Singapore Government Press Release
Media Relations Division, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
MITA Building, 140 Hill Street, 2nd Storey, Singapore 179369
Tel: 6837-9666





Dr Ng Eng Hen,

Minister for Manpower and 2nd Minister for Education


Mr Chan Soo Sen,

Minister of State for Education


Mr Hawazi Daipi,

Senior Parliamentary Secretary


General Lim Chuan Poh,

Permanent Secretary


Miss Seah Jiak Choo,

Director-General of Education




Ladies & Gentlemen,



To Light A Fire: Enabling Teachers, Nurturing Students


Opening Remarks

1��������� Many of you have told me how you were inspired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong�s inaugural National Day Rally Speech. I am sure all of you were also struck by the fact that a substantial portion of his speech was dedicated to Education. It was the strongest statement possible of the importance that Education holds for Singapore�s future. It is through Education that we will nurture and inspire the next generation of Singaporeans, and through their ideas, convictions and passions, will make the future of our country.


2��������� �Teach Less, Learn More� has caught the imagination of educationists, students and parents, and the public and media. It has lit a fire of its own. It also goes to the heart of what we are trying to do in education.


3��������� At the MOE Work Plan Seminar last year, we set out our priorities in education for the next few years. We set out to promote Innovation & Enterprise (I&E) in our schools, to better prepare our young for a changing and more complex future. I&E described the spirit of inquiry, and the tenacity, that we have to nurture in our students. It was also a call to all our teachers and stakeholders to re-look at the way we do things, and to reassess our assumptions and beliefs, so as to better realise the goals of an ability-driven education system.


4��������� I&E is a continuing journey, not a once-off task. We are introducing greater flexibility into our educational structures and curriculum. But at its core, I&E is about a qualitative change in the interactions between teachers and students, in and out of the classroom. It is about teaching less and learning more, about spurring independent thinking and learning, and about encouraging students to follow their passions. It requires that we reassess the �why� and the �how� of teaching and learning.


Consultation with Stakeholders

5��������� The initiatives I will be describing today are the result of many months of hard work by MOE officials, school leaders and teachers. We have consulted several hundred stakeholders in education over the last 6 months. Recently, we also started the Education Forum � a series of dialogue sessions with students, teachers and parents, to gather further feedback and ideas, and to bounce off some of the proposals MOE has been working on. We have had six such dialogues in recent weeks. We have also engaged another key set of stakeholders, our employers, through a newly established Industry Roundtable on Education. We brought in leading industry players, local and expatriate, to give us their considered views on the future economic landscape, and the skills and attitudes they feel Singaporeans will need to thrive in the future.


6��������� I will highlight some of the key ideas and suggestions that have surfaced from these several rounds of discussion.


A Robust System

7�������� But let me first state what must surely be obvious. We do not need to turn the cart over and start again.


8��������� We have a strong and robust education system, that has been a key source of competitive strength for Singapore. It is a key differentiator, something that still gives us an edge today over many other cities.Our teachers, parents and students live education seriously, and set high aspirations for themselves. We have avoided the large disparities in educational standards seen elsewhere, between schools for the privileged and those for the masses. All our schools are well-resourced, staffed with capable and reflective leaders, and well-motivated, thinking teachers.


9��������� We have therefore achieved high standards across the spectrum of abilities, allowing a large proportion of Singaporeans to proceed to a high quality post-secondary and tertiary education. The percentage of young Singaporeans per cohort who have university qualifications in fact rose from 22% in 1999 to almost 30% in 2002, and has risen further since.


10������� Much of what we have done in the past remains relevant to the future. But it is precisely the strength of our education system, the fact that our fundamentals are in good working order, that allows us to look ahead, identify the gaps that we need to close, set new directions, and move forward with confidence.


11������� We know that if we stick to all we have done in the past, and seek comfort in all our long-held assumptions and beliefs, we will not be fulfilling our mission of preparing our children, and Singapore, for the future. In a very real sense, we will not be nurturing a generation of Singaporeans who are able to break new ground and chart new directions for Singapore, instead of following what others before them have done.


Our Goals

12������� What are our goals in education? We want to nurture young Singaporeans with minds that keep enquiring, and a desire to use their energies to create a better society. We want to help every child find his own talents, and grow and emerge from school confident of his abilities. And we want our young to have the toughness, the �adversity quotient�, to face up to life�s demands and inevitable setbacks, and be willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.


