Highlights of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech in English

By Lee Jia Xin and
Amanda Jayne Lee

(Continued from National day Rally Part 2)

(8.59pm) - PM LEE announces the setting up of a new Population and Talent Division in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The new division will manage our immigration, talent and population policies.

He gives assurance that Singaporeans will benefit from the policies. The new division, which will be on a ministry level, will be overseen by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng.

It will be similar to the Public Service Division.


(9.01pm) - PM Lee acknowledges that immigration will be a continuing issue for Singapore and that there will be problems along the way. However, he says that we will have to manage, monitor and adjust as we go along. 'But remember we ourselves are all descendants of immigrants.' he said.

If our ancestors had not come to Singapore, said PM Lee, we would not have today's Singapore.

(9.03pm) - PM Lee begins speaking on the importance of education for Singaporeans. 'We already have a very good education system,' he says, and the system gives students a strong foundation, especially in Maths and Science.

However, he says Singapore can do better. Instead of a system that caters to top students, Singapore has one that caters for all. Students should have a 'tailored, holistic education that includes academic, moral, physical, art, a sense of belonging and identity'.

'We are realising this ambition', PM Lee said. Schools in Singapore should be equipped with modern facilities and staffed with good teachers.

(9.05pm) - PM lee shares some interesting programmes in schools from all over Singapore.

For Art, Haig Girls' created a Wall Mural with sketches conceptualised by students, Maha Bodhi's Visual Arts Programme teaches students how to create Batik paintings (he shows a picture of a little boy very pleased with his painting) and Naval Base Secondary received the third prize for a floral display in the Singapore Garden Festival.

In music and dance, South View Primary held a concert musical, 'Mulan' and Zhenghua Primary brought students to Hong Kong Disneyland for a cross-cultural dance experience. Riverside Secondary also integrates hip-hop dance with PE.

In the Science department, Dunman Secondary includes DNA testing as part of their Life Sciences programme, and Lian Hua Primary holds Robotics classes for students.

PM Lee mentioned speaking to a certain principal of a school that employs such creative measures, when he asked the principal on why he employed such creative methods, the principal replied, 'Give us a chance to show what we can do for you children.'

(9.09pm) - PM says while maintaining traditional strengths in Maths and Science, the education system must also develop and strengthen 'soft skills' like oral expression and instill confidence in pupils speaking both in English and mother tongues. Help students give a good account of themselves.

More teachers will be recruited for PE, Art and music, hence improving teacher-student ratios and giving more attention to PE, Art and Music.

(9.10pm) - PM Lee also raises another concern, the PSLE hurdle that students have to go through at Primary six. While important, it is not meant to be a 'do-or-die test that determines the whole future of a child'.

If students do less well than he hoped in PSLE, they will still have opportunities to catch up in secondary school.

(9.13pm) - More schools will offer programmes that students want, and more paths will be created for students to move within the system. The Integrated Programme (IP) will be extended to seven more schools, up from the initial 11, for express students.

This is for students confident of making it to university and will allow them to go straight to the A-levels or International Baccalaureate (IB), skipping the O-levels.

All these new 7 schools will have a dual track, both IP and non-IP tracks allowing students to switch in-between.

(9.14pm) - Less academically inclined students will not be left behind, says PM Lee.

In fact, Secondary education will be enhanced for them. The enhanced Normal Technical (NT) programme will begin in three schools, Bedok Town, Shuqun and Si Ling Secondary Schools.

The programme will see more practice-oriented curriculum, industrial attachments and internships.

Based on the feedback from NT students, who say that they prefer the ITE approach and environment, PM Lee says that it is hoped that students will be more engaged and motivated, with lower absentee rates.

Also, based on the success of the Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School - both which cater to the small number of students who do not pass PSLE - PM Lee says that two more specialised schools will be set up for NT students.

(9.17pm) - It is important to ensure that students graduate with relevant skills, says PM Lee. Which is why there are many routes for students to take at post-secondary level.

PM Lee says with the five polytechnics doing well, and with more 'high quality' students applying, $700 million will be spent to expand the existing polytechnics and upgrading the older ones.

