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Speech by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport at The Education Services Union National Day Observance Ceremony on Saturday, 16 August 2008, 9.00am, Singapore Power Auditorium

16 Aug 2008

Mr Michael Tan
President of Education Services Union (ESU)

Mr Zainudin Nordin
Executive Secretary of the ESU

Mr Lee Siew Chuan
Organising Chairman of ESU National Day Observance Ceremony

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

1. I am very happy to be here with you all today to celebrate our Nation's 43rd birthday. This is indeed a joyous occasion and I would first like to wish each and every one of you a very happy National Day.

2. The theme for this year's National Day Celebration is "Celebrating the Singapore Spirit". This is not just another slogan but a meaningful reflection of the cohesiveness and perseverance that we have shown as One People and One Nation over the past 43 years. Indeed, it is this Singapore sprit that has established the foundation for our progress since we gained independence. Uniting us during good times and bad, it is this tenacious spirit that we can hold on to - and in doing so, we can continue to push ourselves forward to make Singapore a better and more resilient society, a place we can all call Home.


3. It is most fitting for me today to commend the Education Services Union (ESU) for embodying this Spirit. Since ESU was officially registered on 31 March 2006 and affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) shortly after, it has played a key role in helping the labour movement to focus, reach out and serve the workers in the education services sector better. With more than 12,000 union members now, it provides a collective voice to the employees from the pre-school sector, training institutions, international schools and tertiary institutions.

4. What is even more commendable is that ESU has also encouraged many talented individuals to pursue their passion for education, and realise their dreams of helping others develop their potential. One such example is Kristen Chua. Let me share her story with you.

5. Kristen was an Industrial Relations Officer before she decided to make a mid-career switch and join the pre-school sector. She had always believed that early childhood education is important and must not be neglected as children are at a crucial stage of their lives in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and also of their well being. Kristen has always believed, and rightly so, that pre-school is when children need particularly high quality care and learning experiences. In 2005, with the support of NTUC Co-operative's Trainee Principal Scheme, Kristen joined the pre-school sector as an Assistant Teacher whose responsibilities included preparing and cleaning up the classroom before and after school. She progressively moved on to become the Form Teacher of a class and is currently a Principal of a childcare centre.

6. Being the Principal can be stressful as the spectrum of work is very wide. Kristen also has to play many roles at the same time. Not only is she the financial controller, budgeting for the food and expense items of the centre, but also is she the credit controller, ensuring timely payment of school fees. She also has to fill in as a teacher whenever there are manpower shortages. Another major challenge for Kristen would be during the Hand Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks. In order to safeguard the interests of the children and their families, she has to ensure that the teachers and staff at the centre enhance their vigilance.

7. Through hard work and a willingness to learn she has, without doubt, made a positive difference in the lives of many young children - individuals who will each grow up to be talented and special in their own way. Many of these children will also be, like Kristen, sources of inspiration for others.

8. Kristen has not looked back since her mid-career switch. Personally, seeing the next young generation learn and grow has given Kristen tremendous satisfaction.

Government's Role in the Development of the Pre-school Sector

9. The pre-school sector has witnessed rapid changes in recent years. With more double income families in Singapore, there is a growing market with an increasingly sophisticated demand for childcare services. To date, there are over 1,200 childcare and kindergartens employing more than 7,500 employees.

10. The pre-school sector is extremely important to the laying of the foundation for our young children. High-quality early childhood education improves both the cognitive and non-cognitive abilities of the child, the foundation for learning later in school and work, and ultimately boosting worker productivity and human capital formation. The development of a person's capacity to learn is most receptive during the first few years of life. Hence, providing a conducive, interactive environment for young children can enhance development of the brain and help them pick up learning habits and socialisation skills.

11. Looking at the curriculum of the various childcare centres, we can see that children are exposed to many nurturing opportunities to help them develop important life and social skills. They are also prepared academically for primary education as we cultivate their literacy and numeracy aptitudes and familiarise them with simple science concepts. We encourage them to appreciate music and art and to enjoy outdoor play, and introduce them to activities which help to explore their creativity and develop problem solving skills in a fun way.

12. Teachers are critical to helping children construct and gain knowledge. The best educators are dynamic individuals; who can pick up new skills and capabilities to help them respond to the wide range of demands in our society - a society characterised by rapid change. It is not surprising to find that the work of pre-school teachers has become more challenging over the recent years, and I believe it will become even more so as Singapore moves forward.

