Speech by Mr Lee Yock Suan, Minister For Information and the Arts and Member of Parliament For Cheng San GRC, at the Official Opening of Bowen Secondary School's New Premises on 27 April 2001 at 6.00pm


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

2.     Congratulations to the Principal, staff and pupils of Bowen Secondary School on the official opening of your new school premises. As the name indicates, Bowen Secondary started out in Bowen Constituency in Ang Mo Kio Town. Since 1982, the school has served the community well for the past 19 years. Having moved to this new site in December 1999, the school can look forward to many good years ahead. The relocation of Bowen Secondary was carried out under the Education Ministry’s Programme for Rebuilding and Improving Existing Schools (PRIME). It is a massive programme involving about 290 schools to be implemented over a seven-year period from 1999 to 2005, and is estimated to cost $4.5 billion. The objective of PRIME is to upgrade all schools to provide a more conducive teaching and learning environment and better prepare our pupils for the 21st century.

3.     But facilities alone do not make a school. It is the people involved – principals, teachers, pupils, parents and the community – who make a difference. The vision and drive of the people in charge, the diligence and commitment of the school community, the support and encouragement of parents, well-wishers and the community at large – these are all vital to the success of a school in achieving its mission. The academic achievements of our education system have attracted world attention. An average of 72% of our pupils who sat for the GCE ‘O’ Level Examination obtained five ‘O’ level passes over the past 10 years. The number of students studying in our universities and polytechnics has almost doubled, from about 48,000 in 1990 to about 88,000 in 1999 although our population base has grown slowly. We were at or near the top in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1995 and 1999, compared to the performance of about 40 countries, including first-world countries.

4.     Whilst we can all be proud of our educational achievements, there is, as always, room for further improvements to better prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century. These include not only enhancement of the teaching and learning process but also the imparting of skills for life-long learning and the inculcation of shared values to bond Singaporeans into a cohesive community and a strong nation. Our education system is highly structured, with emphasis on the teaching of knowledge and skills, the periodic assessment of what has been learnt and the matching of curriculum to the students’ abilities. The system has performed well and provided a strong foundation. It must not be weakened even as we seek ways to lighten the school load and create more space for independent learning, creativity and innovation. Used effectively, computers and multi-media resources, including the internet, can contribute significantly to enhance education in this direction.

5.     The young are naturally curious and eager to learn, provided it does not involve too much effort. We need to keep this inquisitive spirit alive, nurture enquiring minds and teach them how to search for information on their own. We have to guide them so that they can build up their knowledge systematically and achieve a deeper understanding of the subject beyond just a cursory acquaintance. A certain amount of stress and discipline is necessary to sustain the process to achieve a desired learning outcome. Besides teaching knowledge and skills, our education system has to impart values. Knowledge without values can be dangerous. Without the glue of shared values and a sense of belonging, Singaporeans will be no more than a collection of individuals pursuing their own selfish ends.

6.     Hence the importance of National Education. Singaporeans, both old and young, need to understand how Singapore has come to be what it is today, the difficulties older Singaporeans had to overcome and what can still go wrong. We live in a region which is going through an unsettling period of political transition which will impact on Singapore. Singaporeans must not take for granted the stability, progress and prosperity that we have enjoyed for several decades since independence in 1965. We need to enhance our cohesiveness and common purpose to overcome future problems and challenges. The important lessons have to be learnt and the fundamental knowledge and skills acquired. The question is how to make the process more effective, enjoyable and relevant. Better teaching techniques, more interesting content and a higher degree of interaction could all contribute to improve the system.

7.     The critical element is the quality of the teaching staff who have to teach, guide and mentor their pupils. Their ability, training and motivation will affect the outcome to a significant extent. Here I would like to commend the Ministry of Education for the recent timely improvements in the teaching service to motivate and retain good teachers, school managers and education specialists. They deserve all the encouragement and support that the government and society can give them. Every year the education service must be able to attract an adequate share of able Singaporean graduates to maintain and further improve our education system. They have an important mission to help mould young minds and equip our future generations with the vital knowledge, skill sets and values to face an increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain world in the future.

8.     Bowen Secondary has done well in its relatively short history of 19 years. The success of its military band is well known. Its links with the community organisations such as the Ang Mo Kio-Cheng San CDC are helpful to provide assistance to needy pupils and enriching experiences for participants. Bowen has programmes like ‘Camp Awakening’ to reform pupils who are at risk. All these are efforts which go beyond academic achievements to provide a well-rounded and supportive learning environment for the pupils. I hope Bowen’s impressive new facilities will inspire the school to greater heights of achievements in all areas. I am happy to be here to declare the school’s new premises open and to wish Bowen Secondary, its staff and pupils every success in the coming years.

27 April 2001

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