Parliament No:13
Session No:1
Volume No:94
Sitting No:40
Sitting Date:07-03-2017
Section Name:Budget
Title:Committee of Supply – Head K (Ministry of Education)
MPs Speaking:The Minister for Education (Schools) (Mr Ng Chee Meng), The Minister of State for Education (Dr Janil Puthucheary), Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast), Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member), The Chairman (Mdm Halimah Yacob), Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied), Miss Cheng Li Hui (Tampines), Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member), Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied), Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol), Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong), Mr Thomas Chua Kee Seng (Nominated Member), Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong), Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio), Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai, The Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (Mr Ong Ye Kung), The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Education (Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim), The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Education (Ms Low Yen Ling), Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng (Jalan Besar), Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Png Eng Huat

Committee of Supply – Head K (Ministry of Education)

Head K (cont) –

Resumption of Debate on Question [6 March 2017],

"That the total sum to be allocated for Head K of the Estimates to be reduced by $100." – [Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng].

Question again proposed.

The Minister for Education (Schools) (Mr Ng Chee Meng): Mdm Chair, Members have raised pertinent questions about our school system and how we are preparing our students for the future.

Education is a key strength of our society and economy. Our school system produces good educational outcomes, and is internationally respected. It is inclusive and ensures that all young Singaporeans, regardless of background, have access to good educational opportunities.

Our students have done very well in international studies such as TIMSS and PISA, which emphasise application, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

We take a long view of education, constantly reviewing what and how we teach to cater to the aspirations and needs of our students, and the needs of our economy. For example, we are focusing more on 21st Century Competencies such as critical and inventive thinking, and soft skills such as communication skills and cultural awareness.

At the core of our education are values and character. They anchor and guide our students in navigating the uncertainties and challenges of the future.

Last year, we introduced daily cleaning in schools to instil in our children a stronger sense of personal and social responsibility. I am glad this has been well-received by parents and educators alike.

We owe a big part of our success to our professional and dedicated educators. Every time I meet them, I see them always strive to bring out the best in every child, and never failing to impress me with their ideas and hard work. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our principals, teachers, past and present, for putting so much heart into all that they do.

Our mission in MOE is to mould the future of the nation by moulding the people who will determine the future of the nation. This is not just MOE’s work, but the collective work of educators, parents and the wider community. Together, we want to build in our children a strong foundation of knowledge, skills and values that will enable them to chase their dreams.

Debates on how we are changing our education system, like this one here today, will become more important, as the world is changing at an unprecedented rate.

Ms Denise Phua asked how we will help schools, educators and students respond to a VUCA world. In my conversations with employers, parents and educators, many are likewise concerned and want to know how the education system will better prepare our young for the future.

The Committee for Future Economy (CFE) recently outlined a roadmap on how we need to evolve to meet the economic challenges of the future. What do all these structural shifts mean for our young, and for education?

In the area of knowledge and skills, our young need to develop deep skills and to continue to update these skills and acquire new ones to stay relevant. Lifelong learning is key.

In terms of qualities and attitudes, they have to be more adaptable to re-skill themselves as needed. They have to be more resilient to navigate changes and uncertainties ahead. They also have to be more enterprising so that they can innovate and create value.

By making a big push towards lifelong learning, we have already started to lay the groundwork for the changes ahead.

Last year, Minister Ong and I talked about making a paradigm shift away from an over-emphasis on academic grades, to focus on holistic education. While academic excellence is a key strength of our system, it should not be over-emphasised, at the expense of other meaningful activities.

Let me share the broad directions I have set for our schools to better prepare our children for the future.

First, we must nurture the joy of learning in our children. This intrinsic motivation will drive them forward to explore and discover their interests and passions.

Second, develop in them an entrepreneurial dare, so they will go beyond the classroom, apply their learning to real world contexts and pursue their passions.

Third, develop deep skills and expertise. Minister Ong will outline our plans in the higher education landscape, to enable learning at every stage of life.

To support these plans, we must lay strong foundations in school and help our students develop their passions into strengths and to their fullest potential.

Fourth, all of these efforts must be founded upon sound values and character. I agree with Dr Intan completely. We want to nurture individuals who are not only successful, but also committed to their family, to serving the community and to Singapore’s future.

Lastly, we must continue to ensure equal access to opportunities for all, regardless of their backgrounds.

Let me elaborate on the joy of learning: we believe in nurturing the joy of learning so that every child can discover his interests, grow his passions and love what he is doing. School should not just be about doing well in exams. It should be an exciting place to acquire knowledge and skills, where learning is fun and with the necessary rigour.

How are our schools changing our teaching practices and methods to foster joyful learning? We have taken two key approaches.

One, we are encouraging learning through play at the start of every child’s education. When I visit schools, I am always delighted to see how engaged and energised our Primary school students are, when they learn not only in the classroom, but also through lessons in the school gardens, through field trips and outdoor games – and all the different things that I did not have the opportunity to do.

The Programme for Active Learning in every Primary school provides varied and fun learning experiences, combining classroom learning with outdoor activities to stimulate interest and curiosity.

Two, we are encouraging more applied learning among our upper Primary and Secondary school students, so they do not just learn theories, but get to apply learning to real world contexts. This makes learning come alive and sows the seeds for innovation; from Primary school onwards.

Beyond the classroom, students can explore further afield through Applied Learning Programmes, such as in robotics, food sciences, media communications, arts and music, and through many, many other avenues. Through these hands-on activities, sometimes even employing modern technologies, students’ learning takes on real-world meaning and relevance.

In these ways, students find joy in learning and are intrinsically motivated to learn; not just for examinations.

I share Ms Denise Phua’s concern about tuition and thank her for her suggestions. Excessive tuition, especially when the child is already doing well, can erode the joy of learning. Children need to have more unstructured space to play, to grow their imagination, creativity and socio-emotional skills. If a child spends too much time on tuition, his holistic development can be impacted.

Excessive tuition can also develop a crutch mentality in our students. This stands in the way of what we want to do to teach them: self-management, self-responsibility and self-reliance in learning.

I fully understand that parents want to give the best support to help their children do well in their studies. I am a parent too. But we need to find a balance, at each age. As a parent, it is not easy to learn when to step forward to assist our children, or when to step back so they learn independence and self-reliance. Parents like me need to find the balance, and I hope all parents would.

In schools, we are calibrating this balance carefully. We are developing an online portal for all students to support their self-paced learning and revision. Not yet an e-campus, but we are working towards that.

For those students who require extra help, we provide levelling-up programmes in smaller groups, and remedial and consultation sessions outside of lesson time.

We will also continue to partner self-help groups in the community who have done good work in providing subsidised tutoring to those in need.

But not all students who go for tuition actually need it. Some are already doing well in school. What truly fuels the tuition industry is an unhealthy over-emphasis on academic results that we all need to move away from.

Changes to the PSLE scoring system, as I have announced last year, are a step in this direction. From 2021 onwards, the PSLE T-score will be replaced with wider Achievement Levels and pupils will be assessed independently of how their peers fare.

Making this paradigm shift towards a more holistic education for our children is not easy and will not be easy.

I agree with Mr Lim Biow Chuan that we should not set overly high standards for school examinations. We guide schools and provide training and resources to teachers, to help them pitch school-based assessments closer to the standards of the national examinations.

I would also like to assure Dr Tan Wu Meng that we have taken active steps to simplify the language used to set mathematics problems in national examinations. Schools also take care to pitch the language used in their assessments appropriately to avoid penalising students who are weaker in English.

While schools will do their part, parents, I suggest, would also need to make judicious choices, taking into consideration the child’s total needs. I am glad to see a gradual mindset change among parents. More are starting to see the value of creating informal, unstructured learning spaces for their children.

I look forward very much to deepening this partnership with parents to cultivate and sustain this joy of learning in our children.

Finding passion is good but we need to do more. We need to help our students develop an entrepreneurial dare so that they will apply what they learn, act on their passions and pursue them.

Mr Dennis Tan spoke about promoting entrepreneurship in schools. Our students are exposed to Business and Entrepreneurship through CCAs and Applied Learning.

My vision for entrepreneurial dare, however, is broader and goes beyond encouraging entrepreneurship. It is not simply about promoting businesses or start-ups. Rather, entrepreneurial dare is an attitude, a mind-set of pushing boundaries, of wanting to innovate and finding a breakthrough. It applies across all domains, not just in business and enterprises, but also in scientific research, engineering and the arts. So, it is not about the mechanics of entrepreneurship but a broader foundation to equip our students with that entrepreneurial dare to push boundaries.

Being "entrepreneurial" is about having a spirit of enterprise. An enterprising person is able to quickly analyse across complex issues and identify problems and gaps, develop new ideas, seize opportunities and take action.

To "dare", resilience is key. Because it is often the fear of failure that holds us back. If we are confident of being able to bounce back, I think more of us will have the resilience to "try, fail, try again" until we succeed.

To "dare", adaptability is also key. Adaptability enables us to quickly innovate to seize the opportunities or respond to the challenges that may crop up.

Some employers I have spoken to tell me they want to see more entrepreneurial dare in our students. They say our students are smart, but some are afraid to embrace risks in trying new things, or new ways of doing things.

Because it is easy to become hemmed in by our own successes, we must try to help our children venture out of their comfort zones and fail-safe modes. Having entrepreneurial dare is all the more important as we enter uncharted waters ahead.

To cultivate this entrepreneurial dare, we need to infuse it into our students’ education journey and create an environment, where trying is encouraged, and failing is accepted as a step towards success and as part of our overall learning.

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Outdoor education is one key way to nurture this entrepreneurial dare because it promotes many of the traits required. Apart from being fun, outdoor education and adventure build character and qualities, such as resilience, tenacity, leadership, teamwork, grit and adaptability, all of which help to foster entrepreneurial dare.

This year, I am happy to see that Secondary 3 students from 28 schools will take part in the new five-day MOE-Outward Bound School programme. In fact, I joined some of them recently. I joined students from Whitley Secondary School and Tanjong Katong Girls’ School when they were at OBS. Most of them tell me OBS is fun, and they also say that it is challenging. They shared, however, that whether out at sea or in the forest, they are often pushed to the limit, physically and mentally.

In those unfamiliar environment, they had to learn to draw on each other’s strengths to overcome challenges. They have to either try and persevere or remain stuck in uncomfortable situations. Through these experiences, they tell me they learned to rough it out and emerge together tougher, more confident and resilient.

I am glad to see the MOE-OBS programme developing well. Having nurtured a strong team of passionate and qualified outdoor adventure educators, we are on track to make this programme a common experience for all Secondary 3 students from 2020.

Parents who got a taster of outdoor activities at MOE’s Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres have also given us very positive feedback. They see how outdoor education can develop resilience and a can-do spirit in their children, and are glad that we are investing in this area.

Mr Png Eng Huat asked how we will support and promote sports in schools. Across all levels, we have increased PE lessons to at least two hours per week. Students learn how to play a wide range of sports in PE and participate in inter-class games. Those who are interested can also get into the more vibrant sports scenes that we have engendered in the schools. Today, we have more than 60 sports CCAs being offered across our schools. Each year, more than 55,000 student athletes participate in the numerous sporting events in the National School Games.

We are also committed to developing sporting strengths. MOE’s Junior Sports Academy selects Primary school students with a high natural ability in sports, and grows their talent from a young age. If I recall correctly, it is in the region of 400 to 500 of these young Primary school students that will join this Academy.

Applied learning is another way to nurture entrepreneurial dare. We will continue to create more informal, less structured learning spaces, both within and outside of the classroom, for our children to explore and discover the world.

Last year, Teck Whye Secondary celebrated its 50th anniversary. When I visited, Teck Whyeans proudly showed me a golden orchid? Why? Because the golden orchid was actually developed by Teck Whyeans − Secondary school kids. They wanted to have this golden orchid to celebrate 50 years of the school's founding. It took them five years and five different graduating cohorts to breed this golden orchid and, in the process, learn the science of plant genetics.

It took leadership and teamwork across cohorts, with seniors passing this project on to their juniors when they graduated. It took many rounds of trying and failing. But when the students eventually succeeded, they were thrilled and immensely proud to present the golden orchid to the school. When I visited last year, I could see their pride and joy. They showed me what our students can achieve when they can combine academic rigour in our system with the joy of learning, and a dose of entrepreneurial dare.

This simple project of experimentation goes to show the important roles our schools can play in nurturing these qualities. MOE is studying how to build on these good practices to further infuse the joy of learning and entrepreneurial dare in our curriculum and teaching practices.

However, there is no silver bullet or any easy one way to foster the joy of learning, entrepreneurial dare, and reduce the over-emphasis on academic results. But as we move in this direction, I hope parents, the wider community and this House will continue to support us in helping our young to discover and pursue their passions. It is passion that will sustain our children throughout their education journey. Fuelled by passion, our young can better meet their aspirations and contribute to the future economy as holistic individuals and lifelong learners.

Members are interested to know how we will prepare our students for the growth opportunities that the CFE has painted in the region and worldwide. To do this, we are committed to developing strengths in every student. If they are good at something, we want to help them hone their strengths into deep knowledge and skills. By tapping on these strengths and the strong foundations laid in schools, they will be empowered across the multiple post-Secondary pathways available.

Our strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and bilingual education provide a good base for students to discover their talents and develop their skills. Our young will need deep skills and expertise to harness technology in the future economy.

I met some Singaporeans in Silicon Valley during a recent study trip. They told me that they had always been interested in technology. But interest alone was not enough. What enabled them to pursue their successful careers in Silicon Valley is the strong core of technical skills and knowledge that they had acquired back home in Singapore. Our bilingual education also builds strong communication skills that our students can use to connect across cultures, while rooting them in their cultural identity. For those who build this into a strength, they will be well-positioned to seize opportunities in ASEAN, China, India and across the world.

