LIVING THE PIONEERING SPIRIT: Learning for Mastery, Learning throughout Life, Learning for Life
Mdm, I thank many MPs for your thoughtful and wide-ranging comments.
Recollecting the Pioneering Spirit
This year, we celebrate our nation’s golden jubilee.
We celebrate how education has enabled generations of Singaporeans to build a better life, and enabled us to build a nation.
We thank our pioneer educators, and their parents. Looking back, in 1965, education meant读书 or ‘study book’. Our pioneers had a sense of where they wanted to be in the future, where they were, and worked hard to bridge that gap. The big gap then was basic literacy and numeracy skills – so ‘study book’ made sense as they learnt the 3 “Rs” – or reading, writing, ‘rithmetic’.
Many became literate and numerate. We then built on this education system, year by year. At critical points, we made important choices to adapt and change. Educators, parents, students responded with spirit, and each wave allowed us to make further progress with purpose.
With these changes, we built a good education system, developed our people and grew our economy. But there were also inadvertent negatives. In our minds, ‘study book’ became increasingly about examinations, grades and qualifications.
A strength – in focusing on academic grades – can be over-done and become a weakness, as we leave little time to develop other attributes that are necessary for success and fulfilment.
Students tell me of the stress they faced because of the high expectations placed on them. The chase for better grades fuelled a tuition industry. It created a vertical stacking of qualifications, as well as the tiering of schools in the minds of parents, based mainly on academic results – a hierarchy of grades.
We are not unique in this. The same ‘study book’ culture that enabled the three other East Asian dragons – South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan – to make great strides is also generating the same, if not even greater pressures, in their societies.
Pioneers for the Future
Like our pioneers before us, we have to ask anew: where do we want to be in the future, where are we today, and how do we make the leap?
At Our Singapore Conversation two years back, many Singaporeans expressed their aspiration for a cohesive home full of spirit and trust. A home where we all have opportunities to pursue our dreams. A home where we all have the assurance that we will each be taken care of, when we face difficulties, and where we live out lives of purpose.
So it is not just what we do. It is who we are as a people.
But many also recognised that the future will be more uncertain, volatile, as the global economy and political order changes in unpredictable ways. Political and religious developments elsewhere can strengthen or weaken our social cohesion.
An ageing population will create challenges that we cannot totally foresee. A younger generation that is digitally connected can either be more united, or more divided.
The nature of jobs will also change. For a start, many existing jobs will disappear. Smart machines and lower cost workers elsewhere will take these jobs. So we have to change jobs, maybe several times over our lifetime. But jobs that need uniquely human qualities cannot be displaced by machines, and will become more valuable.
Even the same job will look different. So traits like creativity, inventiveness, adaptability, socio-emotional skills, and cultural and global awareness will give Singaporeans an edge. New, interesting and diverse jobs will be created. Some of us will be self-employed. Some of us will create jobs for others as entrepreneurs. And if our economy grows well, more jobs will be created.
All these present new and multiple pathways to success.
Faced with such challenges and opportunities, we are at a crossroads. We have two options.
We could continue with the ‘study book’ path, with a narrow focus on grades and examinations, and descend into a spiralling paper chase and expanding tuition industry, as many of you have warned.
Employers choose not to invest in employees, relying wholly on academic qualifications to determine who gets the job.
Educators drill and test, and see their duty as helping students to obtain the best possible exam grades.
Parents obsess over grades and spend ever-increasing amounts of resources to give their child an edge over other children.
Students chase the next point, and spend most of their time going for more tuition and enrichment in very narrow areas.
Stress levels in society climb, and the system churns out students who excel in examinations, but are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future, nor find fulfilment in what they do. And unemployment or under-employment becomes pervasive. Everyone is worse off.
This is a grim road, but sadly, one which other societies have already trodden down.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan in his opening speech raised vivid examples of what is happening elsewhere. Ms Denise Phua warned us if we do not change, the currents beneath the ocean will cause us to drift and drift us in the wrong direction. This is one possible outcome.
We can have another outcome. We can act with boldness and resolve to take another path forward, to embark on a major transformation. We will need collective will and action by employers, teachers, parents and students, and society at large:
Where employers who look beyond academic qualifications in hiring or promoting the best person for the job. Bosses who support employees in skills upgrading.
Where educators who focus on holistic education, building a strong foundation of values and the capacity to learn.
Where our IHLs play a leading role, strengthening the nexus between learning and work, and learning for life
Where parents recognise every child’s unique strengths, and do their part to build their children’s character.
Where students flourish through a range of academic and co-curricular activities, and take different pathways to success and grow up to be well-rounded.
Where the economy stays resilient and flexible, with high levels of employment, and many opportunities. High skills, high productivity, high wages.
And where our society and our people continue to be caring, harmonious, gracious and cohesive. And we do not see education as a race amongst our children.
