Speeches/Interviews

September 03, 2020

Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, on the Occasion of Teachers' Day 2020

1. To all teachers, and staff at schools and at HQ, I wish you all a very Happy Teachers' Day.

2. Teachers' Day 2020 holds particular significance. It is a very special day every year for all of us in the Ministry of Education, but this year has reminded us even more acutely of the role and the enormous impact of teachers and staff in the lives of our students. It has also reminded us of the indomitable spirit of our education fraternity.

3. This has been a watershed moment in our education system. It has been eight months since Covid-19 entered our collective consciousness, but I know to some of us it seems like an eternity. Not only because of the many challenges we've had to confront and overcome, but also because of the many changes in the way we do things.

4. You have led that change – new ways of teaching and engaging your students, new ways of assessing, new tools and platforms, new understanding of what professional collaboration and camaraderie look like in action. Our education system has taken a huge leap forward, thanks to all of you.

5. This is the spirit that touches me and makes me proud to be part of this team. In the midst of your many challenges, you have stayed strong and steadfast because the wellbeing of your students was always at the forefront of your mind.

6. I am fully aware of the challenges of adapting to Home-Based Learning. You are all familiar with the techniques of teaching in a classroom, face to face with your students, but teaching effectively online requires completely different skillsets and techniques. Yet you were not daunted. You put your heart and soul into the task, and made yourselves available and vulnerable in the service of learning.

7. Let me share a few quotes from our teachers about their experiences. One teacher shared, "We are all YouTubers now. To make a perfect 10-minute video, we spend an hour. Then we upload and hope for many views from our subscribers aka our students." Another said: "Over this extraordinary time, the will-power manifested exemplifies what it means to be a member of our community. Collectively, we were determined to give our students the best versions of ourselves."

8. What's even better is that you helped each other be your best selves. As one teacher put it, "I loved witnessing and experiencing cross coaching: 'younger' teachers led in ICT professional development for 'older' teachers and 'older' teachers led 'younger' teachers with effective pedagogy and fidelity to the Schemes Of Work."

9. This was the norm across the entire fraternity. As teachers shared resources selflessly, School Staff Developers held workshops to equip teachers with online teaching skills and HQ conducted training sessions. You all showed a tremendous generosity of spirit! Out of this came a million HBL lessons that were uploaded on the Student Learning Space within just four months.

10. Every day, over this crisis, you 'lived' the lessons that we teach our students – lessons of lifelong learning, resilience, and care and support for one another. These are important and power learning moments for our students, as they see these values in action exemplified in their teachers. I hope these lessons will stay in their hearts and guide them as they progress in their lives

11. Our students surprised us too. One teacher found a tech tutor in his Primary Five student. When Home-Based Learning started, Jayden Gee of Poi Ching School contacted his teacher, Mr Choo Sing Wee, volunteering to help test out the live-conferencing platforms. Mr Choo said, "He was thinking critically, and offered an analysis of the different tools available. I have never felt so proud to have my student guiding me!"

12. Parents realise the impact of this moment and your contributions. Our schools and teachers have received many notes of thanks. One parent with two children in Fuchun Primary, wrote in to say this about their teachers: "As a parent, I felt a great sense of uncertainty when HBL dawned on me. But Mrs Tan, who teaches my Primary Two child, has the mother's hand. Through the Circuit Breaker, she greets parents as "Super Parents". She uses positive emojis to cheer parents up and calls me to see how we were doing."

13. Another parent from Xinmin Secondary said, "I have never seen my daughter and her friends so focused before. It was nice to see my child asking questions and teaching others throughout the day too! A big applause to the teachers who have been making a lot of effort to help our students, especially teachers with young kids of their own and needing to balance teaching and guiding their own kids.

14. This Teachers' Day, I would also like to say a big thank you to those of you who may not be teaching professionals in the strict sense of the word, but are also looking after our students, and are at the frontlines of this fight against Covid. Without your support, all this would not have been possible. Our contact tracing teams helped teachers keep track of and follow up on students, who were on HQO, SHN or LOA. You fielded calls from parents. You helped teachers set up Home-Based Lessons. You made sure that students with learning needs were supported and if students were worried, they had someone to talk to. You ensured that schools were being cleaned rigorously, and that safe management rules were in place and being followed.

15. Thanks to these combined efforts, we were able to keep schools open in Term 1, keep students learning through HBL, and resume classes in Term 3. This meant that our students did not significantly lose curriculum coverage or suffer the ill effects of long-term absence from school. Thank you everyone, for your tremendous efforts.

More Support for Schools and Teachers

16. Now, even as we grapple with this crisis, we are more convinced than ever that we should push ahead with the changes to the system that we have already embarked on. These are close to our heart as they impact the long-term success of our students. These are significant shifts that require changes to how our teachers conduct Teaching & Learning. For example, rethinking School Based Assessment with fewer formal exams or developing a more porous education system that recognises the different strengths and interests of our students as we have been doing through Subject-Based Banding and eventually Full Subject-Based Banding.

17. In the recent Work Plan Seminar, we outlined four other imperatives to accelerate the Learn for Life movement. These included making HBL a regular part of school life to foster greater independence in our students; accelerating the National Digital Literacy Programme; and doing more to uplift students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In our engagement with School Leaders and educators so far, all of you have been supportive of these reforms.

