How PM changed his venue and put ITE in the limelight

Students and staff of newest ITE campus get big boost, prepare to host their first Rally

The ITE auditorium where tonight’s National Day Rally will be held. -- PHOTO:  DIOS VINCOY JR
The ITE auditorium where tonight’s National Day Rally will be held. -- PHOTO:  DIOS VINCOY JR
ITE College Central band members Muhammad Anwar Muhamat Ali (left) 18, who plays the euphonium, and trumpet player Adrian Tan (right) 19, with deputy principal Chong Leong Fatt. The two students will be part of the concert band performing tonight. -- ST PHOTOS: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

At 10pm on a Friday in May, deputy principal Chong Leong Fatt got a call about a hush-hush recce of his ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio as a possible venue for tonight's National Day Rally.

Thrilled, he e-mailed his top management right away.

That call would herald a break from the past as the Rally, the Prime Minister's most important speech of the year, had been held at the University Cultural Centre in Kent Ridge since 2001.

Before that, the venue was the Kallang Theatre from 1986 to 2000, the Singapore Conference Hall from 1983 to 1985 and the former National Theatre from 1966 to 1982.

The annual event is broadcast live to the nation and holding it at ITE's newest campus in Ang Mo Kio would be a big coup for the post-secondary institute, and a chance for it to showcase its $380 million ITE headquarters and ITE College Central, which welcomed its first students in January this year.

"It would bring a lot of pride to ITE staff, mileage to ITE and be a good learning process for our staff and students to hold such an event," Mr Chong told The Sunday Times, recalling his thoughts the night he received that call.

By 8.30am the next day - a Saturday - he was back at the college to show the recce team around. Within a couple of weeks, ITE College Central had been confirmed as the rally venue. And on June 26, Mr Lee Hsien Loong himself broke the news on Facebook.

The seed of his decision to change venue may be traced to March 20, when he paid an unpublicised visit to ITE College Central. For over an hour, he watched students make pencil sketches come to life through digital animation and play table soccer at a student activity centre. He also dropped by a rehearsal for a student musical.

Mr Lee wrote a post on Facebook about the sprawling campus, the size of 10 football fields, saying: "It looks striking from the road but the campus is even more impressive."

A mini-mall run by students caught his eye, as did real aircraft parked in a hangar on the campus - "including a Boeing 737!" - for students of the highly popular aerospace engineering course.

He praised ITE for its high-quality technical education, saying: "The teachers are dedicated and passionate, and the students are high-spirited and ambitious. I am proud of both the teachers and students, who show us that nothing is impossible if we work hard and pursue our dreams."

On his decision to hold the rally at the ITE venue, Mr Lee said: "This beautiful new campus reflects Singapore's commitment, and my longstanding priority, to invest in our young, and nurture every Singaporean to their full potential."

His Facebook post garnered more than 5,500 likes and over 300 comments, mostly lauding the official recognition accorded to ITE.

MPs told The Sunday Times that the change of venue signalled that a university education was not the only path to success - a point government leaders have been stressing in recent months.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, who is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said: "The move from a university campus to ITE signifies the Government's commitment to different peaks of excellence."

Labour MP Ang Hin Kee, in whose Cheng San-Seletar ward the campus is located, said the PM's choice draws attention to the diverse skills that the economy needs - not only professionals, managers and engineers from universities but also technicians, artisans and craftsmen from ITE.

ITE students like Ms Sharol Giri, 27, also cheered the move.

"We all feel very privileged and honoured. There are so many schools in Singapore but they chose ours," said the mass communications diploma holder. She is now in the pioneer batch of a Higher Nitec course in performance production, for the smooth running of live shows.

More than 200 ITE staff and students have been preparing to play host today, lining up ushers and concert band musicians from all three regional campuses, including ITE College West in Choa Chu Kang and ITE College East in Simei.

The students did not need additional training to host visitors because they have already learnt it as part of their life skills and leadership training, said Mr Chong, ITE's coordinator for the Rally.

The campus has seen a stream of VIPs, such as Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete in June and Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn last Wednesday. But the rally calls for additional protocols, tighter security and the demands of a live broadcast, said Mr Chong.

Twenty-five ITE student leaders will join the guests in the 1,461-seat auditorium tonight. Mr Jona-than Lee, 18, hopes to hear PM Lee's take on what youth should strive for.

"We need to strengthen the community before we can improve anything else," suggested the visual communication student.

After the Rally, he and Ms Sharol will represent ITE at a dialogue with other youth and PM Lee at La Salle College of the Arts on Thursday.

Their campus is set to remain in the spotlight after tonight.

Coincidentally, said Mr Chong, an open house for the public is set for next Sunday. And come Nov 8, the campus will be officially opened - by none other than the Prime Minister.

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