This is a path that no society has charted out fully yet – and I have been looking at education systems around the world. Charting this new territory will require us to once again be pioneers.
Here in Singapore, building on the many changes in our education system in the past, we have continued to make further changes and to make further moves in this direction.
As Ms Denise Phua reminded us, we have focused on values and character, strengthened holistic education, removed school rankings, and enhanced support for weaker and special needs students.
We developed new ways of learning in our schools, made every school a good school, expanded applied pathways in tertiary education, and in this Budget, outlined a series of SkillsFuture initiatives that built on ASPIRE’s recommendations.
All these changes have laid the groundwork for a transformation to create a better future for Singapore. A future anchored by deep skills and strong values.
But this future will belong to us only if we, as a people, shift our mindsets about education. This is not about ‘study book’ or 读书. It is about learning in every domain, anytime, anywhere for a purposeful, meaningful, fulfilling life.
In other words, we need to live the pioneering spirit
- Beyond learning for grades, to learning for mastery
- Beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life
- Beyond learning for work, to learning for life
Beyond Learning for Grades, to Learning for Mastery
Mr Yee Jenn Jong mentioned about an Integrated School. Ms Denise Phua made good suggestions on changes in the school system, including the Integrated School. Ms Denise Phua even raised an Adjournment Motion on this a few months back. I would say, let us go beyond what we do in schools. Let us go much further, so that it is not just about what Mr Png Eng Huat mentioned about tuition. It is about a more fundamental change. Allow me to touch on these fundamental changes.
The first major shift is to go beyond learning for grades, to learning for mastery.
What is Learning for Mastery?
How do we develop mastery in our fields? We do not have all the answers. But let me share a story.
When I was in the Police Academy more than 30 years ago, one of my pioneer instructors was Mr John Chang. He did not have high academic qualifications, but he was, in my mind, one of the best instructors – he knew the law, he knew how to deal with tense situations, he knew how to teach. He explained to me that after handling every case, he would reflect on how he could have done better. He would imagine in his mind scenarios – how should he have reacted if the criminals he was dealing with had been more violent, if they were armed with firearms, or victims less cooperative, and so on. He studied on his own, he attended classes, he asked his peers and he asked seniors at work. Everybody whom he could get to, he would ask. John was one of the few police officers who started as a constable, got many promotions, went all the way, and retired an assistant superintendent – quite a feat in those days.
Now I learnt a lot from John as a very young officer, about what it means to be an effective learner, and how one achieves mastery:
he was self-directed – no one told him how to learn, but he did so on his own;
he was reflective – he thought through his own experiences and learnt from both mistakes and successes;
he learnt in bite-sized modules, picking up what he needed, when he needed;
he kept an open mind – and learnt from everyone, everywhere, at any time;
he was disciplined – learning was not left to chance, but built into his every day routine;
And he was passionate – he cared deeply about what he does.
All these before we spoke about SkillsFuture. Now in my job in education, I am lucky to meet many who, like John, devote themselves to mastery, and in many different fields.
Let me quote just one example – Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng, a Senior Consultant at NUH. A doctor by training, Professor Chong is leading a nationwide birth cohort study on how mothers’ diet and lifestyle during pregnancy affect their babies’ growth after birth. It is a study with great national impact – to prevent and manage diseases like diabetes and obesity. Someone like him, steeped in knowledge of his field, does not shy away from applying his knowledge and skills innovatively to push new frontiers. To explore the unknown. To invent new things.
What MOE can Do: Laying the Foundation for Mastery
We should aim to be a nation where Singaporeans develop mastery in every field, Singaporeans who are resourceful, inventive and break new grounds. This will take collective effort across our schools, Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and industry.
So let me outline my Ministry’s contribution to this. In 10 years of basic education, we aim to:
First, equip every student with a strong foundation in literacy, numeracy and the thinking skills, whatever their starting point. Mr Hri Kumar mentioned about the importance of expressing our ideas well, and being confident. I fully agree with him and thank him for these useful suggestions. And indeed we are starting very early now in preschool and in our primary schools, through our new reading and oracy programmes. This foundation is vital as it enables them to keep learning and progressing. Rigour will be maintained, through appropriate assessments as checkpoints to help them track progress, and make good decisions on the best pathway to continue learning. And where necessary, students can access levelling up programmes to build their basics.
Second, we will give every student broad exposure to a whole range of subjects and CCAs to pique their interest in various fields, in sports, arts, outdoor adventures and so on. I share Dr Benedict Tan’s enthusiasm for outdoor and adventure learning. I also thank Ms Rita Soh on her suggestions on art education, and how we can continue to improve it.
Third, continue to improve on our teaching, to stimulate curiosity and let every student put knowledge into action. This includes using ICT to teach – as Ms Denise Phua had highlighted. In fact, I am happy to share that we are already developing our Student Learning Space, and hopefully, we will have high quality content, and many high quality ways of using these.
