We are glad that Assoc. Prof Tan shares the same view with the Ministry of Education (MOE) that all our primary schools should remain accessible to students without prior connections to the school.
As this is the first year that MOE has implemented the reservation of 40 places in every primary school for registrants in Phases 2B and 2C, we will monitor the effect of this change before deciding whether further changes to the P1 framework are necessary.
I am very honoured to join you at the launch of Honour (Singapore).
In this room, there is a great depth of knowledge, and practice, of honour. I feel humbled to speak to you on Honour and hope I can make a modest contribution on this very important concept.
The concept of ‘Honour’, like others such as respect, love, dignity, rights and responsibilities, is iterated in many forms in our society. There is the notion of:‘junzi/ 君子’, ‘ren/仁’ and ‘yi/義’ in the Chinese language, ‘budiman’ in Bahasa Melayu, and ‘mathippu/ மதிப்பு’ in Tamil.
These words altogether represent how individuals relate to one another, and how members of a society relate among themselves. They reflect deep beliefs about the kind of society we seek to build. These concepts shape societies across time, and across cultures. As circumstances change, these concepts are often debated and re-interpreted. But the fact that they retain their central appeal speaks of their timeless value. At its most basic level, Honour connotes conduct that commands respect, that sets a benchmark for us to strive toward, and in that way shapes a better society for all. Indeed, what we choose to Honour reflects what we value as individuals and as a society; and shapes the character and success of our society.
I commend Siong Guan and the founding members for setting up Honour (Singapore) as part of our SG50 celebrations, driven by your commitment to the survival and success of Singapore, for the benefit of current and future generations. Certainly, as we approach the 50th year of our nation’s independence, we must strive for a deeper appreciation and understanding of what has made Singapore successful so far, and what would help us to succeed in the coming years. In particular, we should reflect on the values that have underpinned our success.
Allow me, then, to pick up on Siong Guan’s opening remarks and speak on three aspects of honour. First, to Honour our past and the pioneers who built the foundation to give us opportunities we have today. Second, to Honour our word so that we may be individuals worthy of trust. And third, to Honour one another by appreciating one another, understanding one another, and respecting differences in views as we build a common future.We Honour Our Pioneers
Last week, MOE held our pioneer tribute dinner to honour our pioneer educators, who laid the solid foundation of our education system. It was for me, a very moving and inspiring evening. The oldest educator we had in the room was Mrs Ambiavagar, who turned 100 this year. There were five others who were above 90 and many above 80. When I spoke to Mrs Ambiavagar, I appreciated what it meant to be an independent nation because she spoke of how, for many decades, every potential Asian head of the school was vetoed because we were not civilised enough. This foundation of our education system is an important legacy of our pioneers, but an even more important legacy is their pioneering spirit — a pioneering spirit founded on resourcefulness, resilience and responsibility. Our pioneer educators’ words and deeds have forged generations of citizens - good and worthy citizens of Singapore.
As part of our SG50 celebrations, the Pioneer Generation Package is a visible and meaningful way of honouring our pioneer generation, to express our appreciation for their contributions. While the material benefits of healthcare subsidies matter, the real meaning lies beyond that. The true meaning lies in honouring the values that built a multi-racial, multi-religious society out of a group of fragmented people with meagre resources, so that they could forge a national identity and build a better future together. Remarkably, this was done amidst all the uncertainties of internal divisions in our society and external tensions, including the Vietnam War, in our region then.
As our SG50 celebrations progress in the coming months, we will have many more stories, including many of your stories. Your stories will reflect these values that we should Honour, and which will serve to inspire us all. When we Honour our pioneers in this way, we Honour their spirit and values. The best way to Honour them is to live out these spirit and values, so that the next generation can take our society forward.We Honour Our Word
Let me now turn to Honouring our word.
When visitors come to Singapore, we often have them tour our HDB estates, view the URA masterplan, observe our education and healthcare systems, study the PUB’s water treatment technology, enjoy the city greening efforts of NParks, hold dialogues with our security forces, and hear about the work of the EDB and other institutions. While we can always be better, we can acknowledge our institutions have done well. It is not only government agencies, but also our business federations, unions, VWOs, self-help groups, and our arts and cultural organisations. While their success comes from careful thought and plain hard work, I believe there is something even deeper to explain Singapore’s progress over the last 50 years.
