It is a pleasure to join you in this evening’s celebrations. Set up in 1974, Hwa Chong JC was Singapore’s first government-aided junior college. Since then, Hwa Chong has nurtured generations of civic-minded citizens who have contributed with great distinction in industry, the community, and government. Tonight, I would like to take this opportunity not just to celebrate Hwa Chong’s achievements, but also outline how Hwa Chong can continue to contribute towards our vision for a better Singapore.
Excellence, Values, Inclusiveness
First, let me set the context. We live in times of more rapid, more fundamental, change than ever. Globalisation and technological breakthroughs will continue to transform the way we live, work, and play, but at an even faster pace. Singapore is also changing. We are evolving in our population age, our abilities, our aspirations. As a society, we continue to deepen our hopes for happiness, justice, equality, and progress for all, even as these become more challenging to achieve – not just for us but for many other developed nations.
Our education system has to prepare a future-ready generation of Singaporeans to navigate these changes. Our schools have an important role to play in this. With your distinguished history and spirit, Hwa Chong, can make an important contribution, in three main areas: excellence, values, and inclusiveness.
First, in the area of excellence, Hwa Chong must continue to be one of the “peaks of excellence” in our education system. This is to ensure that every student will have a pathway to develop his natural interests and talents, thereby maximising their potential to contribute to Singapore. I am glad that promoting excellence is one of Hwa Chong’s traditional strengths.
It pioneered a number of innovative programmes together with MOE to cater to the diverse talents of its students. These include the Humanities Programme and the Chinese Language Elective Programme, catering to students with an interest in the humanities and students with bilingual talents respectively. The two programmes are still going strong today.
Hwa Chong also pioneered the Integrated Programme (IP) which develops students in academic and non-academic areas. In the High School, students hone their research and communication skills in the Projects Competition and further their interests in the Sabbatical Programme. The skills of research, problem solving, and oral communication they hone in the first four years in HCI equip students with vital skills needed in the 21st century.
However, we need to continue to ensure that Hwa Chong’s excellence must also benefit the wider community of schools and students as well. Having benefited from strong MOE support to pilot new approaches in education, I encourage Hwa Chong, and indeed, all our schools that have excelled in their own ways, to share your best practices so that we can level up all our schools together. Our school leaders’ not only have a responsibility to achieve excellence in their own schools, but also a responsibility to uplift our entire education system.
Second, values. Our goal is to inculcate every student with a strong core of values and character, and nurture a strong commitment to Singapore and fellow Singaporeans. This will enable them to make sound decisions, and employ their talents for society’s collective good.
I am glad that community service is a key part of the Hwa Chong experience. The school has many meaningful Values-In-Action programmes and Service Learning Projects. These help to develop in students sound values and create a strong sense of the importance of service to others, helping them live up to the school’s vision of living with passion, and leading with compassion.
I am told that your canoeing team held a “24-hour Static Kayaking Challenge” that involved 400 students from 11 secondary schools and junior colleges, and raised $25,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore. Peter Daniel, former Vice Captain of the Canoeing team and a recent graduate from Hwa Chong shared what he learnt: “There is no set formula for community service. One should use whatever talents one has been given to help others.” To continue making a lasting difference in the lives of the MDAS members after the event, Peter continues to volunteer with MDAS, where he tutors its members. I hope our students will take such experiences from their days in school, and carry them forward into their working and personal lives, leaving a mark on the lives of others.
Third, inclusiveness. Our schools are important platforms for us to level up Singaporeans who start off from less advantaged backgrounds, so that every child can have the opportunity to fulfil his potential. In particular, established institutions like Hwa Chong cannot become “closed circles”. Every child should enjoy all the available opportunities to fulfil his or her potential. At the same time, our academically able students have to be exposed to diverse backgrounds to build empathy and understanding. This is essential if we are to build a compassionate meritocracy that rewards effort and talent regardless of social background, while guarding against elitism and exclusiveness.
The Government has enhanced the Independent School Bursary Scheme to provide greater assistance to students from lower to middle income families, and help ensure that Independent Schools like HCI continue to be affordable for all. However, this is only part of the picture. Independent schools can do a lot to encourage inclusiveness.
It is good that Hwa Chong Institution works with primary school principals to encourage talented Primary 5 and 6 children to join the Hwa Chong IP, regardless of their financial background. Hwa Chong also invited the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) to nominate primary school children from lower-income families to participate in its Junior Science Experiential Camp. Let us continue to reach out to children from diverse backgrounds.