Fourth, build in every student deep wells of character. It matters in life, and it matters in achieving mastery, because mastery takes effort and perseverance in careers and sectors.
Mr Yee Jenn Jong mentioned about the GEP, but I would like to go further. I would like to stimulate the curiosity of learning and provide plenty of opportunities to do so in ways that are meaningful for all of our students, in any school.
Learning with Interest and Joy
An important aspect of learning for mastery is to match our students’ strengths and interests to opportunities in our schools and IHLs, in careers and enterprises. Mr Yee Jenn Jong mentioned about the GEP, but I would like to go further. I would like to stimulate the curiosity of learning and provide plenty of opportunities to do so in ways that are meaningful for all of our students, in all our schools.
A recent innovation in our schools is the Applied Learning Programmes or ALPs in almost all our secondary schools – this is part of our “Every School A Good School” movement. In fun and creative ways, our students apply various domains of knowledge to solve complex, real life problems in their field of interest.
Let me share two examples. First, Hillgrove Secondary. Hillgrove Secondary has an ALP on Flight and Aerospace. Students learn fundamental Aerospace theories, and apply Math, Science, Design & Technology by building and flying their own model planes. Students go on to take Advance Elective Modules in Aerospace, and learn how planes defy gravity while flying a flight simulator! Rayner Lee really enjoyed learning at Hillgrove, and in fact, he is now doing Aerospace Technology at Nanyang Polytechnic and says, “I chose Hillgrove because of the Youth Flying Club CCA. I wanted to be a pilot. My parents and school teachers encouraged me to take the Private Pilot Licence (PPL). Now that I have my licence, I hope to join the RSAF as a pilot.” Well, I hope Rayner flies high.
Another example is Damai Secondary’s ALP on Health Science and Technology. Students apply concepts from Chemistry and Biology to construct biomedical devices. They built salinity sensors that can analyse urine samples to determine the health of a person. Damai students also develop a sense of empathy when thinking about their users. Through tie-ups with IHLs and the community, students are inspired by the possibilities of careers in the Healthcare and Medical Technology sectors. As Mdm Fiona Han, a mother of 3 sons in Damai puts it, “This is a great experience that allows them to broaden their future career choices.”
Mastery in whichever field
Different ALPs open up different possibilities for students to put knowledge into action and bring learning to life. Learning becomes relevant and engaging for every student, in every school.
We are not channelling students to specialise early. In fact, deep skills acquired in one field can be transferred to another.
For example, Ngee Ann Polytechnic uses the technical know-how in building Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs to build Unmanned Underwater Vehicles or UUVs to clean ship hulls – so transferring skills from air to sea. A team in ITE working with Singapore Zoo applied Medical Technology to design an incubator, and succeeded in increasing the hatching rate of reptile eggs from 25 percent to 75 percent! So if you see many more crocodiles in the zoo, you know why. It is quite productive.
So we are fortunate that our vibrant economy has created a range of good jobs. With more choices, we need good Education and Career Guidance (ECG). There are many domains and fields that students could explore and develop deep skills in – whether it is design, business, arts, music, or sports. By exposing students to possibilities, we empower them to make better choices, and choose suitable pathways.
We will hence strengthen ECG at all levels. ECG curriculum in schools, ITE and polytechnics will be enhanced, and by 2017, we will have a professional core of ECG counsellors and an online ECG portal that shows many exciting opportunities – enriched by our SkillsFuture initiatives. Ms Rita Soh spoke earlier about how we should integrate the arts and sciences and how we should integrate the learning of head, heart and hands.
In fact, many meaningful and exciting things are also happening in our IHLs too. If you had to build an exciting platform which the Prime Minister will stand on for a Chinese New Year celebration, how would you go about it?
Well, SUTD students put to work their knowledge of engineering, design, arts, and cultural awareness to create this year’s Chinese New Year light-up display in Chinatown. They designed a total of 338 goat lanterns, including 28 motorised ones. Three special goats, each weighing about 400 kg, were perched on a mountain to form the 10m tall centerpiece. So you can see, lots of auspicious numbers for the weekend. It wasn’t only a wonderful sight to behold – it vividly brought in the Year of the Goat, and we all know PM was very pleased to grace the platform – as you can see in PM’s wefie with the team.
Now, this is the fourth year SUTD students have helped to design the display for CNY, and each time, with each new animal of the horoscope, they learnt from the previous year, pushed themselves to think differently, and put all their skills and knowledge into a new masterpiece.
They put their head, heart and hands in creating this. And indeed, our ITE motto is, Hands-on, Minds-on, Hearts-on, so it is not just in universities, but across our entire education system. Be it ITE or SUTD, this approach is important. And indeed, this is what it means to go beyond learning for grades, to learning for mastery.
Beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life
The second major shift that we need to do as a people is to go beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life.