A through-train programme will be started for Normal Acadamic (NA) students to go to polytechnics. Students who do well at N-levels can opt for a one-year Foundation Programme at Polytechnic instead of the O-levels. 'This is something Normal Acadamic students should strive for.'

Polytechnic Students will also be able to pursue good degrees from overseas universities. Singapore Institute of Technology, which started this year, is offering 500 places.

Degrees will also be offered for young Singaporeans with talents in the arts, media space and design through NAFA and LaSalle who will team up with good overseas institutions.

(9.20pm) - With more Singaporeans being able to make it to universities, it is important to offer top students excellent local options for tertiary education.

PM Lee says that students should spend their formative years in a top class local university to create bonds with their peer group.

PM Lee gives an update on some of the new education plans.

Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), a collaboration with MIT and Zhejiang University, is currently recruiting and classes will begin in 2012.

A NUS University Town is being developed into a 'college system' like Cambridge and Oxford. PM Lee says it will be a 'beautiful, well-equipped campus' where students can come together to learn and interact better. (PM Lee shows an artist impression of the new University Town)

A third medical school will be set up in NTU. It will tie up with top university, Imperial College to train more local doctors.

'We need them.' PM Lee says, 'because we have an aging population.'

Also the new medical school will create more places for Singaporeans who want to study medicine.

(9.23pm) - The new programmes will be expensive, says PM Lee, explaining the need to build up donations and endowments.

The donations will go into funding students who need financial support, scholarships, bursaries and loans for promising students. Fees will be kept affordable for everyone.

PM Lee encourages alumni from all tertiary institutions to donate to their Alma Maters to help build up endowments for schools. This is for all universities, polytechnics and other institutions.

The governement will match all donations 3-to-1 to endowments for new projects and 1.5-to-1 for existing universities and polytechnics.

PM Lee says government will commit $4 billion over the next 20 years to build up endowments. A Singapore Universities Trust will also be set up with $2 billion to be set aside in the Trust to ensure financial support through economic downturns.

'We want the best for our kids,' says PM Lee, and that the endowments will go to ensuring that students will get a good education wherever they go.

The Singapore Spirit

(9.25pm) - PM Lee says that besides education, we have to instill the Singapore Spirit into future generations as well.

The Singapore Spirit is based on 'shared values like multi-racialism, meritocracy and respect for every talent', says PM Lee. It is a shared loyalty and commitment to Singapore.

PM Lee recites statement written by the late S. Rajaratnam, who drafted the National Pledge: 'Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice.'

PM Lee says that we must maintain a Singaporean core in our society and gather talent and resources around this core to build a better Singapore.

He likens this to a kernel. 'Protect the kernel, but adapt and extend the system as circumstances change'.

(9.28pm) - PM Lee says Singapore youth must be exposed to such a spirit, and develop a social conscience.PM Lee shows some examples of yoths releasing horseshoe crabs back into the ocean.

PM Lee cites the example of Mr Alvan Yap, who has hearing impairment but graduated from NUS and now works in the publishing industry. He is active as a volunteer and went on SIP's Singapore Volunteers Overseas programme to Dili, Timor Leste. He taught deaf children proper sign language as well as basic literacy.

A video was shown of Mr Yap's students and him wishing Singapore a happy birthday. PM Lee commends Mr Yap and hopes more young people like him will venture forth.

(9.33pm) - PM Lee worries that Singapore youth are not tough enough as Singapore has created a 'safe cocoon' for the youth. Youth not being tough enough was also a worry of the late Dr Goh Keng Swee.

A video was shown of Dr Goh making a speech in 1984 about the new generation that has committed some gross misdemeanour in not facing hardship.

PM Lee says that the younger generation knows too little of what Dr Goh has done and how much Singapore owes him.

(9.34pm) - To honour Dr Goh, who was instrumental in building up the SAF, the Singapore Command and Staff College (SCSC), which is the highest institution for training senior officers in the SAF, will be renamed the 'Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College'.

