Closing Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah for Parliamentary Debate on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review Report
I would like to thank the members for giving their strong support and endorsement to the recommendations in the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE (ASPIRE) report, as well as the direction and policy of this government. I would like to acknowledge that this support has come from all members of the house - PAP MPs, the NMPs, and the Workers’ Party. Members have spoken passionately, drawing from personal experience and giving examples. It is clear that this is a topic that is close to the hearts of all.Major Themes of the Debate
In listening to the debate over the past couple of days, there are a few major themes which emerged.
- First, the request for a holistic approach to the post-secondary education landscape;
- Second the issue of degree versus non-degree;
- Third, public sector taking the lead;
- Fourth, the need for employers and industry to be on board, and how one is to help industry with this; and
- Mindset change
Ms Denise Phua, Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin expressed concern that ASPIRE may be too narrow in scope, and felt that it really should be part of a holistic plan. In fact, ASPIRE is part of a bigger, holistic, strategic move by this Government.
We actually started at the primary and secondary levels, by introducing the Applied Learning Programme (ALP), and the Learning for Life Programme (LLP) in 2013. ALP focuses on the application of skills in the real world, and is taught through problem solving, supporting tie-ups with industry partners. The LLP focuses on real-world experiential learning to develop character and values, through community outreach programmes, or service learning projects.
Two years ago, the then Senior Minister of State for Education, Mr Lawrence Wong, led a committee for pathways in university education, known as the CUEP report. The CUEP report recommended an applied degree pathway which emphasises a practice-orientation, learning through work, industry focus, to be offered by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM). It also recommended creating more opportunities at the degree-level that would build industry-relevant skills in graduates.
The missing piece was how to further strengthen applied education at our polytechnics and ITE. That is why the ASPIRE committee came in at this stage.
What you can see, therefore, is that we have introduced the idea of applied learning at primary and secondary. We have then put it in place for university. Now, we have slotted in deeper applied learning for polytechnics and ITE, and so that there is a whole spectrum.
If you look at it in terms of the big picture, we build a strong academic foundation at the primary and secondary levels because you need these fundamentals - whether you go on a more academic route or a more applied route, you cannot do it without the strong fundamentals. But we have introduced the applied learning at the primary and secondary stage.
Post-secondary, they will tend to choose their paths. Some will choose a more academic path; some will choose a more applied path. Even then, they are not mutually exclusive. That is the important thing to remember. Even if you are going on the academic route, there will be applied elements. In fact, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have partnerships with industry, and they are now also looking into strengthening internships. SIT and UniSIM are forging the new applied degree pathway, which integrate learning in classroom and the work context. As such, it is actually not mutually exclusive, but it is a matter of degree - for the academic route, you will have some applied learning; for the applied learning route, you will have to have academic content to build on.
You can see that we have the education components in alignment. What we are doing now is that we are bringing the whole education parts into alignment with industry as well. That is the direction in which the Government is steering.ASPIRE Has Impact Beyond Polytechnic and ITE Education
ASPIRE has impact beyond the polytechnics and ITEs. We have mentioned Education and Career Guidance (ECG). This is not just for the polytechnics and ITE students. It will adopt a lifespan approach - it starts at primary through secondary, but it will go through the polytechnics and ITE, and for university students as well, to working adults.
The sector-specific skills frameworks will define skills and competencies which are needed to progress in careers, no matter the starting point. The Business Times article highlighted by Mr Zaqy Mohamad had it right when it said: “The ASPIRE proposals are not just another tweak in the education system but possibly the missing piece in the restructuring jigsaw puzzle the government has set out to complete”.Degree vs Non-Degree
On the question of degree versus non-degree and whether conflicting signals are being sent - that was addressed by Minister Heng earlier.Public Sector to Take the Lead
Many MPs have called for the public sector to take the lead. We should look at this in perspective. The Government and public sector agencies employ 4 per cent of the total workforce. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ 70 per cent. Multinational corporations (MNCs), both home-grown and foreign, and the social services employ the rest. In terms of the overall numbers of people employed, or the total workforce, the percentage employed by the Government is very small. However, I think what the MPs are really saying or asking about is the signalling effect.
DPM Teo had, in a written reply to a parliamentary question raised by Mr Lim Biow Chuan, responded on what the Government is doing on this, but let me summarise.
For the civil service, it adheres to the policy of hiring on merit, so the most suitable candidate is selected for the job.
For new job seekers at entry level jobs, educational qualifications would have to serve as a proxy because if you do not know the person, you do not know their capabilities yet.
