Speech (translated into English) by Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and information & Ministry of Education, Ms Sim Ann at Debate of the President’s Address 2014 on 30 May 2014
Thank you Madam Speaker for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I rise in support of the motion to thank the President for his Address.
The title of the President’s Address is “Pledging Ourselves to be a better Singapore.” What does a better Singapore mean?
It is a nation of opportunity for all, especially, for those among us who were dealt a weaker hand in life.
I will share how we plan to achieve this vision and aspiration in the realm of education.
Shifts and constants in our approach towards education
Our overall goal in education has remained constant, and that is to bring out the best in every child.
Economic and social progress has opened up many diverse pathways for the next generation, and more exciting futures.
But what should we do, to ensure that young Singaporeans take full advantage of the new opportunities?
MOE has announced many initiatives in the past three years. These include:
- Holistic Education
- Abolishing the ranking of schools
- Stopped the naming of top PSLE scorers
- Broadening of Direct School Admission (DSA)
- Proposed changes to PSLE scoring
- Collaboration with MOM on Continuing Education and Training (CET)
- Enhanced IHL Bursaries
These initiatives are underscored by four key points:
- Chasing after academic grades is not all there is to education
- We need to build a strong foundation of values
- We need to vary pedagogy and enrich various forms of learning support, so that students can progress at their individual pace of development
- There remains a need to engage in lifelong learning, even after leaving school
These initiatives have been welcomed by the public, parents and our educators.
That is unsurprising, seeing as we have held many discussions under the auspices of Our Singapore Conversation, whether with the general public or with our own educators.
Many of the new initiatives and policy shifts reflect views and realities on the educational frontline.
Both PM and SMS Indranee have spoken on CET in their respective speeches. I wish to focus on the importance of values, and how to help every student fulfil his or her potential.
Importance of Values
The importance that MOE has been placing on values has generally met with support from the public.
But some might wonder: are we shying away from the pursuit of academic excellence? Hasn’t the government always been emphasising the importance of excellence? Now that there is so much emphasis on being good citizens with strong values, does that mean that our students no longer need to work so hard?
If we think through this, there is no dilemma.
Global economic competition remains intense. As a small country dependent on the rest of the world, Singapore cannot avoid grappling with day-to-day bread and butter issues.
Singapore may be a player in global economic competition, but our strength lies in the team event rather than the individual event.
Other countries boast far larger populations than us. In terms of individual merit and skills, the most accomplished Singaporean may find it challenging to outdo the most accomplished individual from any other country.
I have worked for two years in China, where I met many highly qualified and outstandingly brilliant Chinese officials and entrepreneurs. Every single one of them would shine if transplanted to Singapore. In terms of population, Singapore at most ranks with a medium-sized city in China. Yet, our Chinese friends hold the Singapore brand in high regard. They are very interested in Singapore’s development experience and are always keen to collaborate with Singapore on various ventures. Why is that the case?
Last week, I accompanied Foreign Minister Mr Shanmugam to Washington DC for the US-Singapore Strategic Dialogue. The American political and academic figures we met had expressed strong interest in what Singapore has to share on global developments. The US is a world power, in terms of its economic, scientific, academic and military strength. Why should it care about the perspectives of a small South East Asian country like Singapore?
I believe many Singaporeans would have experienced the benefits and convenience of holding our red passport when going through immigration facilities in other countries. This shows Singapore’s international standing. But how did this come about?
The competitive edge that Singapore enjoys internationally is really a collective strength, or what some term a “systems advantage”. We have a clean government that does not tolerate corruption, good social order and efficient markets. We are an open, export-oriented trading hub. Although our forefathers came from different lands, we have taken pains to build a harmonious society regardless of race, language and religion.
These strengths are not built on the superhuman abilities of a few individuals. They are built on a collective understanding on the importance of survival despite challenging circumstances, the importance of mutual tolerance and respect, and the need to secure peace and prosperity.
If we are able to sustain constructive politics, and prevent the dissipation of limited manpower and energies, then we can ensure that each Singaporean can do his or best, and that Singapore can continue to outdo itself as a country.
For these reasons, while bringing out the best in every child, we hope that he or she would not forget about the collective good. We wish for every generation of Singaporeans to find the right balance between individual achievement and collective achievement.