We are a people and a government whose word can be trusted, who can be relied upon to work hard and do our best, and who can be trusted to keep our promises and ensure the predictability in public policy which will make others feel safe for decades to come. Most fundamentally, we are a people whose word is our Honour; we are a people you can trust. This has brought us prosperity over the last 50 years as local and foreign investors took us at our word, and as union leaders, workers and employers work together in a relationship of trust to create fair and better outcomes for all.
In Our Singapore Conversation, participants constantly spoke about the importance of trust. We distilled the aspirations of Singaporeans for the future along five themes: trust, purpose, spirit, assurance and opportunities. Trust and Honour are inextricably interlinked, and we must continue to practise this virtue of Honour so that we will be found trustworthy for the next 50 years and beyond.We Honour One Another
I now come to Honouring one another. In the first phase of our nation building, we were confronted by a set of stark differences and fault lines. It took us decades of sound thinking and hard work to bridge these differences, to build up and expand on our common space. This is an achievement that we should Honour.
But we must never assume that these differences have been resolved once and for all. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic outbreak of World War I. As many thoughtful commentators have pointed out, the fault lines that led to this outbreak are still present, and the reverberations from the War 100 years ago are still felt in many societies, such as that in Ukraine today. Matters of race, language and religion are deeply visceral, and require constant vigilance. This is true for across the globe, and all the more so for small Singapore. But even as we forged deeper understanding of these issues, new differences are emerging - be it in attitudes towards sexual orientation, new migrants, social status or the distribution of wealth. How we manage differences - to ensure that these do not become new fault lines which polarise our society - this will be our critical challenge in the coming years. What we need is a keen sense of responsibility of acknowledging, accepting and respecting differences. That is how we Honour one another.
It is natural, indeed good, for Singaporeans to have diverse opinions. We are all thinking, rational beings and our differences in temperament and experiences naturally lead to differences in perspectives. This can contribute to our vibrancy as a society. We want a Singapore that gives maximum space for each of us to develop our ideas to the fullest, and at the same time allow space for others. We want different voices, and we hope that they all add to the shared dream of a common Singaporean future.
But it is not an easy thing to do. At some point, after we air our different perspectives, we have to bring everyone together to move forward in a fair and just way, in a way that protects the vulnerable, and that grows the opportunities and welfare of everyone. This cannot be a matter of one side winning and the other side losing. Rather, it is a matter of concerned, thinking citizens hearing and respecting other perspectives. We Honour one other by developing empathy, by trying to understand rather than waiting to be understood, by avoiding making judgement. The space to express our views is best coupled with a commitment for greater good.
We must work together to make differences productive, rather than divisive. One way of doing so is for us to advocate solutions, rather than positions. By agreeing on our common goals, we can derive better solutions if the different perspectives lead to a richer synthesis and more creative, robust solutions. If our starting point is a better Singapore for all, our different perspectives can be a source of strength. But if our starting point is a narrow advocacy of particular positions, the differences can become a source of division.
Certainly, there will be areas where differences cannot be easily bridged. But I hope we can altogether build a culture where it is the Singapore way for each of us to say, “I may not share your view, but I want to understand it, and I will try my utmost to Honour it.”
To do all these, we must have trust. Let our differences be respected, but more importantly let our trust, our empathy, and our commonalities grow. Let us Honour one another, and in that way Honour our society.Conclusion
Schools are one place in which we instil values, in partnership with parents and the broader community. In a world of flux, more than ever, we need to be anchored with timeless values that help guide our thoughts and actions, in ways that let us be better versions of ourselves, and to do our best for others around us.
Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) seeks to instil in our young the core values of respect, responsibility, resilience, care, integrity and harmony. These values are very closely related to, and underpin, the concept of Honour. We hope that these values are widely practised and deeply internalised. For this reason, we encourage students to understand the needs around them, initiate projects that meet these needs and uplift others, and reflect on their experiences. Through Values in Action programmes, I am optimistic that our young will grow up to be concerned and active citizens, who Honour their words and Honour others, and go on to develop a democracy of deeds.