\Beyond inclusiveness in admissions and programming, Hwa Chong’s commitment to admitting and educating good students regardless of their background is a good example of our meritocratic system, which has served Singapore well over the years. Your alumnus Arturo Neo has a challenging financial situation at home, but thrived in the nurturing learning environment and opportunities provided by Hwa Chong. As the President of the Students’ Council, he improved students’ welfare, and sought to positively impact the lives of others. He excelled in the 2013 A-Level Examinations and was recently awarded the President’s Scholarship. I met Arturo and his family and I could see the mark of the Hwa Chong education in him. He wants to be a doctor to serve others. It is an example of how we create a virtuous cycle – that we provide opportunities for everyone, groom our students to be the best they can be, with the right values and the strong commitment to serve. This is how we keep Singapore successful. And the school motto – 自强不息 (ceaseless quest for excellence) put into practice, is what we hope to continue seeing.
As Hwa Chong continues to build on its excellence and create an inclusive environment for every child despite of their backgrounds and circumstances, nurture every student so that they are anchored with timeless values that help guide their thoughts and actions, we must also be mindful that the future will bring more changes and challenges ahead, for which we need to prepare our students. We equip students with competencies to succeed in the 21st Century. But we also need to help them reflect more on issues that will affect their lives, so they may respond with confidence to them. Our students need to understand critical challenges that will affect them, and this must start with a good knowledge of current affairs. I hope that Hwa Chong and our schools can guide students towards a deep understanding of issues of the day affecting Singapore and the world, and a good place to start is to read our local newspapers and watch our local news, so that they know what is happening right here in Singapore and our region.
Hwa Chong’s Educators
Let me conclude by reiterating two key strengths that enable our schools and indeed, our education system, to succeed. The first is the constancy of purpose and continuity of effort. We see this in the way our principals have conducted themselves over the years – with each building on the good work of the predecessor. The founding principal Mr Lim Nai Tian worked tirelessly through the JC’s delayed completion of Hwa Chong JC and multiple relocations. Mr Bernard Fong left a considerable imprint on Hwa Chong’s history. When the Hwa Chong JC campus was declared structurally unsound in 1987, he led the staff and students in the moves to temporary locations at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, in Woodlands and finally in Bukit Batok. These were emotional times, but Mr Fong’s calm demeanour and cheerful disposition steered the Hwa Chong family through them, and laid the foundation for a triumphant return to the Bukit Timah campus in December 1991.
Mr Ang Wee Hiong was Principal of Hwa Chong JC from 1999 to 2004 and Principal of HCI from 2005 to 2009. As Hwa Chong JC’s longest-serving principal, he oversaw two milestones: the Independence of the JC in 2004 and its subsequent merger with The Chinese High School in 2005. I am glad that the students are now undergoing an integrated experience. This could not happen without the close coordination of Chinese High and Hwa Chong JC, or the guidance of alumni from both sides. With the commitment and inclusive spirit of school leaders and alumni, the young benefit. Indeed, the success of a school is built upon its leadership. And Hwa Chong has benefitted from the strong guidance and direction provided also by Mr Wu Tsung Kan, the late Mr Lim Kim Woon, Mr Chan Tung Fung and Mdm Leong Fan Chin over the years. We are very glad that Mdm Leong is able to join us today. Today, Dr Hon Chew Weng continues to build on this foundation, to take Hwa Chong to greater heights.
We should also pay tribute to Hwa Chong’s pioneer teachers. Some are still teaching in Hwa Chong today, such as Mrs Lee Chay Koon, Mrs Tam Beng Beng and Miss Quek Hoon Khim. They have great devotion to their craft, and continue to pass on Hwa Chong’s time-honoured values to their charges.
Hwa Chong’s Alumni
The other strength is Hwa Chong’s alumni and your tradition of giving back. Generations of Hwa Chongians have benefitted from the generosity of alumni and philanthropists, such that no deserving student is denied a Hwa Chong education. With the support of the JC Alumni, the Hwa Chong Junior College Alumni Bursary Fund has risen from $20,000 to more than $50,000 annually.
Amongst you, Mr William Ng, the executive director of Furama Hotels International and Patron of the Hwa Chong JC Alumni, donated $200,000 to set up the Hwa Chong Junior College Alumni Undergraduate Scholarship. He also shares his experiences in hospitality with the students. Apart from physical and monetary gifts, many of you give of your time to mentor your juniors. Alumna Dr Loh Poey Ling, dentist and a member of the Hwa Chong Institution Board of Governors, advises students on dentistry as a career. I hope that the Alumni will remain forthcoming in your contributions to serve the school and illuminate diverse pathways for your juniors.
As we celebrate this special occasion, we are also celebrating the spirit of pursuing excellence, promoting values and expanding inclusiveness. And we are building on the strengths of the leaders and staff of the school, and the support of alumni. Congratulations to the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, school leaders, teachers, students, alumni and parents on this special occasion. May the Hwa Chong spirit live on.