Some jobs require a degree; some do not. When recruiting, the civil service will indicate what kind of qualification is required according to job type.
There will be certain professional fields where professional accreditation is required, for example medical or engineering. In such cases, the applicants will have to meet the requirements.
The next question is how do you progress once within the system. As announced by the Public Service Division (PSD) after the National Day Rally (NDR).There will be faster career progression for Management Support Officers (MSOs) from Oct 2014. Most non-graduates join under the MSO scheme. The MSOs can already progress to take on similar jobs as graduates and be paid comparable salaries. From Oct 2014, they may be progressed faster where they demonstrate the required performance and capability.
The civil service has announced that it intends to merge more of what used to be separate graduate schemes of service into integrated schemes. Most non-graduates join under the Management Support (MSO) scheme, while graduates join under the Management Executive Scheme (MXS). PSD is studying the merger of the two schemes. In the integrated schemes officers may have different entry points but will progress according to performance and ability to handle larger responsibilities, regardless of the starting point. They will get training. There are agencies already with existing integrated schemes such as People’s Association (PA), Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The Public Utilities Board (PUB) is also developing a single engineering career path where diploma holders and ITE graduates can progress up the ranks to take on wider engineering or managerial responsibilities. And MOE, of course, Minister Heng has already spoken about. So you can see the public sector is doing its part.Need For Industry and Employers to Be on Board
A number of members - Ms Denise Phua, Mr K Karthikeyan, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Mohd Ismail Hussein, Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Lee Li Lian - have pointed out that in order for the ASPIRE objectives to be achieved, industry and employers have to be on board. They have also highlighted that it is a challenge for businesses, because of business cost and manpower challenges.
Mr Thomas Chua made an earnest plea for SMEs. I can assure him that SMEs have not been forgotten, including in the composition of the ASPIRE committee. There are a large number of SMEs - while it was not possible to include a lot of them or all of them in the committee, we included the CEO/SPRING because SPRING has a lot of dealings with SMEs, and has an understanding of their difficulties and challenges. As such, the SME issues were well-represented on the ASPIRE Committee.
SMEs can also particularly benefit from building up progressive pathways, providing training programmes, and providing good human resources that will build up their manpower development capabilities. There are existing government schemes to help them.
- SPRING Capability Development Grant: SMEs can tap on SPRING’s Capability Development Grant to defray costs of projects to enhance their business capabilities. These can include projects to strengthen leadership capabilities, those that adopt effective HR practices, cultivate a strong corporate culture, and retain talent.
- SPRING’s SME Talent Programme: It encourages SMEs to recruit local ITE and polytechnic students. It incentivises SME employers to develop their employees and invest in human capital development.
- Aside from SPRING’s funding and incentives, SPRING has also set up many SME centres which provide assistance and training to SMEs. In 2013, the SME centres trained some 1,000 SMEs on business capability development areas and assisted over 20,000 SMEs.
- Then there is WDA’s Enterprise Training Support (ETS). Businesses can tap on the ETS scheme to fund projects that will build their in-house capabilities for human capital development and training. In total, $20Million was committed under the ETS to support companies.
Going forward, companies can, and should leverage these existing schemes and support in co-implementing the ASPIRE recommendations. The Government will continue to look into whether specific sectors will also require other forms of sector-specific support, and develop supporting schemes as part of a concerted sectoral strategy to develop manpower and talent for these sectors.
As part of the ASPIRE recommendations, lead institutions will also be established for each key sector, to coordinate efforts in working with different stakeholders. We hope this will strengthen the linkages between institutions and industry.
In the meantime, I am happy to say that a number of companies have already pledged support. We have MNCs on board, examples of which include Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. For local companies, we have examples such as YCH Group and Sakae Holdings. These employers are forward-looking and can see the long-term benefits in terms of talent pipeline, employee retention, and increased productivity.Mindset Change
Members have raised this quite rightly and said that current mindsets are deeply entrenched. It will be a significant challenge to overcome them.
Ms Denise Phua highlighted that the ability to transform mindsets of key stakeholders is a critical success factor for ASPIRE. Mr Karthikeyan, Mr Zainudin Nordin and Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about the challenge of changing these mindsets on the ground. Ms Kuik pointed out that ASPIRE’s ability to succeed depended greatly on today’s culture. Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Faisal Manap spoke of the importance of reaching out to students and parents.