Now, I think we must Honour the quiet leaders who brought us together this evening. I commend Honour (Singapore) for your initiative to promote a culture of honour and honouring in Singapore. I thank Siong Guan and his team for doing this. I feel very encouraged that we have a group of people, including all of you in this room, who act on their love for Singapore and concern for the well-being of succeeding generations. I am extra encouraged that so many of you are here to inaugurate this very worthy enterprise.
I look forward to following the progress of Honour (Singapore) as you promote a culture of Honour and Honouring for the well-being of Singapore. I wish Honour (Singapore) every success in your noble mission.
Schools may be relocated when there is low demand for school places in a particular estate, or when it is not feasible to upgrade the existing school facilities due to land and building constraints. To date, more than 120 schools have been relocated.
The name of a school is a part of the school identity. MOE has a School Naming Committee that oversees the naming process. In selecting the names of schools, the committee takes into account factors such as the identity of the school and the resonance of names with parents and the wider community.
Of the 120 schools that were relocated, over 80% have had their names retained. However, it not always possible to retain the name of the school. For instance, where the previous name was based on its location, it can result in confusion over its new location.
Where the previous school’s name is not used, efforts are made to document the history of the school and to display this at a heritage space in the new school building. This serves to inform and educate the new student cohorts of the school’s history and legacy. For example, Queenstown Primary School 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.
Where possible and appropriate, MOE would consider reviving old school names for new schools, including names that reflect the commitment of the community towards education through building schools in the early years of Singapore’s history.
I would like to assure the Member that MOE reviews and enhances the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue Languages (MTL) regularly. Arising from the recommendations made by the MTL Review Committee in 2010, we have been making steady progress in implementing measures to strengthen the motivation and proficiency of our students in learning the MTL.
We have re-designed instructional materials and improved teaching approaches to focus more strongly on interactive skills using authentic contexts to make learning as real as possible for students. Through the use of more authentic resources that students come across regularly in their daily lives, such as advertisements, online articles and video clips, students can become more active users of the language. By engaging students in more interactive activities, such as group discussions, debates, and role-plays, our teachers have also injected more fun into learning and helped students to hone their communication skills.
We have also made greater use of technology to make the learning of the language more authentic, collaborative and personalised. For example, we have developed the iMTL Portal for students to engage in authentic and collaborative language tasks, such as commenting on a news video and giving feedback to each other’s oral presentation. Students can even practise reading of certain passages at home with the portal and receive instant feedback from the speech evaluation engine on their narration. However, MOE recognises that efforts by schools alone are insufficient to make the Mother Tongue Languages a living language. We have thus been working with parents and community partners to provide a more immersive environment outside school that is conducive to the learning of MTL.
For example, our schools organise the Mother Tongue Fortnights annually, in collaboration with community organisations and stakeholders. During the Mother Tongue Fortnights, a variety of cultural activities are organised to stimulate students’ interest in the mother tongue and help them to learn in novel and exciting ways.
We have also set up the three MTL Promotion Committees to help garner the support of the community in promoting the teaching and learning of MTL beyond schools. By reaching out to more than 100,000 people each year, the activities of the MTL committees have helped to ensure that MTL remains a living language for students outside schools.
MOE and schools also collaborate with external organisations such as Singapore Press Holdings, National Library Board, National Heritage Board and clan associations to conduct a variety of programmes to help students apply their MTL skills in fun and meaningful ways. For example, we have a programme with National Heritage Board that prepares students to serve as museum guides, so that they can make use of their mother tongue to helping student visitors appreciate more fully the museum exhibits.
MOE will continue to review and improve approaches to the teaching and learning of mother tongue to ensure that our students remain motivated and proficient in learning the language.
Housing allowances are paid only to foreign teachers on Foreign Specialist Contracts. Foreign specialist contracts are offered to experienced foreign teachers who make up for shortages in unique expertise and add significant value to our programmes. They teach subjects such as the Humanities, Art and Music and foreign languages. They come from a range of countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Japan.