Also as the Education Minister in 1979, Dr Goh revamped the entire education system creating the 'first class education system admired around the world'. PM Lee says that he was the foundation for all the new plans mentioned earlier for education.

(9.35pm) - A new Academy of Singapore Teachers and specialist academics for English Language, PE, Sports and the Arts will be set up as well. It will be named 'Goh Keng Swee Centre for Education' in honour of Dr Goh. The new centre will help upgrade the professionalism of teachers, says PM Lee. And it will be the 'nerve centre' of Singapore Education.

(9.39pm) - Sharing more about Singapore's history, PM Lee says that Dr Goh did not make his contributions alone, he was part of a team of founding fathers who build the nation and that through this multi-racial team Singapore has scaled new heights and taken steps towards becoming a global city.

PM Lee says it is important to remember Singapore's founding fathers so as to stay true to their ideals to to continue to strive to be 'one united people, regarless of race, language or religion.'

He then looks to the future and says Singapore has indeed 'scaled many new heights'. Citing examples such as the new city centre taking shape at Marina Bay.

(9.41pm) - On the just-concluded Youth Olympic Games, PM hails Singaporeans for taking part in the inaugural YOG with enthusiasm, and gives the volunteers top marks for a magnificent job done.

(9.45pm) - 'The IOC, youth athletes and vistors were all impressed' said PM Lee.

(9.47pm) - PM Lee winds up speech by saying that even though Singapore is a young nation, it has distinguished itself by looking forward, and daring to transform the city again and again.

'Our future is bright,' he says. While he cannot promise an 'effortless cruise', he says Singaporeans can expect good leadership, and a close-knit team.

'We will seize the opportunities around us' and 'take our nation to the next level,' says PM Lee.

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Am listening as I extract this National Day Rally Speech here. I have some thoughts as I have been through a unique case where I've been to top schools and been through the non-conventional route to do what I really enjoyed doing -- creative design, teaching and writting; which not a lot of people would have dared to take up during my time in the early 90s. Everything then was still very much the formulated way and to do anything outside it was somehow discriminated. And there are still a number of prejudices alive. And for that very reason, I made my own life career that I think still has room for improvement. I have scored top grades and I have also did lack lustre ones. I know grades do not mark a person's ability. But somehow grades are usually being tracked back. Today I may score an 'A', but tomorrow if I am unfamilar of the playing grounds, I may score a 'C'. But people usually do not see in that light. They only see it in a fixated view that an 'A' will always be an 'A'. Someone who is an Oxon or Cantab grad/Harvard/Stanford garad will always make the right solutions. Those in red-bricks, new universities, non-Ivies are the 2nd or 3rd class schools. And they are usually 'graded' as a whole.

In any case, it sounds like great news from what PM Lee has mentioned for education, mainly in these areas:
1. exams are not the ultimate guide to various students potential;
2. everyone has a talent we can groom.
3. different types of schools and systems set up to cater different abilities; grooming not only the cream de la creme academically brilliant students; but to groom arts and technical students.
4. an education system that meets the challenges of the world.

The 3rd point is by far, in my opinion, the most concerned. People tend to regard graduates to these fields academic failures and rarely see this group as smart. Arts / technical studies are usually taught at non-ivy schools and ironically at establishemts that are usually have a raw reputation for other subject areas and suffers from the generalised ranking which covers up the real quality of individual apartments.

I hope all these will soon be realised like what the Prime Minister Lee has promised. I hope the long term stigma against graduates who do not fit into the steoreotypical formula of success would go in the near future; since the definition of 'talent': go to the top academic school, go to the so-called top universities listed on the what may well be a subjective list of 'recognised colleges of higher learning'.

I feel this stigma of subjective classification needs to be eradicated, if we were to progress as a truly open and creative society that is adaptive to different game rules of the world. The world is constantly changing and the game rules are different in various parts of the world. We need to have skills and more importantly a nimble and receptive mind to learn and adapt. How else can we progress if we have rankings and discimination of schools and ideas? We are in a knowledge based economy where learning should not go by fixed formulars like preprogrammed formulars on a computer.

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