Speeches/Interviews

July 26, 2018

Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, at the Launch of Singapore Positive Education Network

Good morning,

Friends from overseas,

Fellow Educators,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. Let’s thank the awesome students from Da Qiao Primary School for their wonderful performance. I think I speak for all of us when I say we enjoyed ourselves tremendously!

2. Thank you for inviting me to Day Two of your International Education Conference I also want to welcome our friends from overseas who came to join us today. It is important to nurture students who are not just future-ready, but able to flourish in a challenging and every-changing future.

3. One of the key concepts the conference will focus on today is the idea of “Positive Education”.

4. Positive Education is a movement spearheaded by Dr Martin Seligman who first began his research on positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Positive educators believe that in order to ensure personal mastery and success for life, schools cannot only focus on academic attainment but must couple it with character development and the students’ well-being. This is something MOE has emphasized as an intrinsic part of our education.

5. This all-rounded focus resonates with many educators. I’m very heartened that a ground-up movement has started to reinforce MOE’s renewed emphasis on character, citizenship education, values and holistic development, over achieving academic excellence. We are not saying that academic results are not important. In former Minister for Education (Schools), Mr Ng Chee Meng’s Committee of Supply speech, he shared about the PSLE scoring changes that will take place in 2021. We are doing this to free up space for the children to develop their strengths and talents. There are other initiatives like the DSA changes and move towards outdoor education. Let us find out what drives and motivates our children.

6. Some of our educators and researchers from various institutions have come together to start the Singapore Positive Education Network, in short, ‘SPEN’. Schools such as Hwa Chong Institution, River Valley High School, Westwood Primary School and Da Qiao Primary School, are working together with the National Institute of Education to take the lead in Positive Education.

7. I’m very encouraged to see that SPEN is off to a great start with its launch at this education conference. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be here today. The group of schools, educators, researchers and community members behind SPEN is committed to fostering our students’ character and well-being. What does it aim to do? It aims to support collaboration, share effective practices and foster learning to advance positive education in Singapore and beyond.

8. I have been spending more time talking to my children about what they wish to achieve in life. We were talking about how we prepare ourselves for the digital era. We all know that the younger generation have really great technical skills. I don’t spend a lot of time at home. Unfortunately, when I’m at home, I’ll be asking my sons about their homework progress and if they have prepared for their exams. As they are doing their homework, they use their earphones to listen to music, at the same time, they might also be watching videos on YouTube. It’s a multi-sensory stimulation. I know in today’s context, our children are fast and keen learners but it also means that teachers have to step up to attract and retain their attention in class, they have to be a theatre actor or actress. For example, the English language teacher needs to have very big movements to catch the students’ attention. As you speak, you have to walk around, project your voice and gesticulate, and have visual prompters to capture their attention. Whenever I do school visits, I will ask teachers to take good care of themselves, especially their voices.

9. Why am I talking about this? Two days ago, I heard about this term called “reverse-mentoring”. I was just telling the Vice-President of IBM that children nowadays are very technologically savvy. We were trying to see how to encourage inter-generational bonding in community. Have the children to teach the older generation. She said, “We should not be shy to learn from the younger generation. This is called “reverse-mentoring”.” In schools, even at upper primary, we introduce simple coding. Because of that, I’m the only one at home who doesn’t know how to code. I have to resort to reverse-mentoring. I will have to get help from my sons but this sparks a wonderful exchange, not just in learning technical skills from them, but understanding their role.

10. We can see positive education at work in the SPEN schools. For instance, staff and leaders of Westwood Primary School, including the School Advisory Committee members, have endorsed a framework that emphasises teaching the skills to promote well-being. It’s about recognising that students can be agents for change and knowledge creation. We just introduced the Student Learning Space. In time to come, we hope that students will be able to put together and curate content on SLS, not just teachers. In their daily activities and classroom interactions, the students are taught to be “self-directed learners, trustworthy friends, compassionate leaders, and confident and positive persons”. All these will be important life-skills for them to be future-ready learners who will flourish and thrive in an ever-changing future.

11. At Hwa Chong Institution, teachers and school leaders are using evidence-based methods. It is backed properly by statistics and methodology that work from the principles of positive psychology to embody school values such as 自强不息, 饮水思源 and 己立立人,己达达人.We all know that values are caught, not taught.

12. These values reflect the qualities of grit, resilience, gratitude and compassion found in positive education. These are all important attributes that will support our children for a lifetime. Most of the staff have gone through a 2-day workshop as the school leaders believe that staff well-being is key to a flourishing school culture. I think if we take care of our educators well, they will take good care of our children even better.

13. As we foster holistic development, NIE is a key institution that plays an essential role in this journey. It is important that our trainee teachers, before teaching in schools, and teacher educators learn how to nurture the students all-round in this new world context. To support our educators, I understand that NIE researchers have been studying and developing ways to promote student, as well as, teacher well-being. For example, they examined the ingredients for resilience and developed learning packages to cultivate gratitude and hope.

14. Every year in January and February, I will give out Edusave Awards to the students in my constituency. Allow me to talk about that journey. It’s always something that moves me. As many of you are aware, the Edusave Awards ceremony is a large-scale ceremony. It takes a three-hour session to hand out awards to about 600 students. After the ceremony, I reflected on it for quite some time. This is a proud moment for parents and teachers to see the child up on stage. As the students came up on stage, I congratulated and cajoled them to smile because it was a proud moment for them, but regardless, our students will be very stressed because all eyes were on them. They cannot fully enjoy the moment with their loved ones.

15. I sat down with the committee leaders and asked them about the objective of the session. It was meant to recognise the students’ good efforts and progress, not just academically, but in other areas. We would want them to let their hair down and put on a genuine smile. Wouldn’t we want them to show appreciation and gratitude to their parents too? So, I got the committee leaders over three months to agree that we should change the format into a cosy and intimate session of no more than 25 students and families. We ended up doing 51 sessions that year. It was tiring but really worth it.

16. I thought it was also important to congratulate the parents while congratulating the children. We want to remind the children that the reason why they came so far was because of the people that were always behind them and they are standing right behind them as they receive the award. In that window that I have with these children, it is my job to remind them what education is all about. It is about values. This is what positive education is all about. Gratitude and hope. I have this phrase in Mandarin 一个会感恩的孩子是一个幸福的孩子. I’m sharing this whole notion of gratitude to the children not just because of their parents. A child who is really grateful and understands the notion of gratitude will know how to navigate the landscape, work as a team, and work with different stakeholders. I really think that is what positive education is all about.

17. Today, school is not just about academic excellence. We want our students to also have strengths such as grit, optimism, and social intelligence, self-control to deter self-gratification, curiosity and a zest for life. I shared two quotes with the students at the Edusave Awards ceremony this year. The first quote I asked them to reflect on was “Do what you like. You will be good at what you do.” I ask the children to think about what they like to do. The second quote that I asked them to reflect on was a bit more complex but I think it is an important one. It’s a quote by Frederick Buechner that says “Vocation where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” If we get positive education right, we will be able to light up this passion of learning in our children. They will know what drives them. If they are able to study and learn what they like, they will be good at what they do. They wouldn’t need to drag themselves out of bed in the morning. Hopefully over time, even after they leave school, they will find in them to be able to master the skillset in whatever area they are interested in. This is what skills mastery and lifelong learning is all about.

18. Congratulations to the pioneering schools for starting SPEN. Even as our students did well in PISA and TIMSS – we must do just as well in taking care of their welfare and overall holistic development. Education is for life, and positive education lasts for a lifetime!

19. It is my pleasure to launch SPEN and I wish all of you every success in the years ahead.

20. Thank you.