Parliament: Education key in building fair, just and inclusive society, says Sun Xueling

Minister of State Sun Xueling said the Government should examine how it can further increase pre-school participation. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The education system needs to evolve to ensure Singapore remains a fair and just society, said Minister of State for Education, and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on Thursday (Sept 3).

It must also always remain a social enabler so that everyone - especially those who may have started with less - will have hope and confidence that they have equal access to opportunities to do well, achieve their aspirations and find happiness, she added.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the President's Address, Ms Sun said: "I believe that our social conscience tells us that we do not want to create a self-fulfilling class system in Singapore, that is entrenched and segregates individuals, limiting them in their endeavours, and stifling hopes and dreams.

"As a people, we aspire towards a fair, just and inclusive society where everyone has equal opportunities to develop to their fullest potential, regardless their backgrounds."

The Government, she added, has made efforts towards increasing pre-school subsidies and the number of places in government-supported pre-schools. These are pre-schools where the Government provides funding to operators to keep fees low.

It has also made significant investments in teacher recruitment, progression and professional development, she said.

"Taken together, this sends a strong signal that the Government prioritises the early learning years and wants to give every child a good starting point from which they can chart their future paths," Ms Sun said.

She added that the Government should examine how it can further increase pre-school participation, as there are still some children whose attendance is irregular, and a few who are not even enrolled.

She also called for more community partners to contribute to the KidStart programme - which helps children from low-income families up to age six - through the Growing Together with KidStart initiative.

Singapore also needs to move away from an overemphasis on grades, said Ms Sun.

"Not just within the school system, but a broader mindset shift in society, including from among employers and parents. And we need to make real changes to some of the current ways of doing things, such as a greater recognition of skills when evaluating someone for a job," she added.

Even existing schemes like Direct School Admission, which already recognise diverse talents such as sports and performing arts, can be improved.

In her speech, Ms Sun encouraged schools to dig deeper for potential.

For example, in sports selection, schools can look beyond sports-specific competencies such as the ability to dribble or serve, and instead also look for natural abilities such as agility, coordination and speed, she said.

Ms Sun added that the Government will make sure children with special education needs can access quality and affordable support in both mainstream and special education (Sped) schools.

It will also actively look for ways to foster "purposeful interaction" between students with and without special education needs, to create an inclusive environment, she said.

"We ourselves hold the keys to building a fair, just and inclusive society - through our efforts in our children's education," said Ms Sun.

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