Several Members have asked how we will strengthen our mother tongue languages and cultures, and whether we should consider introducing regional languages in our curriculum. Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling and Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim will address some of these issues later. They will highlight how we are making our Mother Tongue Languages come alive to ignite students’ interest.

Because every child is unique and has different aptitudes and learning pace, we need to give our young people different options and diverse paths. Let me share how we will do this better on this front.

Students have different strengths across their subjects. This is why we offer some flexibility for Secondary school students in the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses to take their stronger subjects at a higher academic level.

Today, it is not uncommon for upper Secondary students in Normal (Academic) course to take one or two subjects at Express level. Those in Normal (Technical), likewise, can take subjects at Normal (Academic) level.

In 2014, we extended this flexibility to the lower Secondary students in 12 prototype schools. Students who have done well in specific subjects at PSLE or in Secondary school examinations have the option to take these subjects at a higher level earlier, from Secondary 1, and not only from Secondary 3.

We call this flexibility Subject-Based Banding. Not only does this help them deepen their learning in their areas of strengths, it also helps our students build confidence, and opens up new post-Secondary possibilities for them. We have since learnt from the prototype experience and are ready to extend this to all Secondary schools. By 2018, we will implement Subject-Based Banding for Secondary 1 students in all Secondary schools that offer the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses.

Dr Intan asked if we should do away with streaming. I know that there are concerns that streaming can inadvertently discourage some students. But we also know, as Dr Intan has acknowledged, too, that it has served our students well.

The three courses – Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) – have catered to the different learning needs and pace of our students, and have succeeded in keeping students engaged in schools. This allows them to progress as far as possible in their studies and, as a result, our attrition rates today are very, very low, at less than 1%, compared to 30%-40% at the start of our education journey.

Nevertheless, I recognise that we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. We have increased porosity across the various courses. For the late bloomers, they can transfer to a more demanding course if they are able to cope with the academic requirements of the course. For students with uneven strengths across the subjects, they can stretch themselves in their areas of strength through subject-based banding.

These are all ways to ensure that our students are not held back but are instead better supported in realising their potential.

I recently met some girls from CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent, who shared how they have benefitted from Subject-Based Banding. They told me that taking one or two subjects at a higher level has boosted their confidence in learning and also helped them realise their potential across subjects.

Catrice Gan, who is in the Normal (Academic) course, took English at Express level when she was in Secondary 1 and enjoyed herself very much in that class, so much so that the experience made her a more confident learner, and she improved in her Mathematics and was later offered to study Mathematics at Express Level as well. She told me she never imagined this could happen because Mathematics was her weakest subject in PSLE. Now in Secondary 3, she is looking forward to taking both English and Mathematics at O-Level.

The girls admitted also that adjusting to this faster pace of learning was not always easy. Their teachers and parents provided a lot of support to help them adjust. Some of them told me they gave it a good shot but, eventually, decided not to continue. Still, they told me that it was a good learning experience for them, and they were glad to be given this opportunity to try. Hearing the girls’ positive experiences, I am glad that, by 2018, we will be able to expand Subject-Based Banding to all schools, to benefit more students.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Edwin Tong asked about appeal transfers after the Secondary 1 Posting Exercise. Our transfer process must be fair and transparent. The Secondary 1 Posting Exercise is conducted based on PSLE performance. Hence, principals will consider appeals only if the student has met the school’s cut-off point.

For those who do not meet the cut-off point, flexibility will be exercised if they have medical or special needs, or if there are exceptional circumstances. Over 400 of our students appealed successfully and obtained a school transfer, according to their school preferences.

Our Secondary schools do not only admit students based on cut-off points. The Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was set up to allow schools to recognise and admit students based on a more diverse range of talents and achievements, beyond what the PSLE recognises.

Many students take up the DSA because they want to further nurture their talents and strengths through specific programmes in schools.

At St Theresa’s, I saw how hard the Theresian hockey team fought to win a friendly match. A few hockey players I saw told me they joined the school via DSA, because they had fallen in love with hockey at Primary school, and wanted to further develop their talent, through the strong hockey team at St Theresa’s.

Like the Theresians who chased their passion, Kirshann Venu Das joined Evergreen Secondary via DSA. He wanted to nurture his passion and talent in English through their Communication Programme. When Kirshann was in Secondary 2, he won the Silver medal at the National Schools Literature Festival Poetry Slam. Now a JC2 student, he continues his passion of studying Literature at A-Level and conducts public poetry recitals at school.

These examples illustrate the intent of our DSA scheme and how students have benefitted by taking ownership of their education choices.

Mr Ang Wei Neng asked for a breakdown of the DSA admission numbers in 2016. I would like to first clarify that schools received 16,000 applications last year, with some students applying to more than one school. That means many students actually made multiple applications. So, eventually, a total of 2,800 students were admitted to Secondary school via DSA, half of which were to the Integrated Programme (IP). This is not surprising, given that IP schools have full discretion in admission, while the majority of our Secondary schools can only set aside 5%, 10% or 20% of their Secondary 1 intake for DSA places today, depending on the type of school.

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Our schools – I agree with Mr Ang – have robust distinctive programmes. For example, the Applied Learning Programmes and the Learning for Life Programmes are designed in consultation with industry partners to offer more authentic learning experiences so that we can do more to help students take advantage of these programmes via DSA, in all schools to pursue their interests.

Starting from 2018, we will expand the number of DSA places so that all Secondary schools can admit up to 20% of their Secondary 1, non-IP intake via DSA. With this expansion, students can better access schools with suitable programmes via DSA, to nurture their strengths, talents and interests.

As Mr Edwin Tong has pointed out, DSA should not be seen as an entry ticket to popular schools, but it is also a mutual commitment between the school and the student, and the child will have to complete the DSA application process before the release of the PSLE results. We will also make changes to DSA processes. First, we will refine DSA selection.

Today, all applicants who apply for a particular DSA category in a school go through the same selection that is open and merit-based. The selection matches a student’s strengths and interests to a school’s talent development programmes, and ensures that students are able to cope with the academic rigour of the school’s programmes. We will start refining the DSA selection from this year to better achieve the objectives of the DSA. Schools will focus on identifying students with specific talents and move away from recognising strong general academic abilities.

As Mr Edwin Tong and some parents have rightly pointed out, students with strong general academic abilities would already be able to qualify for the school with their PSLE results. As part of this refinement, schools will discontinue the use of general academic ability tests in DSA selection by 2018. These tests are used by some schools as a standardised assessment of applicants’ general reasoning and problem-solving skills. While they allow for a comparison of students’ abilities, they also inadvertently put undue focus on general academic abilities, rather than identifying specific strengths. Schools will continue to focus on identifying sporting talent, artistic talent, or academic talent in specific domains, for instance, the languages, Maths or Science.

Schools can conduct their selection via a range of assessment tools, including interviews, trials, auditions and subject tests. They will also consider the applicant’s overall portfolio and achievements.

A second change we will make is to simplify the DSA application process. Today, students have to apply to individual schools, each with their own application processes. From the 2019 DSA Exercise onwards, students will be able to submit their applications through a centralised online application portal, using a common application form. Schools will also have to put out clear information about the DSA categories and selection criteria on their websites. This will help students and parents make better informed choices.

I look forward to seeing more Primary school students take up these increased opportunities to develop their strengths in a more holistic fashion.

As we improve our education system, we will continue to ensure that it remains open and inclusive, such that every child will have access to a quality education. This inclusiveness and openness should not be taken for granted. In many countries, parents are not optimistic that their children will have a good education if they come from the lower socio-economic quartiles. In Singapore, this is not the case. In the 2015 PISA results, about half of our Singaporean students in the bottom socio-economic quarter were found to be resilient, performing better than what their socio-economic status would otherwise predict. This is almost twice the OECD average.

We must continue to ensure open access to opportunities for all students, regardless of their backgrounds. Last year, we announced that we will include children with moderate to severe Special Educational Needs in the Compulsory Education (CE) Act. Minister of State Janil Puthucheary will share more on this later.

In 2015, we enhanced the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) to include a transport subsidy, in the form of a $120 public transport credit or a 50% subsidy for their school bus fee. In 2016, we also doubled the overall meal subsidy provision, from $270 to $520 per year for every Primary school student on FAS, to support more meals and at a higher value.

Mr Png Eng Huat and Mr Leon Perera asked about MOE’s resourcing of schools. Mr Png said that this is the second year he is asking. Our schools are well-resourced, both in terms of funding and manpower. Because schools have different student profiles, they run different programmes, catering to different learning needs and different learning pace. In deciding how much to resource, our focus is on the student. Equitable funding is not about giving every school the same resources, but taking a needs-based approach, varying our resourcing to bring out the best in every child.

Take for instance, the four Specialised Schools, in particular, Crest and Spectra, which we have set up for students in the Normal (Technical) course. They received per capita funding of about $27,000 in FY2016, significantly higher than other schools. This funding goes towards supporting a skills-based curriculum and customised learning environments that can better position the students for subsequent studies.

It is also important for me to clarify that the recent mergers were due to falling cohort sizes, and not as what the Members have misunderstood them to be. The mergers were necessary to sustain a critical mass to offer students a good range of educational programmes and quality learning experiences.

We take a needs-based approach in deploying teachers too. The size of our teaching force has increased by 20% over the last decade, lowering our Pupil-Teacher-Ratios (PTRs) to 16 and 12 at the Primary and Secondary levels respectively. This is comparable to OECD standards. Rather than reducing class sizes across the board, schools deploy their additional teachers flexibly to keep class sizes smaller for students who need that extra support. For instance, in learning support classes for Primary 1 and 2 students who require extra help in English or Maths, there are typically only eight to 10 students per class. OECD research has shown that teacher quality is in fact more critical than class sizes for student outcomes. Hence, we should not focus solely on class sizes but on the overall situation on how we deploy our teachers optimally for the best outcomes for the kids.

I agree with Dr Intan and Dr Lim Wee Kiak that we want to ensure some level of access for students who are interested in Secondary schools with affiliation, but did not attend the affiliated Primary school.

Today, 27 Secondary schools offer their affiliated Primary school students priority in the Secondary 1 posting. Affiliates qualify for this priority only if they indicate the affiliated Secondary school as their first choice. Affiliation has its educational merits. It helps foster a strong school spirit and preserve schools’ traditions and ethos. But notwithstanding these merits, we have to ensure that our schools are open to all students, regardless of their backgrounds or connections.

Since the 2014 Primary 1 Registration Exercise, we have already set aside at least 40 places in every Primary school for children without prior connection to the school. This gives every Singaporean child a better chance to enter the Primary school of his choice. Starting from the 2019 Secondary 1 Posting Exercise, 20% of places for each course in every affiliated Secondary school will be reserved for students who do not benefit from affiliation priority.

Most affiliated Secondary schools today already admit more than 20% of non-affiliates. However, since this proportion varies up and down, year to year, we are setting aside 20% of places every year, in every affiliated Secondary school, to strike a balance between recognising affiliation and all the benefits, and ensuring open access for all students.

Finally, I would like to assure Dr Intan that values and character education remain at the core of education. MOE believes in nurturing socially responsible, value-centred Singaporeans who care for their family, community and our Singapore. Our Character and Citizenship Education effort is integrated in the various experiences of school life. Students are also given opportunities to put their social and emotional competencies into action through their involvement in activities, such as Co-Curricular Activities and Values in Action programme. As they reflect on these experiences, our students can better internalise our core values through their experiential learning.

Mdm Chair, allow me to say a few words in Mandarin.

(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] Singapore's Education system is starting from a position of strength. It will equip us to respond to the changes and the challenges ahead. To better prepare our students for the future, our schools are taking the following broad directions.

First, we must nurture the joy of learning and an "entrepreneurial dare" in our students. The joy of learning means that we cultivate an intrinsic interest and passion in students. This will drive them forward to explore and discover their interests and passions throughout their lifetimes.

Second, with regard to the entrepreneurial dare, we will encourage students to try different things and apply their learning to real-world contexts, so that they will learn not to fear failure when facing difficulties, and try again and again until final success. Through this way, students will understand that "failure is the mother of success".

Third, schools must help students lay a strong foundation and help them develop passions into strengths, and to their fullest potential.

From 2018, lower Secondary students will have the flexibility to take their stronger subjects at a higher level, as long as they meet the criteria.

In 2018, we will also expand opportunities for Direct Schools Admission, students can better access to a Secondary school with suitable programmes to nurture their talents and achievements.

Values and character continue to remain at the core of all that we do. We want to nurture holistic individuals who are not just passionate about learning and work, but also passionate about and committed to Singapore's future, and willing to contribute to the nation.

Last but not least, we will continue to ensure equal access to opportunities for all, regardless of their background. Each Singapore child must be able to achieve their full potential.

(In English): Let me now turn to other issues that Members have raised. Dr Tan Wu Meng and Miss Cheng Li Hui asked about Singapore International Schools for overseas Singaporeans.

The Singapore International School Hong Kong (SISHK) is the only overseas school run by MOE to cater to Singaporean students who are based abroad. We currently do not have plans to set up a similar school elsewhere. Nevertheless, MOE is committed to support children of parents who have ventured abroad. MOE helps to get them to stay in touch with the Singapore school system while they are away, and also to ease their integration back into the local school system at any time that they return.

For example, schools allow students to take a Leave of Absence, and provide them with teaching and learning materials while they are overseas. I know the needs of parents, as more venture overseas, we will see how we can do this better.

In closing, let me share the story of a group of ITE College West students whom I met recently. They won the top prize in the national Green Wave Environmental Care competition, beating several other credible teams in the JC-ITE category.

What impressed me was not just because they had won. What really impressed me was how they had discovered their passion and applied their learning in Environmental Sciences.