The key question asked by members, is how we are going to change existing these mindsets. One noteworthy thing is that everybody in this house who has spoken on this has not just pointed out the need for the mindset change, but agrees that it should be changed. So, you can see that there is strong support, even in this chamber. When we speak to others, many agree that there is a need for it. That is a good starting point because if people recognise that this is something which needs to be changed - and they think it is a good thing to be changed - then it really is a question of everybody doing his or her own part and taking it on board.
- For individuals - to recognise our strengths, to build on the right foundations, choose the right paths, and adopt the right attitude to lifelong learning;
- For parents - realise your child’s unique strengths and encourage him or her on the path that will best develop his or her talent;
- For employers - value every employee, hire and reward based on actual skills;
- Government will do its part.
We should also celebrate broad definitions of success. It is true - we should celebrate individuals who have not trod the traditional paths but have achieved success in their own ways. But also celebrate those who have achieved success along the degree route. Singapore is a sum of the parts. We should celebrate the success of each individual, because each and every Singaporean makes up Singapore. You want them to be able to progress and advance. When somebody does well, you should be happy for them. So take a broad definition of success and support each other in this endeavour.
We should also highlight examples of model companies who espouse the right mindsets. These are the ones who
- Invest in their people, education and training
- Hire, remunerate and promote based on actual skills and performance
- Take on sector-specific skills frameworks and progression pathways
- Those who continually improve jobs and progression opportunities for their employees.
Ms Sylvia Lim asked whether the industry sector leads in polytechnics would have a priority, or whether they would play a coordinating role. The answer is that they would play a coordinating role. The lead institutions should also think about the polytechnic and ITE sector as a whole, and source for opportunities to grow and develop it. It is not intended that it should be a priority for a particular polytechnic.Conclusion - ASPIRE a Game Changer
A number of MPs have spoken in Malay. Madam Speaker, in Malay please.
Saya ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada Anggota-anggota Parlimen kerana menyokong kuat saranan ASPIRE. ASPIRE adalah untuk membantu individu mencapai aspirasi mereka masing-masing dan mewujudkan pelbagai laluan yang berbeza menuju kejayaan. Kami berharap bahawa semua anak-anak muda kami akan memanfaatkan saranan ASPIRE ini, seperti program belajar sambil bekerja, dan program Penempatan dan Latihan. Selepas mereka selesai pengajian mereka di politeknik atau ITE, akan terdapat pelbagai pilihan untuk mereka maju ke hadapan dan berjaya - mereka boleh melanjutkan pelajaran mereka; bekerja dahulu; atau memperolehi pensijilan industri. Kami juga berharap mereka akan terus belajar sepanjang hayat. Pada dasarnya, ASPIRE adalah tentang menghargai setiap individu dan menghormati setiap kerjaya, serta memberi peluang yang lebih baik bagi semua.
Madam Speaker, I would like everyone to understand what we are seeking to do. ASPIRE seeks to be a game changer. We are trying to realign education with industry to cope with a new environment. We are making a strategic course adjustment. The previous course was right for that time, but we are setting a new course because once again, the winds of change are upon us. We must tack to a new wind. If we do not make the change, it will be forced upon us and not on our terms.
We are making a societal change, as Minister Heng pointed out - to go beyond qualifications, to go beyond the classroom, to go beyond narrow definitions of success. Some may say that these are lofty goals, high ideals. But how will we actually implement it?
The MPs have been correct to highlight the challenges. It is not an easy task. It will not happen overnight. It will take many years, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ASPIRE is that step.
We look at the ten recommendations of ASPIRE - ECG; Enhanced Internships; Place and Train; Increase NITEC to Higher NITEC progression opportunities; Vocation Deployments during NS; Sector-Specific frameworks. These are concrete recommendations. This is the beginning, but it is just that - only the beginning.
We need everyone else to start making the necessary concrete changes in their own areas. For teachers, when giving advice to students; for parents, when helping children choose options. The Government has already started to move. Employers in adopting place-and-train, and in supporting their employees.
The only way in which the ASPIRE objectives will be able to succeed is if they permeate society and the economy and flow through to all segments and reach everyone.
It is like turning a ship. You turn the ship’s wheel, the gears engage. You are fighting against the water resistance. The ship slowly starts to move, and the initial move takes a lot of effort. Then it gains momentum and you start to pick up speed, and then you are full steam ahead. This is what the ASPIRE effort is like.
We are doing something uniquely Singaporean. The Committee visited many countries - Switzerland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand. We also had insights from Netherlands and Austria. I would like to acknowledge these countries and their agencies and institutions who generously shared information with us.
