Speeches/Interviews

March 30, 2017

Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Minister for Education (Schools) at MOE Excel Fest 2017 Awards Ceremony

1. A very good morning. I am very happy to be here at our MOE ExCEL Fest Awards Ceremony.

2. Many of you might be wondering I am wearing a bow tie. This is a really special bow tie as it was made by one of our students. His name is Muhammad Arif Bin Hamzah, a Secondary Four student from Evergreen Secondary School. He made some of these ties to participate in the 2016 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge with his business concept called “Bow T” and he won. Last week, he was in New York representing Singapore in the 2017 Network for Teaching Enterprise (NFTE) Global Showcase.

3. Arif has a keen interest in men’s fashion and he observed that there were not many choices in the market, and that those in the market were not suitable for all the different occasions. So he planned to use cut-offs from other dressmakers and tailors to make his bow-ties. But most importantly, this exemplifies why we are here today. A Secondary Four student, who was inspired by his school and had the foundation of knowledge to see what is possible, started a journey to chase his dreams. I do not know if he will succeed, but I will certainly make sure I support him. I hope our whole system will support his journey of discovery and exploration to chase his dreams.

4. Earlier this week, I asked my PA for the administrative instructions for this event and she passed this unique invite to me. To me, it is a brown schoolbag with a set of dreamy eyes. It is indeed an innovative design for a routine administrative instruction. Its cheery design brought on a big smile. What it showed me was the commitment and dedication of our educators and our staff in MOE to really want to make a difference and create value. Thank you very much to the team of organisers!

5. I share these two stories because they are very apt examples of what we want to do in MOE and beyond. Nurturing innovative value-creators now and for the future.

RECOGNISING TOP INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION

6. I am heartened, in my two years in MOE,to see a growing culture of innovation in our schools. This ExCEL Fest showcases the willingness of our educators and staff to innovate and improve the way we do things.

7. One recent innovation is in Applied Learning which has gained momentum in our schools to offer real world learning opportunities for our students. Applied Learning complements the learning experiences in the classroom, where educators use innovative pedagogies and teaching strategies to engage students in their learning.

8. This is critical in shaping the culture of innovation in our schools. To me, nothing is more important than the role modelling of our educators and staff in pushing frontiers and embracing innovation.

9. Pedagogies will evolve, better teaching strategies designed, but nothing beats our teachers leading by example. How we walk the talk will have a more lasting and deeper impact on our students.

10. I am happy to see our educators taking the lead in innovation, leading from the front. I am delighted to join you to celebrate the innovations of our educators and staff, the spirit of enterprise that is alive in schools, and this continual journey towards improvements in our schools, HQ divisions and statutory boards.

11. The high number of quality submissions for this year’s Innergy Awards reflects the vibrant innovation culture in MOE. Let me congratulate the winners and all who have played a part in improving teaching and learning, administration and other areas in your workplace.

MOVING FORWARD

12. The theme for this year’s MOE ExCEL Fest is “Nurturing Innovative Value-Creators for the Future”. To enable this, there are a few things we must put in place:

  1. Firstly, fostering an entrepreneurial dare in our students is important – to be unafraid to go off the beaten path, and to be resilient in the face of setbacks or failures, which is bound to happen when we push boundaries to seek novel solutions.
  2. Secondly, we need to create an environment where our students have an engaged learning experience, and the opportunity to be inquisitive and reflective.
  3. Thirdly, we must encourage our students to collaborate actively with others to learn, design, and implement innovative solutions and create value in our community.
The Spirit of Entrepreneurial Dare

13. First, on entrepreneurial dare. An innovator needs to be able to see things from multiple perspectives, analysing complex problems across domains. Having identified the needs, he must have the courage to take risks. Not reckless risks, but considered ones based on strong grounds and an assessment of the limitations and possibilities.

14. Most importantly, he must have the entrepreneurial dare to turn these problems on their heads. See the opportunities and possibilities that others do not yet see, and apply his expertise to create new solutions, often across different domains and technologies. And, persevere even if obstacles seem daunting.

15. Take the example of Thomas Edison who had a bright idea to disrupt the “light technology” of his era. He tried, not just once or twice, but multiple times. But yet, he saw these failures only as successes in proving what would not work. His unwavering persistence paid off, with him not just creating the electric light bulb, but also making it commercially viable.

16. Earlier this morning, I chatted with some of our students from East View Secondary School, who demonstrated encouraging glimpses of these traits.

17. They shared with me their observations that the water used by the workers cleaning common areas in HDB estates could be re-used. They designed an underground system that collects and filters the dirty water so that it can be used later, for example, to wash cars and water plants.

18. They tried several methods and some probably worked better than others. They think they have something workable. They may need to go through another 9,999 times before they can commercialise their success.

19. But what is important is that they are understanding and internalising the process of innovation. I hope they have started to embrace an entrepreneurial dare to try, and the resilience to persist even with each new failed attempt. In so doing, they are not only learning and applying what they were taught in school, but starting to foster an attitude of entrepreneurial dare.

AN ENGAGED LEARNING EXPERIENCE

20. Let me come to the second point.

21. We need to create an environment, the conditions, to allow for curiosity and reflection to take place naturally. This is critical for the nurturing of innovative value-creators. Earlier in my speech, I shared the story of Arif’s dream venture of making and selling bow ties.

22. We need to venture beyond the traditional strength of learning in our classrooms and encourage less structured, and even some unstructured learning spaces.

23. The key to this is for us not to be over-prescriptive in the learning process. When it comes to this tacit learning, how can our students be given the space for their creativity to emerge and for their passions to take root? In the same vein, how can we encourage peer learning, where ideas are discussed and perspectives are expanded? How can we inspire collective sharing and cross domain collaboration to make breakthroughs?

