PE, art, recess - Acting Education Ministers Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung talk about fond school memories

Mr Ng Chee Meng (left), Acting Minister for Education (Schools), and Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills).
Mr Ng Chee Meng (left), Acting Minister for Education (Schools), and Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills). PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

SINGAPORE - Physical education (PE) and art - these were the favourite subjects of the two Acting Ministers for Education Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung.

In a recent interview with the Ministry of Education's Contact magazine for teachers, both ministers talked about their experiences in school and their growing up years.

Mr Ng, who oversees pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, and the junior college level, joked that he enjoyed PE lessons and recess the most, not being "the most studious type" of student.

He was active in co-curricular activities such as swimming and table tennis. In secondary school, he joined the National Police Cadet Corps and trained to be a lifeguard. He also joined the Science Club, represented his school in taekwondo and received his Private Pilot Licence through the Junior Flying Club - all in his two years at junior college.

In the newsletter published this month, Mr Ng said he was grateful for the chance to access "good education and career opportunities". He urged educators to give space for students to think innovatively.

"Sometimes, it is OK to let them scrape their knees, or go on field camps and not shower for three days," he said. These experiences help them to be resilient, and reduces students' fear of failure and lets them take "calculated risks". This is crucial for Singapore's future success, he added.

Mr Ong, who oversees higher education and skills, said his younger days in school were not easy. He did not know how to read English until he was in Primary 3. His family spoke only Mandarin at home, and he struggled with English when he was in Nanyang Primary and even later at Maris Stella High.

His mother, who was a teacher, tried to teach him the language despite not being fluent herself in English.

"My mom was more hands-on with my studies and she wanted me to do well," said Mr Ong, who added that seeing his father work as a politician "probably had a big part to play" in guiding him towards his current vocation. His father was a former Barisan Sosialis MP.

Like Mr Ng, Mr Ong has fond memories of school, from playing volleyball, basketball and being a long jumper in junior college. He also enjoyed art, sketching and painting, and winning a few school art competitions along the way.

As a father of two teenage daughters, Mr Ong said that parents play an important role in sending messages about success. He and his wife focus more on supporting their children and giving them time to grow, and less on achieving good grades in school.

And this is also his hope for education in Singapore, for the idea of meritocracy to be broadened and "merit" is not just a number or grade, and the system to take into account different forms of merit.