Sabah quake: Heng Swee Keat calls on teaching community to remember and honour victims and survivors

SINGAPORE - On Monday, the Day of National Remembrance in the wake of the Sabah earthquake, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat called on the teaching community to remember both those who were lost and those who remain.

"I ask that we, the MOE family, use this day to remember and honour the selflessness of our teachers, the spirit of our students, and the support of our community and friends," he said in an e-mail to public servants in the Ministry of Education.

Eight Singaporeans - six students and one teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS), and an adventure guide who was with them on their trip to Kota Kinabalu - are among the 18 confirmed victims of the 6.0-magnitude quake which struck on Friday. One student and one teacher remain missing.

"All the teachers of TKPS who were on the trip gave their best to watch over our children, and they deserve our greatest respect and gratitude. Our students tell of their teachers shielding them from falling rocks, and continuing to look after them despite their own injuries. Let us remember and live up to their selflessness and courage," said Mr Heng.

The students should also be honoured for being "brave, rugged and tenacious", striving to be the best they can be and being excited about heading forward with their schoolmates, he added. "Let us remember and draw hope from our children's spirit to be the best they can be."

He called on the community to give their support to TKPS principal Caroline Wu and her team. "The TKPS team have rallied together to be a source of strength and support for the survivors, and for the loved ones of those who have passed on or are still missing. They do so even as they struggle with their own grief."

The school's alumni and the local community have also rallied, as have teachers and staff from other schools, he added. "Let us remember and be grateful for this community of support."

Mr Heng also expressed his own support for the MOE officers working hard on the ground to help affected families. "I would like the MOE family to know that Indranee, Ann, Hawazi, and I are fully with you in this difficult time," he said, referring to Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, Minister of State for Education Sim Ann and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Hawazi Daipi.

The MOE is not alone, either, as officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Police Force, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Transport, Health, Social and Family Development and Defence, and the Singapore Armed Forces "are giving their all to support the next-of-kin and victims", said Mr Heng. "I want to thank the whole of the Public Service for coming together in this way."

Also to be remembered are those in Sabah who suffer the lasting effects of the earthquake, said Mr Heng. "The Malaysian authorities have been helpful and supportive. We keep them in our thoughts for the lives they have tragically lost."

In closing, he hoped that the day of remembrance would also spur the teaching community onwards.

"The selflessness of our teachers reminds us to give our best to our students. The spirit of our children inspires us to be teachers. The support of our community and friends helps us go on when we face difficulties. I hope we remember these today and forever, so that we may live up to our fellow teachers, our students, and our community. Let us keep up our strength and spirit in this time of grief. Let us stand together to support and care for our students, our community, and one another."

janiceh@sph.com.sg