13������� What�s critical as we go forward is that we respect all talents, and nurture diversity. We should positively encourage a diversity of talents-in intellectual fields, in the arts and sports, and in community endeavour. We should value people with irregular strengths, not make them regular. It is the irregular and unusual talents and ideas that give most great cities their energy and vitality.


14������� And above all, we should work to avoid a convergence of ideas, even as we foster an abiding loyalty to Singapore and an interest in seeing Singapore succeed. Convergence is always the danger when we are a small country, or just a city. It is how many other cities in history have faded away - because they converge and become closed systems where everyone thinks more or less alike. They lose the energy and vibrance that comes from having a diversity of approaches and ideas.


15������� To do this, we have to start young, encourage our children to question as they learn, and to experiment with new ways of doing things � not just follow the rest of the class. We have to allow a spread of ideas and learning habits, and not expect students to be fitted too closely to the curve.


16������� Diversity is also about the cultural channels we occupy.We must have minds that are tuned in to both the East and the West � China, India and South East Asia, as well as the US and Europe.That�s critical for Singapore�s future.We cannot be a western-oriented city in Asia, trying to get a lift from the rising wave of Asian prosperity. Nor can we be just another Asian city.We have to be an Asian city that is tuned in to both the East and the West, be part of both the East and the West, and open to their ideas. That�s our advantage, how we will be useful to both the East and the West, and how we will make our future.


Underlying Themes

17������� How do we achieve our goals in education? A number of themes keep recurring in the suggestions and ideas that have come up in our dialogues with students, teachers and parents. First, we have to gradually reduce the emphasis on examinations, and focus on a holistic education. Second, we have to give our students more choice in their studies, so that they can shape and enjoy their learning. Third, we have to do all we can to support our teachers, so as to help them bring quality and innovative practices into the classroom and school.


Reduce Over-emphasis on Exams

18������� Too much learning today is aimed at recalling facts and model answers for examinations.As journalist Poon Sing Wah observed in Zaobao recently, and as many of our Education Forum participants also expressed concern about, too many Singaporeans �study for the sake of examinations and forget everything when the examinations were over�. They also have little time and interest in reading beyond the examinable syllabus.


19������� It is not unique to Singapore. Students from China and India often tell us that the schools they came from were even more examination-oriented compared to what they find in Singapore.Just yesterday, The Straits Times reported that Shanghai schools were adopting a new Chinese Language textbook for ninth graders, which included the topic of romantic love. A 14 year old Shanghai girl commented that she was looking forward to it, as there were a lot of Hong Kong and Taiwanese dramas on TV and they were always talking about love. She said she needed to understand love and hoped to learn about it from the textbook. But a 15 year old boy had less romantic inclinations. He said he did not want too much of �all this love-related stuff� in the textbook, as �it�s not going to be in the examinations�.


20������� In Singapore as in other Asian countries, our exam-oriented system is matched by a growing tuition sector. In the last 4 years alone, the number of tutorial schools registered with MOE increased by 86%. According to an MOE survey, 50-60% of our upper primary students attended tuition in subjects that they were already performing well in.


21������� Our exams serve a key purpose in education. They are an anchor in our meritocratic system.They provide transparency in the system, and give parents and students confidence that access to a school or tertiary institution is based on merit-confidence which is often lacking in other systems. But we have to seek a new balance in education. We have to shift from our heavily examination-oriented system, if we are to achieve the goals in education that I described earlier and develop the critical life skills that our young need for the future. We must arouse a passion among our young for knowledge and learning that carries through life. We have to place equal emphasis on the non-academic curriculum, that will help them make the most of their years together in school, interacting, roughing it out with each other and making friendships. And most fundamentally, we have to accept and promote more diverse measures of merit, even if they cannot be summarised in a single score.


22������� Our more diverse school landscape, with Integrated Programme Schools, and the new Specialised Independent Schools, support this new orientation in education. So too will the new frameworks for admission into secondary schools, JCs and universities, which will allow students with achievements outside of their examinations to be given recognition. By the end of next year, some of our secondary schools will select 10-20% of their students on their own criteria, independent of the PSLE. The broadening of the school ranking framework, and move from point rankings to bandings of schools, will reinforce schools� desire to provide a holistic education to their students.


23������� The majority of parents and students support these changes. By changing what counts in education, and measuring success in more diverse ways, we will help parents take a broader perspective of education and allow our students to stay true to their interests and aspirations.