Determined to re-populate horseshoe crabs in the wild, the team started a school project to improve the hatch rate of the eggs. Through many months of hard work, they developed expertise in this field, and discovered new knowledge in the propagation of horseshoe crabs. It was fascinating to hear from them – 18- to 19-year-olds – how they harvested the eggs, built their own incubator from recycled materials, complete with an enhanced oxygen hatching tray, to improve the hatch rates.

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Along the way, they also learnt that the blue blood of horseshoe crabs has special medicinal value. They are now learning how to harvest the blue blood extract which is valued at over US$15,000 per litre!

When I was talking to them and learning about all these things, I encouraged them to seize this opportunity and make the most out of it. Maybe with a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit and some assistance from industry, they can do a start-up and extract this and make it a business; make it worthwhile medicinally and do good overall.

Most importantly, when I talked to them as I prepared for this speech, I saw the joy in their eyes and their entrepreneurial dare to push boundaries in their learning. When I reflected on this, I found that their success is not a coincidence.

They had discovered and pursued their passion; they worked hard with the academic rigour that we had instilled in them in school and developed these through project work into a strength. They were not deterred by the many failures and challenges, and found the tenacity to see through their project.

I share their story because their journey is exactly what we want all our students to experience: learning with joy, having an entrepreneurial dare and having the strength of character to overcome challenges and setbacks.

Therefore, let us work together, this House and beyond, to nurture our students so they will become holistic individuals and lifelong learners with deep skills and expertise, ready for the future. [Applause]

The Minister of State for Education (Dr Janil Puthucheary): Mdm Chair, MOE will work with parents and the community to build up strong academic fundamentals, healthy living habits and a resilient mindset. MOE is also committed to helping those in our schools who may need more attention and support to access these opportunities.

I assure Ms Denise Phua that MOE is committed to supporting the education of all our students with special educational needs, or SEN. Three-quarters of these students are supported in our mainstream schools, and are able to access the same curriculum and opportunities which equip all our children with skills and knowledge for the future economy. These students are supported by our Allied Educators and a core group of teachers in each school trained to support children with special needs.

Ms Chia Yong Yong asked about how we train our professionals. There are key service providers delivering structured training programmes for our school personnel. MOE works with NIE to provide both pre- and in-service training in special needs for AEDs and teachers. VWOs are also involved in providing in-service courses and professional advice. Besides training, MOE also facilitates the sharing of evidence-based practice and strategies that work well amongst school personnel.

We have always been working closely with our partners to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of MOE-funded SPED schools and to enable our students to realise their potential for independent living. Mr Perera asked about the challenges faced by schools in engaging bus contractors. We will work with other Government agencies to explore how best to encourage more bus operators to serve SPED students.

In the post-Secondary space, our Post-Secondary Education Institutions have SEN Support Offices, to support students in securing internships and jobs. Our Institutes of Higher Learning also work with SG Enable to provide internship opportunities for students with SEN to build up their professional network and gain practical job-related skills. MOE has also broadened the use of the Post-Secondary Education Account to include approved training courses under SG Enable. This will support persons with disabilities in continuing training beyond their school years.

The House would be familiar with the School-to-Work transition programme, a collaboration between MOE and SG Enable for work-capable SPED students. The outcomes have been positive and we look forward to more students benefiting from this programme.

I should highlight that such positive outcomes for our students would not have been possible without strong support from our community and industry partners. Their open hearts and minds have made a big difference to the lives of our SPED students. I will encourage more partners and employers to step forward and play a part in enabling opportunities for our students.

In response to Mr Dennis Tan’s question, MOE currently employs 80 persons with disabilities. MOE tries to be an inclusive employer, and is working with SG Enable to explore opportunities to recruit persons with disabilities into more suitable positions.

Ms Chia asked about disability awareness, which is an important element of our Character and Citizenship Education curriculum. It is useful to set aside time for students to discuss such issues face-to-face with their teachers and peers. But we do hope to go beyond disability awareness, to encouraging our students to appreciate different abilities, and to show care towards all. Our schools are also involved in "Values in Action" projects, or in Satellite Partnerships with SPED schools, which allow our students to directly engage and interact with peers of different abilities.

Madam, MOE believes in the importance of quality education, starting from the pre-school years. Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Dr Lim Wee Kiak had asked about our MOE kindergartens, MKs, which provide quality and affordable pre-school education. The fees are comparable to the Anchor Operators, and eligible children receive assistance from ECDA, the Early Childhood Development Agency.

To attract capable educators, MK teachers are remunerated competitively. Children from the MKs have been able to transit well into the Primary schools. The experience from running the 15 MKs has been valuable in establishing good practices, and in developing teaching and learning resources and for sharing these with the rest of the pre-school sector.

As Minister Ng announced last month, MOE will open another three new MKs in Punggol to serve the high demand there. We will continue to assess the progress of our pilot MKs and review our plans, as part of Government’s overall efforts to strengthen the pre-school sector.

Assoc Prof Daniel Goh had asked if MOE would implement early detection of dyslexia at the pre-school level. Every year, there are some very young children who need more time to develop fluency in oral language skills, as a result of a number of problems with literacy, including, but not limited to, dyslexia. Such children are actively identified and the focus at the pre-school years is then on providing high-quality language and early literacy instruction, without rushing to make a diagnosis for a problem that may be temporary. The literacy support and interventions can still be carried out, and are effective.

As I had updated the House last year, MOE has expanded the FLAiR programme, or Focused Language Assistance in Reading, to support more kindergarten children who have difficulty learning English. Since 2007, FLAiR has benefitted more than 21,000 children.

Mr Louis Ng had asked how MOE acts against negligent parents who do not ensure that their child attends school. He mentioned the Compulsory Education Act, which holds parents responsible for their children’s attendance at school.

Imposing penalties, as provided for under the Act, does not necessarily solve the root problems of non-attendance. MOE takes a holistic approach by working together with parents, schools, the Family Service Centres and relevant agencies to counsel and support the family and help all students attend school. Legal enforcement should be the last resort, considered only if all possible interventions and counselling efforts have been exhausted. To date, we have not found it necessary to resort to prosecution.

Beyond formal curriculum hours, Student Care Centres or SCCs, as Dr Lim pointed out, play an important role in providing a conducive after-school environment for our students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the last five years, we have increased the number of school-based SCCs to 147, supporting more than 18,000 students. The provision has largely kept pace with demand and we remain on track to open SCCs in all Primary schools by the end of 2020, and will continue to work with MSF to monitor the demand for SCC places in our schools and in the community.

Miss Cheng Li Hui had asked about MOE’s involvement in NurtureSG, and our on-going efforts to build healthy bodies and healthy minds. MOE has been working with our schools, community partners, and families to build resilience in our students. In school, the students themselves, particularly the older students, also play an important role in fostering a caring and supportive environment. Students in distress may confide first to their friends, who can provide them with a listening ear and critical support in a time of need.

Some of our schools have already taken the lead to strengthen such peer support networks. We hope to build on this good work and establish the practice across our school system. Starting from this year, MOE will train a core group of students in each school, to establish a caring environment in every class, to identify signs of distress in their peers and offer basic social and emotional support.

We also hope that for this group of "peer supporters", such training and experience will serve as a unique development opportunity, to hone their empathetic listening, interpersonal, and communication skills. They can also help raise awareness of mental well-being amongst their schoolmates, and engender a culture of support and resilience in the school, where students are willing to seek help.

There is no single solution to the underlying problems behind mental health issues, which are often complex, and in rare cases, may result in a tragic situation of suicide. One of the NurtureSG Task Force’s recommendations, therefore, is to set up an inter-agency workgroup on youth suicide. Dr Lam Pin Min and I thank Prof Daniel Fung from IMH for agreeing to lead this effort, and I am confident the workgroup’s findings will be instructive.

Madam, we also want to encourage our children to develop healthy eating and living habits. By the end of this year, all Primary and Secondary schools, Junior Colleges and Millennia Institute will have implemented the "Healthy Meals in Schools Programme", which will allow our students to easily access healthy food options.

Assoc Prof Daniel Goh suggested to start school later. Our schools determine their start time and do so based on various factors, including traffic conditions, parents’ need to get to work on time after dropping their children off, and the afternoon heat affecting student attention. For better health and learning, the key is the amount and quality of sleep our students get. Lessons on good sleep habits are currently incorporated into our Primary school curriculum. The importance of sleep and sleep hygiene will also be taught in the Secondary school curriculum, so that students can exercise self-management. We also hope to partner parents in instilling good sleep habits and the practice of good sleep hygiene in their children.

We have also been encouraging our students to be active. Our formal PE curriculum has been increased to at least two hours a week for all schools. To provide students with more opportunities for "unstructured play", where they can initiate their own sports and games, our schools will also make available sports equipment and school facilities, for our students to use during their break or after school hours.

Mdm Chair, in conclusion, I want to emphasise that while our schools will do all we can to ensure that our students are in good physical and psychological health, and have good eating habits, these efforts must not stop once our students walk out of the school gates each day. Otherwise, these efforts will be unsuccessful, and any gains will not be sustained over a child’s lifetime. We need to aim for healthy, active and resilient children that become healthy, active and resilient adults, who take on a personal responsibility for their own well-being.

Madam, finally our success so far is also the result of the efforts by many community partners and many parents, working together in partnership with MOE and the schools. We welcome and thank them for all the efforts and we look forward to a continued and strengthened partnership with many more.


Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast): Madam, SkillsFuture was launched in 2014 as Singapore’s movement to help our people embrace lifelong learning, a critical skill to master in this era of rapid technological change and shortened innovation cycle. If implemented effectively, it will sustain Singapore’s competitive advantage and help our people ride the waves of significant shifts in jobs and skills throughout their careers. It will enable them to be re-skilled multiple times in their working life to keep pace with technological advancement.

However, more must be done to shift the focus of SkillsFuture away from the long list of SkillsFuture courses available and how one can spend the $500 SkillsFuture Credit.

I have spoken often about the use for SkillsFuture to help retrenched professionals find their feet, rebuild their confidence, guide them to acquire new skills, and most importantly to get employers to provide job opportunities. There should be a strong connection between training and employability – a direct line of sight between the efforts that one puts into re-training and the hope of re-employment.

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I would like to ask the Minister how successful have programmes such as the Professional Conversion Programme and Place and Train initiative been, in helping workers transition to new jobs. What has the impact been so far and how can they be scaled up to support more workers?

Of course, Madam, it is far better if our workforce uses SkillsFuture in a proactive manner to prepare, retrain and reskill themselves for industries of the future, rather than wait until their jobs are affected. However, I continue to receive feedback that the SkillsFuture system does not lay out a clear path to follow. For a start, people need to know what the future growth clusters are, where future jobs will flourish and what kind of vacancies exist and will emerge. How can we better help our citizens position themselves for careers in growth areas and the transition paths, step by step, what should they do to get there?

There should be clear linkages from training courses, to skills, to jobs. The range of training courses available on SkillsFuture is wide and the quality is uneven. Will the Government consider setting up a national registry to grade, rank and publish the effectiveness of different training programs, so that workers can make an informed choice? Programs with positive employment outcomes may be listed as such, and may even offer more generous subsidies. There is also the possibility of allowing those who have been trained to add their own rating – so, feedback, rating. SkillsFuture should also provide tools for career guidance that will help direct people’s training efforts towards growth clusters.

Lastly, SkillsFuture is most effective when it is closely linked to specific job requirements. Companies and Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) should be encouraged to play a very active role in customising training especially suited to their respective industries. The Government should support TACs on training infrastructure, training design and learning pedagogy that is relevant to their industry, to support learning in a modularised fashion, strengthening learning and on the job utilisation. The SkillsFuture movement should accelerate the building of competency standards within each industry and key families, to ensure that curriculum development and training efforts are closely aligned with current and future job requirements.

Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member): Madam, I welcome the various SkillsFuture initiatives that are implemented such as the greater support for modular and e-learning and training.

What more can be done to encourage both the young and the matured to embrace modular training and e-learning? How can we persuade more Singaporeans to embrace lifelong learning? How long will it take to change our people’s mindset and for them to see the importance of equipping themselves with the relevant skills?

How prepared is the Civil Service sector in recognising qualifications attained through modular courses and e-learning curricula? Are employers ready to acknowledge new job entrants with skills qualification obtained through e-learning? How do we change both employers’ and employees’ mindset to accept such training as a way of life for Singaporeans to keep pace with the changing skills needs of the economy and achieve skills mastery? To see a significant change in the mindset of employers, I urge the Civil Service and the Government-linked companies initiate and lead by example.

In the healthcare sector too, there should be pervasive modular training and e-learning modules for support staff to strive to upgrade themselves for career progressions. However, as more take on skills-based programmes, the professional regulatory bodies must stand prepared to review the current programmes and provide greater accessibility to modular training and e-learning.

To prevent "a spiralling paper chase" and producing a workforce which excels in exams but are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future, there is a need for our society to move away from exam-based assessment and provide greater emphasis in practical training. We should also allow funding and subsidies to be extended to standard programmes of modular and e-learning curricula. Workers in employment that pursue programmes of such nature must be given equal opportunity for recognition, promotion and career progression.

I trust the Government to also change the mindset of human resource professionals, to be inclusive in their recruitment of job applicants with skills-based qualification obtained through e-learning and short courses.

Now, I wish to also speak on women in male-dominated sectors.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a fast-growing sector for Singapore. In 2015, only 43 women out of every 100 men enrolled in the information technology (IT) field for their first and higher degrees, and only 58 female for every 100 males students enrolled for the diploma courses.

Does the Ministry have data to show a comparison on the usage of SkillsFuture Credit across gender? If so, is there any significant difference between the genders for ICT and STEM programmes? Does the Government also curate the courses to ensure that they are up-to-date and relevant given the rapidly changing nature of technology? Have there been efforts to encourage women mid-career switchers who go for conversion programmes to consider STEM-related training? Can the Ministry consider allocating STEM scholarship for female students?

The Chairman: Ms Thanaletchimi, can you please conclude?