MOE is very selective about the offering of such contracts. There were an average of about 46 such teachers during the period April 2012 to December 2013, but over the years, we have been judicious in offering remuneration packages with housing allowances to foreign teachers. As such, these numbers are reducing. Currently, there are 31 such teachers employed by the Ministry.
In the last 5 years, an average of five staff in each year across all five AUs have had overall compensation packages of over $1 million. This number corresponds to around 0.03% of the 16,000 full-time staff and faculty members employed collectively by the five AUs.
The salaries of top management in foreign universities vary widely, with some far exceeding salary levels of top management here. However, we do not have the details of remuneration packages in other universities, and are therefore unable to make direct comparisons.
Today is a joyous occasion as we gather to witness another batch of scholars and teaching award holders commit yourselves to joining the noble profession of teaching. I extend my heartiest congratulations to our 204 scholarship and award recipients this year.Building on the foundation of our Pioneer Educators
Last evening, I had the privilege of spending the evening with a few hundred pioneer educators at a tribute dinner for our pioneer school leaders. It was inspiring to be in a room full of legendary former teachers and principals, people who have done much to build our education system and indeed our nation. Each one of them has a rich story to tell - if you have any pioneer educators in your family or neighbourhood, I encourage you to ask them for their stories. You will learn a lot about how our people, and our nation, were built.
The impact of our pioneer teachers, not just on individual students, but on our nation as a whole, cannot be overstated. Singapore’s early days were a time when we needed desperately to create opportunities for Singaporeans, and at the same time give young Singaporeans the values, knowledge and skills to seize the opportunities. Don’t forget that our pioneer educators themselves were young, learning on the job, sometimes teaching in the afternoon what they had just learnt themselves in the morning. Some of them were younger than you are now, when they had already started teaching.
But our pioneer educators were resourceful and resilient. They rallied together to raise a nation with the limited resources available to them then. In so doing, they laid the foundations for our nation to climb out of poverty towards progress and opportunity, and for our people to step forward with grit and ability.
It gives me great pleasure to share with you a few of their stories.
At the pioneer generation tribute event at the Istana earlier this year, I met Mrs Niva Dutt. Mrs Dutt is 74 years old. She was one of the pioneer teachers at National Junior College (NJC), which was Singapore’s first junior college. Back in the 1960s, there were four different language streams at the secondary school level but English was the de-facto language of instruction at NJC. Knowing that her students from the non-English streams were struggling with the English language, Mrs Dutt took it upon herself to conduct her Economics lectures twice for these students to make sure they understood the concepts.
Mrs Dutt later assumed principalship at Cedar Girls’ Secondary School. She deeply cared for her students, and this was evident in the way she ran the school. To ensure that no child started their school day hungry, she started the breakfast scheme, providing biscuits and Milo for students who had no breakfast at home. Mrs Dutt’s belief that every child is unique and should be given the opportunity to develop in their areas of interest also led her to develop a wide range of co-curricular activities. Her dedication to the welfare of her students and to the holistic development of each child - these are values that our education fraternity continue to hold dear today.
Another remarkable pioneer educator is Mr Abdul Rahman, who taught students at Kampung Pasir Malay School at Pulau Tekong. Every school day, rain or shine, Mr Abdul Rahman had to ride a boat from Changi Jetty to Pulau Tekong before taking a kampung taxi to his school. Back then, instructional materials written in Malay were scarce. To increase the learning resources available to his students, Mr Abdul made the effort to translate materials written in English Language into Malay for his students.
The additional work never deterred Mr Abdul Rahman. He was not just happy to go the extra mile, it was the most natural thing for him and many other pioneer teachers like him, to do whatever was needed to serve the learning needs of their students. Mr Abdul Rahman started teaching at age 18. Now he is 72, but still going strong as an educator. He now teaches at Montfort Junior School.
