Minister Heng Swee Keat pays tribute to educators in farewell message

 Mr Heng Swee Keat, outgoing Minister for Education.
Mr Heng Swee Keat, outgoing Minister for Education.PHOTO: ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Outgoing Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat paid tribute to the education fraternity in a farewell note, thanking teachers for the "heart" that they put into their jobs.

In the letter released to the media on Tuesday evening, he said: "If there's one word that describes our educators, it is not that you are a professional, or content expert, or master of pedagogy, curriculum design or assessment. If you ask me for one word that describes our Singapore educators, it is HEART. That you teach with a lot of heart."

Writing extensively about how he has seen teachers transform the lives of their students, he said that there is no other school system in the world that he knew of where teachers spend so much time "to develop the whole child". In the letter, he repeated the word "heart" 11 times to commend teachers.

Mr Heng, who was education minister since 2011, had called for a change in focus on academic results to mastering skills, and pushed for every school to develop areas of strength in sports and aesthetics. He also ended the practice of naming the top scorer in the PSLE.

He led the Our Singapore Conversation in 2012, a year-long effort to engage Singaporeans on a range of issues.

In the note, Mr Heng also expressed confidence in his successors - Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong Ye Kung, who will be co-acting education ministers from next month.

He said: "I have every confidence that they will give their best, and will exercise leadership to take our education system to greater heights, to create opportunities for our children. Please give them your full support as you have given me."

Mr Heng will start as Finance Minister on Thursday (Oct 1). He was Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore prior to being elected in 2011.

Here is the full text of his letter:

With Warm Regards and Deep Respect

Dear Colleagues,

In my first week as Education Minister, four and a half years ago, I wrote an email to all of you. I said then, "Good educators inspire and touch the lives of students in profound ways." It was my gut instinct when I said this. But in these few years, I learnt, over and over again, how true this is, as I met many students whose lives you transformed.

I have also met many inspiring pioneer educators. We owe our thanks to them for the way they taught and shaped a young nation that had so little. I see their spirit and ruggedness living on in you. If there's one word that describes our educators, it is not that you are a professional, or content expert, or master of pedagogy, curriculum design or assessment. If you ask me for one word that describes our Singapore educators, it is HEART. That you teach with a lot of heart.

I see this heart in your belief that every child can learn, every child can succeed, regardless of his starting point. I see this heart in your tenacity and resourcefulness to keep finding better ways to reach out to each child, to help him develop confidence, to motivate him to learn. I have met so many students who told me how you have transformed their lives. Across these stories, one thing stood out - that you believe in them.

I see this heart when you tell me that you are not just teaching a subject, but that you are teaching a child. Exams and grades are useful to help us gauge how well each child has learned the basics, but you see that the broader purpose of education is to help each child go on to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. Not everything important and meaningful can be measured. That is why you put values and character education at the front and centre of what we do.

It is this heart that drives you to develop each child beyond the academic subjects, to help each one develop holistically. There is no school system in the world that I know of where teachers, across all schools, spend so much time in CCA and CCE activities, and now, ALPs and LLPs, to create the many rich learning experiences to develop the whole child. In this way, each child can find his strengths and interests, and go on to learn for life and excel in his chosen pathway and peak of excellence.

It is this heart that drives you to learn, so that you can teach better. I have been very inspired by the many educators who spend time and resources to go for further education, to come together in schools, at AST, at EXCEL festivals and other conferences, to learn from one another.

It is this heart that motivates our teachers to open their classrooms to one another, so that you may learn from and mentor one another. This is something very special that we should treasure and nurture. I hope that our PLCs/NLCs and our latest innovation to promote teaching excellence at YISS will make an impact.

We are seeing significant changes in our schools and IHLs. Our school leaders are providing good leadership in creating many innovative learning opportunities. Our universities have been improving their programmes and international stature, and are growing their Singapore character. Our Polys and ITE remain as shining jewels in our system, and they continue to invest in good teaching. With SkillsFuture, our IHLs will play an even bigger role in providing opportunities for all Singaporeans. It is also heartening to see how well our MOE Kindergartens are growing and playing a catalytic role in improving the quality of our preschool sector.

It is so heartening to see how our young people have blossomed under your care. Indeed, in this SG50 year, we saw a full display of their talents. Whether it is in their academic learning and PISA scores, or in international Olympiads and WorldSkills competition, or in our Youth Celebrate! and National Day events, or performances by our SPED students, our students are simply outstanding. Every student who takes part in these events told me, it's hard work, on their part, on their parents' part, and on yours. But the joy of achieving something beyond themselves is so wonderful.

In my four and a half years in MOE, I have interacted with many of you, as well as our allied educators, EAS staff, parents, volunteers and committees, in our schools and IHLs. I have learnt much from all of you - thank you for your candid sharing, your earnest drive and your deep commitment. Thank you for your heart. I know how much effort you put into your job, and the sacrifices you make. Often, it is very tough juggling your family commitment and work. I want you to know that I am very proud of who you are as the Singapore Teacher, and what you do. Thank You!

In many ways, the SG50 "Building My SG" brick set that we gave to each student is an apt metaphor. We encourage each child to be creative, to imagine his own future, to create something special. But when our students come together for a common purpose, and put together what each has created, we create something spectacular that each alone is not able to achieve. Brick by brick, piece by piece, we build this Home together. This is our Singapore Story. We will have many more exciting chapters that our children will grow up to write in our Singapore Story.

So I am delighted that our educators see yourselves as part of something larger. As we discussed at WPS last year, a good teacher acts on his belief that he is part of something larger. He uplifts his students, he develops himself, he supports his fellow educators, and he does it all in order to build something bigger than himself. Whether it is in our schools, across schools, in the whole of MOE, or beyond, we must lead nationally. The more we understand what will enable Singapore to continue to be a shining red dot, the better the chances that our children can have a better future.

In my first email, I said, "I look forward to a meaningful and exciting journey with all of you in the coming years, and to get all Singaporeans, to quote PM, to 'join our minds, our hearts and our hands' to create a better Singapore." Indeed, it has been a meaningful, exciting and fulfilling journey for me, and I trust that it has been so for you too. Let us continue to join our minds, our hearts and our hands to build our Home, our Singapore.

I leave MOE with a tinge of sadness, knowing that I will miss the beaming smiles of children in our schools, the warmth and camaraderie of our educators, and the frank and robust exchange with our HQ and IHL staff. But I leave MOE with many fond memories, deep friendships and meaningful learning. The work has not been easy, and I thank all of you for your strong support. It has been most fulfilling and meaningful.

Most of all, I leave MOE with the confidence that we have a great team of educators, professionals and officers at every level, and that PM Lee has chosen well in putting two very good men - Chee Meng and Ye Kung - in MOE. I have every confidence that they will give their best, and will exercise leadership to take our education system to greater heights, to create opportunities for our children. Please give them your full support as you have given me.

I deeply appreciate what each and every one of you has done. Singapore is a small place - I am sure I will meet many teachers and MOE staff in various social settings - do not hesitate to come and tell me you are a proud member of MOE. Thank You!

With Warm Regards and Deep Respect,

Heng Swee Keat