A winning project on horseshoe crabs by Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students exemplified the "joy of learning" and "entrepreneurial dare" the education system was seeking to cultivate, said Education Minister Ng Chee Meng.
A shared passion for conservation drove students Eunos Chong, Douglas Yii, Dave Chong and Nurul Hanna Abdul Yakob to go beyond what was required for their final-year project.
The endangered horseshoe crabs are difficult to breed in captivity. But that did not stop them from setting up an incubator and tanks to rear the creatures at various stages of growth until they reached maturity. After two years, they had bred several hundred and released most back into the wild.
"To keep the eggs at a constant temperature, we modified a dry cabinet previously used to store floppy disks," said Mr Eunos Chong, 18.
Their project won the top prize at the Sembcorp Marine Green Wave Environmental Care Competition last month. Mr Ng told Parliament: "What really impressed me was how they had discovered their passion and applied their learning in environmental science."
He explained how schools are encouraging more applied learning - taking theories learnt in the classroom and using them in real life.
"This makes learning come alive and sows the seeds for innovation," he said. "Through hands-on activities... students' learning takes on real-world meaning and relevance. In these ways, students find joy in learning, and are intrinsically motivated to learn."
At the same time, he said, "we need to help our students develop an entrepreneurial dare" so they will act on their passions and pursue them, and have the strength of character to overcome challenges.
Mr Ng described how five different graduating cohorts over five years bred a golden orchid for Teck Whye Secondary's 50th anniversary last year, despite repeated failures.
"This showed me what our students can achieve when they combine academic rigour in genetics with the joy of learning and a dose of entrepreneurial dare," he said.
But he warned that there is "no silver bullet or an easy way" to foster such qualities and urged parents to help youth pursue their passions.
"Fuelled by passion, our young can better meet their aspirations and contribute to the future economy as holistic individuals and lifelong learners," he said.