Ministry of Education Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 4 Mar 2019)

Building Resilience among Students – Leon Perera

Sir, our students are growing up in a world that will be very different from the one my generation grew up in. The low-hanging fruits of economic growth would have mostly been picked by the time they are grown up. Productivity-driven growth would be key. And what drives that?  Innovation, yes, but what lies behind innovation is experimentation, trial and error, the discipline to reflect on our experience to learn and to do better, and better, and better. Aldous Huxley wrote, “Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.”

That will be our young students’ – and our country’s – journey as adults.

And in that journey, failure is a friend and teacher, not something that should be avoided at all costs. Lionizing only success – or people who are only successful – may deter risk-taking.

Right now in schools, published class rankings have been dropped, there are awards for most improved students and participation in activities like competitions is recorded, even if it did not lead to victory.

Can we do more on two fronts to stoke the flames of resilience among our youth?

Firstly, recognise students who did not just bounce back from failure but also those who did reasonably well in spite of far greater odds than most students face. Such stories do surface in the media from time to time, and some schools have been known to highlight students who have this profile. But can we not entrench the showcasing of such examples as a regular practice in the cultural DNA in all schools?

Secondly, in Primary school social studies and Secondary school history, can we highlight more examples of inspiring figures – both globally and locally – who bounced back from failure, who did some good in spite of great odds and who were late bloomers in life. Not only big global and national heroes but “everyday heroes.”

Never under-estimate the power of stories. They can feed the rich tapestry of our children’s imagination and give them hope to rise up from failures one day in their lives. They can help them learn that people may put you down today. And tomorrow. But each of us should not only rise up from that but learn from that to become stronger, better people.


Special Tertiary Educational Needs Care – Daniel Goh

Chairman, last year I met a resident whose son had special educational needs. The young man had strong support from counsellors and teachers in his primary and secondary schools, and did well to graduate to a polytechnic. However, the transition to the polytechnic was too drastic. The same understanding and support from lecturers and administrators were lacking.

It seems that special educational needs (SEN) support has improved in primary and secondary schools, but there is a big jump when graduates go on to tertiary educational institutes. Unfortunately, the young man withdrew from the polytechnic because of the escalation of an incident.

The Ministry should look into increasing the capabilities and authority of SEN Support Offices at polytechnics. The SEN Support Office should be tasked to train and advise specific lecturers and staff members when there is an individual student with special educational needs enrolled in a department, so that support can be customised. The SEN Support Office should also be consulted when there are incidents involving students with special educational needs.


Hybrid Early Childhood Education – Daniel Goh

Chairman, the MOE Kindergarten programme seeks to provide affordable pre-school education and pilot teaching and learning resources focusing on holistic development.

Recently, a resident shared her concerns over sending her son to kindergarten as he suffered asthma and severe eczema. As the boy had difficulties attending kindergarten daily, she sought an alternative for the son to attend kindergarten a couple of days a week. For the rest of the week, she wanted to home-school her son using materials that she hoped the kindergarten would share with her.

I helped her to contact MOE Kindergartens, which was very helpful and open to discussing with the mother the options. In the end, the resident decided to look for other options due to the distance to the nearest MOE Kindergarten.

Nevertheless, this points to a need. Would MOE consider piloting a hybrid programme to cater to parents who wish to home-school their children part of the week? MOE Kindergartens can provide resources for home-schooling, as well as dedicated teacher support. This will make early children education accessible to all.


National Language Proficiency – Chen Show Mao

Sir, this budget speaks of strategic plans for building a strong and united Singapore. It’s important — a united Singapore is not only important to our future, but also to our sense of who we are and how we make our way in the world.

Can we take the opportunity to complement these efforts with an increased focus in our schools on teaching Bahasa Melayu to all our schoolchildren?  It is our National language and a language of the region in which we are rooted.  Can we help all our students attain some basic level of proficiency in our National Language?

Sir, last year I gave this same speech when the Budget spoke of plans for economic development that focus on regional cooperation in ASEAN.  This year again when the Budget speaks of strategic plans for building a strong and united Singapore.  Year after year — this is because teaching all our schoolchildren Bahasa Melayu speaks to many of our enduring values and hopes that Budgets try to address.

