Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat at the 7th Teachers’ Conference 2014


It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning in this 7th Teachers’ Conference. The theme for this Teachers’ Conference—“Values across the Curriculum: Inspiring Learning, Shaping Lives”— drives home the core purpose of Singapore educators. It is aligned with our focus on a “Student-centric, Values-Driven Education”. Every teacher has the unique opportunity to be a character coach who helps our students grow holistically into self-directed learners, confident persons, active contributors and concerned citizens.

I am very glad that Mr S R Nathan is joining us today. Mr Nathan has served with distinction in various capacities in the Singapore Civil Service. He continued to serve the people of Singapore as our elected President for a period of twelve years between 1999 and 2011. I knew Mr Nathan when I was a junior officer and he was an inspiration to me as he embodies the values of a strong sense of service, humility, and a deep conviction to better the lives of others.

In his memoirs, “Path to the Presidency: An Unexpected Journey”, Mr Nathan records the diversity of his experiences. We have already heard Ms Kamini, our storyteller, tell how Mr Nathan struggled to eke out a living as a teenager and eventually overcame poverty and deprivation. He made good use of the learning opportunities, realised his potential, and sought at every turn to contribute to the community and to our nation. Values such as courage, perseverance, a deep sense of responsibility to Singapore and the readiness to sacrifice are values lived out by Mr Nathan against the backdrop of a humble beginning. These are the very same values we want to inculcate in our students.

Mr Nathan has graciously donated copies of his book “50 stories from my life” to all school libraries. I urge schools to harness this valuable teaching resource, to tell our students inspiring stories of the challenges our pioneer generation faced, and how through sheer grit and determination, our forefathers worked together to transform Singapore from a Third World Country to a First World Country in one generation.

Thank you, Mr Nathan, for gracing our conference with your presence. I hope that your stories will touch the lives of many students and adults alike, and inspire us to build Singapore in the next 50 years, just as the pioneer generation has done in the last 50 years.

Navigating the Future with Our Moral Compass

But the next 50 years will be unpredictable and uncertain from where we stand today, just as it was impossible for our forefathers to dream that today’s Singapore would be possible from where they stood 50 years ago. But what they have is a spirit to work for a better future.

So if we draw our strength and inspiration from the past, holding dear the values that have come to define us as a nation, and continue to adapt and innovate, our young too can build an even better future for Singapore. What they need is a good compass of values and navigation skills to manage fast changing terrains.

This is why our values education and the broader Character and Citizenship Education are so critical. But I have said before, CCE will be the most difficult “subject” to teach. I am therefore heartened by the commitment of our educators and the progress you have made. The many sharing sessions you have attest to this.

Let me suggest three important ways that our teachers can adopt to teach CCE and to inculcate values.

1st Way: Core of Values Education – Role Modelling

The first, and most powerful way that our teachers, and parents and adults, can transmit values is through our actions – that is, role modelling.

Do we, in our daily actions, display our six core values of Care, Harmony, Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Resilience? These values are expressed in how we relate to our peers and our students, in how we express ourselves, in the way we treat people around us, in the way we handle our tasks. Indeed, in every word and deed, day in and day out, we model these values to the students. To guide students in strengthening their moral compasses, we must each first strengthen our own, and ensure that we walk the talk. I commend all of you for undertaking this difficult but extremely important responsibility to nurture our next generation.

Our educators have a strong tradition of modelling values in education. What struck me most about the teachers from our pioneer generation whom I have met is their commitment to the well-being of students and the transmission of values. Take for instance Mdm Fong Yuet Kwai, who was Principal of Nan Hua Primary School for 23 years. For Mdm Fong, teaching values during moral education periods was not enough. Rather, she wanted the school environment itself to set a conducive context. She used the morning assembly to share short stories on values, like honesty, loyalty, perseverance and integrity, and got students to tell their own little stories. Mdm Fong would also say to her teachers, and I quote, “As a teacher, you are a role model. We earn people’s respect by being a good example and a good role model. These are the timeless traits. When people entrust you with their children, you cannot let them down.” Mdm Fong could not have said it better.

Can we preserve this strong tradition in values education started by our pioneer generation of teachers? After all, we have a very young teaching force.

I am confident that we can turn our relatively young teaching force into a source of strength. I have met many energetic young teachers with a strong passion for education, deep values, and a deep desire to learn and grow. For instance, Ms Gidwani Poojalal encourages her students at Haig Girls’ School to be active contributors. As part of their Values in Action (VIA) programme, Primary 5 and 6 students devised solutions that serve the needs of the community through empathetic thinking. For their project on the Geylang Serai wet market, students designed signboards similar to those in supermarkets to enable customers to better orientate themselves. This idea was subsequently taken up by the National Heritage Board, and you can now see these signboards when you visit the Geylang Serai Wet Market today. This is how our teachers make a difference.

Teachers as Role Models of Learning and Sharing

Our teachers are also models of self-directed, lifelong learners. Our teaching culture of humility in learning and generosity in sharing is commendable. This culture is not to be taken for granted, for I have heard many school leaders in other systems around the world lamenting that their classrooms are like fortresses, where teachers guard their teaching practices and reject any feedback from fellow teachers or supervisors as intrusions.