24. When the iPhone was first conceived, there were no new technologies involved in this as telephony technologies, phone cameras and mobile applications were already in existence. But what made the iPhone come together was the innovative idea for a device to bring these technologies together. And Apple got it right - they pulled the technologies together to make it happen. With good collaboration and good ideas, we can add value or create new value to products that are already in the market, without even creating new products. Similarly, how can we encourage peer learning and collaboration?

25. I am happy to have met Mr Johnny Wee, the Subject Head for Design Education in Ping Yi Secondary School. Johnny is a strong advocate of such a forward-looking teaching approach, designing student-centric lessons with hands-on activities. This encourages robust exchange of ideas, allow the students to see things in a different light, widen their perspectives, and encourage them to think creatively – both individually and collectively.

26. For example, tapping on their work and experience with the elderly during their Values in Action (VIA) project, he got his students to think of how their knowledge in D&T can help address some issues the elderly faced.

27. Based on the students’ interactions with the elderly, the students brainstormed and designed customised furniture to fit the contours of the elderly’s homes so that they would be able to keep their things neatly within the limitations of a small living space. Using simple prototypes, the students gathered feedback from the elderly and made changes accordingly.

28. Driving such authentic learning for his students allowed them to extend their knowledge beyond the classroom and find learning more meaningful.

29. I hope Johnny will continue to be a champion to create such an environment and I encourage all of us to explore this approach.

30. Make learning effective, both in the creative thinking sense, and also for the students to experience the joy in discovering something on their own and solving problems. This would help them take ownership of their learning and imbue in them the passion to continue their pursuit of life-long skills and knowledge.

COLLABORATION WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND THE COMMUNITY

31. I now come to the third point.

32. To nurture innovative value creators, we must encourage our students to go beyond the confines of classrooms, and collaborate actively with others to learn, design, and implement innovative solutions and create value.

33. Active collaboration with stakeholders helps to make sense of a given situation, define problems, and co-create new solutions. It helps the collaborators to factor in practical considerations, identify potential solutions, and opens up windows to what is possible and achievable. Collaboration is a force multiplier for innovation. It brings wide ranging expertise to give the highest probability of success. And over time, it builds a vibrant and dynamic innovation culture.

34. An example of this collaboration comes from ITE College East’s School of Applied & Health Sciences. As part of their final year project, the students found out about the low success rate of children with speech difficulties being discharged from treatment.

35. Children with speech difficulties need feedback when they practise their therapy at home. But family members are not always able to monitor their practices at home. Hence, the ITE team came up with an innovative idea to use a mobile app to assist these children in their home therapy.

36. But they lacked the clinical expertise. Undaunted, they sought the support of KK Hospital. They collaborated with therapists from its Children's Rehab Centre and the therapists’ mentors from the NUS Duke Research Centre to design suitable activities in the app to motivate, monitor and manage the children’s practices and progress at home.

37. The clinical trial over four months showed that the participants were making good progress. The children under therapy were more engaged and motivated to use the mobile app to practise at home as compared to the traditional pen and paper practices. With the increased engagement in home practice, the children improved significantly, requiring less face-to-face feedback.

38. It actually also made the overall therapy treatment cheaper. There was less need for professional therapy sessions, because more was achieved at home. The innovation resulted in sizable savings and was more effective. Imagine applied learning in our schools making a real-world difference.

CONCLUSION

39. I have cited only a few examples and there are many more at the exhibition outside. Please spend some time looking around and find the seeds of innovation in your own areas of work.

40. Let me tell one final story.

41. One day, a farmer asked his two sons to pick a seed each from a packet of watermelon seeds, and asked them to make the best use of it. The first son selected the most beautiful seed. It was the largest and had the loveliest black sheen. The second son looked at the rest, and chose an ordinary-looking seed.

42. The first son’s unique-looking seed soon generated quite a buzz in the farmer’s town. Reporters from the town’s newspaper even interviewed him about it. The first son happily held on to his seed, and basked in the limelight, holding on to the best seed in the world.

43. The first son asked his brother, “Why do you bother with your seed? Your seed is so ordinary!”

44. The second son kept his peace, and quietly went to plant the seed. The father observed and encouraged both.

45. At the end of a hot, dry summer season, the farmer father took both his sons to the market. The first son, though much in love with his beautiful seed, tried to sell it. But no one was interested. The second son, however, had an enormous watermelon with him. It was sweet, juicy and delicious.

46. He sold half of the watermelon, at a good price, and carved out hundreds of new seeds from the other half, which he divided into packets and sold at a handsome price. And he kept the most beautiful seed to plant for the next season.

47. What’s the moral of the story? Having the biggest and most beautiful seed is not the most important. Instead, we must make sure to take action to grow the seed, so that we can enjoy the fruit that will come. Having a good idea is only the first step, without taking action, it is not useful.

48. To all our dear educators, let’s take action to guide and motivate our students. Let’s sow the ideas that are the seeds of innovation. Remember to create the environment to allow our students to flourish. One day, a seed will grow beyond our expectations, and bring much value.

49. So let’s take collective action to nurture and strengthen our Innovation culture. Be the outstanding role model and mentor. Let us Innovate to Excel, and Inspire the Future.

50. Congratulations to the Innergy Award winners and all Outstanding Innovators for your inspiring efforts. I look forward to seeing your ideas succeed, and I look forward to seeing our students learn from your role-modelling.

51. Thank you and I wish all of you a fruitful and inspiring time at the MOE ExCEL Fest.