich and beautifully produced publication from which we will derive much to learn and ponder. These latest volumes will be a valuable resource to those interested in Mr Lee’s thoughts over the recent two decades and the National Library Board has informed me that copies have already been ordered for all their libraries so that NLB’s many patrons will be amongst the first to enjoy this new publication.

On this occasion, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr Lee for his kind donation of $145,000 to the MOE Education Fund, raised from the sale of autographed leather-bound sets of the first 10 volumes of The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew. The MOE Education Fund is a charity that helps us to promote, develop and advance education in Singapore and this donation is a continuing testament to Mr Lee’s strong belief in the value of a good education.

Mr Lee and our founding fathers realised early on that better education for our people was an important pillar of success for Singapore as we were without natural resources. Not surprisingly, one important topic of discussion with Mr Lee was education. If I may quote from a speech delivered on 21 January 2008 at a Global Competitiveness Forum -

“So in the early stages, we went only by academic success. Now, we know that’s a very limited and finite kind of education system. The world needs artists, creative people, sportsmen, et cetera. So, we have now developed a whole series of outlets for different talented people … In other words, we are trying to match the diversity of our population and their gifts with education systems that can make them a good living.”

This is quickly echoed in an interesting personal anecdote which Mr Lee shared at a 29 February 2008 dialogue with the advertising and marketing industry -

“I was once asked to draw an orange … I was about ten years old and I saw the person in front of me with his pastel drawing this orange and he took his finger and rubbed it so all the colours blended and it looked better. So, I did likewise. I got ten marks, he got eighty. I decided that this isn’t my forte. My forte is with words, not with pictures… Some people are good at words, some people at figures, some people at drawing, sculpture, design and painting and then you have varying schemes that bring out and hone these talents.”

These excerpts from the publication very much mirror our current efforts to implement a more holistic curriculum that also aims to create more ways to match the interests and aptitudes of our children.

I am confident that The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew will be a useful and engaging resource for all. It will, among other things, provide insights into the background to policies that have been implemented through the years and will also open a door to some intimate thoughts of Mr Lee.

Figures like Mr Lee Kuan Yew come, but rarely in history. It was Singapore’s good fortune, that we had at our founding, a remarkable team led by exceptional men of values. One of those gifts, as one of Mr Lee’s closest comrades, Dr Goh Keng Swee noted, was the gift of persuasion. It is difficult to summon the passion and excitement of former deeds, but we can get a glimmer of those times in these publications. Here again, that most persuasive of voices fashion our history.

In closing, I commend those involved in putting together this excellent publication and I thank everyone here for joining me in its launch today. I wish you a pleasant evening ahead.