24������� But we also have to keep evolving our teaching and assessment methods, so that we reduce the need for students to memorise large amounts of information for their examinations. We have to encourage students to learn more actively and independently, and be less reliant on model answers and lecture notes. We cannot make this move in a big leap, but have to take meaningful steps to take us forward towards our goals in education. This will be �Major Works in Progress� for several years to come.


More Choice : Give Students More Room to Shape Their Own Learning

25������� The second theme that underpins the initiatives we are taking is that we should allow students more choice in their studies. It comes up consistently when we meet students and parents. We should allow our students more choice in the subjects they learn, particularly in secondary schools and JCs.


26������� We all know that students learn best when they enjoy their learning and are motivated to learn. But many students tell us that they take subjects that they qualify for, or which schools judge that they will score well in, rather than the subjects that they enjoy or wish to take. We should loosen up, and give more choice to students. We cannot constrain choices too much if we want to maximise the motivation to learn, and allow their learning to carry through life, beyond their examinations.


27������� There is another, broader reason why we should allow more choice in learning. We want our students to take the responsibility to shape their own choices in life, and as a generation, to shape the kind of Singapore they want for the future. It requires passion and a certain self-determination. If we keep telling them what they should do in school, which subject they will not score so well in and therefore should not study, or which CCA they qualify for, we are limiting the possibilities they can make for us in future.


Supporting Teachers

28������� The third theme is the importance of teachers in everything we want to achieve in education. It is the teachers who inspire our students to do more than the ordinary, or to go beyond what they can achieve with ease. It is teachers who take education beyond �filling a vessel with knowledge�, and who �light a fire� in our young. We will do more to help them in their mission.


29������� Several of the students who attended our Education Forum dialogues, when asked about the most rewarding part of their education, indeed highlighted the teachers who made the difference in their lives. Darin Cheong, now a student at ITE West, said his greatest reward was the teachers who took the time and effort to motivate him to study when he was in Assumption English School. They were always there with words of encouragement, telling him that wherever he might be, it would never be the end as long he had the right attitude. They were teachers who understood him and his friends in the Normal (Technical) Stream well, and sacrificed much of their free time to groom the students. I was touched by Darin�s love for his former teachers, Ng Chee Wai, Lim Fong Yew, Patrick Wong, and Ahmad Bin Salani.


30������� Likewise, Gregory Leong, a Sec 3 student at The Chinese High School, felt that his teachers made the difference. They were willing to hang out with their students and to learn together with them-as �co-learners� as he put it. And Mustafa Izzudin, now in his 4th year in NUS� University Scholars Programme and winner of the National Youth Achievement Gold Award in 2002 (amongst several other achievements), felt that his most rewarding experience in school was the dedicated teachers he had at St Patricks and Tampines Junior College. They taught him valuable lessons in life. As Mustafa said, this dedication of our teachers, spread across the system, is why you do not have to go to a top ranked school to do well in Singapore.


31������� Assistant Professor Mansoor Jalil, one of our top young scientists, now at NUS, told me he still remembered his maths teacher in Fowlie Primary School[1] who went beyond the mechanics of algebra to ensure his students had a basic understanding of the fundamentals. He also convinced Mansoor to set his sights high, which he did. Mansoor also recalled with fondness his Physics teacher at RI, who in his enthusiasm would go totally off-tangent in his lectures. He would go from discussing Newton's laws, that were in the textbooks, to something way off, such as the four fundamental forces of nature and how the weak and electromagnetic forces are actually one and the same. These lectures were what made learning memorable.As Mansoor put it, the main hindrance in his learning in secondary school was the factual overload and the rush to finish the syllabus and cram for the examinations. He felt it did little to stimulate higher thinking skills or prepare him for life after school. But it was the few inspiring teachers who captured his imagination.


32������� There are many other such stories of teachers inspiring students to probe more deeply, or simply giving their students confidence in themselves and motivating them to aim high. We must focus on supporting our teachers so that they can give off the best for their students.


33������� Let me now elaborate on the initiatives that we will undertake in the coming years to meet our goals in education. I will do so under our two key areas of focus: Enabling our Teachers, and Nurturing Students.


Enabling Teachers


34������� First of all, I would like to talk more about what we are doing for our teachers. We will enable our teachers, so that they can take education to a higher plane. We will provide them with more time and space to reflect on their teaching and innovate, and to motivate and inspire their students. We will also help them to build up their capabilities as teaching professionals.


