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Speech by Adjunct Prof Ang Hak Seng at the SUSS Convocation 2019

Speech By Adjunct Professor Ang Hak Seng, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, at SUSS Convocation 2019, Session 5, Friday, 11 October 2019, The Grand Hall, Level 4

Mr Stephen Lee, Chancellor of SUSS,

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SUSS,

Brothers and Sisters,

Congratulations to the graduands for your graduation this morning. I hope that today’s graduation is not the end, but the beginning of your journey.This is because the new norms now make today’s learning inadequate and I would like to frame this as three ‘not-enoughs’ on why our learning never stops:

  • Individual discipline only is not enough
  • Knowledge only is not enough
  • Personal mastery is not enough

That is why there is a Chinese saying “活到老学到老”, which means learning is a never ending journey in life. To address this three ‘not-enoughs’, we need to embrace future of learning through the following three mind-set shifts:

  • Single discipline to Multiple discipline learning
  • Acquiring knowledge alone to Acquiring and applying the knowledge
  • Self-learning to Collective learning

With the analogy or a visual imagery of a simple Lego set that we are all familiar with, let me share further on what we can do and how we can embrace the future of learning. There are three stages, first you collect the pieces, then you connect the pieces to form shapes, and finally you can combine the shapes through collaboration.

Collect: Single Discipline to Multi Discipline Learning

Like Lego sets, the first thing you would need to do is the collect the Lego pieces or blocks. Only with enough Lego blocks then you are able to build something.

This is similar to our learning. Collecting one type of knowledge may not be sufficient as the issues that we face nowadays are multi-faceted and may require more than one deep skill. Therefore, your journey ahead is to collect many pieces of different disciplines.

Sharing my personal experience, I have been in the civil services for about 35 years and every 10 years I have a major upgrade. I first graduated as an Accountant. Ten years later, I had another upgrade to become a half engineer by pursuing a Masters in Management of Technology from MIT. Again, 10 years later, I had another refresher, and went for an Advanced Management Course in Harvard to train on business practices to become an entrepreneur. Ten years on, I did my PhD with NTU in the area of behavioural science. My learning journey did not stop there. Most recently, I had a minor upgrade to refresh my knowledge on technology; I had visited Tsinghua University in China to learn about data science in 2017. In my life story, each CPU upgrade is not on the same discipline, but a different discipline. And this is the way to solve future problems.

Connect: Learning to Applied Learning

Using the analogy of the Lego sets again, now you have the different pieces of Lego blocks. For it to take shape you will have to connect them to each other. This will give them height and breadth.

Connect is an analogy for connecting knowledge. Knowledge alone is of little value, but only when you connect the knowledge to application, it creates value. Knowledge is in abundance nowadays. In fact, knowledge is in everyone’s pockets – your smartphones. If I ask you a question now and you do not know the answer, what is the first thing you would do? Google, that’s right, and that will bring you any information you need. This is the new world. It is no longer only about how much you know, but how much you are able to apply to create value.

And this is where I would like to share with you another personal experience of mine. As some of you may know, I used to be in the Singapore Police Force. In theory and often shown in the movies, the method used to solve crimes may be to mount an ambush. However, in this scenario where we had an increase of car theft cases at East Coast Park, the park is big and having our policemen conduct raids would not be the most efficient. Hence, this is where we applied criminal psychology into solving crimes. The theft cases are usually conducted at areas that are dimly lit. Hence, we brighten up the park and the crime rates dropped significantly. However, this created a side problem which many of you will understand. Couples who visited the park for their dates now complained that it was too bright! We managed to appease them by shifting some of the benches to areas with more privacy.

Collaborative: Self Learning to Collective Learning

Imagine now you have your Lego blocks and your Lego set. There is only a limited variations on how it may be shaped. However, sometimes by borrowing or trading another piece from a friend, you may be able to change the entire shape totally. What’s more if you share Lego sets with each other, you can build a castle!

This is not what you know, but what we know together. And this is the concept of Collaborative Learning.

As announced just now, I am currently the Commissioner of Charities and would to share how this concept of collaborative learning also applies to the charity sector. Currently in the charity space, as a beneficiary, you would need to visit various different charities seeking for service and assistance. However, this model will be seeing a change, whereby the beneficiary is placed in the center, with the charities rotating around the beneficiary. This is an eco-systemic approach, which requires everyone to work together. In order to work together, we need to learn together, which is the spirit of collaborative learning.

Take for example, a senior elderly who may be discharged from hospital recently. To enable him or her to reintegrate into community and to have quality of life so that he or she can ‘live, work and play’, at best requires the help from everyone in the community. One charity to be in charge of the recovery process, another to ensure that the elderly age actively and age in place. And perhaps another charity to ensure that the elderly is connected socially so as to ensure the well-being of the mental health.

Like connecting the Lego sets, we are trying to connect the dots. But the real power in this ecosystem and collaborative learning approach is when the loop is closed.


I hope that my speech has sparked some thoughts in you. Before building on our Lego sets, we all would have a vision or a plan on how we envision the final product to look like. I akin this to our individual purpose in life.

With this purpose in life, we can then take our next steps and excel in life. As you come on stage later to receive your graduate certificate from the Chancellor, I hope you start thinking about what you want to achieve in life.

Congratulations again on your graduation and all the best for your future!

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