Now let me share with you another story. I was at Seletar Aerospace Park recently. Fifty years ago, Seletar was better known for the smell of pig farms. And 50 years on, I visited Seletar to witness the delivery of our first Rolls-Royce TRENT 1000 jet engine – made-in-Singapore for a Singapore company Scoot. A world of difference! I met 3 Singaporeans working there – Ravinder, Cheria and Siti Mariani.
Ravinder is a Team Leader with 24 years of Aerospace experience. You would have thought that he knows everything, but he told me, “To me, every day is a learning process”. And this gentleman was serious when he said that! Now it turns out that his son was also interested in Aerospace Engineering, and he thought hey, he had better return to school to pick up new skills, so that he can mentor his son, and pass on his skills to the next generation. So he enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Aerospace Engineering and is now 6 months into his course! Now all that, whilst still working hard at Rolls-Royce mentoring his two younger colleagues, like Cheria and Siti.
Cheria is technically Ravinder’s “school-mate” in TP, as she is also pursuing a Diploma in Aerospace Engineering. But she is one-third his age. As an intern, she is learning at the workplace, even as Ravinder is learning in TP.
Siti, an ITE student in Aerospace Technology, was also part of the team. And whilst working at a bookshop at Changi Airport, she saw the aeroplanes taking off and it piqued her interest. She started to wonder how planes fly. Today, she is a Rolls-Royce ITE scholar, thrilled to be building an impressive and complex engine with some 30,000 parts! And learning all that as an intern! You see, it is not just about learning technical skills – she said, “Rolls-Royce taught me to be versatile and assertive in order to keep up with changes in the aerospace industry.” Ravinder, Cheria and Siti are at different stages of life but all actively learning to be better, to succeed both at work, and in life.
But I empathise with many Singaporeans who tell me: “Once we start work or have family commitments, it is hard to set aside time to learn.” Indeed, we have to address the practical constraints to empower lifelong learning.
What MOE can Do: Our IHLs Playing a Leading Role
Our IHLs will play a leading role in empowering Singaporeans to learn everywhere, throughout life. Our IHLs will work with companies that are keen to make workplaces great places for learning. We will have more enhanced internship opportunities so that young people like Siti and Cheria can learn and solve real life problems, and acquire soft skills.
I thank Mr Yee Jenn Jong and Ms Lee Li Lian for your suggestions on internships and how we can engage the different players. Our IHLs will create SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes, so that Siti and Cheria can be mentored on-the-job and acquire skills when they graduate. Students who take up Earn and Learn are effectively enjoying one year (or more) of highly subsidised education. But instead of learning just in our IHLs, they enjoy a blend of facilitated learning in our IHL, and structured mentoring at work. They acquire a higher industry-recognised qualification through this.
We will also put in place Skills-based Modular Courses. By the end of the year, there will be over 300 modular courses offered by our polytechnics and universities. These will be in specialist areas, such as Digital Forensics and Investigation (SP), Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NTU), Functional Genomics (UniSIM), and Coaching and Counselling Skills (RP). As you can see, a very wide range!
We will subsidise part-time, Specialist, and Advanced Diplomas for all Singaporeans more generously even if this is not the first time you are getting one, and provide the even more generous SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidies for Singaporeans aged 40 and above. I agree with Ms Lina Chiam that we must encourage everyone to learn, including the elderly.
Our IHLs will play a leading role in specific sectors. For a start, we will appoint Sector Coordinators for 17 strategic sectors – these are sectors identified as future growth sectors, or meeting critical needs in our society. Besides engineering and manufacturing sectors, we will also have early childhood education, which SMS Indranee will speak more about later, as well as healthcare and many others. Let me explain how this would work:
Republic Polytechnic, for instance, is the Sector Coordinator for Logistics. They will ensure a tighter nexus between learning in school and learning at work in the logistics sector. I want to commend the RP staff who were very enterprising in engaging industry players and galvanising 12 companies, including top players like DHL Express, YCH Group, Yang Kee Logistics, to come together to design a 12-month Earn and Learn programme.
These companies will use RP’s workplace training blueprints, so that learning at work and learning at RP are integrated, for maximum impact. Students who complete the programme will acquire skills that are in RP’s Specialist Diploma in Supply Chain Management, but they will do so on-the-job, be recognised for it, and get paid in the process, without having to pay fees! They will learn how to deal with complexity and scale in global goods flow, data analytics, manage supply chains and inventories, devise plans to optimise transportation. As you can see, all are very high skills areas. They will learn problem-solving, people skills, and a range of soft skills. When they show that they have acquired and can apply the new skills, they will take on greater responsibilities and see a wage increase.
Mr Zainuddin Nordin raised the issue of how we ensure skills that are learnt, are recognised and rewarded – this is how, and I hope many more players will come on board.
RP will provide specialised training for mentors, to help companies build a network of industry mentors, skilled like Ravinder. This will multiply our effectiveness, and spread expertise in the sector.
