SINGAPORE: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat has outlined his ministry's plans to create a holistic education system and one where no child is left behind.
Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Mr Heng said that to prepare our students for the future, education must develop the whole person.
"It is less about content knowledge, as content will have to be re-learnt and even un-learnt during one's lifetime," he said.
"It is more about how to process information, discern truths from untruths, connect seemingly disparate dots, and create knowledge even as the context changes. It is about developing an enduring core of competencies, values and character to anchor our young and ensure they have the resilience to succeed."
"Developing the whole child must first begin with instilling the right character and values. We must adopt a student-centric, values-driven approach," added Mr Heng.
And to reflect the emphasis on a holistic, values-driven education, Mr Heng said that there will be a new Edusave Character Award to recognise students who exhibit exemplary values, such as resilience and tenacity, integrity, care and respect, as well as civic responsibility.
The minister said the Community Involvement Programme is an important part of character building as it builds a spirit of volunteerism.
It will therefore be enhanced and reframed as Values in Action to place a stronger emphasis across all schools on the inculcation of values through community involvement.
Under Values in Action, students will undertake personal and group reflections to discuss their experience and the role they can play in the community.
Students will be encouraged to choose community issues they are concerned about, understand them better and decide how they can make a difference.
Schools will also be encouraged to develop 4-year or 6-year development plans to move towards more sustainable learning through community involvement.
To ensure opportunities for all students, the Ministry of Education is significantly increasing its coverage of financial support for needy students.
More funds will also be given to financial assistance schemes.
The income limit for eligibility for the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme or FAS will be raised from S$1,500 to S$2,500.
Besides assessing applicants by household income, the ministry will assess them using a new Per Capita Income (PCI) criterion so that more students from larger families can qualify.
This means that students from households with a per capita income not exceeding S$625 per month will now be eligible.
For example, a family of six comprising two children, two parents and two grandparents living together, with a monthly income of S$3,600 (that is, per capita income of S$600) will now qualify.
Schools will also be given annual grants of up to S$15,000 per school every year, for the next three years.
This will allow schools to provide additional targeted support in specific ways or to students who might have just missed the FAS criteria but are deserving.
The ministry will also triple the annual funding allocated to the School Breakfast Programme, from S$4 million to S$12 million.
This is to ensure children do not start their day on an empty stomach.
However Education Minister Heng said: "But let me emphasise. It is not just about money, but an integrated approach, addressing financial, socio-emotional and learning support, in partnership with parents and the broader community.
"Ultimately, being inclusive is about giving each child the best opportunity to realise his or her potential, and in turn be able to fully participate in the workplace and in society thereafter."
The ministry will also grow the number of school-based student care centres over the next two years.
The ministry is looking to increase the number of student care centres located within schools from the current 57 to 70 by 2014.
The centres provide structured care for students, whether it's help with homework or with problems at home.
Constant interaction between the centre's staff and school teachers also means potential problems can be flagged quickly.
These centres are just one way in which the Education Ministry is lifting up students who fall behind.
The ministry also has learning support programmes in primary schools to pull up those weak in English and Maths.
Such early intervention programmes are also in place in preschools, where students from disadvantaged families are given help in English.
About 6,000 children have gone through the scheme, and another 2,200 will be included this year.
Besides helping the low-income, the ministry will also raise the level of resources to schools for them to offer more customised programmes for students.
Addressing the anxiety of parents over getting their child into a good school, Mr Heng outlined improvements made over the years, adding that his aim is to ensure that all schools are good schools.