13. All aspects of our children's lives will increasingly be influenced by rapid advances in technology. Over time, parents will be more educated and have higher expectations of pre-schools to provide higher quality education. To take on their role as teachers more effectively, pre-school educators need to be competent in the latest developments of teaching and learning. There are many opportunities for those in the education sector to equip themselves with the requisite skills and knowledge. For example, teachers are strongly encouraged to apply for the bursaries and scholarships which have been provided by both MCYS and MOE to support their professional upgrading. Teachers can also take advantage of the grants offered by MOE and MCYS to improve their English Language proficiency by undergoing the English Communication Skills course offered to pre-school teachers. This is a heavily subsidised course from which teachers will benefit from attending.

Developing Talent and Encouraging Lifelong Learning

14. The continual upgrading of the pre-school teachers is important and I am very happy to learn how ESU has been supporting MOE and MCYS in raising the minimum qualifications of pre-school teachers to enhance the quality of pre-school education. The joint partnership of ESU, NTUC and the Regional Training and Resource Centre (RTRC) to offer the Diploma in Pre-school Education (DPE-T) and Certificate in Pre-school Teaching (CPT) classes at discounted training rates to encourage staff to upgrade their skills is a highly commendable initiative. This initiative not only benefits existing teachers so that they can remain valued educators for our next generation, but also attracts other professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), part-timers or women who wish to re-enter the workforce into the pre-scho ol sector. Many of them already possess a natural fondness for kids, but the formal training allows them to gain a better professional understanding of how to interact and nurture each individual so as to maximise every child's potential.

15. Take Mdm Lau Yoke Ha, a back-to-work mother, for example, who is here with us this morning. Yoke Ha stopped work for almost 10 years to become a full-time mother. In 2004, when her two children turned 12 and 19 respectively, she wanted to resume work and applied to be an Assistant Teacher at NTUC Childcare Co-operative. Her experience in nurturing her own children helped her fit into this role easily.

16. As a loving parent herself, Yoke Ha holds the strong belief that schools should collaborate with parents closely, in order to bring out the best in each child. Being a committed teacher, she constantly provides assurance to anxious parents who leave their children under her care. Her dedication is much appreciated by parents, as evidenced by the many verbal and written accolades she has received to date.

17. Self-motivated and willing to learn, Yoke Ha constantly attends courses to upgrade her skills. Yoke Ha testifies that through the ESU-sponsored training that led her to attaining the Certificate in Pre-school Training (CPT), she has gained a better understanding of early childhood development and education. She believes strongly in the philosophy of holistic learning and appreciates how important her role as a teacher is in building a good foundation for young children. Since the completion of her CPT course, Yoke Ha is now a certified childcare teacher accredited by MCYS; and being the lifelong learner that she is, Yoke Ha has gone on to pursue the Diploma in Pre-school Education - Training (DPE-T) course in Chinese. As an ESU member, she enjoys discounted training rates on these courses.

18. There has been some concern that the salaries of pre-school teachers are low, especially in comparison with other professions with the same qualifications. Rather than supplementing the incomes of pre-school teachers with wage subsidies, we believe that by raising the minimum qualifications of pre-school teachers and supporting them in continual education and training, the salaries of pre-school teachers will climb. In the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Wage survey that was released in June this year, the average gross salary of pre-school teachers is $1,725 - a 40% increase from a year ago ($1,230) - based on a survey conducted by ESU, with the help of Ernst and Young in 2007. We believe that this is a very encouraging sign, and urge all pre-school teachers to participate actively in skills upgrading so that you may take on additional roles and subsequently enjoy better pay.


19. The value of pre-school education lies in developing and broadening the range of children's learning experiences, to leave them as confident, eager and enthusiastic learners who look forward to starting school and starting life. Despite all the challenges, the long hours and high expectations, many of our pre-school teachers remain in the sector for a long time as they are passionate about educating Singapore's next generation. They want to provide daily opportunities that encourage our kids to practice newly developed skills and to plan for experiences through which they will acquire confidence and competence.

20. At this National Day Observance Ceremony, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all our Nation's educators, teachers and parents. With the Hand Foot and Mouth disease outbreak earlier this year, many teachers had to make extra efforts to help clean the centre, as well as to assist parents when their children fell ill. Singapore extends a warm and heartfelt appreciation to all of you for taking care of our children - children who will grow up to be our future leaders.

21. Enjoy the celebrations, and once again, Happy National Day!