July 27, 2018
Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Education, at the 2018 Teaching Scholarship Presentation Ceremony
1. I have great pleasure today in officiating at this Teaching Scholarship Presentation Ceremony. This year, I am happy to announce that 113 outstanding young people have been awarded the MOE Teaching Scholarship and Teaching Award.
The first step to a Journey of a Lifetime
2. The scholarship or award you receive today is not just the first step in becoming an educator. It is the first step in a journey of a lifetime.
3. Educators have a very special role in our society. This is because the impact of what you will do when you finally become fully fledged educators goes far beyond you - you shape the lives of hundreds of young people and in so doing you will also help shape our society and our country. Your work will outlive your lifetime. Therefore, the scholarships and awards today are not just about reading subjects that you like or are passionate about. While I certainly hope that you will strive to do well and to graduate with distinction, I would like today to talk about what the being an educator is ultimately about.
Builders of Character
4. The first and the most important thing you must do as educators is to build up young people of good character and good values. Values are at the heart of who we are as a people and as a nation. You can be the most intelligent person or have all the book smarts in the world, but if you do not have a good moral compass, if you do not have positive values then the rest will count for little. In order to transmit good values, as educators, you must have them yourselves too.
5. Ultimately, we teach who we are – your students will know what is important to you through your words and actions, and what values you hold. They will live by your example. As such, you must hold yourself to the highest standards, and uphold the expectations that MOE and the public have of you as an educator - and this is so even at this point of your journey.
6. Secondly, you will be teachers - professionals in your own right. As teachers you must lead students to inquire and develop a passion for learning. It is commonly understood that a teacher must have deep knowledge of the subject, to be able to explain concepts and teach the subject well. This is very true. You cannot teach what you do not know. As you embark on your studies, you will be in community with some of the best and brightest around the world. Therefore, ask questions. Learn from your professors and school mates. Develop in yourself a thirst for knowledge and a desire to constantly deepen your expertise. When you dare to challenge and to be challenged, you will be able to lead your students to inquire and develop the same passion for learning.
7. The traditional view of teaching is that of a teacher downloading knowledge to a student. However as all at MOE know, that is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time. Teaching is no longer about simply imparting knowledge but also helping students to acquire it on their own, and to think critically and arrive at conclusions on their own. With wide access to the Internet, a lot of information is readily available. Any student could easily find resources on almost any topic. Hence, while your content knowledge is important, it is even more crucial for a teacher to be able to lead students to acquire knowledge on their own, to think analytically and innovatively. These are the building blocks of lifelong learning that will stand your students in good stead long after they have left school.
8. Thirdly, you must be navigators, helping your students to navigate a world which can be confusing and which is getting more complex by the day. You must help them to form the lens through which to view and understand the world.
9. They will have questions about the world, about friendships, about relationships, about their fears, hopes and aspirations. A teacher is often one of the first people they will turn to for guidance on such issues.
10. From the national and citizenship perspective, it is important to help them be aware of Singapore’s history, our strengths and vulnerabilities and our present realities.
11. The global landscape is changing. The rise of xenophobic attitudes and prejudice around the world, and the use of fake news to stoke such sentiments is a concern for multi-cultural, immigrant societies like Singapore. Our students must understand these issues and learn how to deal with them.
12. As a teacher, you must be aware of and be up to date on contemporary issues, so that you can facilitate meaningful discussions with your students. Their ability to develop an informed view of what we stand for and our place in the world will determine whether they can learn from the past, respond to the realities of the present, and rise to meet the challenges of the future.
13. Lastly, teachers also inspire. Every educator should have a deep belief that each and every child can succeed, and be a strong pillar of support for them in their formative years.
14. There are many examples of students whose lives have been changed by a teacher’s encouragement and care. Let me share with you one such story of a primary school girl who had dyslexia, and struggled to learn to read and write. However, she had teachers who believed in her, and spent time with her to help her break down words and build up her vocabulary. Twenty years later, this little girl, Ms. Tan Si Hua, has grown to become a teacher herself and now teaches at Juying Primary School. A strong advocate for the use of technology and innovative teaching strategies, Si Hua is a recipient of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award this year. Her story shows how the inspirational impact of Teachers, which extends well beyond their teaching tenures, can uplift future generations.
Helping Students develop their fullest potential
15. Each child is unique. Different students have different talents and different strengths. It will be your task to help each of your future students realise their fullest potential, recognising that they have different abilities and hence may have different trajectories.
16. The changes we have made to our education system over the years reflect our belief in broadening definitions of success, and creating multiple pathways for our students to achieve success. For instance, we have specialised schools to cater to sporting talent, artistic talent, those who are STEM-inclined, and those who thrive on hands-on learning.
17. As a teacher, keep in mind that not everyone needs to achieve the same outcomes, but everyone should have the opportunity to achieve good outcomes. Celebrate the talents and achievements of your students, and help them to take the path that is best suited for them.
18. A teacher must inspire students to make a positive difference to society. I believe all of you agree that a teacher who simply talks about striving for excellence or being an active contributor without accompanying deeds does not get very far. A teacher must role model the values for students to embody.
19. An example of one such teacher is Mr. Lim Bok Chong Lawrence, the Head of Department for Physical Education and CCA at Yuying Secondary School. He introduced a programme, Totally Wholesome Engaged Empowered Teens in Serving (or TWEETS for short), as a platform for students to champion social causes. Seeing their teachers extend their appreciation to foreign workers by giving them tokens of food, his students went on to initiate a range of projects to contribute to their respective causes. For his efforts, he was a finalist of the President’s Award for Teachers in 2017.
20. Even during your studies, you can look for ways to contribute and broaden your worldview. For example, one of our current Teaching Award holders, Ms. Lim Zi Hui, volunteers regularly with YMCA. She helped to plan camps that promote interaction between volunteers and those with special needs, and raised awareness about special needs by encouraging those around her to participate. Zi Hui says that her volunteering experience has allowed her to reflect more deeply about inclusiveness, and on ways to create a more inclusive classroom when she becomes a teacher. Experiences like these, beyond your academic studies, will help to shape your thinking and values.
21. As a teacher, you must learn to create communities. You must be a bridge between the student and other sources of support, especially for vulnerable or disadvantaged students.
22. Other than the school, parents and community partners can provide additional support. As teachers, you can help build communities of support for such children. For example, teachers work together with parent support groups in many schools to organise activities like reading sessions to help weaker students read better, or post-examination activities to help students de-stress and explore their interests. Our schools also work with self-help groups, nominating students for programmes that motivate students and build resilience. Such engagement and partnerships with parents and the community provides a stronger network of support and care for our students, and so we know that we are all in this together. It takes a village to raise a child.
23. Taking all of the above together, you will see that you are far more than educators. You are nation builders. That is why I say that the scholarship and awards you will receive today will take you on a journey of a lifetime, one in which you will affect many lives and ultimately the future of the nation. This is not a light responsibility but it is a deeply meaningful one.
24. Teaching is a special calling. The scholarships and awards you receive today are the Ministry’s recognition of your potential to be a good educator and ultimately a nation builder. They signify our hope and trust in you to lead our students to become an informed global citizen, to care for them in partnership with parents and the community, and to inspire them to reach their fullest potential.
25. Please accept these scholarships and awards in the spirit in which they are given and do well. Thank you.