More Teachers

35������� Let me start with our initiative to provide schools with more teachers. To do so without compromising on the quality of teacher recruited, we cannot rush. MOE will recruit about 2000 teachers every year to provide more teachers to primary schools, secondary schools and the JCs/CI over the next five years.[2]By 2010, primary and secondary schools will have about 10 more teachers than would otherwise have been the case. The JCs/CI will have the equivalent of 8 more teachers.


36������� MOE will not fix a template for how these teachers should be deployed within the school, for example whether class sizes should be reduced. We will leave it to the school leaders to decide, based on the profile and needs of each school. Our schools are already thinking actively about this. Some intend to adopt more flexible class arrangements, for example, parallel teaching where the class is split into two groups according to ability or understanding of a topic, and taught by two teachers.This is especially useful in primary schools, where students� abilities tend to be mixed. Another method involves pulling out the very weak or very able pupils for certain subjects or periods, while grouping the class together for other periods.


37������� With more teachers in schools, there could also be more time for teachers to plan their lessons and to adapt them to different groups of students. Schools can also offload experienced teachers in some teaching duties to enable them to mentor and guide beginning teachers. Or they may deploy teachers with specialised skills to develop new, school-based niche programmes.


38������� Importantly, teachers will also have more time to spend with their students. With more teachers, schools could meet the growing need to inculcate strong values in students, and help them develop character.


More Counsellors

39������� Besides having more teachers, we recognise that schools need more counselors. I am therefore pleased to announce that we will provide one full-time counselor to every secondary school, which is where the needs are greatest, by 2006. We will do so for all other schools by 2008. We will achieve this by training selected serving teachers, retired principals and teachers, and mid-career professionals to be counselors. In addition, we will also train 2 more teacher-counselors in our secondary schools.


40������� I should add that the provision of more counseling resources in schools does not remove the traditional responsibility that all teachers have to care for and guide their students. But the provision of additional counselors will certainly help teachers and schools manage the difficult and complex cases that require more time and effort.


More Manpower Grant for Schools

41������� We can also help our teachers by giving schools more money to hire additional staff. (This is on top of the additional trained teachers I mentioned earlier.)


42������� Teachers participating in the Education Forum told me that one of their biggest distractions from teaching their students was the administrative work that they had to do. These range from data-entry to event management responsibilities.Schools currently receive a manpower grant to help them hire additional manpower to help out in this regard. We will increase the grants to schools from next year, on average by about 50%. Schools can use the increase to get more clerical support, or hire additional relief teachers.


43������� We have also put in place an Adjunct Teacher Programme for schools to re-hire trained teachers who had left the profession. The scheme will start from next month. These Adjunct Teachers can have more flexible work arrangements than the current relief teaching scheme.


Programme for School-Based Excellence in Primary Schools

44������� There is another area where schools would benefit from having more resources, which is in developing niches of excellence in the school.


45������� This is especially desirable for our primary schools, which are currently relatively uniform compared to the more diverse landscape of offerings at our secondary schools and junior colleges. We will give greater support for primary schools that are trying to provide a richer and more unique educational experience for their students. Under a new programme for School-Based Excellence in Primary Schools, starting from Jan 2005, MOE will provide up to $100,000 to primary schools that demonstrate that they have strong school-based programmes that could benefit their students. The schools will have to demonstrate how they would like the use the additional funds in a meaningful and impactful way.


46������� Some primary schools aspire to enhance the role of aesthetics, to reinforce formal curriculum. Others are looking to develop new pedagogical approaches. Canberra Primary School, for instance, is conducting in-house training on �Human Dynamics� for its teachers to give them better insight into individual students� natural or preferred ways of absorbing, processing and retaining information. The teachers have used this know-how to develop new, customised teaching techniques.The school has seen results � the students are more confident and able to answer questions directly, even for those who were previously very shy.


47������� Under the Programme for School-based Excellence, primary schools that are ready will be able to inject additional quality into education, and develop distinct programmes to distinguish themselves.


Developing our Teachers Better

48������� We will to continue to provide more opportunities for teachers to develop themselves.MOE has developed a new Learning Framework for teachers that will guide them in their continual learning and development[3]. It outlines the key learning areas and milestone programmes that teachers would require in their various roles � as beginning teachers, experienced teachers, senior teachers, heads of department and thereon.


