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Speech at Parliamentary Debates on President's Speech

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education, Parliament

Mr Speaker Sir,

  1. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak in support of the motion to thank the President for his address to this 12th Parliament. I know, this has been a long week; and coming towards the end of the debate, I thank Members for their continued attention. I would like to focus on inclusive growth for Singapore and for Singaporeans through education and training and how everyone has a chance to work towards a good life.
  2. The Government has invested much in education and training, so that every Singaporean can be ‘armed’ with the necessary skills – our best ‘weapon’ to seek a good living and future for ourselves and our family. Decent work and a good job can also be a source of personal satisfaction, and fulfillment as well as dignity. In a country such as ours where human resources remain our best and sole resource for economic survival, Singapore depends on our people to survive and thrive. Work is the best means for Singaporeans to achieve self-reliance while participating in and reaping the benefits of the economic growth of our country.
  3. But with the world moving much faster than before, having the skills to stay in our jobs today is no longer enough. We also need to have the capabilities to meet the demands of tomorrow. Supporting Singaporeans through continuous learning is our way of helping Singaporeans stay employable with the new knowledge and skills sets required to remain relevant in the job market. This is why, apart from Pre-Employment Training, the Government has also invested heavily in our Continuing Education & Training (CET) framework.
  4. But while most workers strive on and seek out opportunities to obtain the skills, experience and qualifications to stay relevant and ahead of the game, there is a group of people among us who are less poised to take advantage of these opportunities - the less educated and less skilled. They must not be left behind. The Tripartite Committee for Low-Wage Workers and Inclusive Growth (TriCom), which I chair, was set up in October 2010, to deal with the challenges faced by our low-wage workers. The key focus of this Tricom is to help those who missed out on opportunities in school to now catch the boat and pick up the skills needed to earn a good living.
  5. The Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) is an alternative pathway that allows those without formal qualifications to be granted nationally recognised qualification and certification based on their workplace skills and experience.
  6. Low-wage workers face unique challenges and barriers to training, which keeps them from stepping out of the low income trap. To help them surmount these challenges, the Workfare Training Support (WTS) Scheme was launched in July last year to support them in the pursuit of training for greater income and social mobility. The generous course fee subsidies and absentee payroll support help them to reduce the cost of training for themselves as well as their employers. Training commitment award payments of up to $400 a year rewards them for completing training. There are other specific ways to help and to encourage low-wage workers to pick up skill training. Workfare-Skill Up for example, provides mentorship, English@Workplace Scheme brings us accessible industry training, as it is conducted at the workplace.
  7. As low-wage workers improve their own circumstances through training, we can help uplift them by providing them with better wages and employment standards. The second focus of the TriCom is on best sourcing because a significant number of low-wage workers are employed in outsourced sectors such as the security and cleaning services sectors.
  8. Low-wage workers in outsourced sectors are particularly vulnerable as they and their employers typically lack the bargaining power to make a difference to their wages and employment standards. Buyers of outsourced services tend to look to price as the determining factor for services which do not have defining quality and value propositions. For cleaning and security sectors, this is usually the case. When a buyer procures based on the lowest price it can get for the service, it encourages unhealthy price competition that depresses wages and employment standards across the sector, as service providers try to undercut one another to win the contract. The Tripartite Advisory on Responsible Outsourcing Practices shows the way forward for service buyers to act responsibly to ensure that the workers of their outsourced service providers are provided with basic employment standards and benefits. The TriCom is revising the Advisory to update the recommendations for better implementation. The revised Advisory and a step-by-step guidebook which will provide practical tips for procurement officers and management will be launched sometime next month.
  9. Mr Zainal Sapari has said that the government and the NTUC have done much to help low wage workers and urges for more to be done. I cannot agree more. But beyond schemes and subsidies, my hope is to see the betterment of our low-wage workers with the support of a more socially conscious business and social community. We need to change the way that we, as the procurer of services, be it decision makers in companies, facilities managers or the end user beneficiaries, value the service and hard work of our workers should be looked into again. Driving a hard bargain to reduce what we pay to the service providers and in turn their workers, may bring short-term cost benefits and cost-savings, but often result in unseen costs such as poorer service levels and risks of service disruption and cost to the low-wage workers as it is the workers and their families who will bear the brunt of depressed wages.
