Heng Swee Keat’s speech at the Education COS yesterday signaled change. Nonetheless, I was somewhat disappointed. Not at the direction he was taking, since I am a supporter of education for the student, education for learning, and education for values.
I was disappointed at the apparent lack of leadership. Heng sounded like he lacked the necessary confidence. He outlined what he thought were the objectives of education in para. 97 of his speech, but when it came time to talk about implementation, he pulled back and cautioned against moving too fast or too far. At a time when he needed to be courageous, he appeared timid.
Education alone cannot give us a good life, and we need to be clear what a good life is. If a good life is simply about getting ahead of others, and achieving the 5Cs, the competitive pressure in the workplace will define how we as parents and teachers view education. Then no amount of changes in the education system can alter the reality of each of us chasing after material and positional goods. We cannot have broader definitions of success in education without our society accepting broader definitions of success in life. In many respects, the education system reflects societal norms and expectations.
It sounds like the Mr Heng is more willing to let society shape his ministry than he is to use his ministry to shape our society. If he truly believes that education affects outcomes, then he has to lead our society by imparting those values to our students.
Perhaps, if I were to be generous, I could think that he is hoping to squeeze more buy-in from those entrenched in the “old ways”, but he need not try to be that popular. We know the system has flaws. Education is one of the most griped-about issues in our country. Education is often the reason why our citizens migrate. Whichever way he moves, there will be dissent and displeasure. If he would try to fix it, now is not the time for wavering – courage, vision and leadership are what he really needs.
Yes – Heng has pointed us in a better direction, but a minister’s value is in his leadership. Now lead, Minister Heng, lead.