The end product however - the recommendations of the ASPIRE committee and the thinking behind it - is something uniquely our own. We have drawn from what we have seen, for example apprenticeships and career guidance, but have woven it into our own context, our economic structure and our system.
We are building on the strength of our polytechnic and ITE system which we have strengthened over the years and which now have a brand of their own.
We are proud of our polytechnics and ITE, and of their students and graduates. International visitors from other education ministries and agencies are always very impressed by them
We are also building on the strength of our tripartite system, and most of all, we are building on the strength of our people. This approach is also very much our own. We are contemplating the horizon, trying to figure out what is to come, anticipating as best we can, coming up with solutions and strategies , and doing it in a concerted effort. That is a very Singaporean thing, and it is a very Singaporean approach. We are doing this for one reason and one reason only - to secure a better future for Singaporeans and Singapore.
With this, Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the members for their support.
Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat for Parliamentary Debate on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Report
We debate an important motion that can set the tone for our society.
I thank SMS Indranee for her leadership and the ASPIRE committee for their tremendous effort.
Members in this House have given thoughtful and constructive ideas. I commend in particular our Nominated MPs who made their maiden speeches - Mr Kathikeyan who spoke of his experience in the industry, and Mr Ismail who spoke from his experience as an employer.
When the report was presented, I was happy to accept, on behalf of the Government, the recommendations in full. I appreciate the report for the highly-consultative approach, in the vein of Our Singapore Conversation, engaging many stakeholders on a significant scale - polytechnic and ITE students, parents, alumni, staff, employers and workers.
I appreciate how faithful ASPIRE strategies are to Singaporeans’ aspiration to build a society of opportunities, regardless of our starting points. The report addresses the needs of polytechnic and ITE students. SMS Indranee and I have interacted with many of them - we applaud their spirit, we are determined to help them succeed. That is why we are strongly supporting the many interesting ideas that came out - structured internships, Place-and-Train programmes, Higher Nitec places, online learning, better development programmes in the campuses and so on.
I also appreciate its deep insights. Although the report focuses on polytechnic and ITE education, its findings can transform our beliefs about education and learning - in all areas, in our schools, in our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), in the universities, at the workplace.
I would also like to thank Mr Zainuddin for giving us a history of the polytechnic and ITE education in Singapore. I am happy to say that we are not fixing a broken system. In fact, the polytechnic and ITE education in Singapore is first-rate. It has allowed many Singaporeans to make good progress. It is widely admired around the world. ASPIRE represents the forward thinking and planning in our policy-making and it represents a way to respond to the aspirations of Singaporeans.
Members would agree that our beliefs can shape our choices; our beliefs can either limit or expand our opportunities. My remarks will address three beliefs about qualifications that limit our potential, how ASPIRE breaks through these limiting beliefs, and the actions that we must take to break through these limits.3 Limiting Beliefs
The first limiting belief is that qualifications are all that matter - to get a good job, to get a good life. This is limiting because the highest qualifications will do a person no good, if there are no good jobs available in the first place. In many parts of Europe, even nearer home, Taiwan, and other examples, we see highly educated people without a job, because the economy does not create jobs for them - for structural or cyclical reasons. It is very painful.
The belief that qualifications are all that matter is also limiting because there is a variety of jobs out there, requiring us to learn in different ways, and all our life. Some jobs require degrees; some jobs don’t. Some - like heart surgeons, for instance - require deep skills that takes years of post-graduate specialised training; and there are some jobs - like those of a master craftsman or master chef - that also require deep skills but which can be better acquired on the job.
This belief that qualifications are all that matter is also limiting because, as several members have pointed out, we need a whole package of attributes to succeed. Mr Ismail mentioned about Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Quotient (EQ), and Adversity Quotient (AQ). Ms Jessica Tan yesterday mentioned about soft skills. Qualifications are a proxy measure for some competencies and some attributes, but cannot represent the full package of attributes each of us brings to the table.
The second limiting belief is the opposite extreme - that qualifications don’t matter at all. As several MPs have noted, some members of the public are asking: is the government now saying that qualifications don’t matter? Then why are we urging people to learn and upgrade? Let me be clear - ASPIRE is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves or pursuing degrees or pursuing any form of qualifications. ASPIRE is about creating opportunities for all, not creating more competition for some. ASPIRE is about keeping pathways open for all, not blocking pathways for some.