We will study different models of learning on-the-job, explore greater use of online learning, and look at innovative approaches.
This is how we will help all Singaporeans to go beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life.
Some Observations about Learning
As we resolve to learn for mastery and learn throughout life, we need to rethink a few issues about learning, and the significance of the changes.
Let me share some observations.
Using Skills Matters Most
The OECD did a recent survey of adult skills. Workers in Japan ranked highly in their skills, but ranked badly in terms of how well these skills are utilised on the job. At the opposite end, workers in the US ranked poorly in skills, but ranked among the top in using skills on the job – so whatever skills they have, they use them to the fullest!
Now much of our Budget Debate focused on the quality control of courses and whether workers get to attend. Now these courses to learn skills matter. But this OECD study paints a very vivid story that what matters even more is whether workers use the skills learnt.
We must not end up using SkillsFuture Credit to chase another form of qualification. Or debate which courses can acquire qualifications. Training courses are just the means. Our focus must be on the ends – acquiring, mastering and using deep skills. If workers or companies attend courses to meet quotas, or because of incentives for it, very little will be achieved from attending the courses. But if companies make the best use of the higher skills of workers, it leads to higher productivity, higher margins; in turn, they can pay higher wages. Higher skills, higher wages, higher productivity. This is the virtuous circle that we must seek to achieve.
To achieve this virtuous circle, companies play a critical role. So I am glad, that Mr Robert Yap, Chairman and CEO of YCH Group, and also Chairman of Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), has been very supportive of his company’s collaboration with RP. I hope many more employers will take action to develop and use their employees’ skills, as part of their productivity and innovation strategy.
And I thank Mr Thomas Chua for calling on industry associations and SMEs to work closely with MOE. We are also ready to work with them.
Own Unique Skills Map
Another observation relates to how we direct our own learning – or self-directed learning. With SkillsFuture, various specialist and advanced diplomas, and specialised, bite-sized modular courses are even more highly subsidised. And in fact, there is an even wider range of courses available. Opportunities for learning will be across IHLs – graduates of polytechnic, ITE or university can take relevant modules, or in WDA-certified courses, or at the workplace.
With this array of courses, especially modular courses, the system is even more open and flexible. So besides the multiple pathways in our IHLs, you can now create your own learning pathways – build a portfolio of skills, just-in-time, tailored to your own needs, at your own pace. You can stack modules towards a qualification, or just choose relevant modules. It empowers each of us to take charge, direct our own learning, and build our own unique skills map. It empowers each of us to then make the best use of the initiatives, including the SkillsFuture Credit and other learning opportunities.
Mr Ang Wei Neng highlighted the plight of middle-age workers and this is why we have even greater subsidises for those aged above 40. But this self-directed, independent learning must start young. Our teachers must not spoon feed our students and give them model answers. In life, there are no model answers.
I once had a parent who wrote to me to argue for an extra mark for her child’s term test in school. Rather than seek an extra mark in tests, let us nurture our children to make their mark on society. We have to encourage our children to be independent, self-directed learners, skilful at figuring out their own way. Prof Tan Tai Yong made an important point that we must not over-protect our children, so that they can develop adaptive resilience and learn to deal with uncertainties in life.
If we intervene when a child does not get an extra mark, how do we develop resilience? Mr Lim Biow Chuan mentioned about the over-reliance on others to learn and how it can develop a crutch mentality. And Mr Inderjit Singh made the same point and emphasised the importance of self-directed learning. Mr Singh also made suggestions on how we can create more diversity in our schools’ profile, which we will study.
So let us start early in our schools. Otherwise, if we keep spoon-feeding our kids, when the crutch is taken away, then they cannot learn.
Learning as a Habit of Mind
My next observation on learning for mastery relates to learning as a habit of mind. Structured courses are very useful, and that is why IHLs are embarking on that, and WDA is also doing a lot more. But no matter how many programmes we have under SkillsFuture, we cannot cover every learning possibility. It is not possible.
Why? Because learning can take place in formal and informal modes, in the classroom or the workplace, online learning, through self-reflection, with friends or in groups.
Lifelong learning is a habit of mind, rather than a mere act of attending courses. So it is important that even as we debate about SkillsFuture accreditation and quality of courses and so on, we must not forget it is not about attending courses per se. We need to seize learning opportunities everywhere, from anyone, throughout life, and even on our own, like the way Mr John Chang did at the Police Academy many years ago.
Learning as exploring and inventing
Finally, learning for mastery is not just about learning what is known. A lot of our learning is about learning how others have done it, how we can learn basics from them. But it is also about exploring the unknown, and inventing new things by putting all of our knowledge to creative use – like what Prof Chong is doing to help parents have healthier babies. So let us nurture many more who seek mastery relentlessly in their field, who are inventive and resourceful, and who can make breakthroughs for Singapore.