  10. We cannot as a society call for more to be done for low-wage workers, but not ourselves play our part as responsible buyers of such services. Cleaning and security services are after all small costs for most companies.
  11. As to whether the Government can cease outsourcing manual jobs, that may not be practical. Outsourcing allows the Government to focus on its core business, and tap on private-sector expertise and efficiency. It is not to save costs by depressing wages. Doing away with outsourcing is also not the silver bullet that Mr Zainal seems to suggest it is; we should aim to uplift all low-wage workers, not just the small number that the Government can directly employ.
  12. But Mr Zainal will be happy to note that the Government will walk the talk in best sourcing. Prime Minister has said that Government will support this. We are studying how the government can better implement the best sourcing practices in the Tripartite Advisory. I hope that with the government taking the lead, the private sector will follow suit too.
  13. As we uplift the vulnerable workers through skills for good employment, the Government is also determined to open the path to opportunities for our young people by maximizing their potential through education. Let me now speak on another issue close to my heart – ensuring that every child has the chance to fully develop through education despite their circumstances.
  14. The Prime Minister yesterday spoke about one of our national concerns as Singapore becomes more developed - students from less well-off families tend to do less well in education. This is a global phenomenon, not unique to Singapore, and is something the Government is committed to addressing.
  15. We have done this first and foremost – by continuously making heavy investments to develop and nurture our young. This is complemented by the unique working relationships between various stakeholders in society. Like the tripartite partnership that has supported the economic growth, we have built a similar collaborative framework in the education sector - between schools, parents and the community - to bring about the best education for our young. For instance, over the past decade through concerned effort, we have aggressively tackled the issue of school dropouts - bringing it down from 4% in 2000 to 1% in 2010, last year.
  16. Beyond that, we continue to do more for academically weaker students. We have put in place learning support programmes to level up those weaker in English and Math at the primary level. At the secondary level, Dr Intan Azura would be glad to know that we have been doing more for our Normal (Technical) students. A new N(T) STEP curriculum, which places stronger emphasis on building students’ self-motivation and self-esteem, character development, numeracy and literacy was introduced. New subjects like Elements of Business Skills with industrial attachment are well received by teachers and students alike.
  17. We have also provided more resources to N(T) students. In calculating teacher quota, we give consideration to schools with more Normal course students, by providing additional manpower grants, and an additional Head of Department for N(T) for schools with larger Normal (Technical) enrolment. In tandem with curriculum demands, we have provided more teachers too. Dr Itan would be pleased to know for example, subjects such as Computer Applications, Design & Technology, which require closer supervision, are taught in groups of 20. Many schools also deploy their Allied Educators to support N(T) students.
  18. We have been extremely encouraged by our existing Specialised Schools - Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School – catering to students with different learning styles. Given the positive experiences from students in these schools, we see value in using a whole school approach to nurture the whole child, hence our motivation to embark on the two new Specialised Schools. This approach will enable us to deliver some of the support Dr Intan has called for N(T) students: create a customized curriculum, execute appropriate teaching pedagogies, and recruit committed teachers with the right skills and attitudes.
  19. Dr Intan has expressed concern that the new Specialised Schools may lead to more segregation. This is a valid concern. We believe that by meeting the learning needs of N(T) students more effectively, we will be able to help them pick up the skills, competencies and values to lead a productive and fulfilling life. In the long run, this will help ensure these students succeed in life and promote a more inclusive society.
  20. I assure Members that the intention here is in no way to segregate N(T) students – but to offer them with another option in the education landscape – to better support and meet their learning needs. The bulk of our N(T) students will still be in our mainstream schools, together with Express and Academic students For these students, we will continue to study how we can improve their learning experience, including scaling up learning points from our Specialised Schools and N(T) Mark II schools.
  21. While we have in place the programmes and policies to help the vulnerable in our population, overcoming the odds to succeed takes immense personal courage and commitment. I am encouraged by those who have succeeded and done well. Let me cite a recent story published in the Straits Times
  22. Christopher Zhuo grew up in a home environment plagued by loan sharks. The eldest of three sons, became the head of the household at 18. Determined to turn life around for his family, Christopher worked hard at school, and earned a diploma in business studies before landing scholarships which paid for his university fees. Today, he is a successful trader in the finance industry and has earned enough to buy a hawker stall for his mother. (The Straits Times, 16 July 2011)
  23. This is not an isolated case - our findings show that of students living in 3 room flats or smaller, one in every 2 still go on to our publicly funded universities or polytechnics. We will continue to support students with Edusave, Opportunity Fund and IHL bursaries, financial assistance.