Qualifications matter, but they must be the right qualifications, and of the right standard, for what we want to do. For example, we want our doctor, our nurse, our pharmacist, our physiotherapist to each have the right qualification for the job they do. We want the engineer who certifies that our buildings are safe, is ready, well-trained and well-qualified for the job. We want our architects similarly to be well-qualified for the job.
The right qualification signifies that you have the right skills - the right combination of knowledge, application and experience. But not all qualifications matter - not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do. This can happen when we seek qualifications as a paper chase rather than as a quest for skills.
Recently, a young resident came to see me for advice. She shared that after she got her diploma, she went directly to do a private degree programme because she thought that she could get a better job and earn a better pay. But, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on the programme, she got a job that paid her at a fresh diploma-holder level - about $2000 - because her company did not find her degree skills relevant. She lost 3 years of salary had she gone on to work - an opportunity cost of over $70,000, plus the cost of doing this programme. What’s worse, she realised after all these, that this line of work does not suit her strengths and interests. She was so caught up in chasing a piece of paper, she lost the chance to discover what she really cared about. Of course, each person has a different learning and working journey. This story moved me because her family is not well-off. It is such a huge cost to them. It is only now, 3 years and a lot of cost later, that she is getting a good sense of what she really wants to do. Would it not have been so much better for her and her family if she could have realised this earlier.
By sheer co-incidence, last evening at my Meet-the-People Session, I had the chance to play an untrained education and career guidance officer. The father of this young lady had come to see me a few weeks back, asking me for help to get his daughter to university. I asked him to get his daughter to come to see me instead, because I wanted to understand what I could do for her. Last evening, she came and I found out that she had a diploma from one of our polytechnics. She was very interested in communications and design. I asked her why she wanted to do a degree. She said of course, it would allow her to do better. I was really impressed with this young lady. She was so obsessed with learning and wanting to do well. I explored a number of options with her, as to what her career options were, what her passion was, and what she enjoyed learning and doing most. She told me that she was actually very keen to learn how to marry communications with design and with planning. I said that was very good and that there were quite a number of useful courses in the polytechnics for doing that. I told her to send me a longer note on what she was really interested in doing, what her career plans were and I would send someone trained and well-versed in this industry to advise her.
I feel strongly that we must provide better career and education guidance to our young. Our captains of industry must come out and explain what they are looking for.
A third limiting belief is that if others are better qualified, I would lose out. Is it true that if polytechnic and ITE students learn better, the value of degrees would go down? Again, this is very limiting. The opposite is true - when our friends and colleagues can do a better job, we all benefit.
Just think about this. What does it take to make a visitor to Singapore have a great experience? From the pilot to the cabin crew, to the moment he lands at the airport, to the way our counter staff deals with it, to the taxi-driver, to the baggage handler, to the frontline staff at the hotels, in the restaurants, in the places of interest - everyone would have some role to play in making it a great experience. And not to mention, the architects and engineers who design all these attractions, and not to mention the technicians and the cleaners who maintain these facilities. In fact, the more that each of us can do our part, the more that each of us is highly-skilled and can do a great job, the more we create the right conditions for everyone to thrive.
In fact, this is the Singapore Story - we enjoy a better standard of living because we work as a team, and we earn others’ respect and we earn a premium for being team players, for cheering one another on, for helping one another do better. If we do not have enough skilled people, investors would not even come in the first place.3 Breakthroughs of ASPIRE
The ASPIRE report encourages us to break through these limiting beliefs, to think anew about qualifications, jobs and opportunities:
Breakthrough #1 is to go beyond qualifications to the pursuit of excellence, by recognising that attitude, deep skills, knowledge and experience matter if we want to perform and excel.
The second breakthrough is to go beyond the classroom to recognise the value of applied learning and lifelong learning - and make the workplace a great learning place.
The third breakthrough is to go beyond narrow definitions of success to recognise that everyone excels at different things, in different ways, and that we can all excel if we apply our minds, hands, and hearts to what we do.
Mr Zaqy and Er Lee Bee Wah asked what ASPIRE’s breakthroughs mean for the value of a degree. Does this mean that degrees no longer matter? None of these breakthroughs devalues some qualifications over others. None of these breakthroughs limits opportunities for one group of people over another. It is not about one kind of qualification versus another; one group versus another. ASPIRE seeks to support each of us on the path that best suits our personal needs and aspirations, so that we can each excel and lead fulfilling, happy lives. It is about breakthroughs, not limits; widening opportunities, not narrowing them; addition, not subtraction; more, not less.
