Madam Chairperson, Minister has given an overview of the future of education and what MOE is doing.

I will speak on two specific areas of MOE’s work: pre-school and tertiary education.

Early Childhood Education

Ms Irene Ng and Mr Zainudin Nordin highlighted the importance of building the social and emotional resources of our young, and supporting low-income students.

Preparing our children for the future begins with giving our children a good start in life. Research shows that children who have a good early childhood education tend to do well later in life. A good educational foundation early in life is therefore extremely important.

We are doing this in two ways:

  • First, by promoting consistency of standards in content and teaching across the sector;
  • Secondly, through MOE Kindergartens (MKs).To date, we have 10 MKs, which provide quality pre-school education that is affordable to Singaporeans. Five more will open next year. The MKs aim to pilot teaching and learning resources, and establish good practices for sharing with the pre-school sector.

Giving every child a good start does not mean that the child in pre-school must be able to do the primary one syllabus while still in pre-school. There is still a pre-conception that a child is doing well only if the child is doing something beyond that child’s level. That should not be the case; at the pre-school stage the child should learn in a way that is appropriate to their age and stage of development.

What is important is:

  • What they learn (content); and
  • How they learn (pedagogy).

For content, MOE has developed the Nurturing Early Learners Curriculum, a tool kit of kindergarten curriculum resources. This contains guidelines for a holistic pre-school education, including learning areas such as numeracy, motor skills development, language and literacy, and social and emotional development.

In terms of how they learn, MOE has two core pedagogies: to engage children in learning through firstly, purposeful play, and secondly, quality interactions between teachers and children. The MKs of today are not the kindergartens that we remember. Children no longer learn through spelling lists and rote memory. Today, we encourage children to learn, explore, and ask questions about their world through play. The teachers plan learning activities that are fun and enjoyable for the children and help them achieve intended learning outcomes holistically.

Mr Hri Kumar talked about communication skills. We are helping our children to build a strong foundation, through bilingualism.

Research increasingly shows the importance of learning languages at a young age. Children who are exposed to two languages from young are more likely to be able to acquire both languages at a higher level of proficiency than their peers who start later. Researchers compared a group of children who learnt a second language earlier and used it longer, with another group who learnt a second language later. They found that the group of early bilinguals were more fluent and proficient than their peers. The early bilinguals also had greater self-regulation skills and ability to focus on a given task.

We have made bilingualism a key feature of our MKs, so that our children will be fluent in English and Mother Tongue, and will have a strong anchor on which to build their language capabilities as they grow older.

Our MKs have the Weeks of Wonder, or WoW – these are term projects that facilitate language learning. Each year, children do four WoW projects, two in English and two in the Mother Tongue, where they work together with their peers and teachers to investigate topics of interest in Mother Tongue.

With your permission, Madam Chairman, may I display some slides on the screens?

Here you see the MK children visiting a flower shop. These are the ones doing Tamil language, and interviewed the Indian owner about the use of roses in the Indian culture. They also interviewed others and searched through books and the Internet. The owner showed them around his shop, demonstrated how a rose garland was made using banana strings, and explained the use of roses on different occasions in the Indian culture.

The children were so excited that they decided to set up their own florist shop! This required them to work with each other, practise their Tamil and express their creativity. The children also learnt about the value of teaching others, when they went home and created rose bouquets with their families using recycled materials for their flower shop.

This WoW project illustrates the pedagogical approach of learning through play, as well as innovative techniques for language learning.

Manpower Development for The Early Childhood Sector

In order to provide good pre-school education, we must also have good pre-school teachers. MOE is working closely with the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), to train pre-school teachers. We have developed the Nurturing Early Learners Framework, which guides pre-schools in designing and implementing a quality kindergarten curriculum for children aged four to six.

We have also launched the Educators’ Guide, which helps teachers translate the Framework into quality learning experiences for children. About 6,000 pre-school educators were trained by end 2014.

We need more early childhood professionals to meet the growing demand for services. If you are interested in teaching, if you like children and are passionate about helping them build character and a strong foundation for life, do consider a career in Early Childhood Care and Education. I would also encourage persons, including women who have left the workforce and wish to return, to consider a career in early childhood.

There are many different pathways to become an early childhood professional, with entry and training into the sector at all levels. There are early childhood courses at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnic and university levels, each providing a stepping stone to the next level in combination with work experience.

For pre-service trainees, there are the ECDA Training Awards for both full-time ITE and Polytechnic Diplomas in Early Childhood Care and Education courses. The ITE Training Award was introduced last year. The take-up has been promising, with about 20 ITE students receiving the award to date.

Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Zainudin Nordin asked about support for mid-career learners. There are also pathways for mid-career professionals who want to enter the sector. Li Xian was an auditor in an accounting firm for four years. She wanted to change her job for a better work-life balance.

Inspired by her older sister who is an early childhood professional, Li Xian took the Singapore Polytechnic Conversion Diploma in early childhood Education, and completed the one-year course in September last year. She is happy with her career change and says that she is “enjoying the moments of satisfaction and the priceless hugs of the children on a daily basis!”

