Good evening. Our deserving scholarship recipients, family and friends, Sponsoring Organisations, this occasion is possible only with all of you here.

A Core of Singaporeans, A Focus on Industry

I am happy to be here because this scholarship (SgIS in short) has a special meaning for me. Three years ago, I wanted to develop a scholarship that would grow a core of young Singaporean leaders and professionals in key and emerging industry sectors, with deep knowledge of their sectors.

But I wanted to do it differently from the norm. Many places provide scholarships to recognise students for how well they have done in schools. Instead, this scholarship recognises members of industry who have good HR practices, and works closely with them to develop this Singaporean core of talent. Each Sponsoring Organisation provides internships and mentorship for scholars during their university education, and career development opportunities when the scholars graduate and join the Sponsoring Organisations. It is a meaningful relationship for students and companies alike.

Now why is the “Industry” part so important? Yesterday, the ASPIRE Committee, chaired by SMS Indranee, released its recommendations for enabling every Polytechnic and ITE student to realise his or her potential. At the press conference, we had a panel of people who have been involved deeply in the ASPIRE work – and it was made up roughly equally of Government, our Institutes of Higher Learning, and Industry. This is because the way forward must have the active participation of all these parts. And our students and families of course.

Taking up ASPIRE’s recommendations in full, the Government will: Equip students to make better Choices; Enable students to develop deeper Skills; and Promote multiple Pathways in education and careers.

Underlying these actions are three important shifts in the way we think about learning and jobs. First, we must place a stronger emphasis on skills and applied learning, so that our students can use knowledge in the real world context to solve problems and to create innovations. Second, learning must be continual and lifelong, instead of just being frontloaded in the first 20 odd years of our lives. Third, as young Singaporeans differ in their interests, temperament, aptitudes and learning styles, we must encourage multiple pathways for development, in study and at work, and respect every person and every job.

You can see that employers play a critical role – they provide the real world context and feedback for applied learning and skills deepening when students are still in school; they create the opportunities for lifelong learning when students join them after school; and their recognition and reward structures help shape how society respects every person regardless of the learning pathway he took.

Employers Play a Critical Role in Supporting Learning

You’ve heard of green harvesting, that is, when employers identify talent early on, while they are still in school. I’ve found that progressive employers are interested not just in green harvesting; they want to be involved in the very seeding and growing of talent. This way, they know that the talent will be a better fit when they join the company, and therefore be happier and more ready to excel from day one.

I am pleased that our talent growers, or Sponsoring Organisations, have grown in number from 28 in our first year to 41 this year. Also, more Sponsoring Organisations are expanding their opportunities to a range of students on different education pathways. Besides their involvement in SgIS, Singapore Power, PSA and YCH Group have scholarships and internship opportunities for Polytechnic and ITE students.

YCH just signed an MOU with Republic Polytechnic to run a Talent Development Programme for students who study Supply Chain and Industrial Operations Management. The students can complement their polytechnic study with internships with on the job training, mentorship by an industrial supervisor, and a final year project. Last month, PSA and ITE sealed an agreement worth over $2 million to offer ITE students internships that provide exposure to the latest port equipment and technologies. PSA has also sponsored a Prime Mover for ITE College West’s Automotive Technology students to do more hands-on learning. Singapore Power launched attractive scholarships last year for ITE and Polytechnic students. These cover course fees and allowances and guarantee employment and continual development after graduation.

Our trade associations and chambers also play a role. They do so in the SME Talent Programme, a scholarship programme which helps talents from ITE, Polytechnics, and universities gain industry exposure and secure promising career opportunities in the SME sector.

These are all very good initiatives. I am very glad more companies are actively creating such opportunities to help our students across the different pathways do well. I respect our Sponsoring Organisations for your foresight in getting involved in the early and continuous development of talent. I hope, with your staunch support, we can spread these opportunities to more students, across the multiple education pathways. I hope all of you will support the ASPIRE initiatives too, and have happier, better team members as a result. I’m happy to work with talent growers like you to create a full range of opportunities and pathways to benefit students of all backgrounds.

Employers Play an Important Role in Recognising Learning

Just as it is critical for employers to create continuous learning opportunities, it is also important for employers to recognise their employees when they make the most of these opportunities.