We want our students to be good citizens, with a heart for Singapore, compassion for others, and gratitude to those who have helped build their lives. It’s not because we no longer think that competition and excellence are relevant. But we want our students to understand that the strength of the collective lies at the heart of nation-building.
This is a crucial message that our Ministry is driving home.
In the course of the debate, some MPs have asked whether MOE includes information about the Constitution and our political system in National Education. The answer is yes. The concepts of citizen rights and obligations, democracy, our electoral system, principles of our Constitution and the structure of government are covered in the CCE curriculum, Social Studies and History in Primary and Secondary schools.
Bringing Out The Best in Every Child – Levelling Up Measures
I met Mr Chua Kang Loong a few days ago at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 43rd Graduation Ceremony. He is a recipient of the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal for the most outstanding graduate formerly from ITE.
He told me that he had been a playful boy who did not pay much attention to his studies. While he was in ITE, he developed an interest in his studies and decided to try for the poly. When he was initially unsuccessful in applying for a place at a polytechnic after obtaining a Nitec in Electronics (Computer & Networking), he took it in his stride and went on to obtain a Higher Nitec in Electronics Engineering subsequently, before gaining admission into Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Electronic & Computer Engineering Course.
Kang Loong is planning to further his studies in university. He has secured a place in NUS and is pending direct matriculation into the second year of the Faculty of Engineering to pursue an Electronic Engineering degree.
Upon graduation, Kang Loong aspires to return to ITE to teach. He is currently a Teaching Associate at ITE and is now colleagues with his former lecturers, who also attended his graduation to provide moral support. He is extremely appreciative of the unwavering dedication of his teachers in ITE and the support they had provided. Ms Nancy Quek, Section Head of Electronics Engineering at ITE College (West), was previously Kang Loong’s teacher and is now his mentor. Her teaching methods have been effective in allowing Kang Loong to understand difficult concepts, allowing him to attain very good results for his modules. While Kang Loong was doing his Final Year Project at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he hit a snag and his project stagnated for weeks. Mr William Tan, Section Head of Electronics Engineering at ITE College (West), provided valuable advice to Kang Loong and guided him to overcome the technical difficulty.
I asked him if he felt daunted teaching students who were only a few years younger than him. He replied confidently, “Not at all. Having been from the ITE, I know how ITE students think and learn, and find it easy to build rapport with them. I find it rewarding to ignite in them the interest in learning.”
As part of his teaching strategies, he provides students with easy questions to scaffold their learning and build self-confidence. He intentionally skips steps in his presentations and invites students to interact and fill in the missing gaps. Kang Loong also takes the initiative to engage his fellow colleagues as he continually seeks to improve his teaching methodologies.
I was very glad to meet such a fine young gentlemen. And I’m further encouraged to know that he has taken concrete steps to give back to the educational system that had groomed him. In him, I saw strong values and steely determination. His story has also highlighted some of our current priorities:
- To broaden the pathways to success, and to help students excel at their own pace.
- The customisation of teaching and learning to cater to the different learning needs of our students.
- For students who have difficulty coping, to put in place programmes and resources to support them fully.
We are implementing initiatives along these lines throughout our education system. Although we have yet to reach the ideal state, we are constantly experimenting and enhancing our processes.
As many are aware, the key breakthrough that MOE has made in this area is to pilot 15 MOE Kindergartens to provide affordable and quality pre-school education.
Focus is on developing self-confidence and social skills, nurturing values and providing an early foundation in bilingual literacy and numeracy.
Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) is in place to ensure that the fees remain affordable to Singaporean families.
Our MOE Kindergartens provide our children with learning experiences which are relevant to the child. The Government has been more actively involved in the pre-school sector, by developing curriculum resources and putting teaching principles into practice to elucidate pre-school education philosophies that are complementary to and aligned with our primary school education curriculum. We hope to promote a sound approach to pre-school and work with operators to prevent the premature downloading of primary school content to pre-schoolers. Through concrete actions, we hope to lessen the anxieties that parents may have about preschool, while supporting the preschool sector in providing high quality programmes.
In our primary schools, the focus is developing basic foundation in literacy and numeracy skills. For students who have challenges keeping up, we have put in place the LSP (Learning Support Programme), LSM (Learning Support Programme for Mathematics) and ICAN (Improving Confidence and Numeracy).