There are also part-time courses for those who cannot study full time. Working Professionals can take the part-time diploma in early childhood care and education at our polytechnics from October this year. These courses will give recognition for prior learning and competencies gained through work experience, which will shorten the overall course hours.

ECDA is also working closely with WDA to develop structured competency-based pathways. Here you can see the different pathways.

SKILLSFUTURE

Education and Career Guidance

SkillsFuture has been a prominent feature of this budget and MOE is actively involved in implementing various aspects of SkillsFuture.

First, enhanced education and career guidance (ECG) will now be an integral part of our education system.

Daniel’s Story

Let me share with you Daniel’s story. Daniel was an ITE student, completing a Higher Nitec in Mechanical Engineering, when I first met him last year. Like many young people, he wasn’t sure what his next step should be. He had taken mechanical engineering at ITE but it was not his first choice. He wasn’t sure he wanted to continue in engineering. I asked him what he thought he might like to do. He said either culinary arts or sports science but again, he wasn’t sure. I offered to arrange internships for him so he would be in a better position to decide. He opted to try culinary arts. I asked PS Café which operates in my constituency if they could take him on. They kindly agreed to do so.

Daniel duly went for his internship, which he enjoyed tremendously. The outcome however is interesting and this is how Daniel made his decision:

He spoke to the other chefs and they shared their experiences and advice. He also spoke to his section head of Mechanical Engineering at ITE. He knew he really enjoyed his work as a chef and had fun in the kitchen. But he also considered the cost of sacrificing and throwing away everything he had learnt in the two years. So after much thought, he decided to continue with engineering and not to discard what he has learnt. Cooking remains a passion for him but he wants to have something which builds on his engineering background as a career. If his passion for culinary arts is still strong, he may go back to it later in life. I suppose he can use the SkillsFuture credits.

He has since applied for polytechnic admission in engineering-related courses, including Engineering and Product Design. These courses would offer the prospect of interesting, practical, and stable jobs and they allow him to leverage his mechanical engineering skills foundation, yet explore new areas. However, his internship at PS Café provided him with valuable experience and he now has the option of revisiting culinary arts later stage if he wants.

The most important part about this story is that the advice, guidance and the internship empowered Daniel to make an informed choice that was his own decision. This story illustrates the importance of ECG, and this can be delivered through structured ECG programmes, short internships, or industrial visits.

Mr Ang Wei Neng noted that ECG counsellors need to be properly trained. We agree. MOE will play a co-ordinating role to ensure that ECG programmes are relevant to students, from primary to post-secondary levels. And a Central ECG Unit is being set up within MOE to oversee planning and implementation of ECG.

We will pilot an enhanced engagement programme for Secondary 2 and 3 students to build awareness of industries and sectors, and the applied learning environment in polytechnics. This year, we will begin with 50 schools for the Secondary 2 students, and 24 schools for the Secondary 3 students.

At the polytechnics and ITE, we will introduce more systematic ECG through a common set of ECG outcomes and learning objectives.

Internships and Industrial Attachments

Another aspect of SkillsFuture which MOE is closely involved in implementing is internships and industrial attachments.

The benefits of internships are clear. They provide an authentic learning environment which allows the student to gain real life practical knowledge and hands-on experience.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong spoke about the varied experiences of those on internships. Some companies do them well, others not so much. We agree that more can be done to improve internships. It must be done sector by sector. And the government will support, but employers must do their part.

In the early childhood education sector, ECDA has provided a capability grant to centres that host enhanced internships for students from the full-time Early Childhood Care and Education courses at the institutes of higher learning (IHLs). The grant will help employers defray costs of developing and running internship programmes – for instance, the cost of training, deployment of mentors, as well as costs in providing stipends, and teaching and learning resources for interns.

ECDA is also working with IHLs to develop structured internship programmes for specific durations, which will help companies to plan their internships better. We need more companies to support enhanced internships, to provide meaningful work assignments and mentoring by experienced professionals.

We also need companies to provide places for on-the-job training within the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme. Polytechnic and ITE graduates who successfully complete this skills training programme will receive industry-recognised qualifications such as advanced diplomas, specialised diplomas, or certificates. MPs have spoken about the need for manpower. The Earn and Learn Program is in fact a powerful recruitment platform and pipeline of talent for local businesses, MNCs and SMEs alike. I would encourage companies to take it up.

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is another important aspect of SkillsFuture. Let me tell you Johnny’s story.

Johnny’s Story

I met Mr Johnny Ng, Managing Director of NKH Building Services, a company that does pump services and maintenance. Johnny finished his ‘O’ Levels in 1977 and proceeded straight to NS. He found it difficult to get a job after NS. He realised he needed to upgrade himself, and took part-time courses at the then-Singapore Vocational Institute and later ITE.

From 1988 to 1992, he took electrical studies, as he was then working with his brother to install and maintain control panels. From 1993 to 1994, he obtained his qualification as a licensed electrical worker. As business expanded, he realised he needed other skills. So between 1992 and 1995, he took up management courses at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

At the same time, electronics was booming. He saw the opportunity but realised he didn’t have the skills. So between 1995 and 1999, he took electronics courses at ITE.

