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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at Arif Budiman Malay Language Teacher Award, on Saturday, 10 November 2018 at the Orchid Country Club

10 Nov 2018

Associate Professor Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim 
Chairman of the Malay Language Learning & Promotion Committee 

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar
Advisor of the Anugerah Guru Arif Budiman (AGAB) Organising Committee 2018

Mr Wong Siew Hoong
Director-General of Education

Mr Abdul Harris Sumardi
Co-Chairperson, AGAB 2018 Organising Committee

MOE Colleagues, teachers, parents, ladies and gentlemen,


1. Salam hormat dan selamat pagi. 

2. I am happy to join you today for the Anugerah Guru Arif Budiman (AGAB) or Arif Budiman Malay Language Teacher Award.  

3. Please allow me to begin with a few words in Malay. Terima kasih kerana mengundang saya ke majlis Anugerah Guru Arif Budiman. Saya berasa amat gembira dapat bersama-sama anda pada pagi ini. 

Anugerah Guru Arif Budiman

4. AGAB celebrates its 12th year. Since its inception in 2007, AGAB has recognised 50 outstanding Malay Language teachers in primary, secondary schools, centralised institutes and junior colleges who have made significant contributions to the teaching and learning of the Malay Language.  

a. I last spoke at AGAB Ceremony in 2013 where I urged the award recipients to put students at the heart of all that they do and inspire other teachers in their teaching journey. 

b. I am heartened to note that since then, a number of them are now teacher leaders. One of them is also a Teaching Fellow at the National Institute of Education Asian Languages Centre training beginning teachers. 

c. In fact, one of the 2013 recipients, Mdm Rasidah Mohd Rasit was here this morning to share with parents on non-conventional drama techniques to guide their children in learning the Malay Language in an interactive manner.

d. I am glad to know that past AGAB recipients are continuing to make contributions within and outside the teaching fraternity. 

e. This year, we welcome five more recipients who will be honoured for their excellent and exemplary service as an educator. Congratulations to all of you! May you continue with your good work inspiring other Malay Language teachers and serve as role-model for our students. 

Building a Strong Foundation in Mother Tongue Languages

5. We must start early to build a strong foundation in Mother Tongue Languages (MTLs) in our children.  Research from different parts of the world has consistently shown that the early years is the golden period to learn languages. Early bilingual exposure is critical in developing language competencies. Young children can pick up new sounds and words quickly through interactions with native language speakers. 

a. Recognising the importance of this, all 18 MOE kindergartens teach the three official MTLs. This will be the case for all 50 MOE Kindergartens to be set up by 2023. We hope to see our children entering primary school with a strong foundation in their mother tongues.

b. This is also why we set up the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism in 2011, focusing on nurturing children to be bilingual at the pre-school level, and to support MOE’s efforts in the teaching and learning of English and MTLs.

6. Making learning fun and relevant is key to helping students learn mother tongue in schools. The new 2015 Primary curriculum uses contexts in daily lives to make learning of the Malay Language relevant to students, and sharpen their language proficiency by focusing on interactive communication skills. Based on a survey conducted this year on the 2015 primary curriculum, a very high 96 percent of parents surveyed said their children liked Malay lessons . Teachers also found the new curriculum more engaging and relevant to the students, inspiring them to make Malay a living language in their daily lives. 

7. MOE has been using digital resources for teaching and learning. The MTLs are among the first subjects to leverage on the use of such resources. In 2014, MOE developed “The e-Cekap” which contains supplementary online resources for primary school students, to complement the hardcopy textbooks, to make learning more interactive. MOE has also recently implemented the Student Learning Space for all subjects, including MTLs, for learning to take place anytime, anywhere. These digital resources harness technology to allow students to acquire language skills such as vocabulary and grammar in a fun and engaging way. Both teachers and students have given positive feedback about the resources. 

Teachers Remain Key in Teaching and Learning

8. However, in all that we do, teachers, and not technology, remain key to help our students learn and develop. There is a Malay saying – Hidup kayu berbuah, Hidup manusia berjasa. It means a tree provides fruits for man and animals, while a person contributes to the well-being of others. This exemplifies the spirit of Arif Budiman. It is thus apt that the award is named the Arif Budiman Malay Language Teacher Award. Arif Budiman means “the learned person who contributes to society”. 

a. Two of our awardees, Mr Amirul Asri from Evergreen Primary School and Mdm Khairyanie Kamsani from Gan Eng Seng Primary School are our Motivation Category recipients. Having only started teaching less than 10 years ago, they have demonstrated deep passion to teach the subject well and to inspire our students’ passion in the language.  Both teachers have now taken on leadership appointments in school and leading their department teachers in the teaching and learning of Malay Language.  

b. Our Role Model Category recipients, give back to the society in different ways. For instance, Madam Rita Zarina from Marsiling Secondary School is an advocate at Sister Sabria Foundation, which coordinates fund-raising efforts in the community. Mr Roslie from Fernvale Primary School conducts writing workshops to inspire and encourage our youths to express themselves using Malay Language. Mr Mohamad Zareen from Loyang Primary School organises futsal matches for the youths to engage them in healthy sporting activities. 

c. One similar passion that we see in all our five recipients is that they continue to develop themselves professionally. As educators, you must keep abreast of educational developments and changes in our changing language environment, so as to remain relevant. As MTL education practitioners, honing your craft is key. This allows you to design learning experiences for our students to make language a living language, in schools and beyond.  

9. I am also pleased to note that the sharing sessions conducted this morning are helmed by members of AGAB Work Group. This work group is formed by past recipients who have come together to form a community of like-minded educators driven by a common mission to improve the teaching and learning of Malay Language. The Work Group serves as an invaluable platform to share their professional expertise to bring out the richness of Malay Language, literature and culture with other teachers, parents and community.  

Importance of MTLs

10. MTLs is important in multi-cultural, multi-racial Singapore. Bilingualism has been a cornerstone of our education policy. As our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said in 1972, “It is not just learning the language. With the language goes the fables and proverbs. It is the learning of a whole value system, a whole philosophy of life, that can maintain the fabric of our society intact, in spite of exposure to all the current madness around the world”.   

11. English provides a common platform for all races to interact with one another and is thus a critical part of our nation-building. It also enables our people to plug into the globalised world, and make Singapore conducive to international business. However, our Mother Tongues help us to stay connected to the heritage of our various ethnic groups, and anchors our identity. This is also the key reason why we teach Character and Citizenship Education in MTLs in primary schools today. It helps to draw out the values, and rich heritage that our Mother Tongues and cultures offer. 

12. The importance of your work cannot be over-stated. As the world becomes more interconnected with globalisation, the learning of two or more languages has taken on added significance. Beyond being a tool for business communication, languages also help us to more deeply understand the culture of different people and races. Giving our children a strong foundation in our mother tongues is one of the best gifts we can give them in life. Not only will it give them an advantage in life, it also enables them to be culturally sensitive and connect with the world.  


13. Let me conclude. Building a strong foundation in MTLs start from young. Our educators play a key role to nurture the love of languages in our students. The preservation of our cultures, values, Asian heritage and sense of identity in our students is best delivered through our MTLs.  

14. On this note, may I take the opportunity to once again congratulate the AGAB recipients for their contribution to the teaching and learning of the Malay Language, and dedication to their profession. 

Cengkerang indah trofi bertakhta,
Mutiara putih di atas peti;
Penerima AGAB ibarat pelita,
Menerangi budi menabur bakti.

15. I am confident that like earlier AGAB recipients, with your passion for the language, you will go on to deepen your learning, and stay motivated to mentor and inspire our youths in their learning journey. 

Terima kasih!