49������� A set of Professional Development Continuum Models (PDCM) has been developed by NIE in collaboration with MOE.The PDCM provides a structured path for teachers to obtain higher professional certification, including undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.Teachers can attain such advanced certification, by taking various accredited courses and selected in-service courses offered by MOE and NIE, such as the milestone programmes I just mentioned.


50������� Taken together, the Learning Framework incorporating the EPMS, PDCM and our current Milestone programmes will help take the collective professionalism of our teachers to a higher level.Teachers will be able to make decisions on their own learning plans and chart their professional development over the course of their careers.


Expanding Teacher Work Attachment (TWA)

51������� Other than formal professional development courses, teachers can also benefit from experiential learning, through our Teacher Work Attachment scheme. Last year, we announced that MOE will facilitate the build up of a network of contacts in the business and community sectors that teachers can choose for their work attachments.We are working with public sector and community organisations like, SAF, SPF, EDB, CDCs, Singhealth and National Health Group to offer placements throughout their organisations.We are also working with the business chambers to offer teachers a range of possible experiences, including attachments at SMEs.


52������� Besides local work attachment, we are also working at providing teachers with the opportunity for overseas teaching or work attachment.For overseas teaching, we will begin at the end of this year with short stints for some teachers in UK and China. For work attachments, we are currently partnering with NUS Enterprise, Citigroup and Cyberland Pte Ltd.[4] We already have a teacher in Silicon Valley through NUS Enterprise.Wee Siew Bee, a teacher from Tampines JC, wrote in the �Graduate� (a NUS publication) last month that her experience had been exhilarating. She had learnt to live and embrace diversity, and felt much better equipped to mentor her students on her return to Singapore.


53������� I am pleased at this point to announce that we will be collaborating with NUS Enterprise to expand the range of the Teacher Work Attachments that we currently offer.NUS Enterprise has to date formed 80 start-ups involved in Infocomm Technology, Bio-Technology, Engineering, and Publishing.


54������� This presents a wide range of exciting development opportunities for our teachers.Under this new scheme, teachers will spend at least one day per week for 6 months in a local startup before proceeding overseas for attachment. The experience will be an invaluable one in providing teachers with an authentic learning of attitude, skills and knowledge in I&E. Our students will benefit from the experiences of these teachers, by way of the fresh perspectives and buzz they will bring back to their classrooms.


Nurturing Students


55������� Let me now move on to talk about our initiatives for nurturing students. We have put in place the structures, processes and resources to help our students. We will now focus increasingly on the actual school experience of our students-on teaching less and learning more, on providing more choice and flexibility in their learning, and in inspiring them to take greater ownership of their learning.


Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM)

56������� We need to reduce the load on many of our students, by trimming our syllabuses wherever we can without losing the rigour of the education we provide. Schools should also evaluate how much homework we give to our students. But we must also review our pedagogic approaches, to go beyond a focus on tests and examinations.


Trimming Curriculum Requirements

57������� MOE will review and trim the school curriculum where we are able to do so without diluting students� preparedness for education at the tertiary level. This has to be a careful exercise. We expect to be able to trim 10-20% of secondary to pre-university curriculum on average in the next few years.


58������� Besides content reduction, we should relook at how we assess students.At the Junior College level, we have received regular feedback about how Project Work takes up more time than planned. Students feel that the assessment criteria are too detailed, requiring them to spend extensive time in documentation of virtually every process.They end up going through the hoops just to score points, without adequate benefit in learning.


59������� We will take this feedback and learn from it. We will loosen and broaden the assessment of Project Work. From next year, we will reduce the number of assessment criteria, to free up more time for our JC students to explore and collaborate, rather than spend a lot of time on documentation.


Reducing Homework

60������� There should also be a conscious effort in our schools not to overload students with homework. As Jeremy Lim, 14, wrote in Today on 8 Sep, "If students have so much [homework] to do, the quality of work may suffer. Learning can be difficult as work is done perfunctorily to meet the deadline." He said that if less homework is given, students would be able to learn more while doing their homework. "Otherwise they will just be running on a treadmill - doing a lot of work but not making any progress."


61������� St Margaret�s Primary School has a bold, school-wide approach to homework. Each teacher is given a weekly quota of one and a half hours to be used for homework for each class.In each class, the class monitress uses a corner of the white board to total up the time that different teachers were setting for homework that week. The result? The time spent on homework per day for each student dropped from an average of 2 hours to 1.3 hours � a 35% reduction.