Ms K Thanaletchimi: Madam, thank you.

SkillsFuture Stocktake

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Chair, when I spoke about SkillsFuture during the Budget debate in 2015, I noted that as SkillsFuture got off the ground, it would be useful for the Government to track the outcomes of SkillsFuture initiatives, especially for our SMEs, so as to assess how the scheme has been effective in achieving the desired productivity increases and economic outcomes, and to better track the real value of SkillsFuture initiatives for various industries.

It will be inevitable that practical outcomes would be expected of SkillsFuture and sought after in view of dire warnings of machines replacing people and the requirement for a high level of skills to succeed in the workplace of tomorrow.

The concern I have then and as I do now is that Singaporeans do not see a qualification strategy is being synonymous with the genuine skills upgrading strategy. To that end, the review mechanism to understand the outcomes of SkillsFuture is a necessity.

As the Government has shared, SkillsFuture is more than just a movement targeted at specific age groups but across age groups and society and, therefore, it is also about the larger cultural shift towards lifelong learning.

To this end and in October last year, I asked a Parliamentary Question about the utilisation of SkillsFuture Credits. It was reported that up to August 2016, over 80,000 Singaporeans had used them. This number was later revised on the back of a similar Parliamentary Question this year which raised the number to 126,000 over the course of the entire year. Can the Ministry provide more details about this number in terms of the types of courses taken up by Singaporeans and the age group breakdown of Singaporeans who have used their SkillsFuture Credits?

While I accept it would be more important for Singaporeans to utilise their credits carefully and thoughtfully, can the Minister comment on his assessment of the utilisation rates so far?

In reply to my Parliamentary Question, the Minister also replied that it dedicates far more funds to subsidising course fees at the supply end to make them affordable, not just SkillsFuture credits, so that there are avenues for workers to reskill or upgrade.

To this end, it was recently reported that the Government funded 920,000 training places in 2015. Can the Minister provide a breakdown of these numbers and which industries receive the most and, conversely, the least attention as well, and what are its plans moving forward?

In addition, does the Ministry dovetail newly subsidised courses with the various Industry Transformation Roadmaps under the broad strategic direction offered by the Committee on the Future Economy? If so, is the Ministry considering to step up public communication to advise Singaporeans of the options available to take up courses for new careers and for those who change careers midway through their working life?

Finally, can we expect employers to make a renewed commitment to hire Singaporean workers, even more so in the SkillsFuture environment where so much energy and resources are spent on upgrading the skills of Singaporeans?

SkillsFuture for Workers

Miss Cheng Li Hui (Tampines): Forty-two percent of our labour force aged 15 to 64 attended training over the year ending June 2016 – a record high, compared to 35% the previous year. It is clear they were aware of the need to retrain and upgrade themselves.

What is worrying is that the increase was driven by professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). However, it is even more urgent for the lower skilled workers to upskill and retrain. I am very concerned about those whose jobs will likely to be eliminated due to technological advances, such as drivers, receptionists, telemarketers and waiters.

How does the Ministry reach out to these groups of Singaporeans? How does MOE and SSG ensure the provision of high quality SkillsFuture courses that are relevant to market needs and help individuals make informed decisions on training and careers?

SkillsFuture Mommy Awards

Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Madam, Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate has hovered around 1.2 to 1.3 for some time. We are struggling to reach the 1.4 to 1.5 mark that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean set as the target back in 2013 when launching the Marriage and Parenthood package.

An oft-cited reason given by young women for putting off having children is that they are concerned that parenthood may permanently derail their careers. This is not an unjustified concern. Women tend to find it more difficult to re-enter the workforce after having children. Now, with the constant stress to upgrade one’s skills so as to remain competitive and stay relevant, more pressure is placed upon women who question if they can afford to take time off and still be able to keep up with their peers when they return.

I would like to propose a SkillsFuture Mommy Award to be made available to women while they are on maternity leave. The Award would be valid for one year, which should coincide with the no-pay leave period during the baby’s first year – an idea mooted by the Government last year and is currently being explored. This Award will encourage mothers to take up training that may help them remain relevant to their industries, keep their skills sharp and make re-entry into the workforce a little less challenging.

Retraining and Professional Education

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied): Madam, retraining and education are essential in this new economy where the idea of having a job for life is quickly disappearing, and workers must be prepared to switch industries and to pick up new skills if necessary.

While many local courses are subsidised for Singaporeans and the Government has provided some assistance by way of the SkillsFuture Credit, there are courses that still require hefty fees. I would therefore like to propose the Government setting up a SkillsFuture Education Loan to facilitate further and continuing education that will help workers to advance their careers or to switch career paths.

While the Government may point to the existence of the CPF Education Scheme as a similar initiative, there are several limitations of the scheme such that it does not adequately address the needs of working adults who may wish to further their education or to take up training courses.

One such limitation is the types of courses that it applies to. The CPF Education Scheme is meant for full-time subsidised courses offered at Approved Educational Institutions, and only applies for first degrees and diplomas.

On top of this, the use of CPF to fund education and training will also have an impact on the retirement adequacy of the individual and their family members, if they are still eligible to borrow from the CPF savings of their parents or spouse.

In the implementation of the SkillsFuture Education Loan, some aspects can be borrowed from the CPF Education Scheme, such as pegging of interest rates to CPF Ordinary Account interest rates, which are less onerous than rates offered by banks; and stipulating that repayment will commence a year after graduation.

The loan scheme will give individuals greater peace of mind over repayment which may in turn encourage more people to pursue retraining or higher education.

Preparing Students for Future Economy

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol): Madam, there are many uncertainties in the global economic environment. As an open economy, Singapore will inevitably be affected. There are concerns among Singaporeans that these uncertainties will cause disruptions to our livelihoods. Parents will also be concerned about how their children can be prepared for future jobs.

To prepare ourselves for the future, the Committee on the Future Economy has recommended that we deepen and diversify our international connections, and acquire and utilise deep skills.

Our education system must provide the opportunities for our students to be exposed to the region. Learning and development cannot be limited to the classroom. Our students must also get out of the classroom and get real work experience.

Many of us will agree that some life skills, such as working with different people, can only be honed through experience and practice, and not just acquired based on theory.

How does the Ministry prepare students for future jobs, particularly with regard to applied learning that allows them to learn on the job?

Additionally, do our students have the opportunity to take part in overseas programmes, so that they can learn more about the cultures and business environments in neighbouring countries?

Work-study Degree Programmes

Ms Foo Mee Har: Madam, I had the opportunity to learn about systemic skills training in Switzerland, where two-thirds of school leavers enrol in vocational training. I heard inspiring personal stories about the strength of this system from CEOs of Swiss multi-national companies to SME owners who came up through the ranks of vocational apprenticeship. One striking example was a young 16-year-old engineer, employed in robotics design in a leading Swiss company whilst pursuing his engineering studies.

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Having seen how Swiss students are trained from an early age to master practical skills in a real-life work environment, I am convinced that this is the key competitive advantages that has helped Switzerland to become one of the most competitive economies in the world. There are many advantages in blending work and study into degree programmes. Better employment prospects, better job matching and better preparation to embrace lifelong learning.

I am encouraged by the emergence of work-study degree programmes in Singapore, with different models being piloted by our local universities. How can our universities accelerate their efforts and develop the necessary infrastructure, which must include career offices and linkages to industry, to expand and support work-study programmes?

Work-study degree programmes can only be successful with the active involvement of employers and their management teams. Apart from the lack of know-how, such willingness to nurture talent is not yet, unfortunately, ingrained in the corporate culture of most local companies. Managers tend not to see it as their responsibility or understand how it benefits everyone in the ecosystem. Perhaps, the inflexion point will come with the first batches of managers who are themselves beneficiaries of the work-study programmes.

Mdm Chair, to give this relatively new concept a much-needed boost, I urge the Minister to help employers develop the necessary human resource (HR) and training infrastructure and, most importantly, the right mindset to embrace the widespread adoption of work-study programmes. Could the Government, Singapore’s largest employer, set a shining example in its own ranks?

SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong): Madam, the Government has invested much in education, including the Institutes of Education (ITEs), which has become a popular option. During my Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS), many young residents come to appeal for admission into ITE courses. The Earn and Learn programme is an excellent apprenticeship scheme, where ITE graduates are able to work at participating companies to earn a decent income while learning as an apprentice.

After a few years of working, many ITE graduates typically want to upgrade to a diploma. This is appropriate, given that they have acquired deeper skills in their respective vocations. However, diploma courses in the local Polytechnics may not suit them, as they are more adept at hands-on learning and are less academically inclined.

Therefore, I would like to suggest that MOE could consider devising diploma courses that are technical and hands-on in nature, which focus on deepening skills rather than pen-and-pencil examinations.

Industry-IHL Partnership to Drive Skills Training

Mr Thomas Chua Kee Seng (Nominated Member)(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] Mdm Chair, a good vocational education is an important foundation of Singapore’s economic development. Over the past 50 years or so, our educational system has undergone perpetual adjustments in line with changes. Now, the Singapore economy is experiencing a major transformation once again. This leads us to ponder over how the educational organisations could support industry transformation.

Last year, when the Chamber organised the Trade Association Congress, we invited a business leader from a German Chamber of Commerce as one of our guest speakers. This friend briefed us on the operational model and experiences of German trade associations. It was really an eye-opener.

In the area of vocational education, the German industry associations play a powerful role. Firstly, all companies are required by law to join industry associations, hence giving industry associations sufficient critical mass and influence. Industry associations are also invested with much authority. They provide practical vocational training, with a key focus on grooming specialised technical personnel. Certificates issued by industry associations are recognised by society, and become important references in the recruitment of workers. Like Singapore, SMEs make up 99% of all business entities in Germany. The government is responsible for basic education and tertiary education, while the industry associations cater to vocational education and worker training. At the same time, the government also provides requisite funding to industry associations.

People always rave about that German workers are well trained, and in this regard the industry associations have contributed a great deal. With compulsory membership in industry associations, both large enterprises and SMEs are thrust together in the same boat. They move forward together, united as one. With sound financial foundations and deep insights into the industry, trade associations would be able to tackle the pains of economic restructuring in a timely manner and with greater accuracy. This is also one of the reasons why the German manufacturing industry can remain strong all this time.

Taking a leaf from the German experience, I suggest that Institutes of Technical Education and polytechnics work together on a win-win basis to strengthen collaboration with trade associations. I hope the Government could authorise trade associations to conduct even more vocational skills training courses. This would constitute another milestone, bringing the national education system more in step with a transforming era.

Measuring Outcomes in Higher Education

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong): I have met residents whose families spent a small fortune on a degree from a private institution. In some cases, the parents withdrew CPF savings, retirement savings to support their children on the course. It is important to know whether they got value for money.

How detailed is MOE's tracking of educational outcomes for private degrees as well as skills upgrading? Does MOE look at skills upgrading outcomes and whether the skills learned are actually being used at work later on? We must distinguish between providers who are only selling hope rather than skills and opportunities. This will help us better support students, parents and responsible constructive education providers.

Roles of Publicly Funded Universities

Mr Ang Wei Neng: Madam, we are proud that the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have improved their global university rankings by leaps and bounds. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, NUS was ranked 40th in 2011 and now ranked 24th in 2016. NTU’s progress is even more remarkable. NTU was ranked 174th in 2011 and is now ranked 54th, that is, NTU jumped 120 places in five years.

However, in the push to improve our ranking results, have we lost sight of more important goals? One of the main reasons why NUS and NTU have improved their rankings was their push for their professors to produce academic papers that can be cited by acclaimed international Academic Journals. Is this done at the expense of having the professors conduct research on local issues, which are less glamorous and would less likely be published in the international journals? Has the concentration on showy research compromised the quality of teaching?

The local universities are heavily funded by the Government. I hope the Minister can consider re-focusing the priorities of the local universities so that they can conduct research which would help us to better understand and perhaps even solve challenges faced by Singapore and Singaporeans, rather than in pure pursuit of global university rankings. We need a more balanced approach.

Social Sciences Research Council

Mr Pritam Singh: Mdm Chair, late last year, the Ministry announced a significant grant for research in the Social Sciences and Humanities to the tune of $350 million under the auspices of the Social Sciences Research Council. I understand the first round of grant calls has closed to about 70 proposals and an announcement is due soon on the award recipients.

I know that the grant focuses on big themes with the public purpose, such as social integration and resilience, building identities, developing new models of training and education and spurring growth, productivity and innovation. I would like to enquire in awarding the grants, how does the Ministry consciously spread the awards between the Humanities and the Social Sciences?

While these initiatives are significant, I would also like to know whether some of these grants would be available for initiatives that encourage or promote an interest in the Humanities per se, and not necessarily the Social Sciences as such and therefore lacking in the immediate societal outcome. This might include historical research on the South China Sea, urban and rural communities in Southeast Asia, Asian literature and languages which encompass a broadening of knowledge base of Singaporean researchers and institutions, thereby producing independent outcomes. Such work may not have direct relevance now, but they would be of consequence in view of our geopolitical realities.

What such funding would also do is to generate significant interest among young Singaporeans who seek to pursue postgraduate qualifications to teach and carry out research in our local universities. A community of Singaporean Social Science and Humanities scholars with specific expertise would in time also raise the quality of the standard of our research, staff and faculty in Singapore and promote a drive towards excellence.

There should be no reason why the world's pre-eminent historians, sociologists and other humanities specialists of the region should be teaching in a university or institution which is not based in Singapore. We should aim to count as many Singaporeans as we can among such a group of scholars.

Aptitude-based Admissions

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang): Chairman, current admissions to our Institutes of Higher Learning is still primarily based on academic results. It is a transparent and objective system but too much stress is placed on our students and parents for these high stake examinations. Aptitude-based admissions allow for more holistic assessment of students and reduce the over-emphasis on academic results. It takes into consideration the level of passion and interest the student has for their choice of courses. However, a pure aptitude-based system may be too subjective as it is dependent on the assessors. I suggest MOE adopts a hybrid system, perhaps with 60% weight towards academic and 40% weight to aptitude.

