Fake news report: MOE releases transcript, video of director-general's speech at conference

The Ministry of Education released a full transcript and video of the speech that was made by its director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong at a conference in May. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) has released a full transcript and video of the speech that was made by its director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong at a conference in May.

This comes after it decried as "fake news" an article in the August edition of an Australian publication, Australian Teacher Magazine, that had made the rounds online.

The article reproduced comments that Mr Wong had purportedly made on the first day of the National Institute of Education's (NIE) Redesigning Pedagogy international conference on May 31.

Written by a person called Mr Walter Barbieri , the article claimed that Mr Wong had juxtaposed Singapore's stellar academic results in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with the OECD data on student well-being and innovation in the economy, which placed Singapore in the lowest quartile.

According to the article, Mr Wong said to more than 1,500 delegates at the NIE conference: "We've been winning the wrong race."

It said he attributed Singapore's Pisa success to standardised test drilling and a culture of compliance, and said that Singapore is "building compliant students just as the jobs that value compliance are beginning to disappear".

In its print edition, the article had also attributed the same comments to Singapore's Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng before it was edited and attributed to Mr Wong instead in the online article on the EducationHQ Australia website, which publishes the Australian Teacher Magazine.

On Mr Barbieri's Twitter page, a post containing a screenshot of the print article has been deleted.

In a statement that was posted on its Facebook page on Tuesday (Aug 29), the MOE said that Mr Ng was on an overseas work trip and was not at the conference.

While Mr Wong had indeed spoken at the conference, he " did not say what the article had quoted him to have said", said the MOE.

Mr Grant Quarry, Australian Teacher Magazine's managing editor, said that they are investigating the matter and attempting to contact the author for clarification.

He told The Straits Times that Mr Barbieri had acknowledged that the original print article had wrongly attributed the quotes to Mr Ng.

The online version of the report was also updated with an editor's note to explain that MOE refuted the quotes attributed to Mr Wong. The note also said that MOE gave a link to a clip of Mr Wong's presentation in the article's comments section, as well as the transcript of the presentation.

In the interest of "full transparency", MOE said in its Facebook statement on Tuesday that it included a link to the unedited video and the transcript of Mr Wong's 35-minute speech.

Remote video URL

In his speech, Mr Wong had talked about how students have to face "tremendous uncertainty, a lot of unpredictability in this much more complex world".

To prepare students for such a future, students will need "stronger fundamentals of literacy, numeracy", as well as "resilience, sense of responsibility, (and the) ability to respond in ways that we can never imagine it to be".

While he did not refer to the Pisa rankings - which Singapore students topped for reading, mathematics and science - Mr Wong had said that the literacy levels of Singapore students have "improved tremendously".

"They are now reading, writing, speaking in a very high level. They are learning their mathematics well, they're able to solve a lot of mathematical problems very competently," he had added.

MOE said that this was the only speech that Mr Wong gave at the conference.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, Dr Dennis Kwek, assistant dean of research communications from NIE's office of education research, pointed out that Mr Wong did not refer to any OECD or innovation data in his speech.

"Instead, Mr Wong presented to the audience the Singapore Teaching Practice, which brings together teachers' beliefs and practices to describe how effective teaching and learning can be achieved in the Singapore classroom," he said.

The launch of the Singapore Teaching Practice, an online portal, was also covered by local media.

Dr Kwek also said that NIE had confirmed that Mr Barbieri had registered for the conference as a student participant. However, it is not known if he stayed for the full length of the conference after registering on the first day.

Dr Kwek, a member of the conference's organising committee, pointed out other factual inaccuracies in Mr Barbieri's article as well.

The theme for the conference was not "Redesigning Pedagogy", but "Education for the Future: Creativity, Innovation, Values". The former phrase has been the title of the biennial conference since 2005.

While Mr Barbieri reported that there were over 350 workshops across four days, there were actually 295 paper presentations, 65 workshops and 39 symposia across three days, attended by over 1,400 participants, said Dr Kwek.

The Straits Times has reached out to Australian Teacher Magazine and Mr Barbieri for comment.

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