62������� Mr Hoe Wee Meng, a Science teacher at Jurong Secondary School, related at one of our recent dialogue sessions that he had tried not giving any homework to his N(A) and N(T) students for a whole term.The students were instead assigned group work (which was to be completed in class) and given opportunities to work in the laboratories, hands-on lessons which they enjoyed.Wee Meng focused his energies on enabling his students to learn independently and to do so within the time given in school. In the end, he found the students managed to perform better in the common tests. Their pass rates went up, not down.


63������� These are encouraging examples, but not prescriptions. I would encourage all of you to work with your teachers to come up with your own school-based solutions to make learning more effective without overburdening our students. Homework will be more effective for some groups of students than others. But as we work out our solutions, we should bear in mind that �Teach Less, Learn More� cannot be a mechanical exercise. It is ultimately not about quantity, but about the quality of interaction between teacher and student. It is about �why� and �how� of teaching and learning.


New Teaching Approaches

64������� We have for some years now given schools the autonomy to integrate and create their own school-based curriculum and to introduce different pedagogical approaches. Some teachers and schools have taken this opportunity to see how we can help students learn more by actually teaching less.


65������� For example, at Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School, an enterprising Maths teacher, Eugene Tan, took a fundamental re-look at the secondary maths curriculum. He integrated the Additional and Elementary mathematics curriculum, similar to what JCs do for Further Maths and Maths C. He realised that if he put the advanced topics in vector from Additional mathematics and the more elementary topics in vectors from Elementary maths together and delivered them as a block, he could be more effective and the students could learn better. He did likewise for other related topics. The result? He saved 5 weeks over two years. He also found that his students absorbed their concepts better. Has he taught less and the students learnt more? I think he has.


66������� Eugene�s example gives me confidence that our schools and teachers, if given the appropriate support, can make �Teach Less, Learn More� a reality in our classrooms.


Giving Students Greater Say in Subject Choice

67������� Next, I will talk about encouraging our students to take the subjects they want to take, rather than those they qualify for. Currently, our students in secondary schools are limited in their subject choices by the courses they are in. At the end of Secondary 2, most schools will stream their Express students into either a pure science course or to a combined science course based on their exam results. Students in the Normal course also have a fixed plate of subject combinations to choose from.


68������� We should give our students more room to take the subjects that they are interested in, within the constraints of a school�s resources. I am glad to say several schools are doing so, even where students wish to take subjects which they may not be able to score very well in. Literature is a case in point. In CHIJ Katong Convent, for example, all students are allowed to offer Literature as a subject for study. Even Normal Technical students study Literature as a non-examination subject from Secondary One to Secondary Four. The school believes that the study of Literature will polish the students� English Language skills and develop a sensitivity to the strengths and foibles of human nature. To further enthuse its Normal Course students, the school collaborates with the Necessary Stage to make Literature real and exciting for their students through drama. The school calls this programme Development Through Drama (or DTD), and has seen some remarkable results in encouraging their students to speak up with confidence.It is therefore not surprising that 54% of Katong Convent�s Normal (Academic) students took English Literature as a full subject exam at their �O�-level exams last year, compared to the 5% nation-wide for Normal course students.


69������� Chinese Literature is a similar example, also perceived to be a difficult subject to score. But some schools are now actively encouraging their students to take the subject to have a better grasp of Chinese language and culture. Dunman High School for example seeks to immerse its students in Chinese culture so as to enthuse them into taking these subjects.


70������� Some JCs are already allowing their students greater choice in their subject combination. At Yishun Junior College, students are allowed to take whatever subject combinations they wish, without constraining them to choose between an Arts or Science combination. Temasek Junior College is also seeking to do this � since last year, they have allowed Arts students to take on science subject and vice versa. The response has been very good. Out of the 4 Arts classes, 3 have students offering a Science subject. Other JCs are also moving in this direction.


71������� We should give our students more choices in our schools, including secondary schools, so that they can pursue what they are interested in. I recognise that the practical constraints faced by some of the schools in offering more flexible combinations of subjects to their students are real. We do not currently have enough structural flexibility in terms of the numbers of classrooms and teachers to offer students the full range of subjects they want to take, in any combination they wish. But we can do more to loosen this up, even within the constraints of our resources.


Offering of New �O� Level Subjects

72������� We have also decided to allow certain secondary schools to offer new �O� level subject in addition to, or in place of an elective subject.For a start, we will allow schools to choose from the range of subjects offered by the Cambridge International Examinations group of �O� level syllabuses, which are currently not offered in our upper secondary curriculum. Some of the possible subjects include Economics, Computer Studies and Drama.This is one way to enable schools to establish curriculum niches of their own and differentiate themselves. Schools that are interested in offering new subjects can now approach MOE to discuss how best to implement this new flexibility.