I am pleased to note the gradual expansion of the aptitude-based admissions to Post-Secondary Education Institutions (PSEIs), as announced by Minister Ong Ye Kung last year.

I would like to ask if the Ministry intends to introduce further enhancements to the aptitude-based admissions and adopt a hybrid system which have both components.

Aptitude-based Admissions in Post-Secondary Education Institutions

Mr Ang Wei Neng: Madam, one of my residents is a Pharmacist Assistant who has performed well in his job and has been praised by his supervisors. He has come to see me two years in a row because each year, NUS had rejected his application to read Pharmacy at NUS. He was told that his grades were not as good as those of the other applicants.

Grades are not everything. Passion is equally important. I understand that MOE has started to have Aptitude-based Admissions in Post-Secondary Educational Institutes (PSEIs). I have heard some happy stories after the new scheme has started. Can we do more and increase the quota allocated for Aptitude-based Admissions? This would be of great help to adult Singaporeans who may not have done well in school, but have done very well in their jobs and want a second chance at obtaining an academic qualification.

Creative Arts Tertiary Education

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio): More and more young people are interested in creative arts tertiary education, which augurs well for our endeavour to transform Singapore into a Distinctive Global City for the Arts. Creative arts education fosters creativity and innovation, both necessary for a future-ready Singapore.

I am heartened to note that the Government is looking at how to further develop creative arts tertiary education, both in terms of expanding the scope and depth. Would the Ministry provide an update on its plans to enhance the quality of creative arts tertiary education? How have the enrolments been for the various disciplines and levels at our institutions?

In addition, what measures does the Ministry have to align our creative arts graduates’ skills with industry demands? How does the Ministry help them prepared for their future careers and what kind of projects has the Government initiated or attracted to Singapore to help provide them with good career prospects?

Creative Arts

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: Mdm Chair, there is no doubt that in recent times, the arts and culture scene in Singapore has become a lot more vibrant, immeasurably enriching and a lot more diverse. There is also no denying that the arts stimulates creativity, re-imagination and out-of-the box innovation. These traits are crucial to Singapore as we look towards the future economy which will be challenging.

We need to nurture the appreciation of arts and culture from a young age. We see an improvement in literacy when young people take part in drama and library activities and better performance in Mathematics and Languages when they take part in structured music activities. The relationship has been studied and it is undeniable.

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Hence, what steps are being considered to foster the appreciation of arts and culture amongst our students at an early age?

Secondly, can the Minister provide an update as to what steps are being taken to meet a constantly growing interest in creative arts tertiary education, and what assistance can be given to allow creative arts graduates to deepen and enhance their skills, so that they become more relevant to industry needs, and also in terms of enhancing these students own career prospects.

Financial Assistance for Post-secondary Education Institutions

Mr Ang Wei Neng: Madam, in Mandarin, please.

(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] The tuition fees charged by PSEIs, especially university tuition fees, have increased significantly over the last 10 years.

In 2007, the three major Singapore universities – NUS, NTU and SMU – charged Singaporeans roughly $7,000 to $8,000 in annual tuition for a general arts and science degree. Fees in the last 10 years have gone up about 38% on average and the increase varies across institutions. What is consistent, however, is that the increase in the tuition fee has significantly outpaced CPI growth over the same period.

While we understand the need to increase tuition fees to better reflect the value of tertiary industry, we have to be mindful that students from the underprivileged families may be unfairly disadvantaged. Income of low-income families usually rises slower than that of upper middle income families, and university education is the best way for students from low-income families to go up the ladder. This does not just apply to students from low-income families but those who are in the sandwiched group or who marginally miss out on MOE’s financial assistance scheme because of the qualifying criteria.

To help such students from the sandwiched group, I have to raise funds every year to provide them with bursaries. However, raising funds through private donors may not be sustainable, and is especially difficult when the economy is slowing down. Thus, I hope that the Minister can relax the qualifying criteria for MOE’s financial support for tertiary students, so that more can benefit. Thank you.

The Chairman: Minister Ong Ye Kung.

The Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (Mr Ong Ye Kung): Mdm Chair, I thank the Members for their questions. I will try to answer as many of them as possible in my speech.

I will start with a story. I think is a story that many Members already know. It is the story of Ms Kirsten Tan, one of Singapore's most renowned film-makers. I want to tell it again even though you might be familiar, because there are so many aspects of her story that are so relevant to our education system.

Kirsten had always wanted to make films, but her parents, in her own words, these are not my words, her parents "die die wanted her to go to university". So, she went to study literature in NUS, but never gave up on film. At NUS, she set up her own production house and also set up her own studio. She made two films, and in her words again, the films were so bad, even she did not know what they were all about.

After NUS, she went to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, to do an Advanced Diploma in Film Production. Finally, she got to do something she was passionate in. This time, she made two more films – they won awards at the Singapore International Film Festival. Later, one of her films, as you would know, called – "Pop Aye" – won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival. It was a moment of great pride and joy for her, her family, as well as for Singapore.

Today, she gets gigs from all over the world, mostly work from New York. I have set up a meeting with her sometime later this year. And her parents have come round to supporting her in her film-making career.

I tell this story because of the contradictions that she has to deal with in this new world. Her story is one of pragmatism versus her passion; of parents’ expectations versus what she herself so wanted to do; of lifelong upgrading and yet not conforming to the social notion that after a Degree must be a Masters or a PhD; she went to do an Advanced Diploma in an area she wants to be good at; of venturing beyond Singapore and yet remaining Singaporean at heart. It is a story of what education should and can do for all of us, across every field.

We have an effective and internationally well-regarded education system. But sometimes a great strength can also be a weakness. It gives rise to a temptation that maybe we just tinker around at the edges, when actually more fundamental changes may be needed.

I believe that we are at the threshold of major changes in our society and economy. We need to transform our higher education landscape in response. We need to make five important shifts as part of this transformation.

One, besides being a pathway into good jobs and lifelong employability, education also needs to be a journey to fulfil hopes and aspirations. And I think the two need not be at odds with one another.

Two, education and learning need to be lifelong. Ms Thanaletchmi made this point very well, although she spoke quite fast. But we must recognise that the learning needs and habits of adult learners are vastly different from that of students. For adult learners, it has to be short, concise, modular, convenient and accessible, and to the point.

Third, education must impart skills, not just information and knowledge, for a simple reason. Today, information we can google, skills we cannot. And whether you are performing a surgery, coding a complex computer programme, cooking something for your clients and for your customers, repairing a car, negotiating effectively, or working in a team of people of different cultures – all these are skills.

Fourth, "learning by doing". We are used to the idea of "learning for doing". We study for a few years, then we step out to the workforce and we work as a professional, a technician, whatever. But technical and cognitive abilities can also be gained through actual experience. This method has underlined centuries of European apprenticeship, as Ms Foo Mee Har and Mr Thomas Chua have mentioned. And it is more important and more relevant than ever today.

Fifth, help Singaporeans adapt to a data-rich and digital working environment. Not everyone needs to learn how to code or become an IT expert. But we must all be comfortable and competent working in a digitally-enabled working environment. In other words, we must be data-enabled as a workforce.

These shifts are the building blocks of transformation. To implement them, we will do three things – build, configure and scale.

These represent the three overlapping phases of our work. The changes will take place over the next five years, but will set the stage for our continued progress for the next 20.

Let me talk about them in turn. First, we need to build, meaning to lay the critical foundations of organisations, structure and funding. It is painstaking work. Fortunately, we have been at it for over a decade. In the early 2000s, the Government set up the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund. We set up a dedicated agency to promote lifelong learning – the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). WDA, in turn, set up the WSQ framework, and also set up over 40 training centres to deliver adult training.

Last year, WDA was restructured into two statutory boards. One of them – SkillsFuture Singapore – is now part of MOE. With that change, education and learning from young to old, for your whole lifetime, comes under one Ministry.

Under this structure, post-Secondary education institutions (PSEIs) under MOE, namely ITE, Polytechnics and Universities, they are all given a mandate to promote and drive lifelong learning.

We are not done building. In 2014, SIT became our fifth Autonomous University (AU), and the first to pioneer an applied degree pathway.

Later this year, I will be tabling a Bill in this House to restructure UniSIM into our sixth AU, which will focus on applied degree programmes in the Social Sciences, such as social work, human resources (HR), psychology, early childhood education, and so on.

We will also further develop tertiary education opportunities in the arts. Mr Edwin Tong and Mr Gan Thiam Poh have asked about this. I think we can do more to develop the capabilities of our two publicly-funded arts institutions – NAFA and LASALLE. I will ask Parliamentary Secretary Faishal to talk more about this later in his speech.

Another important aspect of build is to fund lifelong learning, to make it affordable and accessible to Singaporeans.

I thank Mr Pritam Singh for explaining the supply and demand side of our support. I have been trying to explain that for a long time. But I think it is worthwhile spending a bit of time again explaining the concept, and how it all works.

Supply-side funding means we fund the training provider so that the course fee charged is lowered to a small fraction of the original cost. This is not different from the way we fund education or healthcare, which is through schools and through hospitals.

The advantage of supply-side funding is that we have better control in funding the courses which are relevant to the industries, represent the growth areas, and very importantly, as pointed out by Mr Singh, aligned to our Industry Transformation Maps. The downside is that it is not very visible to the public.

The other way is demand-side funding, where funding goes directly to the learner, and to the individual. Examples are bursaries, SkillsFuture Study Awards, and of course SkillsFuture Credit.

What is good about demand-side funding is that it is very visible, and people do get excited. When SkillsFuture Credit was first implemented, people were talking about what they should learn next. There was a certain excitement. But the first downside is that if it is done across the board, like SkillsFuture Credit, it can be expensive, that is why we limit it to $500 per Singaporean.

The second downside is that we have little control on how people will spend the grant, and this therefore gives rise to the question that Ms Foo Mee Har asked with so many courses, where do I go, and what is it that can help me link up my training with my employability. It is just too much. And what people spend on may not be entirely be aligned with our industry and growth strategies. And that is the downside.

To illustrate how it all works, take a training programme that costs $1,000. Supply-side funding is $900, so the course fee gets lowered to $100. That is what the public sees, and they use their SkillsFuture Credit to pay the last $100. So, in fact, it is free.

On balance, our approach is to continue to lean more on supply-side funding, which is more prudent and a stronger lever in public policy making. So, today, we spend about $400 million a year on supply-side funding, versus $37 million last year on SkillsFuture Credit funding.

This approach has worked well for us. Through our efforts to promote Lifelong Learning and SkillsFuture over the years, our training participation rate has jumped from 32% to 42% over 10 years, and half of the increase was realised in the last three years.

Training headcounts annually have increased by 70% to 380,000 today, over the last five years.

Excluding areas such as safety, security and F&B, which produce a large number of training places partly because of regulations, the top nine areas today account for over half of the training places supported by SkillsFuture Singapore.

In descending order, what are these nine? They are ICT, service excellence, education and training, HR management, personal development, leadership and people management, business management, productivity and innovation, and healthcare. These are the top nine.

We did not plan for these numbers, but what we have designed is to allow the training industry and market to respond, and we provide support where we think the quality of training is good and it is aligned with our growth strategies.

Over time, many members of public, and also Members of this House, such as Mr Low Thia Khiang, Assoc Prof Daniel Goh and Miss Cheng Li Hui, have asked for more demand-side support, such as study loans, or tops-up of SkillsFuture Credit, for vulnerable workers or for mommies.

I agree that we should extend more help to these groups, especially if they are vulnerable, but we would rather do so mainly from supply-side measures.

And indeed we can. There are some 9,000 courses out there which are already heavily subsidised. Part-time diplomas today are 85% subsidised. Short courses often 90% to 95% subsidised, through supply-side funding.

For someone taking a Diploma programme in a Polytechnic or a Degree programme in an Autonomous University (AU), study loans and tuition fee loans provided by the institutions are available to them. Maybe this is not well known by them, but even if you are an adult worker taking a part-time Degree or Polytechnic courses, the loans are available to them. Hence, the CPF Education scheme is only one option.

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But such help can also be generic. For a back-to-work woman, besides course fee funding, she may need career support; she may need job placement support.

That is why we set up intermediaries such as CDCs and e2i. They will help her access all the supply-side assistance out there, provide additional funding support if need be, and facilitate her job search and her placement.

This is how we link training and employability, which Ms Foo Mee Har spoke about. Similarly, training programmes developed under SkillsFuture supply the tools to MOM to implement Place and Train, Adapt and Grow, and Attach and Train, to help more targeted clients.

And with the intermediaries, we bridge the gap between demand and supply-side support, such that workers can get individualised help, but not a customised grant.

Mr Ang Wei Neng asked if we can provide more financial support for our students in the PSEIs, particularly in the Universities. I think this is one area of demand-side support that can be improved. And Minister Heng spoke about this in the Budget Statement.

There are currently three bursary tiers for undergraduate and Diploma students. For families with monthly household per capita income of $950 and below; $951 to $1,400; and $1,401 to $1,900. For ITE students, we provide additional assistance to students from families with per capita income of $570 and below. So, three tiers for most but for ITE students, four tiers.

MOE has reviewed the Government bursaries and will enhance it in the following ways from Academic Year 2017 (AY 2017).

First, we will introduce four bursary tiers across all PSEIs. This will allow us to be even more targeted in helping students from lower to middle income households. Second, besides per capita income, we will also look at gross monthly household income. To be eligible for the bursary, a student only needs to meet either of the two income criteria. More will qualify. Third, we will update the income eligibility caps based on the latest household income data. Essentially, they will all be revised upwards and more students will qualify. Finally, we will raise the bursary amounts. The increase will range between $50 and $400 across various levels, with larger increases going to the lower income students. This will bring the maximum annual bursary quantum to $4,000 for undergraduates, $2,350 for diploma students, and $1,400 for ITE students.