18. To enable our schools and teachers to continue the good work that they have been doing, we need to look at how we can support you better. Let me explain how we hope to do so with several upcoming initiatives.

19. Covid-19 has shown us the importance of being able to adapt and innovate our pedagogical practices. To further support our teachers in building their capabilities and deepening their expertise, we will enhance our Teaching Track by increasing the number of Master Teachers and deploying them to schools to directly support teaching and learning, as well as professional development of the fraternity.

20. The Teaching Track was conceptualised in 2001 to recognise the important work of Teachers in the classroom and to develop Teacher Leaders, who can provide strong leadership and mentorship to uplift the professional capabilities of our teaching fraternity. Today, senior Teacher Leaders, known as Master Teachers, play a critical role in sharing effective teaching practices in the classroom, prototyping new teaching methodologies and supporting policy and programmatic work related to teaching and learning at the national-level.

21. Our Master Teachers are currently primarily based in MOE HQ. Over the next few years, we will grow the number of Master Teachers with the goal of eventually posting more than a hundred of them to schools to teach classes on a sustained basis. They will open up their lessons for observations and will engage in co-planning and co-teaching of lessons with fellow teachers in the school. They will demonstrate how specific learning needs of students in these classrooms could be addressed through sound pedagogical practices and innovations. They will also lead in Professional Development Committees within the school and at cluster and zonal levels.

22. This initiative to have school-based Master Teachers is a significant move, signalling our commitment to strengthen the Teaching Track, and our continued investments to create a quality teaching workforce as the backbone of our education system.

23. COVID-19 has also demonstrated the importance of the entire school fraternity – both teaching staff and Allied Educators – working together to provide strong support for the holistic development of all our students.

24. The current crisis has highlighted the urgent need for strengthening social support for more vulnerable students and their families. So we will, over the next few years, double the number of Student Welfare Officers in our schools to better support the number of students with higher needs. These SWOs will support teachers and work hand in hand with other school staff and community partners to strengthen the safety net and address barriers to school attendance and learning for these at-risk students.

25. In the area of student well-being, we will grow the number of teacher counsellors, support them with better resourcing and training, to ensure adequate counselling support for students in every school.

26. Access to better Education and Career Guidance, or ECG, is also critical to guide students in exploring their strengths and interests, to make informed education and career plans in what will likely be an uncertain job market for some time to come. We will therefore also increase the number of ECG counsellors to help our students navigate the complexities of today's fast-changing education and job landscape. Our JCs will benefit from an ECG counsellor each, our secondary schools will get 1 ECG counsellor supporting 2 schools, up from a ratio of 1 counsellor to 4 schools today.

27. We appreciate the professional expertise Allied Educators bring to the table and how complex their roles have become as they work closely alongside teachers to support the holistic development of every child. We will therefore provide them with more opportunities for career progression, including increasing the number of middle and senior level positions, to support multiple peaks of domain excellence and strengthen the professional leadership within each Allied Educator fraternity.

28. Digital literacy is another key thrust for us. As teachers continue to innovate and come up with new ways to teach and engage students, technology is a key enabler. Hence, it is critical to strengthen our schools' ICT capabilities. Such capabilities will be recognised as a core part of the School Administrative Team. In particular, we will enhance career development opportunities for ICT admin staff in the schools, with opportunities for some to contribute at the cluster level.

29. To support schools in the implementation of Blended Learning and the National Digital Literacy Programme, we will also increase the ICT partner-to-school ratio and provide a team of roving ICT administrative support in the rollout of the personal learning devices for students.

30. Our schools today are multi-faceted communities because that is what it takes to nurture our students holistically. It takes people with different skills – teachers, Allied Educators, ECG counsellors – all working together towards a common goal. In this regard, I thank all our School Leaders, all of you play a critical role in bringing together all these capabilities seamlessly with the students' wellbeing in mind.

31. We hope that through these initiatives, schools and teachers will be much better supported and enabled to do what is close to your hearts – working with each student to be the best that they can be, making a difference to each student so that they in turn grow up to make a difference to their families, to their community and to our country.

32. These are major challenges to tackle. But if this year is anything to go by, we know how capable you are of rising to the occasion and how passionate you are about this shared mission that we have.

Conclusion

33. As a small token of our appreciation for what you have gone through so far in this exceptional year, I would like to take this opportunity to present all our colleagues with a specially designed First Day Cover of stamps featuring the Soaper 5 super heroes designed by MOE.

34. The Soaper 5 characters were created to remind our students to stay safe in the face of Covid-19. I dedicate these stamps to you – because you are our real superheroes and the champions of our students' wellbeing.

35. We don't really use stamps much anymore. They may seem archaic in this digital age. But they remind us of what truly matters: connection with one another. I hope that in the years to come, when you look back on this time, you will take this memento out of the drawer, and share stories of how you protected our children at the frontlines of this fight against the virus.

36. At some point, this pandemic will be over; this storm will pass. The spirit that all of you have shown over the past few months gives us confidence that we will emerge from this crisis stronger, more united and more resilient than before.

37. Once again, let me wish one and all a very Happy Teachers' Day. Thank you very much.

For more information, kindly refer to this press release.