73������� In the years further ahead, schools may also leverage on their strengths to develop new subjects in their curriculum niche areas. They may also partner with recognised Post-Secondary Educational Institutes to develop new subjects for �O� level students. For example, a school whose niche area is in the Life Sciences could develop the modules into an examinable �O� level subject.


74������� However, schools would need time to gain the necessary experience in running the module, build up the expertise and resources in curriculum development and establish networks with partners.Over time, I expect to see more diversity in subject choices for our secondary school students. It will help students to pursue their passions and interests, promote the irregular talent besides the regular, and add to the vibrance of our school system.


Offering of Non-Native Mother-Tongue Languages

75������� We will also allow more students to take a non-native Mother Tongue Language (MTL) as their third language.(Non-native MTL as a third language is currently offered through the Malay (Special Programme) (MSP) and Chinese (Special Programme) (CSP), which are optional O-level subjects.)The programmes are offered at Secondary One to students who meet certain criteria. For example these students need to be either in the top 10% of their PSLE cohort, or are within the 11-30% band in PSLE with an A* in MTL or Distinction in Higher MTL and at least an A in English Language.)


76������� The ability to speak a third language is useful, and will help young Singaporeans of all races operate effectively in the region and beyond. To facilitate more students learning a non-native mother tongue, the existing eligibility criteria will be lifted.From 2007, Sec One students will be allowed to offer another MTL in addition to their native MTL, as long as they have the interest and inclination.


77������� MOE will set up more Language Centres by 2007 to cater to increased demand, if needed. In the meantime, schools that have the resources and are ready may implement the refinement to the policy with effect from 2005.They can conduct lessons for their own 2005 Secondary One students who are interested in joining the Programme.


Greater Flexibility for Normal Course Students

78������� We will be doing the same for our students in the Normal course giving them more choices in the range of subjects they can offer, according to their interest and abilities. Since last year, our Normal (Academic) students have been allowed to take 1 to 2 �O�-level subjects, namely Maths and Mother Tongue, if they are strong in those subjects.


79������� This year, the first batch of students will be taking their �O�-levels. So far, the response has been very good. A total of 2,400 N(A) students will be taking their �O�-levels in at least one of the two subjects. This represents 23% of the entire cohort of N(A) students. They have been coping well. We will expand this flexibility in two ways.


80������� First, we are going to give more choices of �O�-level subjects to Normal (Academic) students, beyond just Maths and Mother Tongue. They can offer subjects from an expanded range of �O� level subjects, capped at 2 �O�-level subjects. This will give our students the choice to do the subjects they are strong in, to the best of their abilities. This will be implemented from 2006 for the Secondary 3 students then, with the first year of �O�-level exams in 2007.


81������� Further, we will extend this flexibility to our Normal (Technical) students to offer 1 to 2 Normal (Academic) subjects they are strong in. The intent is the same � to allow students who are able to do so the flexibility to advance their learning in that particular subject.


82������� Students, teachers and parents that we consulted were in favour of these changes. We will proceed carefully with these changes to ensure that students are able to cope with the demands of a more advanced or faster-paced curriculum, before we consider any further moves to increase the porosity between the different courses.


Normal (Technical) Curriculum Revision

83������� The next initiative is the revision of the Normal (Technical) curriculum itself by 2007. The new curriculum has been revised to focus more on practice-oriented learning, so as to better match N(T) students� approaches to learning. It will also serve to provide N(T) students with a firm foundation to continue their education at ITE. This will be done progressively from Secondary 1 to Secondary 4. We will retain an adequate overlap between the Sec 1 Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) syllabuses to enable students to switch courses more easily.


84������� The Normal (Technical) curriculum will also be enriched with Elective Modules (or EMs), which will be developed in collaboration with the ITEs and Polytechnics. The EMs could be designed to achieve various objectives - as an extension of what is learnt in current N(T) subjects, or as an introduction to a course of study in ITE, or an exposure to possible career paths.The EMs will provide our students greater choice, to help them find their interests and talents.