As members pointed out, these indeed add up to a major transformation. Can we put these breakthrough ideas into practice? The answer is yes.
The Public Service Division is doing so. In MOE, we recognise that qualifications matter for teachers. We also recognise that some teachers who did not take the degree route can develop the depth of knowledge which, along with other qualities like care and skill at their craft, allow them to excel as teachers. All teachers should have opportunities to deepen and upgrade their skills. That is why we will be emplacing outstanding non-graduate teachers on the graduate pay scale. These are teachers who have proven themselves to be excellent teachers.
Er Lee and others asked if this means that there has been a change to MOE’s position. Let me assure members that we will not just maintain but seek to raise the level of teaching. We have an important responsibility to all our children. MOE will continue to recruit graduates as we need teachers with strong grasp of the academic subjects, to help our children build the foundation. But we will also hire some non-graduates who have the passion and predisposition for teaching, and help them deepen their skills.
Let me recap: We must not be a society where paper credentials mean everything. We must also not be a society where paper credentials mean nothing. We limit ourselves if we believe that qualifications are all that matter to get a good job, or, the opposite, that qualifications don’t matter at all. We limit ourselves if we think that some people improving their qualifications increases competition for others. If we limit ourselves this way, we block our individual ability to reach our aspirations, and our collective potential to build an inclusive, fair society of opportunities for all. As individuals, we can shed these limitations and see things in these terms: What are our real interests, and what is the right qualification, the right form of learning to help us be the best at that? What are all the changing conditions around us that can affect our ability to succeed at our jobs, and how can we keep learning to be ahead of these changes? And finally, how can we support one another through our unique learning journeys to each reach our best?3 Action Areas
We create opportunities for all Singaporeans to learn and succeed, through multiple pathways, through multiple modes of learning, in a continual progression, developing a culture of passion, recognition and respect, with every part of society playing a part. It is about learning the right thing, at the right time, at the right place, in the right way, and learning all our life.
This leads to 3 action areas.
First: Learn at Every Stage - We need to have seamless integration from schools to IHLs to the workplace.
Our education system must provide the broad and deep foundation for life, and lifelong learning. I have spoken on this before, in MOE’s Work Plan Seminar last year.
Mr Chris de Souza pointed out yesterday that ASPIRE’s recommendations build on Every School a Good School, Applied Learning Programmes, and he reminded us, the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP). Indeed, this is so.
The 10 years of basic education in primary and secondary schools enable our students to develop the values and character traits, give them the basic academic foundation, and help them discover their strengths and interests. We recently added Applied Learning Programmes and Learning for Life in our secondary schools, to help students develop the life skills and to learn how to apply knowledge, and to develop a lively interest of the world around them.
ASPIRE takes these forward. By having Education and Career Guidance (ECG), it will help our students develop an even better understanding of the options. By deepening the structured internships and Applied Learning opportunities especially for our polytechnic and ITE students, it helps our students explore these even more deeply.
We will, over time, develop a seamless integration across our schools and IHLs, to help students learn the right thing at the right time, while encouraging them to explore their strengths, and discover the opportunities out there for them to deploy their strengths fully.
I appreciate Ms Denise Phua’s point yesterday that we must have a porosity between the pathways. Indeed, our aim is to create many pathways, to facilitate and encourage the inter-connections among them. There will be multiple pathways, with no dead ends.
Earlier on, Mr Faisal Manap spoke about applied learning as an alternative to university education. As SMS mentioned in her opening address, it is not one or the other. In fact, applied learning will be a key feature of our 5th university - Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and the degree programmes at UniSIM. Our existing universities are all developing applied learning in some ways. The learning is two-way. It is not just the polytechnics and ITE are learning from what the universities are doing. The universities are also learning from what the polytechnics and ITE are doing. I think this is a very healthy interchange. I see the integration of theoretical and applied learning running throughout our education system - not just in the polytechnic or ITE. This sets the foundation for future learning.
The second area is to Learn in Every Way, to embrace and encourage Lifelong Learning.
Learning must not stop when we leave school. In fact, the more reflective we are, the more we turn each day into a learning day, and the more we can learn from everyone we meet or work with, the richer our learning experience, the wiser we get. I have been very amazed at how many teachers and many professors in the universities tell me how much they learn every day from their students. And these are the reflective teachers, when they reflect on how they do their lessons, whether they do them well, whether they encourage students to express their views - they too learn from their students. We must have this habit of learning in every way. We must sow the seeds of lifelong learning in our students when they are in school.