We also recognise that we can help by providing a conducive environment after school hours, especially for those who come from challenging family circumstances. Hence, we are expanding school-based Student Care Centres (SCCs) to benefit more students.
At the secondary level, we are also constantly renewing our educational approach. We provide flexibility in our secondary school subject offerings, so that more students can study various subjects at different paces according to their strengths. What this means is that the differentiation between various academic streams will gradually fade.
NorthLight School and Assumption Pathway School has helped those who failed PSLE to reach post-secondary, with focus on character development and hands-on learning.
Recently started Crest Secondary and Spectra Secondary, as alternative pathway for Normal (Technical) students, that build on learning points of NLS and APS.
Pilot Enhanced Nitec Foundation Programme (e-NFP) this year to provide a comfortable pace for students to acquire requisite literacy and numeracy standards, before progressing to the Career Core modules of their ITE course in their final year.
Supporting Students with Special Education Needs
Next, I wish to discuss how we are strengthening the support available to students with special educational needs (SEN).
This is something especially close to my heart.
There are 13,000 students with SEN in our mainstream schools, with conditions ranging from physical impairment to ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dyslexia. There are another 5,000 students with moderate to severe SEN in our special education (SPED) schools.
Looking after this group of students well is an important priority for MOE. We have been increasing support in the form of teacher training, curriculum development, financial assistance and infrastructure. Please allow me to highlight a few measures that are currently in progress:
School-based Dyslexia Remediation (SDR). Amongst the students with SEN in mainstream school, the largest group are students with dyslexia. If a student is not able to read well, his educational progress will be affected. The breakthrough by MOE is in developing its own approach towards dyslexia remediation, and in training school personnel to help students with dyslexia on-site. We have expanded the programme to about one-third of all primary schools, but we are not stopping there. We are doing all we can to speed up the training of qualified personnel to deliver this intervention to more students in more schools.
Raising quality of SPED schools. MOE shares the desire of our 20 VWO-run SPED schools in raising the quality of SPED. To this end, we have devoted significant specialist resources in co-developing a SPED curriculum framework with SPED schools in 2012. It is underpinned by strong foundation of core values and Living, Learning and Working outcomes for students.
School-to-work transition. An important area of need is to enable more SPED students to successfully bridge the transition from school to work. MOE, working with government agencies (MSF and SG Enable) and the community, will provide more customised training pathways and job opportunities to benefit SPED students. The support from employers in providing training and job opportunities will be critical to the success of this programme. Through gainful employment, SPED students will develop self-esteem and a critical sense of self-worth, independence and dignity. At the same time, their families will have the assurance of their self-reliance and ability to be integrated into society.
Enhance SEN support in the IHLs. Every student with SEN who progresses onto an IHL is deserving of support and encouragement. Our ITE, Polytechnics and publicly-funded Universities have each set up a Disability Support Office this year, to provide first-stop support for prospective and current students with SEN. This is just the start. MOE and our IHLs will continue working with other government agencies, voluntary welfare organisations, parents and students to provide support for our IHL students with SEN.
Within and beyond schools, we are committed to build a fair and just society which respects every person, which treats everyone with dignity, especially those with disabilities.
The Enabling Masterplan 2012 – 2016 charts out a roadmap for the disability sector, which reflects our desire as a society to see “Singapore as an inclusive society where PWDs are empowered and recognised, and given full opportunity to become integral and contributing members of society”. In education, we will do all we can to support students who need help, and give them a strong foundation for becoming an active and well-integrated member of society.
Madam Speaker, education is a long journey.
Fortunately, as long as our economy continues to remain on a healthy trajectory, we will be able to devote more and more resources to education. That is a more fortunate situation than in some mature economies, where educational benefits risk being scaled back in response to budgetary pressures. Instead of cutting back, we have broken new ground and are moving ahead with fresh initiatives.
Besides resources, we also need time and space to train and develop more manpower and ensure that our educational frontline is well-equipped.
Several Members have called for the Ministry to expand services at a faster pace, including for preschool and school-based student care centres. We are moving as fast as we can, to recruit and train in an increasingly tight local labour market. At the same time, we must be mindful of the need to maintain quality. These are trade-offs that I am sure Members are familiar with.
I call on all Members to give the Ministry and all our educators on the frontline your fullest support in this journey together.