I meet many teachers who do make the most of learning opportunities. Whatever the educational certificate they hold when they take up the teaching calling, the best teachers show themselves through their passion, their deep care for their students, and their relentless quest to learn. While we may all learn in different ways, taking different pathways at different paces, our pathways neither predetermine nor constrain our passion to be the best we can be at our work.

I am very glad that many of our teachers are lifelong learners. This allows them to get better and better at their craft, regardless of their starting points. As a result of this passion to learn and improve, they excel at bringing out the best in their students. Indeed, we have some outstanding non-graduate teachers who have proven to be skilled in bringing out the best in every child. Today, although non-graduate classroom teachers are paid on a different salary scale from graduate teachers, they are able to progress to take on leadership or senior teaching positions, where they are paid at the same levels as their graduate peers.

MOE’s Actions in Step with ASPIRE

By deepening their skills, learning on the job, and doing so through different pathways, some of our teachers are models of the ASPIRE spirit. There are some actions that MOE can take as part of ASPIRE, to support our teachers to achieve their own aspirations.

For a start, I think we can do more to enhance the career progression for our deserving non-graduate teachers.

I am pleased to announce that MOE will place non-graduate teachers who have demonstrated outstanding performance, or have deep experience and good performance, on the graduate salary scale, without the need to obtain a degree. This will take place at the classroom teacher level, without requiring them to rise to leadership or senior teaching positions. Under the current system, an experienced non-graduate classroom teacher who has honed his skills over years of teaching and made outstanding contributions in school, cannot cross over to the graduate salary scale without a degree. With the new performance-based emplacement framework, this will change. The experienced teacher will now be emplaced to the graduate salary scale, even without a degree, if they have performed well. So we aim to recognise deserving non-graduate teachers who have demonstrated consistently good performance and we aim to do so for the first batch to be emplaced by the fourth quarter of this year.

These will be among some of our best teachers, recognised by peers and school leaders for their teaching excellence, and relentless effort to develop themselves to become better teachers. The emplacement is in recognition of their outstanding performance and contribution to the Education Service. The Ministry has taken this decision to make it clear that we recognise our teachers based on their performance and contribution, regardless of their qualifications.

This is not a one-off exercise. We will keep supporting our teachers to learn and improve, and we will keep recognising deserving teachers in this, and other, ways. I am confident even more non-graduate teachers with the passion to keep improving will prove themselves in the years to come.

Second, MOE will study the possibility of merging the graduate and non-graduate schemes for our teachers, so that our graduate and non-graduate teachers can be remunerated and progressed along the same salary scale, based on their demonstrated performance and potential to take on larger roles.

Third, we will keep providing the opportunities and support for all our teachers, regardless of their starting points, to grow and learn on the job. The Academy of Singapore Teachers provides many of the teacher development opportunities. We are also looking at how to improve ways for teachers to continue learning, be it on-the-job mentoring, professional network communities for sharing teaching strategies and experiences, specialised courses, or part-time study at Polytechnics, NIE or universities. If our teachers have the passion to do their best for their students, and if they have the fire to keep getting better at teaching, we will provide the opportunities for them to realise their passion.

Let me also emphasise that in all that we do, we will not only maintain but seek to raise the standards of teaching. We will continue to recruit suitable people and develop them to be the best that they can be. We will ensure good educators are at the helm of the teaching frontline. As an employer, the Government will support ASPIRE by improving career prospects for non-graduates in the Public Service. Non-graduate civil servants who perform well and show the ability to take on bigger responsibilities can expect faster career progression. The Public Service Division is also studying the merging of graduate and non-graduate career schemes.

Conclusion

The key message here is learning never stops, and you must always seek the best possible opportunities. It is not about one qualification versus another, and not about whether you get a head start. It is about how you must continue in whatever field you are in; you must want to excel and find opportunities to learn and be better. Congratulations to all of you for finding your passion and finding the right employers who will work together to develop your talent and help you to grow and excel. It is about opportunities and recognition working together to light up many paths to brighter futures for all. And it is about industry, schools, Government, students and families moving in the same direction, to build a society where each person may stand tall on the strength of his character and achievements, regardless of the path he took to get there. I thank the Economic Agencies and Sponsoring Organisations for your commitment to creating opportunities and recognition.

To our scholarship recipients, congratulations. Remember, the right and relevant qualifications are only a start. Getting the appropriate qualifications is useful if it prepares us to do well at what we want to do. It is equally important to keep looking for opportunities to learn, best of all on the job. These are the things that really count.

Thank you.