In our system, Teacher-Mentoring is an essential feature of enabling our teachers to master the craft of teaching. AST’s Skilful Teaching and Enhanced Mentoring (STEM) programme enables our teachers, both mentors and mentees, to learn from one another and to become more confident and skilful practitioners. What you see in this slide – the mentoring relationship of Ms Wang Pei Fen and Ms Low Pei Wen is one such example. Ninety schools adopt the STEM programme and more will come on board soon. The value of this mentoring programme is not just in helping our teachers achieve high professional standards, but in demonstrating how our teachers model learning for life, generous sharing of expertise and the continual quest to be better teachers.

I am particularly encouraged by the commitment of our leadership team to develop mentors for the CCE programme. Within the last year or so, we have trained more than 700 CCE mentors who support our school leaders in their CCE efforts. This is in addition to the customised school-based training to build teachers’ capacity in facilitation skills for CCE.

2nd way: Explicit Teaching of Values

The second important way that our teachers are teaching CCE is through the explicit teaching of these values, using relevant materials. I have seen many innovative CCE resources that our teachers have developed. But many teachers have also asked for centralised resources that can be shared across schools, to enhance coherence and reduce duplication of work. In response, MOE HQ has introduced the new CCE curriculum materials. The CCE syllabus has been implemented in the primary 1 and 2 levels, as well as at the secondary levels. By the end of this year, we will have the Primary 3-6 textbooks, activity books and teacher resource guides.

3rd Way: Values-in-Action

An old Chinese proverb that is attributed to Confucius is: “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand”. Hence, a third important way that our teachers inculcate values is by enabling students to put these values into action. Well-designed Values in Action (VIA) programmes enable our students to apply their classroom learning to serve the needs of the community.

Since VIA was introduced in 2012, we have seen many excellent ways in which our students have engaged the community.

  • In First Toa Payoh Primary school, parents of the primary 2 students were pleased to see that their children started doing household chores like sweeping the floor, washing the dishes and tidying the tables at home. Students learn that everyone has a part to play.
  • In Unity Secondary school, a class of secondary 4 students worked with K2 students in a Kindergarten to design kites.
  • Anderson Junior College students and their teachers volunteered as Tray Return Ambassadors in 30 hawker centres.

All these are meaningful projects.

In March 2011, when Japan was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami, people around the world were touched by the care and concern that Japanese showed to one another, even under such trying circumstances. In Japan, there are few dustbins in the city area and the streets are clean. When I visited Japanese schools in 2011, I caught a glimpse of how they inculcated this sense of care and responsibility. In one primary school, students were grouped into teams of 6, with one student each from primary one to primary six, with the primary six pupil as the team leader. They were out in the community, picking litter and cleaning the neighbourhood. The residents in the area were proud of these students. These students learnt how hard it was to keep the streets clean, and learnt not to litter. They also learnt about leadership and responsibility – as the principal explained to me, each student has five years to learn how to be a leader, and the older children were expected to take care of the younger ones. By taking care of the neighbourhood around the school; they inculcate a sense of responsibility to the community.

For our children to grow up as concerned citizens and active contributors, they must learn to take ownership of and responsibility for communal spaces, such as the school compound or the neighbourhood. This is a basic building block.

I am glad that as part of the values in action programme, some schools have adopted a whole-school approach to inculcating such values. A few examples are:

  • Fuhua Primary school has a biannual ‘No Cleaners’ event, and students have to keep the school clean;
  • Dunman High School students go to two hawker centres to pick litter and encourage stall holders and patrons to keep the hawker centres clean.

But we can do more, and do better. Indeed, many parents have told me of their fond memories of doing their part to keep their schools clean, taking turns to clean the classrooms and even the toilets. Many also recalled the “Use Your Hand” campaign fondly. They have urged me to bring back some elements of these. So beyond the whole-school approach, we can consider a nation-wide approach to inculcating values of care for our common and communal spaces.

Hence, I am glad to announce that as part of our Values-in-Action, we will launch a ‘Keep Singapore Clean Movement in Schools’. This movement will be student-driven and school-supported. We want all students to propose ideas to keep the school and neighbourhood clean, put their ideas into action and carry them out on a sustained basis so that good habits can be internalised.

I am confident that our young will have many imaginative ideas and bundles of energy to see these through. I would like to see them become advocates for a cleaner and greener Singapore, and to take action to realise these. More importantly, beyond cleanliness, I hope our students internalise the values of care and responsibility of our environment and community. This movement supports the ‘Keep Singapore Clean Movement’ led by the Public Hygiene Council.

Fourteen schools are already working with the Public Health Council’s Bright Spots Programme to turn community spaces into models of cleanliness and hygiene take ownership for the cleanliness of the school environment and the community. With this national effort, I hope we can make the entire Singapore a Big Bright Spot.

Through the Keep Singapore Clean movement in schools, our students can become role models and advocates for a clean Singapore to their peers, family members and neighbours. It will help our students develop empathy, a sense of belonging, commitment to the community and a deep understanding of our interdependence. It will engender a sense of ownership of our communal spaces and our Singapore.


Teachers are at the very heart of our “Student-centric, Values-driven” education. With an open heart and mind, let us learn from one another and build on areas we can improve. At the same time, let us not forget to encourage and affirm one another in our journey as teachers, remembering always to bring out the best in every child, and in every school.

I wish you a meaningful Teachers’ Conference.