Then came the 1998 crisis which hit many businesses hard, including Johnny’s. Undeterred, he modified his business plan to ride out the crisis. He changed his business focus, from installing pumps, to maintenance of pumps – a more shock-proof business model.

To equip himself for this new direction, he then took courses in plumbing (1999-2002) and air-conditioning (2002-2005). Not content with this, in 2003 to 2004, he became a licensed plumber. And somewhere between the electronics, air-cons and pumps, he managed to notice the pretty girl in the seat behind him at ITE – and married her.

On the strength of continuing education and training from ITE and SVI courses, Johnny transformed himself over 15 years from an ‘O’ Level school leaver to where he is today – the owner of a million-dollar business. His company is still growing and he has not stopped learning. He continues to take other courses, and he remains very grateful to ITE not just for his success in life – and also for his wife!

The MOE-funded CET courses at the polytechnics and ITE, and WDA-funded WSQ courses will help people to progress through life, just like Johnny. There are also short courses offered by the polytechnics and ITE in a wide range of interest areas.

IHLs as Centres of Innovation

Our IHLs are also centres of innovation. Let me tell you Derek’s story.

Derek’s Story

Derek graduated from Republic Polytechnic (RP) in 2008. His dream was to start a business to make fish bak kwa. After NS, he started a company in 2011 with RP and SPRING Singapore’s help. But his first venture failed. However, he did not give up. He continued to pitch for investments, look for opportunities, and learn from other businessmen who had bounced back from failure.

He continued to work with his mentor from RP’s Centre for Enterprise and Communication to improve his business plan. This is the original product. It was not so good in terms of presentation and also in how it was made. Derek tapped on what he learnt during his final-year project at RP about processes to prevent the introduction of bacteria. This led Derek to vacuum seal the fish bak kwa, to increase its shelf-life without adding preservatives.

Derek re-launched Ocean King in 2013 and secured his first funding in October 2014. It comes in 3 flavours in:

  • King Salmon
  • Big-Eye Tuna
  • Blue Marlin

Today Ocean King is set on making the world’s finest fish bak kwa, a new take on a timeless tradition and enjoyment of bak kwa without the guilt.

Derek’s polytechnic education put him in good stead to be an entrepreneur. His story also shows how our polytechnics’ Centres of Innovation can help industry.

This is the new face of education – learning and collaboration do not need to stop when school ends. Education and industry are intertwined, and when done well, can spur entrepreneurship, support innovation and productivity, generate economic activity and help make dreams come true.

Madam Chairperson, if I may now say a few words in Malay.

Encik Zainuddin bertanya tentang hasil yang diingini daripada program prakerjaya dan pembelajaran sepanjang hayat.

Dengan SkillsFuture, pelajar-pelajar kita akan mendapat lebih banyak peluang untuk berjaya dalam kehidupan. Walaupun kita tidak dapat menjamin pekerjaan untuk semua, namun, dengan SkillsFuture, kita dapat meningkatkan harapan pekerjaan dan peluang untuk peningkatan dalam kerjaya.

ECG akan membantu pelajar-pelajar mengenali kekuatan mereka dan mengenal pasti peluang pekerjaan yang baik yang terdapat dalam pelbagai sektor;

Latihan amali akan membolehkan pelajar-pelajar untuk memperoleh kemahiran kehidupan yang sebenar dan pengetahuan tentang industri dengan lebih baik. Jika mereka berjaya dalam latihan amali, majikan pasti akan ingin menggajikan mereka;

Program Bekerja dan Belajar akan membolehkan mereka bekerja dan mendapat gaji, belajar, dan pada masa yang sama, mendapat kelayakan tambahan;

Program pembelajaran sepanjang hayat atau CET akan membolehkan mereka meningkatkan kemahiran sepanjang hayat. Hal ini akan membolehkan mereka mendapat kenaikan gaji dan pangkat, dan maju ke jawatan-jawatan penyeliaan, pengurusan ataupun menjadi pemilik. Cerita mengenai Encik Johnny Ng yanfg saya telah kongsi menunjukkan bagaimana hal ini boleh dilakukan.

Saya menggalakkan pelajar-pelajar kita agar mengambil kesempatan daripada peluang yang ditawarkan oleh SkillsFuture. Dengan kerja keras dan usaha gigih, kita semua boleh berjaya tidak kira titik permulaan kita.

Madam, I will now continue in English.

Professor Tan Tai Yong spoke about the need to support research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). HSS contributes to a better understanding of our society. It complements Science & Technology research. Investment in HSS research is important for Singapore’s development. Concerted effort needed to deepen research grounded in Singapore’s context.

Currently, MOE supports research funding for the social sciences through the Academic Research Fund. Many government agencies commission HSS research in areas relevant to public policy.

The Government is considering a bigger push in HSS research, guided by the consideration of serving Singapore’s needs. The Government will engage the academic community further on this.