Ministry of Education: Committee of Supply 2018 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 5th March)

Psychology in Secondary School – Faisal Manap

The topics on building an innovative workforce and caring society have been discussed extensively in this house over the years. Many members have proposed and suggested measures and steps to be taken to achieve these two objectives.

In order to drive our society towards these goals, it is vital to create a system as well as ambience that allows and, more importantly, facilitate individuals to realize and maximize their potentials. One of the most effective way to do so is through our education system.

I would like to repeat my call to introduce the teaching of psychology in our secondary school which I have made twice in this chamber. Psychology in its broadest terms is the study of the human mind and behavior. It has many disciplines; personality, congnitive, behavioural, social, perception to name some. Individual who has acquired psychology knowledge will most likely able to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and also of those people around them. By knowing personal strengths and weaknesses, individual will be better equipped to work on maximizing their potentials and these will result in a boosted self-esteem and confidence. Naturally, a person who are motivated will be the one who will try to innovate and think out of the box.

Being aware of others through the learning psychology will contribute positively towards our ongoing effort in developing a more caring and gracious society. A person who is aware of the existence of different personalities and perspectives will be able to better apply acceptance, tolerance and respect these differences. These are very important values to embrace in making our society more caring and gracious.

Learning of human mind and behavior should be done at an appropriate learning stage of a child. According to Jean Piaget’s, a world renown French Psychologist, children between the age of 11-year-old and older, which he termed it as ‘Formal Operational Stage’, are able to use logic to solve problems, view the world around them, and plan for the future. Hence, I would like to urge the ministry to consider conducting a study to assess the feasibility to introduce psychology in secondary school as a component of Science subject.


Diverse Perspectives in School – Leon Perera

From my recent exchange with SMS Dr Puthucheary on MPs speaking in schools, and from information subsequently obtained, I am not 100% sure but it would seem that Government office-holders and grassroots advisors or GRAs can go into MOE schools to officiate at events, hold dialogues on national issues and interact with students.  But MPs in their MP capacity cannot. The SMS did not confirm this directly. I would like to ask MOE to now confirm if this is indeed correct.

That exchange was headlined in some media outlets as if I was advocating partisan politics in schools whereas the government wants to keep politics out of schools. That is incorrect.

What I am arguing for is that we should balance up the exposure that students already have to PAP MPs wearing their GRA or Ministerial hats. The key phrase in what I said is “both sides.”

Our students should be able to hear from and talk with members of Parliament who are not from the PAP.

Why? For two reasons.

Firstly, students should not be exposed to only one set of perspectives on national issues. Students should be able to hear first-hand, in their schools, the perspectives of duly elected non-PAP MPs on the issues of the day, be it our aging society, public finances or social policies. It is NOT an adequate response to this to say that students can access views on the internet. Exposing students to only one set of views from speakers in schools is unhealthy for the development of their critical faculties and their ability to see both sides of an issue. They should be able to pose questions and dialogue with elected public figures, both PAP and non-PAP.

Secondly, this blocks students from understanding the role played by elected MPs other than those from the PAP in our legislative process. MPs from all parties play a role in our legislative process that is enshrined in the Constitution, which our students study in school. Our students should have the opportunity to hear directly from non-PAP members of this House about their experience and the role they play in the national institution of Parliament and the legislative work it undertakes.

Surely it cannot be argued that Ministers and GRAs are by definition non-political when they talk to students but non-PAP MPs are by definition political? The same strictures on speech and behaviour can be applied to both groups when they go into schools. I believe that both groups should be allowed into schools but not to canvass for a Party, not to engage in partisan discussion, not to wear Party symbols and so on, ie to be consistent with Education (Schools) regulations section 111.

I know that non-PAP MPs can go into schools in their personal or professional capacity – indeed I have done that before – but in that capacity, they cannot have dialogues about their role in the legislative process whereas it would seem that PAP MPs can, wearing their Ministerial or GRA hats.

I have a second question. It appears that in the past, MPs could go into schools in their MP capacity. There are public references online to MPs having officiated at school events in the past as MPs. I am told that there are many plaques in schools recording that certain MPs opened a particular school facility. In former PAP MP Dr Ho Peng Kee’s memoirs, he writes on Pg 18: “I had made this call at many of the schools I spoke at during those early years as MP.”

I noted on at least two school’s websites that prior to 2011 or thereabouts, schools would acknowledge MPs but after that, the school referred only to Grassroots Advisors.

Would the MOE confirm if this change was indeed made in 2011 and if so why was this change made at that time?

In conclusion, firstly – will MOE consider allowing all MPs, including NMPs, into schools to be able to share their perspectives on public affairs and their role in the legislative process as MPs, all subject to the same strictures on speech and behaviour to keep out partisan politics?