I have made several observations about learning for mastery and learning throughout life, and that it is not just about learning what is known; it is not just about attending courses; it is not just about relying on others but rather to be self-directed, independent learners.
Beyond Learning for Work, to Learning for Life
The third major shift is to go beyond learning for work, to learning for life.
Developing deep skills to succeed at work is important. But life is more than just work. Developing a lively interest in the world around us, in nature and culture, in sports and adventure, in having zest for life and a concern for others are what makes life purposeful and fulfilling. Earlier on, Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, Dr Benedict Tan and Ms Rita Soh all touched on this.
So let me share another inspiring story, this time, on Edward Chia. Edward is a 31-year-old entrepreneur who started his own business when he was 18 years old. His Timbre group of restaurants is well-known for good dining and live music. Timbre restaurants have a social mission. Combining food with music, his restaurants champion Singaporean musicians and give them a platform. His staff would applaud the performing bands and urge his diners to do the same. And as Edward shares, “Everything we do still counts back toward our social mission of supporting Singapore’s music scene. At a very simple level, I had an idea I wanted to do, that idea was good for society, and I just wanted to get it done.” He gained respect from his team, many of whom were older, by getting his hands dirty and doing everything he asked of his staff. He washed toilets, cleaned the office, ran the bar, and helped out in the kitchen. So I agree with Mr Baey Yam Keng that our children should learn all these skills – see how important it is in life! Edward acknowledges that those early years were not easy, but through working with his team, he also learnt from them.
Today, he pays that learning forward. His ventures provide a platform for budding chefs, and he recently partnered Singapore start-up Infinium Robotics to develop drones that can navigate their way around tables to serve food. So if this sounds like a scene from Star Wars to serve food, it is not. Well, it is still an experiment, but an exciting one! What it means is that waiters can work more effectively, and do things that machines cannot do. Edward, for me, embodies the spirit of learning for life, in that he is passionate and innovative in his field. He gives back to the community, and creates new opportunities for others. He has a deep interest in music and he wants to give Singaporean talent a platform. So he runs enterprises with a mission. From musicians, now he is going on to helping budding chefs. So I hope that we will have a more lively scene in the future.
I spoke to many Singaporeans during Our Singapore Conversation. Many shared their aspirations to live a life of purpose and spirit. They wanted to build a successful and cohesive society. A society where Singaporeans lead fulfilling lives, each in his own way.
Many have also expressed support for our student-centric, values-driven education. They believe we can develop each individual fully, and still develop our sense of community, and our sense of personal and collective responsibility.
So I am glad that our students experience the arts, music, sports, outdoor activities and overseas trips. And I must add that there are no other school systems, or at least none I know of, that sends one-third of its students on overseas trips to gain overseas exposure – there is much we should be thankful for. They interact with peers around the world. And by the way, these are not just students in our top schools. These are students in every school. They lead and participate in a wide range of CCAs.
These experiences broaden their worldview, and grow them as rugged individuals, physically active and healthy, appreciative of the finer things in life. Like Edward Chia, we hope that they also develop a strong sense of purpose and a desire to help each other and give back to society.
Ms Irene Ng earlier spoke about Edusave Character Awards. Let me emphasise that, for me, it is a very important signalling of a shift in our education in that we must place emphasis on values and character. It is a catalyst for change.
But for the same reason, we should not overdo it, and that is why the numbers are kept very small. But we will study her suggestion on how we can make it more meaningful. And I am glad many parents and students have supported this. The real change is in our schools’ programmes – the character and citizenship education that has been revamped, and more recently, in our Learning for Life programmes that reinforce these lifeskills.
In East View Secondary School, students work with community partners on food donation drives, and reach out to promote health and IT skills to the neighbourhood residents. One student said, “The joy on people’s faces has driven me to do more.” Over at Mayflower Secondary School, a project called ‘Spirit of Generosity’ has students doing 50,000 acts of kindness to friends, family and the community to celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday. So this has brought the school and its surrounding community together through the spirit of giving. And teachers and students alike love how this has made the school a more caring community – indeed, in giving, we receive as much, if not more.
All across our schools, when students put values into action, character and citizenship education comes alive. These efforts are all very commendable. We want to encourage our students in our schools, Polytechnics and ITE to do more. So SG50 giving will provide funds to enable students to support meaningful causes in the community. I thank Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin for her suggestions on how these programmes can work or partner with VWOs to make it more impactful. Students will identify Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) that they would like to work with and donate the funds to them, and they will then partner these IPCs to make a real difference, however small in their community.
Holistic education covers moral, cognitive, physical, social and aesthetic dimensions. So I hope our students grow up to appreciate and contribute to the rich, multi-dimensional aspects of life, and grow richer in spirit and purpose. This is how we build a vibrant, creative and caring society. This is what it means to go beyond learning for work, to learning for life for a rich, purposeful, and meaningful life.