85������� Some schools have already started working with ITEs and other agencies to implement such electives for their N(T) students. Bukit Batok Secondary School is an example. It has already introduced electives in areas like stagecraft management, which teaches students lighting and sound engineering, stage design, costumes, and make-up. It has also introduced electives in music technology, which teaches students about the design of handphone ringtones; computer assembly, where students learn to assemble computers from scratch; and digital photography. These enrichment electives can be further developed into Elective Modules in the formal curriculum. Giving schools the resources to plan these EMs would enable them to provide more hands-on quality modules for their N(T) students. It will enrich their educational experience.


N(T) Lateral Transfer to N(A)

86������� We will also allow greater movement from N(T) to N(A) by opening up the possibility for lateral transfers between the courses. For N(T) students who have demonstrated the ability to join the academic course, we will provide greater flexibility by opening up opportunities for lateral transfers at each secondary level from 2005.Schools will decide which students to have done sufficiently well at their year-end N(T) exams to qualify for a lateral transfer to the N(A) course. The current bridge for transfers upwards, from Sec 1 N(T) to Sec 2 N(A), will remain unchanged.However from Sec 2 onwards, students will be laterally transferred. The revision will therefore require transferred students to spend an additional year in secondary school.This is needed to ensure that N(T) students transferring to the N(A) Course from Sec 2 onwards are adequately prepared for the rigour of the academic course.


87������� It is a pragmatic approach, because very few students have so far been able to successfully transfer out of Normal (Technical) to Normal (Academic) after Secondary 2 � the gap between the two courses is too wide to cross, if we were to transfer students to the next level up immediately. The lateral transfers will be more realistic. Of course, if schools do find an exceptionally strong Normal (Technical) student who would benefit from joining the Normal (Academic) course at a higher level, we would allow him to do so.


Motivating Our Students

88������� The changes we�re making to the N(A) and N(T) courses signal our commitment to a quality education for all our students in our schools. But it is again the teachers who make the difference for our students. Teachers who believe in their students. Teachers like Jared Oh, from Temasek Secondary School, who was interviewed on CNA�s �Get Real� programme recently. He said that at first, he would see the students in his N(T) class as very disruptive, very noisy, or very quiet students. But when he dug deeper and found out more about them, how they were at home and with friends, he discovered that they were no different from any other child except that they had a different approach to things, and learnt differently. He kept telling them that if they were persistent, they would be able to do well. I could see how the students behaved around him. He was clearly an inspiration to them.


89������� One of the parents in Education Forum, spoke about her son in the Normal (Technical) course in Whitley Secondary School. Many of the students in the class were not motivated. So what the form teacher, Mr Koh Seng Hock, did was to pull out one student at a time from the class each day. He put aside time to talk with each student, get to know him better, guide him and encouraged him to succeed. The parent told me that her son, like many other classmates, was a changed person. The dedication and determination of the teacher made a difference in his students� lives.



90������� We are making changes in our education system from a position of strength. The fact that our students by and large work hard and strive to do their best in school is a happy situation. In the UK, for instance, the situation is the reverse. A recent survey in north-eastern England revealed that nearly a third of the 15 year-olds said that they had been picked on by other students for doing well at school. Those who were hardworking, and who were considered by their teachers to be �normal�, were called �freaks� by their peers. The school culture has become so averse to hard-work and good results that teenagers deliberately fail their GCSE exams in order to be accepted by their peer groups. We should never let ourselves get into this sad state of affairs.


91������� The various initiatives I have announced today require the commitment of all our stakeholders in education-our teachers and students, our parents, and our employers and community leaders. We are making calculated moves forward, �crossing the river stone by stone� to use Deng Xiaoping�s phrase. But we must take bold steps, not tip-toe gingerly and keep looking back. We must be willing to move ahead with careful experiments in education, and learn and improve as we go.


92������� As school leaders, you play the key role in challenging and supporting our teachers, and shaping our schools for the future. Together with my colleagues at the Ministry, I look forward to working with you and your teachers to light a fire in our students. Do this well, and we will help the next generation make a Singapore that is vibrant and exciting in the decades ahead.







[1] The school has since been merged with 2 other primary schools to become Tanjong Katong Primary School.

[2] This will mean a net increase of 1000 primary school teachers, 1400 secondary school teachers and 550 JC/CI teachers.

[3] This framework, to be implemented in 2005, is aligned to the EPMS and maps out the training of teachers in 3 dimensions: Professional Practice, Personal Effectiveness and Leadership & Management.

[4] Citigroup has offered attachment places in Mumbai and Shanghai and Cyberland Pte Ltd in Brunei at the end of year.