Secondly, can MOE clarify when was the apparently long-standing policy to allow MPs into schools changed and why was it changed at that time?

We can pin labels that say PAP is by definition OK, non-PAP is by definition partisan and hence not. But does that serve the best interests of our students who will become the citizens of tomorrow? Let us not make this a conversation about labels. That is a circular argument. Let’s make this a conversation about our students, what’s best for them.


National Language Proficiency – Chen Show Mao


The budget speaks of plans for economic development that focus on regional cooperation in ASEAN.  Many members have spoken of the importance of our region to our future.  I agree with them. And actually, our region is not only important to our future, but also to our past and our sense of who we are and where we are rooted in the world.

Can we take the opportunity to complement these efforts in economic development with an increased focus in our school curriculum on teaching Bahasa Melayu?  It is our National language and a regional language.  Could we help those students who do not otherwise learn Malay in school attain some basic level of proficiency?

I know our children who do not otherwise learn Malay have a lot to do already in school, including learning English, Chinese or Tamil to ever higher levels of proficiency.  Many members have spoken of the importance of that, and they are right.  But Bahasa Melayu is our National language.  I believe it’d be to the good if all our children could learn it to some basic level of conversational fluency.  Such learning will be good for the cognitive and intellectual development of our children.  It will also protect and preserve our multiculturalism, and promote national integration and a sense of identity.

We currently have conversational third language programmes for Malay at the primary school level as enrichment (but not part of the regular curriculum).  As learning languages is best done when young, could the Ministry look into making the conversational third language programme part of the syllabus for our primary school students who do not otherwise learn our National language? Perhaps included as part of the regular curriculum for every primary school student, but without the pressure of exams?


MOE Stressed Students and Parents – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, I understand that the Ministry of Education has been retooling the education system to shift the unhealthy focus on academic competition to emphasize holistic education and the love of learning.

But a culture of “academic results focus” has already set in among the parents. We cannot blame the parents because they want to give the best to their children. They learned the culture from the old focus on academic competition, believing in the old paradigm of good grades and a linear path from elite primary schools to the top universities.

When they are faced with globalization and technological disruptions, they become even more anxious about making sure their children get the best start in life. When MOE rightly sought to improve pre-school education by setting up MOE kindergartens, some parents saw this as the new first stop to academic success.

It was reported that a study conducted by OECD to look at the connection between well-being and Pisa test achievement found Singapore students have high levels of anxiety compared to the OECD average. For example, 76 per cent of Singapore students reported feeling very anxious for a test even if they were well prepared, compared to the OECD average of 55 per cent. The students involved in the study were mostly Secondary 4 students. I hope the MOE could do a study to see whether this kind of anxiety is also affecting primary school children and also children in pre-school, so that we can learn how to mitigate the problem.

MOE should not stop to complete the transformation of the system despite these die-hard habits. It will take time to change such an entrenched culture. Meanwhile, MOE could also look into communicating and educating parents on the many pathways to success in the new economy, so as to lessen their anxiety and thus lessen the transfer of the anxiety to their children.


Nutritional Health – Daniel Goh

Chairman Sir, in recent years the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have been concerned about the nutritional health of school children in two aspects, namely, healthier food and a balanced diet to fight obesity and to get young people to adopt better eating habits. This is all good. I would like to ask the Minister what percentage of schools have adopted the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme since 2011 to date. Also, how much more are students paying for these healthy meals on average and are we making sure students from low income households can afford the meals?

Recently, there has been some public discussion about mealtimes as more schools move to single sessions. Parents are concerned that the children are eating late lunches in the mid-afternoon and not having enough time to eat snacks during recess time due to the scheduling of classes. While nutritionists say that there are no set hours for children to have their meals, they also advise that children should have three main meals and two to three snacks at regular hours. They should be eating every three hours. I understand that MOE leaves the schools to decide on their daily schedules. Nevertheless, MOE could reassure the public by conducting a survey of all schools on their meal and snack scheduling and provide an advisory for regular recess and lunch breaks to ensure students would never go hungry during the school day.


Social Mobility Indicators – Sylvia Lim 

In reply to a 2013 Parliamentary Question on measuring social mobility, the government highlighted only two types of metrics: percentages of Singaporeans who did not complete secondary education as well as post-secondary education, and growth in the median gross monthly income from work.

In contrast, some governments, notably the UK, have developed a dashboard of social mobility indicators based on a life-cycle framework. The objective is to make life chances more equal at the critical points for social mobility such as: early childhood development; school readiness at age five; secondary school attainment; opportunities for tertiary education; and getting into and on in the labour market.

I would like to ask the Minister for Education whether the government monitors indicators of critical points in a person’s development that contribute to mobility, such as early childhood development, and how do our current indicators compare with countries with comprehensive dashboards, such as the UK?