Friday 13 September 2013

Keeping pathways to success open to all Singaporeans: DPM Teo Chee Hean

The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2013

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke at the topping-out ceremony of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) last week. This is an edited excerpt.

EDUCATION was one of the three key areas that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong focused on in his National Day Rally speech last month, as he set out a new way forward to nation building. In setting out this road map, we want all Singaporeans to get a fair share in Singapore's progress, and to continue to have a stake in our future.

The transformations in education are key in keeping pathways open; and ensuring that Singapore remains a society where our people have every opportunity to improve themselves, from a young age, through their adult working years, and where they can succeed if they work hard, regardless of their background.

New pathways for all

THIS has been the Government's resolve since independence, but our situation has evolved. Today, there is not just one mountain to climb, using the same path. Instead, we have many pathways to choose from, leading to different peaks.

In education, we now have specialised schools in sports, mathematics and science, the arts, and science and technology. There are also opportunities to choose different careers, and to succeed in one's chosen field. So there are many peaks of success, and many different routes to get there.

We can aim for higher peaks as we access opportunities beyond our shores, even from our home base in Singapore. Singaporeans are not limited to climbing Bukit Timah, but are scaling Mount Everest. Singaporeans can strive to be the best in whatever we do, not just locally, regionally, but globally. But this means outcomes are more stretched out, which has given rise to a growing income gap in most developed countries, and in rapidly developing countries like China.

How do we design a system that allows Singaporeans to climb the highest peaks that they aspire to, while remaining an inclusive society which everyone feels a part of, sharing in the progress of our country? We must continue to keep the pathways to success open to all. And there is no more effective way of doing so than investing in education.

We try to level up the less advantaged, starting from a child's earliest years. By 2017, we will add 16,000 more pre-school places, to ensure that every child will have the best possible start in life.

We will make sure every school will remain open to students with no previous affiliation, and our top secondary schools draw in students who not only are academically bright, but also have passion and commitment, and a diverse range of abilities beyond the academic. Our post-secondary education landscape offers more variety than ever. Whether ITE (Institute of Technical Education), polytechnic or university, we want to build distinctive, "best in class" institutions, each offering something different and exciting - new pathways for Singaporeans.

Today, our education system is largely focused on pre-employment education and training. We also want to ensure that Singaporeans have opportunities to pursue their dreams, at different life stages. Already, many Singaporeans are taking advantage of education opportunities to upgrade themselves even as they work.

We will continue to expand options available through Continuing Education and Training (CET), and available CET training places.

We also need to explore the provision of more access to post- secondary education through more open pathways. There is scope for some of our institutes and programmes to have a more open admission system, taking into account other factors such as work experience, rather than just past academic results.

This is already being done, but we should study how more of it can be done, so more people will have the opportunity to try, and always feel that they have the opportunity to do so. The standards for graduation and for progressing from one level to the next should be maintained, so as to maintain the value of the qualification; but even if some students do not complete the full course, they could acquire useful knowledge and benefit from the experience.

Success ultimately depends on one's own effort and ability, but we must continue to keep pathways open at every stage of life, so that Singaporeans who work hard can fulfil their potential, excel, and have a better life.

SUTD is a good example of the Government's commitment to provide more educational pathways and opportunities for Singaporeans to pursue their dreams.

One team, one Singapore

SUTD demonstrates our willingness to experiment, to continually innovate in education. Its model features many exciting innovations in teaching and learning, and is distinctive in several significant ways.

Yet, it is not just about individual success but more importantly, how we do collectively as one team, as one Singapore. It is only by working together that we can provide the best and widest opportunities for each person, and better than if we each strived on our own, or against each other.

So those who have done well must help preserve the sense of community and common purpose by helping those who have not done as well, and thus maintain a fair and just society. Only then can we ensure that each new generation does better, just as we have done so over the past decades. This is the system that we have built, and which we must maintain for the future.

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