MOE will provide the details in a press release later today. With the revisions, the projected number of students expected to tap on the bursaries will increase by 12,000 per year to 71,000 per year. The total annual budget is estimated to increase by $50 million a year to $150 million a year.

Having built the infrastructure to support Lifelong Learning, we need to configure it, make sure we have the right approaches, policies, programmes and processes. We are doing this actively, through the SkillsFuture Movement launched two years ago.

ITE, Polytechnics and Universities have therefore been revamping and improving their programmes. Let me cite a few examples.

There is now great emphasis on industry attachment and internship. They are championing overseas internships, so that students get early exposure to an international working environment, which Mr Zainal Sapari spoke about.

NUS and NTU both run overseas entrepreneurship programmes where students are attached to start-ups and tech companies in Silicon Valley, China and Europe. I was recently in China in Beijing for JCBC. During a dialogue with Singaporeans based there, I was presently surprised to meet a big group of students from our universities, all on tech company attachments. SMU has introduced SMU-X, an initiative where students get to work on real-life industry problems, side by side with businesses. UniSIM and NTU are converting all their teaching materials for online delivery, to refresh their teaching methods and also to inoculate themselves against possible disruption in future.

All over the system now, there is much greater emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and studies.

But one critical configuration that we need to do is to ensure that our system takes into account the interests and aptitudes of our students. This is because we are simply better at doing what we like.

Notwithstanding this, many of our youths go with the flow. They go into courses where their grades can take them or where their friends are going. Our young need guidance and help to discover themselves, to discover their strengths and interests.

We need to strengthen our Education and Career Guidance in our education system considerably, starting from Secondary schools. Parliamentary Secretary Ms Low Yen Ling will speak more about this later.

But for those who are clear what they want to pursue, we should support them as much as possible, to facilitate their admission into our PSEIs based on interests and aptitudes, and not just based on academic results. Dr Lim Wee Kiak and Mr Ang Wei Neng have asked how we can strengthen this.

The Universities will be expanding aptitude-based admissions in their admission exercises later this year, for up to 15% of their intake. This was what I announced last year but they are implementing it for the Academic Year (AY) this year. Some, however, like SIT and SMU, have been practising aptitude-based admissions on a fairly large scale and over many years.

As for the Polytechnics, since my announcement last year, they have implemented aptitude-based admissions through the Polytechnic Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) last year and the outcomes are encouraging.

They received applications from about 8,000 O-level students, of which 2,500 successful applicants eventually had their EAE offers confirmed. The eventual EAE intake is close to 12% of the total Polytechnic intake, with two Polytechnics bursting their 12.5% quota very slightly. And these are healthy utilisation rates for a first exercise. And, as expected, I got a lot more appeals this year.

Polytechnics have given feedback that EAE is particularly useful in sectors such as social work, nursing, early childhood education or those that involve the creative arts, because your commitment and your interest in the subject are very important for these courses.

Given the success of the first year of implementation, MOE will increase the Polytechnics EAE quota from 12.5% to 15%, for the 2018 Admission Year. This will mean about 500 more places included under EAE.

There is also scope to apply aptitude-based admissions at ITE. Currently, at the Higher Nitec level, only 10 out of nearly 50 courses are open for enrolment based on aptitude and interest. There should really be more, given that ITE courses are vocational and very specialised in nature.

ITE also has a Special College Admissions Scheme, but applicants are considered based on general talents like leadership and sports, and not so much aptitude and interest. Hence, today, only a very small percentage of ITE students are admitted to ITE based on course-specific aptitude and interest.

MOE will therefore introduce an ITE EAE, where ITE can systematically admit up to 15% of its intake via aptitude-based admissions. Like the Polytechnic EAE, ITE EAE will be conducted before the release of N- and O-Level results.

There is another important thing we can do for ITE students. I mentioned "learning by doing" as a key shift in the way we deliver higher education. Ms Foo Mee Har, Mr Thomas Chua and Mr Ang Wei Neng have urged industries and PSEIs to collaborate more closely to deliver education.

The ethos of "learning by doing" actually has been the strongest at ITE, because of its tradition of vocational education and a very highly practical curriculum.

Today, many ITE students aspire to progress to the Polytechnics, and indeed, every year, about a quarter of them manage to do so. However, while a Polytechnic education is applied in nature, it is not quite "learning by doing" in the sense of an apprenticeship, like a European apprenticeship. An ITE student still needs to score quite a good GPA, and demonstrates quite good academic abilities before a Polytechnic will take him or her in.

But many ITE students are talented at using their hands, and probably learn best by practising, by doing. This is a more natural path for them to achieve mastery, across a range of areas. And over time, with skills mastery, they should also have a chance to move up to management positions if they so desire.

Take the hotel industry for example. If you meet the General Managers (GMs), which I do from time to time, you will find that there are two kinds of GMs. One type of GM is those that take a degree in hotel management and they get parachuted into the hotel. After some management associate programme, they rise up. They become GM. Another type of GM starts off as an apprentice in the kitchen, sometimes in the restaurant. And they move around different departments of the hotel, different operations, and over many years, they know the operations so well and they are so competent at it, they rise up and become GM.

These are distinctly different paths to the top, via development of cognitive abilities through formal education, or via "learning by doing", in a structured and facilitated way. Hence, we will develop a new pathway for ITE students, leading to a Technical Diploma that will be conferred by ITE.

Compared to a Polytechnic Diploma, the big difference is in the mode of learning – it will be apprenticeship-based. Every course will be delivered in partnership with an employer. ITE students will be able to apply for them after they graduate with a Nitec or Higher Nitec, or after a few years of working.

For a start, we will introduce this pathway in sectors such as Mechanical and Electrical Services Design and Supervision, Security Systems Engineering, Rehabilitation Therapy and Offshore and Marine. More details will be provided shortly.

With this new pathway, ITE students need not see Polytechnics as their only path for progression. They can advance through skills mastery and practice, by staying with ITE.

"Learning by doing" will also apply to universities. Ms Foo Mee Har asked about this.

I recently visited the Singapore office of an American technology company. It is a big office in the Mapletree Business Park along Alexandra Road.

The company believes in training Singaporeans to be competent working in digital and data-intense workplaces. And the training is not just for their own employees. They said it is for anyone who is interested because they say that it builds up the entire ecosystem that way.

They run an intense eight-month, hands-on programme for fresh graduates to learn about data management and data analytics. And I was told everyone who graduated from that programme was immediately snapped up by the industry because that skillset is in such short supply in the industry.

I was impressed by this very enlightened approach. They think big and they think long term. They even have a global function in Singapore where they are looking for their next one billion customers. Members of this House will know this company. It is Google.

The immediate question that sprung to my mind was: if the data analytics programme is so effective, why can it not be part of our university education curriculum?

And therefore, our AUs must also co-recreate programmes with industries and promote "learning by doing". When I attended SIT’s very first graduation ceremony recently, I announced that SIT and UniSIM will introduce seven new SkillsFuture Work-study Degree Programmes. They are jointly developed and delivered in partnership with companies such as Singtel and Standard Chartered.

I am glad that Government agencies are coming on board, quite actively. They are also partnering the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) and also DSTA of MINDEF. We hope over time, more will do so. In fact, one of the Government Ministries that is a pioneer in providing "learning by doing" training programmes is MOE. At NIE, you do not just study in the classroom, but you would also practise teaching through a practicum.

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I am happy to add that NUS will also start offering a slate of such work-study programmes this year, with courses in Information Security, Business Analytics and Data Science and Analytics. I hope that such programmes for "learning by doing" will proliferate across our University landscape.

The third phase of the transformation plan for higher education is Scale. Where we have reasonably built and configured the system, we are ready to scale so that we can create a widespread impact and benefit Singaporeans.

Scaling will help guide more Singaporeans in their training journey and career paths. It will help us reach out to more workers, which Miss Cheng Li Hui spoke about.

I announced the effort called SkillsFuture Engage last year, where we will proactively step up efforts to connect with Singaporeans and help them benefit from SkillsFuture.

SkillsFuture Singapore will partner PA, CDCs, Workforce Singapore and e2i, to conduct workshops at the community level to explain SkillsFuture to Singaporeans, guide them in finding the right training programmes to attend, identify the right skills for them to learn and advise them how to best use their SkillsFuture Credit.

We expect to reach out to tens of thousands of Singaporeans each year through this initiative, and roll out the programme in the middle of this year.

We will also make more online tools and resources available for Singaporeans to do the same, and to search and apply for jobs as well. This will be done through a portal called MySkillsFuture. We will also use the MySkillsFuture portal to publish training outcomes for selected courses. Individuals and trainees will get to rate the training programmes and help others make better training decisions.

One of our key strengths as a society is that we have always been able to mobilise Singaporeans whenever it is necessary to re-skill our workforce or adapt to a sea-change.

For example, in the 1980s, we launched two programmes − BEST and WISE. Those were efforts to build up literacy and numeracy skills amongst our workforce. Those were the essential skills at that time.

Around the same period, as part of the national computerisation efforts, the Labour Movement set up the NTUC Computer Training Centre to raise basic IT literacy for workers.

About 10 years ago, running up to the set-up and development of the Integrated Resorts, we launched the WSQ Certified Service Professional programme, an intense five-day programme, to train people to raise their service awareness and service delivery, and we trained tens of thousands of workers at that time.

I think the time has come again for us to undertake such an exercise. The workplace of the future will be different – lots of use of IT, robotics and data. Not all our workforce, not every worker, needs to be an IT expert or needs to have programming skills but everyone will need some basic working knowledge, such as an understanding of emerging technologies, their impact on your work, and an ability to interpret and use data. We also need to be equipped with a mindset for change, innovation and resilience.

If you are a sales manager, you must be comfortable with diving into your data to understand what is generating your sales − what segments of clients, which geography, what products. If you are a taxi driver, instead of driving around to try to pick up customers, you learn to use all the different apps to match supply and demand, and you go to where the customers are. If you are a Char Kway Teow man, you would not have to fry electronic kway teow, but you should be able to take electronic payments, and be able to take electronic orders. This is the digital environment that we must all get used to working in.

The course will not be a long one. I expect it to be one or two days. SkillsFuture Singapore is developing it and it will roll this out as a new national training programme and they called it Future@Work. It will be implemented across the island and positioned as an entry programme for all Singaporean workers to understand the future work environment. We plan to launch the programme by the end of this year. More details will be announced later.

We can also scale our efforts and make an impact through our PSEIs. Our AUs, in particular, have done very well in international rankings, which we can all be proud of. However, these are rankings by private organisations, based on their own criteria. And I agree with Mr Ang Wei Neng that such rankings may not fully reflect the social and public missions of an AU. I do worry that over time, our Universities may get into the game of chasing rankings, at the expense of their public missions.

MOE will work with our AUs to further sharpen and articulate the public objectives of our AUs, and tying part of our resource allocation to the fulfilment of these objectives. There are three objectives which we would like AUs to focus on.

First, constantly refresh and improve teaching. This includes "learning by doing", overseas exposure for students, and new methods to deliver lessons, including leveraging technology and e-learning.

Second, champion lifelong learning. All the AUs have already set up their lifelong learning units. They now need to ramp up the programmes, especially the bite-sized modular ones. This is not a matter of just modularising existing programmes. The lifelong learning units ought to be like Skunkworks or innovation units, constantly coming up with new programmes in response to industrial needs and the latest developments and technology.

Third, realise the impact of research. As NTU’s President Bertil Andersson always tells me, there are only two kinds of research in this world – applied research and not-yet applied research. He said all research must ultimately change lives for the better, whether it is creating new enterprises, new jobs, giving us new insights into policies, or implementing new projects that strengthen competitiveness or improve lives.

Mr Pritam Singh asked how the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) will spread its grant awards between the Humanities and Social Sciences. Notwithstanding its name, the SSRC is meant to support the Humanities too, and will fund good research projects in these disciplines.

In fact, let me give an example. One of the priority themes of the SSRC is "identities, social integration and resilience" and it is really a broad theme. And this study is not complete without a study of Southeast Asia – its history, languages, communities, literatures − for a Singapore identity is unintelligible without the cultural backdrop of Southeast Asia and the broader region. So, please be reassured that the Humanities will be part of SSRC. Ultimately, the Council will allocate grants based on the quality of the projects and its potential impact.

Teaching, lifelong learning, impactful research – these are all areas that our AUs are already working hard on. With a stronger alignment of missions, objectives and resource allocation, I believe this will better position our AUs to fulfil the important roles that they have in shaping the future of Singapore.

Madam, I have spoken about our plan to Build, Configure and Scale over the next five years. In carrying out this plan, what is the toughest challenge of all? It is changing mindsets – the "die die must do this way" kind of thinking.

First of all, all of us – parents, students, educators – we will need to move our focus away from a relentless pursuit of academic grades, to the larger view of human development. As Minister Ng Chee Meng had said, it is about the joy of learning, it is about entrepreneurial dare, about moral grounding and holistic development. It is not easy. We cannot tear the system down. It will not change overnight but we are making important adjustments, even at the school level, to catalyse this change.

Second, employers must likewise do the same. Hire based on interest, skills, and cultural fit, not just based on qualifications and grades. Because MOE can say all we want about dialling back from an over-emphasis on academic grades, but our message will ring hollow, unless employers demonstrate that good jobs need not necessarily come only from good grades.

Third, society needs to recognise and celebrate a wide range of successes, not just managers and leaders but also entrepreneurs, craftsmen, technicians, sportsmen, artists. Step by step, I think we are getting there.

Let me put into context these mindsets that we inherited that are so hard to change.