We continue to have shining examples of educators today, following in the footsteps of our pioneers. Ms Lim Chye Ling is a Head of Department at Kent Ridge Secondary School. She received the President’s Award for Teachers in 2013. Like Mrs Dutt many years ago, she initiated a Breakfast Programme at Kent Ridge. Her reasons were slightly different. These days, the nutrition issues that Mrs Dutt faced are no longer urgent. Instead, for Ms Lim, the breakfast sessions are a good chance for students to interact with their form teachers, year heads and school leaders.
Another example is Mr Yap Boon Chien, who received the President’s Award for Teachers in 2012. One of his students, Steven, was eager to be the Robotics Club president. While Steven had the potential to be a leader, Mr Yap also saw that Steven had to build up his relationship with his peers. So Mr Yap made it a point to coach Steven that being a leader was about serving others. Under Mr Yap’s guidance, Steven learnt the importance of humility. Eventually, Steven won the respect of his peers and served as the President of the Robotics Club for two years. Steven was so touched by this experience that he nominated Mr Yap for the President’s Award for Teachers.
Today, Mr Yap is a Lead Teacher at Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, and he guides and leads both his students and colleagues, helping them to reach their fullest potential. Mr Abdul Rahman, who has been teaching for 54 years, worked on language, while Mr Yap worked on values - both, despite the difference of decades, knew their students well, and put in the time and sweat to develop the lessons that would most benefit their students.
These are just some of the stories of how our educators shape lives and mould a nation. In the course of a teacher’s professional life, he or she can easily affect tens of thousands of young minds. The legacy of our pioneer educators was to make sure that impact was one of strength and character. Their legacy passes on to you today.Leaving Your Mark on Future Generations
Now, what do these stories mean for you? It is this: the next chapter of the story of Singapore education - indeed of Singapore itself - is for you to write. Through the years, no matter the changes in our advantages and challenges, our pioneer educators have told, and our educators today continue to tell, a rich and inspiring story. They pass on to you a tradition of resourcefulness, resilience, and responsibility; a mission of bringing out the best in every child; and a legacy of continually building and strengthening a nation to succeed against the odds.
Our pioneer educators thrived in a period of great uncertainty and volatility. The next fifty years for us will be similar - there will be a period of volalitilty, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity - but probably even more challenging because of the speed of technological changes and the speed of globalisation. In the midst of these challenges, it will be all the more important for teachers to help students develop the values and strength of character that will form their personal anchors in a world of flux.
Our pioneer teachers taught your parents to stand on their own feet and to stand tall. You will do the same, keeping the can-do spirit alive and strong. You will also need to teach your students to reach for the stars with one hand and extend a helping hand with the other. You can do this by helping them understand themselves well, appreciate their place in the world, and, most importantly, act on their love for and duty to their home and loved ones. I hope that, like your pioneer educators, you will see this as a call to action, as a challenge to innovate.
The next few years will be exciting years of discovery for you as you begin your tertiary education. Your minds will be stretched as you are exposed to the work of great minds and engage in conversations with your professors and fellow classmates. I encourage you to make the best use of these years. Deepen your knowledge, broaden your perspectives and reflect on the type of educator you want to become.
You are no longer just a student; you are on your way to becoming a future role model, a legacy-maker. Some of you are going to NIE next. I advise you to use this time to build your friendships and find your mentors. These are the people who will support and sustain you through your own teaching and learning journey.
It is a noble profession you will join. I hope you are very excited to join it. When you stand before your students one day soon, remember that your legacy will not be one of just brains. You will have a hand in the heart, soul, and spirit of your students. The torch passes now to you, to keep alive the nation-building legacy of our pioneers, to blaze new trails in your own pioneering spirit. The teacher’s privilege to impact many young lives comes with great responsibility. I am hopeful that you will uphold the trust that we all place on you.
Last night, there was one thing that the pioneer educators consistently told me. They said, “We were just focused on doing our job, and doing our job well. Now we look back and realise that we made a real impact.” Our pioneer educators were modest about their individual efforts. But a teacher’s impact on each young life is never small. And when you put all the work of our teachers together, they touched innumerable lives, and they collectively shaped the whole nation.
This is an important mission for all our young educators. I look forward to your great work ahead.