Madam, allow me to say a few words in Mandarin to summarise what I have just said.
教育的最终目标并不单单只是为了读书识字，考取好成绩，追求一纸文凭 —— 更重要的还是要学会待人处事
教育的涵义更深更广， 在于育人 —— 包含了 德智体群美。
随着经济和社会的蓬勃发展，我们必须与时并进，灵活应对，不断地提升自我，追求精专技能，活到老学到老 —— 终身学习、终身受用。
Access to Learning Opportunities, Whatever the Starting Point
The three shifts that I have outlined – Learning for mastery, Learning throughout life, Learning for life – are important for every Singaporean. We want every Singaporean to have access to learning, to have learning opportunities, whatever their starting point – just as Mr Zainuddin Noordin earlier spoke about the importance of social mobility.
Student Care Centres
Many parents told me that they appreciate the structured, supportive environment that Student Care Centres (SCCs) provide for students after school and in fact, this is the reason, why I have been expanding SCCs over the years. A point that Ms Lee Li Lian and Mr Ang Wei Neng also mentioned. So I appreciate that this is well-received. MOE will continue to work with MSF to improve quality and accessibility.
We have 100 school-based student care centres at the beginning of this year. I am happy to announce that we will set up another 20 school-based centres this year, and another 20 next year. I would also like to thank Dr Intan for her suggestions on how we might overcome the constraints of high quality manpower by getting older students to help out. Our main constraint is really the quality and number of staff.
We help students who need additional support to build a good foundation in literacy and numeracy through a comprehensive suite of levelling up programmes, from the kindergarten level through to the secondary schools. Educators with specialised training work in small groups with these students, to motivate and teach them better.
And the results have been very heartening. Let me share just two stories:
Siti, a P6 student in Qihua Primary School last year, has dyslexia and was frequently absent from school. But her teachers, allied educators and counsellors all pitched in with such determined and tireless wrap-around support that she went from skipping school, to discovering new interest in Math, and eventually emerging as Qihua’s top scorer in Foundation subjects! Inspired by her teachers, she now aspires to be a teacher, so that she can do for others what her teachers did for her.
Joshua could barely speak a word of English when he entered Da Qiao Primary at P1. In one year, Joshua has graduated from the Learning Support Programme and gained confidence. Joshua’s mother, Mrs Lim, worked with the school and used word cards the school prepared to practise together with Joshua at home.
Specialised programmes in schools like Crest, Spectra, NorthLight, and Assumption Pathway keep students engaged and help them build confidence.
Hairi picked up smoking, drinking and even joined a gang when he was a primary school student. He disliked school but loved football. His teachers at Crest Secondary recognised that and engaged him through football. And in Hairi’s words, it was a “game-changer”. So Hairi started to enjoy school and blossomed as a peer leader. He quit smoking. Hairi’s parents, having seen his change, have also enrolled his brother Hilmi in Crest.
Support for Special Needs
For students in Special Education (SPED) Schools, we have invested, as DPM Tharman mentioned, 50 per cent more in real terms to support them over the past five years.
Our School-based Dyslexia Remediation (SDR) programme has been a success. Dr Intan mentioned about the AEDs earlier. As MOS Sim Ann shared earlier, we expanded the programme to 60 more primary schools this year. So two-thirds of our primary schools now offer it, up from one-third just last year.
By next year, 2016, all primary schools will have dyslexia remediation, so that students with dyslexia will get help early in their primary school. MOS Sim Ann will touch on other efforts to support students across the spectrum of SEN later.
Let me touch on Financial Support. Education is already heavily subsidised, but we will provide further support.
Let me reiterate that this is not because more students are poor, but because the Government is providing greater support.
I will summarise some of the announcements made by DPM Tharman, and provide additional details.
We will top up Edusave accounts or post-secondary education accounts of Singapore Citizen students aged 7 to 20 – reaching more than half a million Singaporeans.
We will waive fees for PSLE, GCE ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations for Singapore Citizen students in Government-funded schools starting this year.
We will waive vocational examinations fees for Singapore Citizen students in Government-funded SPED schools and specialised schools – including ITE Skills Certificate, and WSQ modules.
We will provide subsidies comparable to the current ‘A’ level fees for Singapore Citizen students in Government-funded schools who sit the International Baccalaureate Diploma examination.
And we will waive examination fees for Singapore Citizen students enrolled full-time in ITE and Polytechnics, starting from Academic Year 2015.
Our focus on national, mainstream schools is important because it provides an important bonding experience. And while private schools are relevant, where private schools are concerned, the specific relevant agencies will deal with it.
The MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) has been enhanced over the years. In 2012, we raised the income ceiling and also introduced a per capita income criterion to allow more students to benefit. From 1 April this year, we will provide transport subsidies under MOE’s FAS. This will provide further support for lower income families.
Those travelling by public transport will receive $120 in transport credits annually.