Forty years ago, for every Primary 1 cohort, about 5% of students went to University, about 60%-65% of them passed the PSLE. The University’s mission at that time, if I may put it starkly, and at the risk of some caricature, was to make sure that we produced as many University graduates as possible to support our economic growth.

That was a pragmatic generation, which had to fight for collective survival. They realised the importance and critical need for education, and hoped that their children would achieve good grades and obtain good qualifications. And to a large extent, for this current generation of parents, many of them still think that way.

Today, times have changed. For a Primary 1 cohort, over 98% pass their PSLE, 33% go to AUs and graduate. Make no mistake, our goal must be still to fit graduates to an economic purpose; no one wants graduates that come out of the university and cannot find jobs. But in this new era, our children have new ideas too.

They do not want to be on a treadmill, constantly chasing after good grades. Many people are like Kirsten, who wants to express herself through film-making, and can make a good living doing that because she is very good at it.

So, our PSEIs today have an additional mission which is to uncover and develop diverse talents, and help our young realise their dreams.

But I am sure that when our children grow up and they become parents, they will believe in multiple paths towards success. They will want their children to go through an education system that recognises their individual strengths. But by then, times will have changed further and their children will have different ideas and they will be saying that their parents have very fixed mindsets.

Every generation that comes of age will transform and remake the society it lives in. That is how we progress, and education is there to help us along. That is why MOE’s mission is to mould the future of Singapore.

Today, perhaps, we are at the starting line of a time of change and transformation. It is up to us today, to create these multiple paths and new opportunities, which will take us to many different places, but arrive at a common future – a Singapore of many talents, on a united yet multi-faceted journey of one people and one country. [Applause]

The Chairman: Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Education (Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim): Mdm Chair, our education system will continue to strengthen the paths to recognise and build up the different aptitudes and interests of our children. We want to do this with strong partnerships with our parents, industry and the community.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Edwin Tong asked about arts education and how we are supporting our creative arts graduates in preparing for and developing their careers. The interest in arts education and the range of opportunities and support available has increased over time. Just in 2016, around 6,000 students enrolled into creative arts courses at our Polytechnics, Autonomous Universities and Arts Institutions.

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Last year, I shared that MOE was looking into the creative arts tertiary education sector, to improve the current landscape so that our creative arts graduates are better prepared for their future careers. We have been speaking to various stakeholders to understand the sector and looked at the graduate employment outcomes of creative arts graduates, especially those from the Arts Institutions, or the AIs, which include the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LASALLE College of the Arts. Our engagements highlighted that creative arts play a role in our economy within and beyond the creative industries. We saw that AI graduates moved into arts-related careers and some also joined larger organisations as managers and executives, where their artistic abilities are put to good use. We also observed the prevalence of freelance work as 17% of our 2016 AI graduates in the labour force are working as freelancers.

Against this backdrop, the AIs have started several initiatives to support their students better.

First, Education and Career Guidance efforts are being strengthened. At LASALLE, all students are required to take a CV and Cover Letter Writing course, as well as courses on personal branding and managing freelance work or a small business. Such programmes prepare students better for stepping into the working world.

Second, there are continued efforts to build stronger industry links to enrich the curriculum and to expand internship opportunities. NAFA has revamped its curriculum to include industry-based learning to provide authentic learning opportunities as well as links with relevant industries.

Third, there will be greater provision of modular and short courses to support lifelong learning. This will make it more flexible and practical for industry professionals to return to the classroom for further learning to deepen their skills.

NAFA, for example, has developed several short, specialised courses such as the Certificates in Visual Merchandising and Fashion Business based on industry feedback. These courses are aimed at broadening the design and business skills of creative professionals.

We recognise the special role played by the AIs in offering pathways for those with the interest and talent in the field. Since 2011, MOE has provided NAFA and LASALLE with funding to offer high quality creative arts degree programmes validated and awarded by reputable overseas partners.

Going forward, there is value in developing NAFA and LASALLE further into centres of excellence in creative arts education. MOE will be working with them on a roadmap to raise the standards of their programmes and to better prepare their students for the workplace. It will include efforts to further enhance teaching quality, strengthen employment outcomes, and ensure financial sustainability. Each institution will move at its own pace to implement the roadmap.

Beyond the AIs, we do see many who pursue private degree programmes to fulfil their aspirations. As Dr Tan Wu Meng pointed out, there is concern about the employability of graduates from these programmes.

When deciding to attend such programmes, we want students to be more informed and make wise choices. To help them, the Committee for Private Education is enhancing its regulation of the Private Education Institutions, mandating annual graduate employment surveys and publishing the results.

Parents play an important role in partnering schools to support their children in developing their passions into strengths and reaching their fullest potential.

We agree with Mr Zainal Sapari and Mr Gan Thiam Poh that strong school-home-community partnerships lead to better student outcomes. We are committed to foster such strong partnerships, and our Parent Support Groups (PSGs) play a very crucial role in this. To support PSGs, we recently launched the "Parent Support Groups – A how-to-guide by parents for parents". It was developed by our parent representatives from COMPASS or the COMmunity and Parents in Support of Schools, who wanted to help others in setting up and running PSGs effectively.

Besides parents, the community also has a role in enriching our children's educational experiences. This can be seen in the efforts by the community to make our Mother Tongue Languages come alive. Madam, I will continue my speech in Malay.

(In Malay): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] The Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee (MLLPC) has organised programmes and developed resources to nurture students' love for Malay Language, and appreciate the usefulness and relevance of the language in their everyday settings.

One such resource for parents is the Nabil and Nabilah Reader Series for Primary 1 and Primary 2. The Series has been well received by parents like Ms Siti Shyamira, who uses the story books as part of her family bonding sessions for reading and inculcation of values such as respect for others. MLLPC will continue to build upon such efforts and is developing two language apps to support parents in their children's learning of Malay Language at home. These apps are targeted at the primary and secondary school level.

The MLLPC also works closely with various agencies and the wider community to generate interest in the language and its cultural heritage. Partners such as the Malay Language Council, Malay Heritage Centre, Malay Language organisations and grassroots organisations have come on board to launch a range of initiatives and programmes. An example of such a collaboration is the Malay Language Month, which celebrates the language and its cultural heritage through a range of community events. Without the active involvement and collaboration by various community partners, the impact and reach of these events would be limited.

Mdm Speaker, such partnerships complement MOE's ongoing efforts to make the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue Languages more engaging and enriching. Looking ahead, MLLPC has planned for many programmes and activities to continue supporting our students, teachers and parents in the learning of the Malay Language and culture. This will go a long way in nurturing our next generation and Arif Budiman anchored on sound values and wisdom drawn from our cultural heritage. As the Malay proverb goes, "Shoulder the heavy, Carry the light". Let us bring Singapore and our community to greater heights. Thank you.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Education (Ms Low Yen Ling): Mdm Chair, MOE wants to sustain and strengthen an environment where students discover their interests, and are guided in their choice of studies and career for a fulfilling learning journey.

This journey of discovery starts in their schooling years, because when our students understand their abilities, strengths and their interests, as well as the options available and what it takes, then our students can make better decisions about their education pathways, vocations and career choices.

Let me briefly share about Gracella's experience. From young, she has been interested in plants but did not view it as a career option. However, at Secondary school, she discovered opportunities in the landscaping industry during an education and career guidance (ECG) talk with an ECG Counsellor. Armed with new passion and direction, she is now enrolled in the Nitec course for Landscaping Services, happily learning what she loves.

To better support students like Gracella, our ECG arm will help them G-R-O-W towards their career path. Let me explain – G – stands for "Grasp where their interests lie"; R – refers to "Recognise their abilities"; O – "Observe how their interests link to future education and career pathways"; and W – "Weigh the options for informed decisions".

MOE facilitates this growth by weaving the ECG into the curriculum, and by equipping ECG Counsellors with updated information on education and industry opportunities. Mdm Chair, can I have your permission to display one slide, please?

The Chairman: Yes, please.

Ms Low Yen Ling: Industry partners like companies, trade and business associations are crucial links between students' interests and careers. Last September, I visited the ECG Fair that you see on the slide here, held at Nanyang Polytechnic and attended by more than 3,600 Secondary 3 students. It was at this fair where industry representatives showcased their work. Their sharing enabled the Secondary 3 students to better understand and appreciate the industries and what it takes to be part of it.

Like what Minister Ng Chee Meng and Minister Ong Ye Kung mentioned earlier in their speeches, parents play a vital role in their children's aspirations and career planning. We hope they can become actively involved as coaches and guides along their children's journey. This booklet is designed for parents, and it is called, "Journeying With Our Children, Achieving Their Aspirations". It is quite a thin book. I encourage parents and students to read it not just once, but many times, and they will have very different takeaways because it allows students to reflect on what are their strengths, their interests and their talents, and use these to make an informed decision about their education pathways and also career choices.

The booklet itself, as well as the Parent Engagement Session, are some of the ways that MOE partners parents to help them better understand their children's interests, talents, strengths and passions. These parenting skills can also improve their parent-child relationship and mutual understanding, and through it, set a solid foundation for life.

Mdm Chair, language skills are another key asset that will put our students in good stead for life. To address Mr Chen Show Mao's and Mr Henry Kwek's questions, a significant number, close to 1,000 Secondary 1 students, take up regional languages as a third language yearly. So, 1,000 students for every cohort. There are more opportunities at tertiary level. We will certainly promote more interest in this area, especially in Malay, Tamil and Chinese.

I thank Ms Tin Pei Ling for understanding and also underlining the importance of our Mother Tongue Languages (MTLs). We will certainly continue to work with our community partners to make MTLs come alive for students.

To this end, last Monday, the new bilingual children's TV programme, "Junction Tree" debuted on OKTO TV. Produced in partnership with the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, the show fosters deeper appreciation of the three MTLs by showcasing their use and relevance in daily life. Our children can catch the show on air every afternoon, and parents, if you can catch the re-telecast with your kids, please watch it with your young children as well.

The Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee is also spearheading a new programme, "Tamilodu Inaivom!" What does this mean? It means "Let's Connect with Tamil!" Through drama and cultural activities, it will show families how Tamil is fun and easy to use at home.

Our new Primary school curriculum makes the MTLs come alive by reflecting the rich cultures and languages in everyday settings, which our children can relate to. Lessons often reflect the cultural festivals and national events that they experience in the real world. So they are motivated to relate about what they have learnt. Mdm Chair, allow me to conclude in Mandarin.

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Mdm Chair, allow me to conclude in Mandarin.

(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] Bilingualism is a foundational aspect of our education system. I agree with what Ms Tin Pei Ling has said. Our MTLs are not only rich in literary and cultural value, but are also useful and constantly evolving living languages. Today’s students are "digital natives", and we need to engage them in ways that are familiar and interesting to them. Only then can they discover the beauty of the language and an innate desire to learn more about it.

We are working closely with the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning, the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, other community partners and our media friends, to create this vibrant language ecosystem for students to love the language.

Learning our MTLs must start from young, so that the child is used to expressing their thoughts and experiences in their MTLs. To facilitate this, we have introduced new programmes such as our experiential learning activity – the "Wow Wild Learn" Programme for pre-schoolers, so that they may find joy in learning their MTLs.

Secondly, we will build on students’ areas of interest to further expose them to learning Chinese, such as the Xinyao competition Xing Kong Xia. There will be new elements to the competition this year, which includes Xinyao workshops, using Xinyao songs such as the Singapore Pie to expound on our Singapore story and our local cultural heritage. We will also be working closely with the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre to help our students better appreciate our local Chinese culture.

Thirdly, we will better leverage on digital technology as a key resource and avenue for outreach. Our iMTL interactive platform and Xuele online portal are tools that parents can use to engage their children in learning Chinese in a fun way.

Speaking of parents, many of our parents have themselves gone through a bilingual education, and are well-equipped to help their children to learn Chinese. Parents should take advantage of this strength by speaking to their children in Chinese, listening to Chinese songs, reading Chinese literature, or watching Chinese programmes on television together with their children. With perseverance, results will definitely be seen.

Our MTLs are cultural assets that Singaporeans should treasure – they are the foundation supporting our creative innovations, and help us connect to the rest of the world. We will need to master more languages to achieve the Committee on the Future Economy’s recommendations to internationalise our economy. Through our bilingual education policies, we are strongly placed to strengthen our grasp of regional languages, and to use these as the driver for innovation and internationalisation. I believe that through the combined efforts and partnership of MOE, schools, parents, community partners and the media, we will be able to nurture a well-rounded generation steeped in culture and anchored on sound values and wisdom, as well as having the creativity and global mindset to handle the challenges of the future.

The Chairman: We have a bit of time for clarifications. Please keep your clarifications short. Ms Denise Phua.

Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng: Thank you, Chairman. I have three questions. Grateful for all the plans they have shared. It looks like we are in good hands. A lot of the changes that are mentioned depend on mindset changes on the part of employers, families, parents and educators. I would like to hear from the Ministers how they intend to address these restraining forces, especially for the kind of educators that we would need for schools of the future. Is there an Industry Transformation Map for them as well?

The second question has to do with Direct School Admission. I would like to ask how the Minister can assure the public and hon Members that the DSA is not, indeed, a ticket to popular schools. And that, as a result of DSA, certain schools do not become places where they assemble, all the top brains and brawns because everybody just wants to go to these schools. Is there merit also in the long term to spread the talents across schools, which is a better reflection of the microcosm of society?

My last question is for Minister of State Dr Janil. I know he has a big heart for special needs students. But my concerns about the gaps were not addressed and I would like to know what he feels about them and what can be done. Also, would MOE consider favourably my proposal for a SPED Academy to look at the lifelong learning needs, lifelong solutions, and the potential of this becoming a centre of excellence worldwide for this community?