Beyond schools, we must make learning real, relevant and meaningful. Many lecturers create simulated situations to help students to learn in a real life manner. These are useful. But nothing is more real than the workplace. Great employers understand this, and have plans to help staff learn the real stuff, the relevant stuff. So we will work with employers to turn workplaces to great learning places, to help every Singaporean build deep skills that matter.
Earlier on, Mr Thomas Chua spoke about Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and indeed, we will work with SMEs, whether as individual organisations or as an association. Let me share a very inspiring story.
I recently met a polytechnic student at the National Day Rally. He designed our ASPIRE logo. He has just graduated from a polytechnic, and I asked him what he was doing. He started work doing something similar to what he was taught in the polytechnic. He is a very talented designer. So I asked him what was the biggest difference between studying in a polytechnic and working. He said, “The difference is that in the polytechnic, I do one project for the term. Here, I have many projects any time. So, it is extremely challenging!” But he said it was also an extremely rich learning experience. Because of this variety of work, he learnt such a variety of skills. Every client has a different need, and he gets to understand the needs of a whole spectrum of clients. His learning curve is steep, but so is his learning.
Companies big or small can play a very important role. I find this story of this polytechnic student very inspiring. He wants to apply what he has learnt, and he’s doing really well.
Beyond the workplace, let us have many more ways of learning, including online learning. Earlier this year, I was at Silicon Valley to look at what the Americans were doing on online learning. I see that there are some very important areas that we have to pick up and learn. We will have to make a concerted effort in this area.
At the same time, as Mr Heng Chee How pointed out earlier on, the unions have also been playing a very important role working with companies and creating their own learning institutions, e2i and so on. We will support all these efforts and work together on these.
The third area is to respect everyone - developing a culture of respect and recognition in Singapore.
It is to respect that we all have different talents and every job deserves respect.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan mentioned this earlier today. So did Mr Zaqy Mohamad yesterday and several other members. I am glad to say that we are putting a renewed emphasis in this area. Our Values In Action programmes in our schools seek to do precisely that. I am very happy to see our students showing great respect, be it for cleaners in the schools, and in fact, taking on cleaning duties themselves, in order to understand and appreciate that this is hard work and it is work worth of respect. I agree with Er Lee Bee Wah that we must not frighten our children to say that “If you don’t study hard, you will end up doing certain kinds of jobs”.
Employers are very important. I hope that employers recognise performance, not just paper qualifications. By recognising performance, we expand the space for staff to learn, to innovate, to contribute. And to encourage them to learn the relevant skills and apply these in their daily job.
I agree with Mr Lim Biow Chuan that we need to look for ways to enlarge the jobs, and that this is how we create the virtuous cycle that Mr Heng Chee How spoke about - the higher skills, higher job content, higher salary, higher productivity, higher competitiveness - everyone benefits.
So, Madam, Every Stage, Every Way, Everyone.
Now may I say a few words in Mandarin.
首先，在每个阶段虚心向学 - 让国人从学校，到高等学府，直到职场都能够不断地学习。我们的教育制度必须为国人提供一个更深更广的基础，帮助他们终身学习。ASPIRE委员会建议提供学生教育与职业辅导 、强化实习课程和各种应用学习机会。
第二，以任何方式致力学习 - 所谓“学无止境”，我们要鼓励每个人活到老、学到老。职场是最能够提供真实学习机会的场所。我们也会与雇主合作，让每一个工作场所都能提供学习机会,让每一个人都能终身学习、终身受用。
第三，让各行各业受到尊重 - 我们要在新加坡建立起彼此尊重和认可的文化。行行出状元，每一个人都各有所长；每一份职业都值得大家尊重。我们重视的是个人的表现, 而非一纸文凭。
在每个阶段虚心向学、以任何方式致力学习、让各行各业受到尊重 。 我们要通过多种途径，让每一个人各尽所能，无论是求学或是工作时期,都对学习抱有热忱,不断地提升技能，活学活用、学以致用、终身学习、终身受用、并且在工作岗位上不断地精益求精、敬业乐业。
Madam, to conclude, I addressed three limiting beliefs that hold us back from realising our full potential. I talked about three important breakthroughs that ASPIRE makes. And I shared the three areas of action for us to break through our limiting beliefs - We must “Learn at Every Stage, Learn in Every Way, Respect Everyone”. These are not ideals, Madam, these are imperatives. We must not limit ourselves to some places, some times, some people over others, we must breakthrough into every stage, every way, everyone. The Government will work hard on “Learn at Every Stage” and “Learn in Every Way”, together with employers, schools, and families. To me, the most important part of all is “Respect Everyone”. Because, at the heart of the matter, it is not just about qualifications, not just about jobs, not just about economic growth… all of this is to create the conditions for Singaporeans to pursue lives of meaning, achievement and joy. Every One of us, regardless of our starting points.