  24. Our meritocratic approach and inclusive education system have made it possible for students from disadvantaged families to succeed. In this area, we have done better than most developed countries. In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA study, conducted by the OCED found that Singapore students fared very well out of 65 countries studied coming in fifth in Reading, second in Mathematics and fourth in Science. However, what was more impressive to me was that the study found that half of our students from lower socio-economic backgrounds perform better than what their circumstances would predict. They are called the “Resilient students”. The portion of resilient students in Singapore is twice that of other countries in the study, where on average one-quarter performed better that what their circumstances would predict. So in a nutshell, everyone in Singapore, including the lower income families and their children can do well in school.
  25. Going forward, we must press on to ensure that no child is left behind. We must strengthen the partnership between schools, parents and community. As Chairman of COMPASS, over the past few months, I have met many parents who are both concerned about their child’s education and supportive of efforts of teachers and schools. As we move towards a Student-Centric, Values-Driven education system, we need the schools and parents to work together to overcome problems of learning and to give greater support to our students. Schools can reinforce values imparted by parents to their children, while parents can provide a supportive environment for their children’s learning and to develop important lifeskills.
  26. We see evidence of this strong collaborative spirit in many of our schools. At St. Hilda’s Primary School for example, the parent support group initiated and maintains the Reading is Fun Programme (RIFP) and Maths Made Easy (MME) programme to help Primary 1 and 2 pupils who are weaker in these areas. Both programmes involve parent volunteers dedicating time and energy to help our children become more confident readers and mathematicians through fun activities such as story-telling and games.
  27. We can reach out and work with even more parents, including those with less academically inclined children, to further reduce dropout rates and encourage even more to progress to post-secondary education.
  28. As we progress with sights set for the future, let us offer the helping hands for those who are vulnerable among us or who have fallen behind along the way. This is my vision for an inclusive society of Singapore – a future where every Singaporean counts and no one is left behind.

  29. Mr Speaker Sir,
  30. As PM had emphasized yesterday, the government’s priority will be to create opportunities for all our people to progress. In addition, this will be complemented by strengthening our social safety nets so that the vulnerable will not be left behind and can improve themselves and become self-reliant.
  31. Over the years, we have created a society that is more inclusive – and we will do even more going forward. Aside from MOE and MOM, the whole government and community want low income families to succeed in their lives, and will been making concerted efforts to do so.
  32. Today, low wage workers and their families have a chance to improve their well-being, with a range of programmes developed by WDA and other bodies. Through the Workforce Skills Qualifications Programme those without formal qualifications have the chance to improve themselves and their incomes. To further help the low-income workers, we have the Workfare Training Support Scheme that is a network of training that can help our workers to enhance their skills and continue working.
  33. Many students from low-income families too have done well at ITE, polytechnic and university. There are many bursaries and schemes put in place both by the government, and bodies like Muis and etc to ensure no child should be denied a good education due to financial means. The low income families would not do so and would find examples that they can take to motivate their children to succeed in education and in life.
  34. The less fortune should also not lose hope. As PISA study of 2009 has indicated, in terms of proportion, there were many more “Resilient Students” in Singapore compared to many other developed countries. These “Resilient Students” are those from low-socio economic backgrounds, who had achieved better than their circumstances would have expected. Our children must do better than ourselves, and their children must do even better than themselves.
  35. As a community, we have seen significant improvements in our education performance over the past decade. The percentage of Malay students in P1 Cohort admitted to post-secondary institutions has shown marked improvement from 70% in 2000 to 86% in 2009. The proportion of Malays aged 15 and over with at least post-secondary qualifications has doubled from 18% in 2000 to 36% in 2010. This should encourage us and spur us to progress further.
  36. Mr Speaker, as PM had noted, Singapore’s next 10 years will be challenging. As a community, we must seize all the opportunities available, be it to constantly upgrade our skills or support our young fully to be the best they can be. I am confident that with what the community has achieved so far, we can emerge even stronger, more resilient and more successful in the years to come.
  37. Mr Speaker, I support the Motion and thank the President.