Mr Ong Ye Kung: I thank the Members for the three questions. I will talk about mindset change. "Mindset change" is a description, not a prescription. We cannot say that we are going to solve today's problems or improve today's system through a mindset change. I do not think it works that way. What we can do is to give enough speeches, change enough policies, re-allocate resources, structures, come up with new programmes, build, configure, scale. And, over time, bring about that mindset change. We have seen how mindsets have changed over 20 years, over one generation. And I think this is something we have to continuously work towards.

Likewise, for schools of the future. It is also not just a school, but it is also a mindset leap into a different kind of school. I do not think we can change it overnight. Neither do we say, "Oh, the system is doing well, so, tweak around the edges". Then, you will never reach the school of the future. So, it is to have a balance between the two; not to tweak too little, not to burn things down, but make enough policy steps that, over time, we will have a school of the future.

Mr Ng Chee Meng: Mdm Chair, with reference to educators for schools of the future, I think some things are evergreen. As I have assured Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar just now, the very core must be founded on good character and values. So, our educators must continue to inculcate such values in our children. As we move forward, given the new opportunities and challenges, we should not focus on the mechanics of learning but, as I have said, inculcate in our kids the joy of learning, an internal engine with which they will keep learning, whether they are seven years old or 70 years old, so that they have this internal engine to guide them to learn new skills throughout their lives.

In summary, I will tell Ms Denise Phua, I do envisage that our future educators will be able to nurture the drive of our children, assist in building their competencies and skills, but, most importantly, their strength of character to guide them to succeed in the future.

With reference to DSA, with the different changes, as we have said, the intent is to recognise diverse talents, enabling our children to excel in their talents in specific domains. We are not looking for general abilities. When we put the different processes I have articulated in place, I do expect that talents, like what I have seen in St Theresa's where they are passionate in hockey, like the example of a young man I also quoted last year, that with his passion in basketball, he decided not to go to a popular school but went instead to another school. These are the things where we want to expand the possibilities for our children, move away from narrow-scoping on what defines a good school, what defines a popular school, but find the best fit for the child to succeed in his talent, in his strengths − and partner with the community also where we want to introduce more parental co-ownership for events in schools so that the schools, parents and community come together to ensure that DSA works.

But, first of all, as we have emphasised in our speeches, move away from the over-emphasis on academic results.

Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mdm Chair, I want to thank Ms Denise Phua for her very bold and ambitious suggestion, one that will certainly require quite a lot of consideration from a variety of Government agencies and stakeholders.

If I could start with the premise that she has put forward that we have to find ways to improve the effectiveness of the educators and the people who are working with children with special needs. We agree on that. I would also suggest that everybody involved agrees on that − MOE, MSF, our VWOs, our community partners, and also the groups of therapists and other professionals working within the SPED space. The issue then is how to achieve that. A specific academy is very bold and ambitious and, perhaps, there are several steps we need to consider first before we are in a position to be able to do something as bold and ambitious as that. I think it is worth studying and looking at.

There are several lines that need to be blurred and it is reflective of the difficulty of making progress in terms of excellence within SPED. It is very hard to do research. Any jurisdiction around the world would have different models of education, policy and SPED delivery. So, to be absolutely sure that you are doing the right thing on the basis of somebody else's model, we have to do it on the basis of our own model. It is very difficult to delineate lines between professions. Many of the professional responsibilities are shared across the therapists, with the educators. There are lines that need to be blurred between mainstream education and SPED education, between employers and educators, between administrators and the professionals.

Some of these things require a sort of complex approach involving multiple agencies and stakeholders before we can even think about arriving at something singular, like a SPED Academy.

But I want to reassure Ms Phua that all the stakeholders involved have the same intent, which is, how can we improve the professionalism, the expertise − either from an educator or other professionals' point of view − that we bring to bear to delivering the best possible education for all children, including those with special needs. And that is so, and everybody involved would like for us to be as excellent as possible in delivering these services.

So, we have the same intent and we can explore the various modalities. I think her suggestion of some form of a centre of excellence around special education is a very good one. We will look at how we can make that possible.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh: Madam, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary. I thank him for updating us on the development of NAFA and LASALLE.

Presently, I understand that those colleges have collaborated with foreign universities to offer design-related degree courses. My question is: will the Ministry consider allowing them to upgrade to become arts universities and offer degrees to their students?

Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim: I thank the Member for the question. I share the hope and aspiration highlighted by Mr Gan Thiam Poh. As the two institutions, NAFA and LASALLE, improve their capabilities, build up in terms of offering degree programmes with what they are doing now, and also improve their quality and programmes, I do not preclude the possibility of allowing them to award degrees in their own name in the future.

However, I feel that they are not ready yet. That is why in my speech, I shared that we are working with both of them on a road map to enhance the standards of their programmes and to better prepare their students for the workforce. I feel that if we succeed in this, we will be able to enrich the landscape for young Singaporeans who wish to pursue their interests in the creative arts at the degree level. This, in itself, in my view, will raise the overall image of the creative arts as a career.

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Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar: Madam, just two questions. The first is, I am very heartened that MOE and the schools have a lot of initiatives to develop character and values amongst students, but we must recognise that it is not the sole responsibility of schools. Parents have an equally important, if not more important, role in this. Are there plans to increase parental involvement, for example, in outdoor learning, or even in community work, so that they are involved together with their children?

The second question is on the technical diploma. Would the technical diploma programme consider taking in working adults who do not have formal certification, and who may have probably not completed their Secondary school education so they do not have GCE "O" or "N" Levels, but now they want to upgrade themselves so that they have better job prospects?

The Chairman: We are running out of time. There are so many hands up. So, please keep your clarifications and responses short. Thank you.

Mr Ng Chee Meng: Mdm Chair, we will do that. In terms of getting parents involved – yes, through a few things. One, last year, the Values in Action (VIA) programme where we get kids to learn cleaning. In the middle of last year, we actually got them to bring little booklets home to do chores together with their parents so that the learning is not just in school, but also at home. They do many good things together.

Outdoor learning and community work, yes, we are exploring how we can do that better.

The Chairman: Mr Leon Perera.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: There is a second question, Madam, by Dr Intan.

The Chairman: Please proceed.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: The new ITE Technical Diploma is for ITE students graduating with a Nitec or Higher Nitec. It is specifically for this group to upgrade to a Technical Diploma. As for the "O" and "N" Level groups that you have mentioned earlier, if they work for a few years, I think the upgrading pathways for them is perhaps an ITE Nitec or Higher Nitec. It can be done part-time or full-time. And I think we should be open for such workers to come into the system to learn again.

The Chairman: Mr Leon Perera.

Mr Leon Perera: Madam, just one brief clarification point to the Minister for Education (Schools). I thank him for his comments on the issue of class size, which is different from student-teacher ratio. I would like to ask the Minister: would he consider the class sizes that we have right now as optimal, and if not, what would be the optimal class size that MOE would want to move towards in the future years?

Mr Ng Chee Meng: Mdm Chair, I thank the Member for the question. I cannot give him a specific class size today in our schools, because it ranges from 20, sometimes, in the Primary schools; to 40 in the Secondary schools; and from eight to 10 in classes for students who need extra help. There is a range of class sizes. It is a little bit different from when we were growing up, where a form class and a teaching class is 40. Today, even though administratively, we organise a class according to 40 students, we do many different forms of educating our kids. In subject-based banding, we also have pupils who will go into separate classes to learn. It is a little bit more dynamic, and we do create many more pathways, even in the schools itself for the kids to move around.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak: Thank you, Chairman. I would like to seek a clarification from the Minister of State regarding the after-school care service that is school based. He mentioned that the current supply itself actually meets demand. But why are we still seeing so many parents coming to us? What is the current vacancy or waiting time for the current school-based after-school services?

Dr Janil Puthucheary: I thank the Member for the question, Mdm Chair. The supply largely does meet the demand. There are some localised areas where there are some waiting lists, and the student care centres will try to prioritise families in need. But I think the key issue is that we are ramping up the supply so that future demand can be well met. I take the Member's point that there are localised areas where there is a waiting time; we are trying our best to solve this.

The Chairman: Mr Pritam Singh.

Mr Pritam Singh: Just a quick question for Minister Ong. With regard to public communication on both the demand- and the supply-side of skills upgrading courses that are available, does the Ministry have any plans to raise public awareness of some of these courses? The signature of SkillsFuture is so large that people do focus quite a lot on the courses that they can choose with their SkillsFuture credits, but the supply-side, are there any plans to raise awareness as well?

Mr Ong Ye Kung: I am really happy the Member realised the challenge because SkillsFuture Credit has generated so much excitement.

On the supply side, one of the problems – and it is for a valid reason – is that we tend to work with partners, be it industry associations, e2i, and NTUC – and so we also let them brand it. Take for example, a PCP or the Professional Conversion Programme. It rides on the tools of SkillsFuture. The programme is actually a SkillsFuture programme, but MOM takes it, brands it as PCP and delivers it to workers to help them convert their careers.

Individual implementation agencies have their own branding, but SkillsFuture is behind it. So maybe we are a little bit like Intel. In many computers, there is "Intel inside". So, there is SkillsFuture inside every programme.

The Chairman: Mr Edwin Tong.

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: A clarification to Minister. On the question of applying discretion to a child who has not met the cut-off points, I think the answer was that there is DSA available to the child. But would the Minister agree that this issue of the DSA, applying that context is actually quite different. Because a child may have missed the cut-off point for a number of reasons, and the school may wish to take the child for any number of reasons, such as the child has got good service and leadership records in the school, such as the child may be a head prefect or vice head prefect, something which is not easily captured or there is no equivalent in the DSA system.

Mr Ng Chee Meng: Mdm Chair, I understand the Member's question, but we must look at the Primary 6 Posting Exercise in totality – from DSA all the way to PSLE. For those leadership skills that we value, they could have the full discretion at the DSA stage for admissions. At the PSLE results stage, we need to ensure that our posting system is fair and transparent.

If there is a consideration for such traits and skills that could have been demonstrated in DSA before, then it will lead to many, many permutations. As I have said before, DSA first. We do all the different assessments of talents, of skills, all the different areas that we want to nurture. Once we have the PSLE results, we want a fair and transparent system to ensure all students are fairly posted.

The Chairman: Mr Low Thia Khiang.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: I refer to my cut on the education loan. I understand that there is Tuition Fee Loan scheme by the public-funded institutions. Would the Minister not agree that there are courses that are offered not by public-funded institutions, for instance, a diploma in teaching of Chinese and translation offered by Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Institute of Business which costs about $5,000 to $6,000; the Government loan will probably come in handy to encourage people to take up such courses that are relevant to their career?

Mr Ong Ye Kung: I thank the Member for clarifying his question. I think if it costs $5,000 to $6,000, my sense is that it is probably not even subsidised in the first place. I think we support a programme, on the supply side, if it really does help the worker raise their skills, find better jobs, or become more employable. If it does not, then we should avoid funding them. We do get a fair amount of pressure, different people wanting different kinds of courses, even though we know that those courses are not so useful. The pressure is always there, so we are quite selective.

But in this case, if it is really a useful course, we should look at whether we should subsidise it. And if we subsidise it, it becomes more affordable and then maybe we do not even need a loan. Because if you look at a Diploma now, it costs about $2,000 to get a part-time Diploma. People do part-time Diplomas because they are also working at the same time, and therefore, they can afford the subsidised fee. I would say for this particular instance, we should look at whether we should subsidise it. I would be happy to look at it.

The Chairman: Ms Thanaletchimi.

Ms K Thanaletchimi: Madam, I have three clarifications. One is on mindset change. How prepared are our Statutory Boards, Government-linked companies and Civil Service in embracing or recognising modular training, or e-learning by new job entrants?

The second question is: with regards to SkillsFuture Credit, have we done a gender-based analysis or properly analysed which are the courses that are predominantly taken by female cohorts compared to the male cohorts?

The third question is: has the Ministry considered, in order to encourage more people to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), can we have a scholarship allocated for female students in higher learning institutes?

Mr Ong Ye Kung: On Statutory Boards, many of them have come forward, as I have mentioned earlier, in providing "learning by doing" programmes. As to whether they will recognise modular training, I think we have to strike a balance.

On one hand, we do not want Statutory Boards and employers to only look at formal qualifications. We also want to look at the interests and the skills of the person. On the other hand, we also cannot swing all the way to say that we accept every modular training and e-learning because there are so many. We can learn a lot of things now just by watching YouTube videos, going on Coursera and Udemy. So, I think we need a balance point. We want to move away from just purely looking at qualifications, but not swing all the way. That is a continuous process.

On SkillsFuture Credit, if I remember correctly, as of the last update, 55% of the claims were by women, so I think women do use the credits very actively.

Lastly, whether we should have scholarship for females for STEM, by and large, I am not in favour of putting gender-based quotas of any sorts, including for scholarships. I think our women are capable of doing very well in a range of fields, even though they have to manage family responsibilities and parental responsibilities. My view is that we should support women in their multiple responsibilities, and I am sure that they can do very well in many, many fields.

The Chairman: Mr Png Eng Huat.

Mr Png Eng Huat: Thank you, Madam. Just a quick clarification for Minister Ng. Does MOE take the higher school fees and contributions from wealthy alumni into account when providing funding to the schools?

Mr Ng Chee Meng: Mdm Chair, I thank the Member for the question. No, we do not take that into account. It is an extra source of income, and in a way, it is getting community involvement in supporting our schools.

The Chairman: Ms Denise Phua, do you wish to withdraw your amendment?

Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng: Madam, I would like to thank the Education Government Parliamentary Committees (GPC) and all the Members who have put in all the questions, and of course, the Ministers, Minister of State, Parliamentary Secretaries and the rest of the MOE team for the good and diligent work that they are doing in helping us to secure the future for Singapore. And with that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The sum of $12,115,000,000 for Head K ordered to stand part of the Main Estimates.

The sum of $785,000,000 for Head K ordered to stand part of the Development Estimates.