January 08, 2018
Welcome Address by Minister of Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng at the 2018 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI)
1. Let me join Professor Tan in welcoming you to ICSEI 2018. To our overseas delegates, a warm welcome to Singapore.
2. The theme of the conference, “Deepening School Change for Scaling: Principles, Pathways and Partnerships” is timely, as we ponder how to intensify and sustain change within schools, as well as how to scale effective change across different school systems in our countries.
3. In Singapore, we are blessed with many things, one of which is our smallness, and therefore effective change can be done relatively quickly. But that really is not the secret of how we have worked on our education in the last 52 years. The reason why education has reached a certain level of standing is because Singaporeans and the Singapore government treasure education. Education is always an important pillar of our society as we work tirelessly to prepare our children for the uncertain future.
4. Though Singapore’s education system has performed well in international bench-marking studies, such as TIMSS and PISA, we have to be mindful that a holistic education which caters to the needs and aspirations of our students are of the utmost importance. As an education system, we must equip our students with critical and inventive thinking, information and communication skills, civic literacy, as well as global awareness and cross-cultural skills. At the core of our approach to a holistic education is the emphasis on values and character. These are important qualities, which can anchor and guide our students as they navigate uncertainties and challenges in the future.
5. Let me share with you how our schools work towards preparing our children for the future. First, we are nurturing the joy of learning in our children. By helping our children to discover the joy of learning, we lay an important foundation, that internal engine which drives and enables learning, even as we lay strong academic foundations in them in schools. Our children will be encouraged to explore and discover their interests and passions, and develop these interests and passions into strengths. This enables them to reach their fullest potential in life; as well as kick-start their lifelong journey of learning, unlearning, and relearning, even when they leave our school system and enter the real world.
6. Second, we are striving to develop in them an entrepreneurial dare, where we encourage them to apply their learning to create solutions in the real world and to push the boundaries of what is possible.
7. Third, we build a strong Singapore Spirit among our young so that they remain rooted to their community and to Singapore as they navigate life with a global and cosmopolitan mindset.
8. Lastly, to ready our students for the future, we intentionally cultivate and level up their Innovation Quotient. This can be achieved by nurturing what I call the 3Is – active Imagination, collective Inquisitiveness, and rich Interconnections. These will offer our students new lens to explore and examine the world with, from which a wellspring of innovative ideas can emerge.
9. Collectively, these form an integral whole to bring out the best in our students. To realise these aspirations we have for our students, it is critical to have good schools led by purposeful leaders and teachers who are competent and driven. Every school will have to be the solid foundation on which our students find their bearings; and the confidence that they can lead a meaningful and successful life.
10. I am very heartened that we share a common vision with ICSEI, NIE, and our educators in ensuring quality education for all children.
MULTIPLE PATHWAYS FOR TEACHERS TO CONTRIBUTE
11. In the rapidly-changing global environment, schools have to learn to be adaptable, flexible, and innovative to prepare students for whatever the future may bring. Our teachers must also embody adaptability and flexibility, and model this for their students.
12. Singapore’s Ministry of Education therefore recognises the need to also provide multiple pathways of development and opportunities for professional growth for our teachers, to maximise their potential and contribute meaningfully. MOE offers three career tracks – and diverse roles – to cater to our teachers’ different talents, abilities and aspirations. These are, the Teaching Track, Leadership Track and Senior Specialist Track. These tracks enable MOE to build a team of professional teachers, capable leaders, and dedicated specialists, in our continuous drive to improve the quality of education.
PARTNERSHIP IN TEACHER DEVELOPMENT
13. For the past 67 years, our capable partner, the National Institute of Education, has played a significant role in partnering MOE – in developing teachers, teacher leaders, key personnel and school leaders for our education system.
14. All levels of school leaders attend courses designed jointly by NIE and MOE. We work together to develop a rigorous training curriculum to enhance the expertise and skills of those in the education service. Examples include the Teacher Leaders Programme, the Management and Leadership in Schools, and the Leaders in Education Programme. These programmes cater to the professional learning needs of teacher leaders, middle managers, and school leaders respectively.
15. Besides the professional training conducted in partnership with NIE, we believe that teacher learning is as powerful and more authentic when they collaborate with their peers on issues of student learning. In 2009, the Professional Learning Community or PLC was also introduced to our schools for teachers to learn from one another, problem-solve, and re-imagine new possibilities. Today, our schools set aside time for different teams of teachers to come together as PLCs; and each team is often led by our Lead Teachers or Senior Teachers, who are the pedagogical leaders in our schools.
16. There is also the Networked Learning Communities or NLCs to support and encourage collaboration between schools, and harness the collaborative capital within the entire system. NLCs facilitate school-to-school partnerships, allowing schools to learn from other schools which have innovated successfully. This enables schools to reflect upon their practice, while tapping on the knowledge and experience of others. Through the NLC, we build strong communities among our schools, as they engage in collaborative, purposeful and sustained discussion on issues that matter to them. Not just a few schools benefit, positive changes are scaled and shared to enable the whole system to be elevated to a higher plane.
17. For example, two teachers from Nan Chiau Primary School leveraged the NLC to lead their colleagues from other schools in co-designing lesson packages – hence supporting an apprenticeship model of teacher leadership. There were bi-weekly professional learning communities held and lesson observations across participating schools. Nan Chiau even set up a dedicated site to share lesson plans, meeting notes, and starter kits, and loaned devices to other schools that needed equipment.
18. Their effort to scale such innovation across schools was also supported by learning designers from MOE as well as NIE researchers, showing the strong tripartite relationship among MOE, NIE and schools.
PRACTICE GUIDED BY SOUND EVIDENCE-INFORMED PRINCIPLE
19. Providing multiple career pathways to optimise professional growth, and having closer partnerships for teacher development are some of our efforts to ensure that our teachers stay ahead of the game. This is particularly important as our system evolves in tandem with the changes within and outside Singapore.
20. For any policy and practice to be effective and successful, it has to be guided by sound and evidence-based principles distilled through rigorous research. Education is highly contextualised and one set of policies and practices that works in one system cannot just be brought over wholesale without considering very real differences in context.
21. On this challenge, Singapore schools have done well - because through conferences and congresses like these, we learn from others, adopt the sound principles behind their success, and adapt it to fit the context of our society, so that our school system can benefit. Indeed, conferences like the ICSEI serve as a valuable opportunity for policy-makers, researchers and practitioners, both local and overseas, to explore new pathways and form new partnerships to guide our joint effort to improve schools worldwide.
22. I call upon all of us to deepen school change through our learning and reflection, so that our learning – and by extension, our students’ learning – can deepen. Value and seize the opportunity to interact and network with one another. Share your expertise and insight freely, and where needed, keep the conversations going even post-conference.
23. Together, in close partnership, we can shape our students’ lives and our shared future! What you start discussing here could well lead one day to a global sea change within all our schools. I wish you all a successful and rewarding conference, and may the future of our countries be determined and moulded through your hands.