Learning Malay will be good for the cognitive and intellectual development of our children who learn it as a third language.  It will also protect and preserve our multiculturalism, and promote national integration and a sense of identity.

I understand we currently have conversational third language programmes for Malay at the primary school level as Enrichment (but not as 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 all our primary school students who do not otherwise learn Malay in school? Perhaps included as part of the regular curriculum for every primary school student, but without the pressure of exams?


Regional Studies Programme (RSP) – Faisal Manap

Sir, the Regional Studies Programme, RSP in short, and its scholarship was introduced in 2008. In ministry’s reply to my parliamentary question on this programme in September 2018, ‘the objective of the programme is to nurture a segment of non-Malays in each generation who are comfortably conversant in the Malay Language and able to engage regional countries effectively’. Under the current setting, only Malay and Bahasa Indonesia are being offered as a third language. It was also said by the ministry that apart from learning languages, ‘students also have the opportunities to experience school-based enrichment modules on Understanding Southeast Asia and participate in learning journeys as well as take part in cultural camps and immersion trips to Southeast Asian countries’.

In Minister Heng’s budget speech, he shared that the 10 economies of Asean are projected to become the fourth largest in the world by 2030 and working together with, Asean nations can maximise our potential.

As mentioned earlier, the objective of Regional Studies Programme is to nurture our students with the knowledge of our Asean counterpart’s cultures and practices so they are able engage regional countries effectively. Heading towards year 2030 where Asean are projected to be the fourth largest economy in the world, I believe the inclusion of other Asean languages in the Regional Studies Programme will be timely and a step in the right direction.


Fighting Absenteeism – Leon Perera

Sir, early intervention programs like Kidstart may flounder on the rocks of parental non-co-operation, an issue I have raised in this chamber before. How do we deal with this?

My parents were teachers in neighbourhood primary schools. I remember my mother’s stories about how some students would not turn up to school for days or weeks. And how she would go to their homes to follow-up. And she would tell us the stories of some of the families she met on those trips, who faced multiple challenges, often linked to poverty.

In Singapore, a 2015 media report cited in Karyawan in June 2018 (the magazine of the Association of Muslim Professionals), cited concern about high absenteeism rates among students from low-income families. Absenteeism can snowball and lead to a vicious cycle of disengagement, lack of confidence and worsening educational performance downstream.

One media report said that in 2017, 7.5 secondary school students out of every 1,000 were absent for 60 days or more without a valid reason. But this data does not appear to be published on a regular basis. I suggest, echoing the call made in the Karyawan article, that we compile and regularly publish statistics on long-term and chronic absenteeism in schools, so that as a society we can debate what more can be done to move the needle.

Well over 1,000 students are affected by chronic absenteeism in secondary schools alone, not counting primary school and pre-school. Clearly there is a need for co-ordinated social work interventions to address this problem among all levels of students, one that involves MOE and MSF working with schools and pre-school centres as well as VWOs and NGOs. We should not leave these kids behind.


Person-centric Learning Approach – Faisal Manap

There are several reasons that attribute to a student weak performance in his or her study such as learning ability and situational factors, to name a few. Some of these attributes are beyond ones’ control, whereas there are some, which can be managed and enhanced. One of such attributes is learning style.

Learning styles refer to differences in how people learn based on their preferences, strengths and weaknesses. The differences may pertain to various elements of the learning process such as taking in, comprehending, memorizing and recollecting information. Many observations suggest that the learning process is most effective when it is in line with our learning style preferences.

Sir, studies have shown that everyone has a mix of learning styles. Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles. Others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances.  There are also studies that suggest a person learning style is correlated to his or her personality.

Sir, I would like to suggest that the ministry conducts a feasibility study in implementing what I termed as a person-centric learning support program. This program can be conducted after school hours, maybe during remedial classes, for students who have not been performing well. A psychometric test such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or C-Vat shall be conducted for those non-performing students to find out their dominant learning styles. Through this identification process, students who have similar or near similar dominant style of learning can be grouped together and be supported with remedial lesson using the appropriate teaching method that can fit their dominant learning styles. I believe such targeted approach will be able to produce a more positive outcome in assisting our weak performing students.