I urge members to give your robust support to this motion.
To provide a quality education, support students’ holistic development, and provide them with a rich learning experience, there needs to be an adequate number of students for meaningful class organisation and interactions as well as the provision of a rich array of learning programmes, both curricular and co-curricular.
Given the significance of schools to students and alumni, and the emotional attachment between students, alumni and their schools, as far as possible we would not want to merge schools. However, in some mature estates, the population of school going children has declined, and enrolment in some schools are too low for them to offer a good range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities. The merger of schools will allow their students to benefit from the range of educational programmes that can cater to the all-round development of students. This is in fact one way that we provide better programmes to bring out the best in every child, and make every school a good school. Moreover, by deploying our teachers and other resources in an optimal manner, including to schools in new towns with higher population densities, we raise the quality of schools across the board.
Schools are identified for mergers based on several factors such as the size of enrolment, the nature of existing programmes, the suitability of merger partners and infrastructure capacity. These factors are considered qualitatively before a decision is taken. In some cases in the past, MOE had relocated schools when there was low demand for school places in a particular estate, or when it was not feasible to upgrade the existing school facilities due to land and building constraints.
MOE seeks to preserve the history and heritage of the schools which are merged by documenting the history of each school. In many schools, these are displayed at a heritage space in the merged school building. This serves to inform and educate the new student cohorts of the school’s history and legacy. For example, Queenstown Primary School which was set up before Singapore’s independence had previously merged with Birkhall Road School in 1984 and with Mei Chin Primary and Tanglin Primary in 2002. The school has a Heritage Corner to reflect its rich legacy by documenting the history of the other three schools.
Fees are reviewed regularly and are differentiated by nationality to reflect the privileges of citizenship. The total fees collected in any given year would depend on the prevailing fees and the student enrolment in that year.
In general education, the school and miscellaneous fees collected from students in Government and Government-aided schools (GGAS) are set out in Table 1 below.
In post-secondary education, the tuition fees collected by Autonomous Universities, Polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) for their full-time programmes are set out in Table 2 below.
Overall, total fees collected from Singaporean students have gone up mainly because of a larger number of Singaporeans enrolled in post-secondary institutions, and some fee increases. For PR and international students, the increase in fee collection is primarily due to fee increases, as PR and international students face higher fee increases than locals.
Starting from the 2014 Primary One (P1) Registration Exercise, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has reserved 40 places in every school for registrants in Phases 2B and 2C. This is to ensure that our schools, especially the popular ones, remain open to children with no prior connections to the school. As a result of this change, four schools balloted in Phase 2A2 this year, but without the reservation of places in Phase 2B and 2C, there would have been fewer than 40 places in each of these schools open to students without prior connections to the school. In addition, without this 40 reserved places policy, some schools may in the future run the risk of not having any access at Phase 2B and 2C.
Home-school distance is already one key consideration during the allocation of P1 places, with priority for those who live within 1km of the school, followed by those who live between 1km and 2km from the school. As the number of children seeking admission in a particular year and the population in the area change, we seek parents’ understanding that even as we attempt to plan the location of schools and the number of vacancies carefully, it is not always possible to meet the changing number of students who will register in a particular school in a particular year. In addition, there needs to be a critical mass of students in an area before it is feasible for us to start a new school. But there will be sufficient places in schools that are within a reasonable distance of their homes. Our assessment is that the current criteria have met the needs of most parents well, and making further changes at this point would not be meaningful.
What is most important is that every pupil receives a good quality and holistic education, regardless of which school he or she attends. Therefore, we have been resourcing all our schools with well-trained teachers, high-quality education facilities and rigorous school programmes and will continue to do so. This is part of our commitment to make every school a good school, so that we can meet the educational needs of all children in Singapore.
Our ground feedback has been that the recent changes in our primary one registration framework and our outreach to parents on the programmes of schools in their neighbourhood have been met with good response from parents. We are pleased to see more parents taking the time to visit schools during open houses and to understand the programmes of the schools. They take the effort to see for themselves the quality of education provided in these schools. So let us continue our efforts in this direction.