Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat at the ITE Graduation Ceremony 2014



A very good afternoon to all of you. I am very happy to be here with you today to celebrate the graduation and achievements of our ITE students. Let me first extend my warmest congratulations to all our graduating students. We are here today because you have persevered to pursue your aspirations.

While you celebrate this important milestone, let us not forget to thank those who have supported you on your journey – your families, friends, lecturers and mentors. I am especially glad to see many parents here this afternoon to witness your children’s graduation. Parents, I congratulate you too, for having taken this journey together with your children. Their success owes much to your support.

Multiple Roads To Success

Earlier this year, I shared in Parliament that one of the key goals of education is to bring out the best in every child, in every domain of learning, in every school, at every stage of the learning journey, whatever the starting point. The Government is committed to providing opportunities for every child to succeed.

Every child is different. In terms of learning style, aptitude or inclination, no two are the same – even if they are from the same family. We should not assume that one person’s journey to success is the same path that all must take. This means that society, and all of us, must not expect that the routes others travel by must be the one we take to get to our destination. We must each find our own right path. There are multiple roads to success.

ITE exemplifies MOE’s endeavour to provide diverse pathways that cater to our students’ aspirations, needs and talents. I am happy that ITE has grown from strength to strength since its inception in 1992. It has been transformed from an institution that provides basic vocational training to one which is recognised today as one of the best vocational education institutions worldwide. In fact, this beautiful new campus that we are in right now represents the pride and stature of ITE today.

Through its ‘Hands-on, Minds-on, Hearts-on’ philosophy, ITE has transformed many young lives by securing their futures with a strong foundation in skills.

The Path ITE Opens For You

As an ITE graduate today, you have a bright future ahead of you because of the skills you have acquired and the attitudes that you have developed while pursuing the course. There are many signs that the road ahead of you is a good one. ITE’s industry-relevant approach to education continues to be validated by our employers. Over 90% of employers gave strong endorsement of ITE graduates’ skills and competencies in the 2013 Survey on Employers’ Assessment of ITE graduates.

Employers complimented ITE graduates for having good hands-on skills and positive attitudes – a willingness to learn, diligence, and a sense of responsibility. With relevant skills, nine in ten ITE graduates continue to secure employment within six months of their graduation.

There are many examples of ITE alumni who show how the skills acquired here have enabled graduands like yourselves to excel. Desmond Ng, who enrolled in the Nitec in Aerospace Technology, is one such example.

Desmond has been working with the prestigious Rolls-Royce Corporation since he graduated in December 2012. His education at ITE enabled him to perform in his job and he emerged as the Best Trainee in his trainee technician cohort. His employers recognised his skills and potential and nominated him for further training in specialised engines, giving him the opportunity to train in the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby, UK. Desmond’s success and that of many others like him is testament to the fact that ITE imparts industry-relevant skills and supports high employability for students who use those skills to their advantage. Be proud of the skills you have received here. With the right attitude and spirit, there is so much that you can achieve.

Under ASPIRE, the ongoing review of applied study in our polytechnics and ITE, chaired by Senior Minister of State for Education, Ms Indranee Rajah, we have discussed how to further enhance the skills you have received with our institutions, employers and relevant government agencies. Employers see the importance of honing them in students and in helping strengthen skills-based training. We will continue to work with companies to better facilitate authentic learning opportunities through more structured work attachments for our students. We want these experiences to be meaningful for you.

But just as we continue enhancing this skills-based pathway, you must carry on the journey, each one of you taking responsibility for your future. Though this graduation ceremony marks the end of your education at ITE, it is just the start of the next phase of a life-long learning journey. Each of you must develop the flexibility to adapt, learn new skills and explore career possibilities. We must all learn new skills throughout our lifetime to stay relevant. I hope that every one of you will continue to build on the foundations that you have established through your education here at ITE.

Roads That Diverge

As a society, we must strengthen this focus on professional skills. Together, we must chart different pathways where students are recognised and rewarded for their efforts and performance.

Another ITE graduate, John Kartigan, demonstrates how the skills-based education at ITE has enabled graduates to discover their own way. John joined the pioneer batch of Higher Nitec in Marine & Offshore Technology students in April 2008. He graduated in March 2010 as one of its top students, and then joined Keppel FELS as a Technical Associate. He rose through the ranks to become a well-regarded Supervisor.

After two years, having deepened his skills in the industry, John went on to study further. He is currently pursuing a part-time Diploma in Engineering (Marine) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic under a Keppel Offshore & Marine (KOM) Sponsorship and is doing very well.

The key learning point is this – John worked first to become clearer about his strengths and interests, before he then upgraded more meaningfully and effectively. He discovered his interest and strengths at Keppel as a diligent employee, earning meaningful work experience. Many of you will discover that it is better to invest in further education that you know makes sense for you and your career – and often, many of us only know this after we start working and trying out the particular fields. What is your path? Many of your parents will agree that when you reach this phase of life, the roads have started to diverge, and you have to make choices. You must discover it yourself, through personal and professional development. Take the time to explore the world of work and continue learning on the job and even beyond.

Lifelong Learning, Keep On Walking

There is still so much ahead of you. Today, amongst your batch of graduands, there are people who embody this spirit of lifelong learning, and have demonstrated resilience and drive as they progress in their fields.

I would like to speak about a special graduand. I had invited her to MOE’s Work Plan Seminar in 2012 because she is such a source of inspiration. Liaw Lay Kian is a Nitec in Nursing graduate who enrolled for her Nitec at age 50. Today she graduates at age 52 – 3 times most of you. Having cared for her bed-bound father-in-law for 16 years and her ailing husband for 10 months before he passed away, Lay Kian understands what patients and their families struggle with.

Lay Kian’s passion for palliative care nursing eventually prompted her to volunteer at Dover Park Hospice. To ensure she could do more for her patients, Lay Kian took up a Nursing course at ITE.

It was not smooth-sailing from the start. The last time Lay Kian took a major exam was in 1978, the last time she worked was in 1989. It was difficult to start studying at her age but at 52 years old, she remained undaunted. Her efforts saw her achieving an almost perfect GPA of 3.94.

Today, Lay Kian is working at Dover Park Hospice while waiting for her Diploma in Nursing course to begin in October. She aspires to be a competent palliative care nurse. I am pleased that Lay Kian is receiving the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal today, and I wish her every success in pursuing her passion, and she will continue to serve as an inspiration to all of our students.

Lay Kian demonstrates a sense of determination and resilience that is very inspiring. This quality is more important than any paper qualification that you want to have. At her age, she continued learning, even when it was difficult. Adversity and hardship are an unavoidable part of life’s journey. But pressing on step by step is the way one forges their pathway and moves forward. Persevere and you will succeed. Relearning new skills is never easy, but Lay Kian shows us that personal determination and resilience can make it possible.


Many of you are like Lay Kian in your own way. We celebrate you and how far you have come. Today, as you graduate and face the next leg of your journey, you have earned a significant gift – an excellent skills-based foundation for your future. We at MOE, your lecturers and mentors at ITE, as well as your parents are excited for you. Chart your own pathways smartly, persevere to achieve success. Your future is in your hands.

Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all graduands, award recipients and your families. I wish you all the best in your journey forward.

Thank you.