SINGAPORE - The shifts in education policy announced in last Sunday's National Day Rally (NDR) must catalyse mindset changes among parents or they will have no impact, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said last Wednesday night.
"If parents' mindsets don't change, whatever changes we make will not have any impact," he said, rounding off a public forum on the Rally held by government feedback unit Reach.
About 180 people - ranging from grassroots leaders and unionists to business representatives and students - attended the forum at Rendezvous Grand Hotel.
Some of the 21 participants who spoke were sceptical about the effectiveness of proposed moves, such as replacing the T-score for Primary School Leaving Examination results with broader bands of grades.
In response, Mr Heng said the changes announced in the Rally should not be seen in isolation.
In education, for instance, the overarching aim is "to be able to create opportunities for every child regardless of background".
He reminded the audience of his ministry's work in that regard over the past few years, from investing more in pre-schools to giving needy children a stronger foundation in basic skills such as mathematics and languages.
And in the NDR speech, one measure to create opportunities was giving flexibility to Secondary 1 students in all streams to study subjects at a higher level, if they are good enough.
"If you look at this whole package of measures, it is not about one measure announced by the Prime Minister... It is part of our whole philosophy or approach," he said.
The minister also defended the ideal of making every school a good school.
Some participants had questioned this.
Student Sun Jia Ying, 13, for instance, would like to study pure humanities subjects at Secondary 3. But her school, Pei Hwa Secondary, said it could not offer her the opportunity as it did not have enough qualified teachers.
"Why are there not enough qualified teachers... when all schools are meant to be good schools?" she asked.
Mr Heng did not answer that question directly, but noted that a good school "cannot just be defined by an academic yardstick".
Though Singaporeans are used to thinking about schools only in one dimension - grades - being a good school is about helping children develop in their areas of strength, which might be in arts or sports. Parents cannot expect all children to leave their schools with all As, he said - and if that is the measure, then not every school can be a "good school".
Over at The Grassroots Club, Minister for Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim chaired a closed-door session with members of the Malay-Muslim community.
Their top concerns were in housing, education and health care, he said, including the affordability of homes and the expected rise in premiums for MediShield insurance - now being expanded to cover all for life, including those with pre-existing ailments.
On housing affordability, Dr Yaacob said the Prime Minister had gone on the national stage and offered to be Singaporeans' property agent to stress that the Government would keep homes affordable, especially for first-time buyers. "He's putting his reputation on the line," Dr Yaacob said.
On MediShield, he said the Government has pledged to help those who cannot afford the premiums.
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