SINGAPORE — How will Singapore survive the next 50 to 100 years, and what role do schools play in this journey of helping the country defy the odds of history?
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing posed these questions to students and staff at Raffles Institution's (RI) bicentennial lecture on Tuesday (May 16), in a speech tracing its history along with Singapore's development from a British colony to an independent nation.
As RI marks its 200 years in 2023, Singapore is once again confronted with new uncertainties and heightened insecurities, from rising geopolitical tensions to demographic challenges like aging, said Chan.
Apart from about 650 RI students, 330 upper secondary students and 70 accompanying teachers from 68 schools also attended the lecture.
For Singapore to remain relevant and continue to succeed, schools need to contribute in three key aspects, said Chan.
Singapore's roots as a land of opportunity
In order for Singapore to continue to be a land of opportunities, schools must be pioneering institutions and contribute to an education system that enables everyone to achieve his potential, he said.
RI's longest-serving principal from 1870 to 1906, R.W. Hullett, illustrated this pioneering spirit by introducing new teaching methods and raising the standard of scholarship, among his other efforts, said Chan.
"As the oldest institution in Singapore, RI started as a pioneer in education, and must continue to uphold this spirit," he added.
RI was the first government school to become independent in 1990, which strengthened its ability to spearhead innovative educational models. It now has about 400 students per cohort.
"In the next bound, I'd like you to imagine if RI's best practices can be propagated to benefit 4,000 or 40,000, beyond its own students," said Chan. "RI has a responsibility to bring others along, not separate yourself from the field."
The crux is how RI can generate new practices at scale and at speed, and share the fruits with others, he said. "All of you must recognise that you have more resources at your disposal compared to previous generations, greater opportunities afforded to you by society, and more extensive connections endowed by your network."
Citing a mentoring programme that RI started in 2023 for financially disadvantaged pupils from 10 primary schools, he said such efforts by schools to share social capital will allow more students to benefit from the same opportunities.
A culture of innovation and collaboration
Schools must foster a strong culture of innovation to create new value, and harness collaboration to bridge divides in a rapidly changing landscape, said Chan.
"In a world with increasingly diverse views, our people must develop the perspectives and skill sets to connect with others across cultures and backgrounds," he said.
"Singapore has our roots as an entrepot; we connected a vast network of physical trade. If we are to reach SG100, we must likewise be that bridge that connects trade, finance, technology, talent, culture, ideas and information beyond just physical trade."
He encouraged students to stay curious and learn beyond their school curriculum, and understand other cultures and countries deeply.
The Government is reviewing the humanities curriculum to make it more Asia- and Asean-centric, and make use of international trips to promote the learning of Asean languages among students, he said.
"We must bring the world to our students, and also welcome and learn from others in the region," said Chan. "RI must connect with the region and the world to bring up yet another generation of students who are locally rooted but globally minded.
"Do not just take the well-trodden paths. Instead, go where few — or no one — have ventured before. Wherever you may go, bring back some new ideas or perspectives for our country to progress better, farther, together."
A generation rooted in service
Chan said schools must nurture leaders with the "gumption and vision to step up in service of Singapore".
"The quality of our people and the character of our leadership must remain top-notch, so Singapore can continue to count for more than our size," he said.
RI was set up as an institution to educate and prepare students to serve, and has since produced generations of thinkers, leaders and pioneers, he added.
"Beyond RI200, RI must continue to remain steadfast to these founding ideals. And this should not just be the task of RI. It must be the raison d'etre of all our schools.
"All our schools must cultivate a strong desire of service in our students, encourage them to give back, and take action to address the needs of the times."
"Many of you here are or will be leaders in your own fields," said Chan. "You will be tasked with the responsibility to ensure that everyone progresses together and no one is left behind. You will have to confront challenging situations and make difficult decisions."
He added that the country needs to raise leaders who will resolve to act in the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, who will step up in the service of the nation and others, despite the challenges, and enable the next generation to do better.
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