For primary school students taking school bus, MOE’s FAS will cover 50% of the regular school bus fare.
In addition, we will double the sum of annual grants for school-based financial assistance from $5m to $11m per year for the next three years. So this will give schools more resources to provide further targeted assistance to students from less advantaged backgrounds. We will also raise the income criteria of Edusave Merit Bursary from $5,000 to $6,000, to benefit more students.
No child should be left behind whatever their starting point. We are doing more to support students with a weaker start, be it in learning needs, special needs, or financial needs. Spending in these areas, across all levels – from schools to IHLs has more than doubled from $200m to $500m, as compared to five years ago.
But to uplift our students, not just academically but also in social-emotional growth, we need both resources and “heartware”. I echo Mr Sam Tan’s point that we must focus on “heartware”. “Heartware” comes from supportive parents, persevering students, dedicated educators and supportive community. SPS Hawazi will speak more about how we will engage parents and the community in bringing out the best in our children, including character building.
So I very much appreciate the many educators and volunteers who work doggedly in our schools, self-help groups and other VWOs. They put in much time and heart into doing this important work, quietly, unstintingly. I have the greatest admiration for them.
I find it most encouraging that students who received help are giving back, at this very young age. For example, Jia Qi from Teck Whye Secondary was supported by FAS – he discovered and developed his passion in Math through Teck Whye’s Math enrichment programmes and personal motivation workshops. Jia Qi gives back enthusiastically by coaching his friends in Math through the school’s Peer Tutoring programme, and derives great satisfaction from his friends’ improvement. Umaira was supported by the Independent School Bursary to attend Raffles Girls’ School. Grateful for the opportunity, she now wants to spread the message that students of diverse backgrounds are welcomed in RGS through a Malay language and culture competition for primary schools this year.
We must not shy away from excellence, but we must make sure that those who are excellent in whatever they do, have a heart to give back to society.
Conclusion: Pioneering for the Future
Let me now make some concluding remarks.
I began by speaking about how our Pioneer Generation made hard choices at critical points of nation-building. They faced many crossroads – each right decision helped us progress.
Today, we face a new crossroads – do we focus narrowly on grades and examinations, or do we focus on what is truly important by building strong values and deep skills throughout our lives? Do we fixate on narrow measurements of our value, or do we actually be people of value, with values?
Madam, to me, the path is clear. It is to do everything we can to be people of deep skills and strong values. We take the pioneering path, to nurture Singaporeans who are inventive, resilient and caring.
We have some idea of the qualities of this pioneering path. It will have learning on-the-job, learning-just-in-time, learning-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time. Learning without boundaries – without the boundaries of institutional walls, age, place or time.
I am happy to hear many MPs who speak in support of the spirit of this, because we must take this pioneering path together, as a whole society. We are not the only ones at a crossroads. Others, too, are asking – what is the future of education? I have been reading their projections, but as I read through what they wrote – I realise that much of what they envision in the future, we are doing now. And what is special about our mission is that we are not thinking about the future of education in just one school or one university. We are thinking about the future of education for our whole nation.
We are pioneering a path that will shape our whole society, one that will require collective effort from everyone in society. Millions of individual actions and choices by Singaporeans will move our nation towards a brighter future.
Our students in schools today are between 5 and 25 years old – in 50 years, they will be 55 to 75 years old. They will be the Pioneer Generation at SG100. Will we be stuck with ‘Study book’ culture that brought us this far in our first 50 years? Or will we, and this younger generation, live again the pioneering spirit and transform how we work and learn?
I am confident that we can succeed, as there are already many new pioneers in our midst. Each of the examples I raised in my speech are pioneers. But we need many more pioneers, in every school, in every field, in every job.
Singaporeans who take ownership of learning throughout life, like John, Prof Chong, Ravinder, Cheria and Siti – who are passionate and innovative, and make a difference to the lives of others, like Edward, Umaira and Jia Qi.
Teachers and schools who focus on holistic education, build in students a strong foundation and make learning real and relevant, like those in Hillgrove and Damai Secondary, SUTD, TP, ITE, , RP and so on.
Parents who build on every child’s strengths and interests beyond academics, like Fiona and Ravinder.
Employers who truly value our people, and help our people acquire relevant skills, like YCH and Rolls-Royce.
A society that respects every job and encourages everyone to achieve mastery in their own fields, in their own way.
These are fundamental changes that will take time. But we need to take the first step now, and take it together.
The journey of transformation will not be easy. But every decision, every action, by everyone, counts.
Learn for mastery. Learn throughout life. Learn for life. This must be our compass as we chart our way forward.
Madam, in this SG50 year, let us appreciate and build on our pioneers’ precious legacy. Let us reflect on where we are today, and where we want to go.
Let us inspire all Singaporeans to take this pioneering path, and live the pioneering spirit, together, and create an even better 50 years ahead of us.