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Speech By Ms Ho Peng At SIM University Convocation 2015

Speech By Ms Ho Peng, Advisor, Ministry Of Education, At SIM University Convocation 2015 (Session 5) On 9 October 2015, 9.30am, The Grand Hall Of SIM University

Professor Aline Wong, Chancellor, SIM University;
Mr Richard Eu, Chairman, SIM University Board of Trustees;
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SIM University;
Distinguished Guests; 

Introduction – Beginning of Journey

  1. First of all, allow me to extend my heartiest congratulations to SIM University on its 10th Anniversary. UniSIM offers new possibilities, new opportunities and new beginnings for its graduands. May I also congratulate all graduands at this special milestone in your life. It is the beginning of a new journey for all of you. But while you are starting off well, what is even more important is that you finish well.
  1. Most of you are in your 20s or 30s. In 30 – 40 years’ time, when you look back, I hope you will be able to say, “This life has been a worthwhile one.”
  1. So I ask myself what I could say at this point that could value-add to your life. And having retired from full-time work not too long ago, I thought I could share with you four lessons I have derived through life experiences.

Life Journey – Some Lessons

  1. Lesson 1: Be clear about your passion, and stay true to your calling The graduands in today’s ceremony are in the social sciences and humanities, majoring in psychology, communications, language studies, among others. The social sciences and humanities will become even more important in the next lap of Singapore’s development. This is because soft skills are even more needed because of the increasing complexities of our society. Graduands in the social sciences and humanities would surely have been much better equipped in the soft skills, especially in understanding human nature, and what makes people tick.
  1. Regardless of the field you are in, you must know what you are passionate about – what excites you, what intrigues you, and what will keep you going. It is not always the case that we know what our passions are. Some may discover early on in life – these are the lucky people. Others would find out only when they cycle through various jobs and experiences.
  1. My passion was in education. I found I could make it as a teacher when I was working my way through university. During the long university vacation, I worked as a relief teacher. I taught in four schools - three primary schools and one junior college.
  1. It was during this time that I found I could relate well with children as well as young people. I enjoyed my interactions with them, not just in terms of teaching in the classroom; but getting to know them as individuals, helping them discover themselves, helping them know their strengths and weaknesses, and helping to bring out the best in them.
  1. It was a natural choice when I decided to choose teaching as a career. I taught five years in school. While I left school after five years, I remained connected to students through my work at the Ministry of Education.
  1. Regardless of whether I was in curriculum development, school management, or in specialised areas such as pre-school education, special education, and so on, I derived immense satisfaction in all that I was doing.
  1. Being in education gave me the purpose for my life. The point is that if you are connected with an area of passion, this keeps you going all the time. The years passed all too quickly, and at the point of retirement, it was almost surreal to find that I had spent 36 years in education, all the time with one employer, quite remarkable in this day and age.
  1. It is a given to work hard, whatever job one is in, wherever you are. Whichever role I was in, make no mistake, it was hard work.
  1. As a teacher, I spent several hours with students beyond the classroom. As a teacher in charge of the military band and later on, in overall charge of cultural groups, I would spend a lot time interacting with students. I often went home very late after ECA, then showered, ate a late dinner, then planned lessons for the following day. Marking was done during weekends. I often slept about five hours each day, sometimes four.
  1. After a couple of years, I found that this was really not sustainable. I contracted the occupational hazard of losing my voice, and was falling sick once too often. I knew I was burning out fast.
  1. I came to the realisation that personal space was important, to keep going. I learnt to be assertive, to say ‘no‘ to new tasks that were coming my way thick and fast. And I picked up my piano lessons once again.
  1. So a lesson I learnt is that while we should work hard; to last, we need to pace ourselves. Life is not a sprint. It is a journey with peaks and troughs, where one makes interesting discoveries along the way - about ourselves, other people and the world. It is important to enjoy the journey, to have an interest outside work, and spending enough time with family and friends because this will sustain and refresh you.
  1. Lesson 3: Be persistent and take personal responsibility In life, if you want to make a change, you must be prepared to own the challenge and keep pushing. This requires persistence and tenacity. It requires you to take ownership of the change you want to see..
  1. In the 80s, I became the coordinator of the curriculum specialists looking after history and social studies. We wanted to open up the minds of students. Even then, the words “global mindset” were already very much a part of our vocabulary. Introducing international history was then a radical departure from the commonwealth history that was taught at that time.
  1. To make the change required us to put up many papers; it also required us to do our homework thoroughly to develop the new syllabus. There were a number of drafts and re-drafts, and we had to go up several times to the curriculum committee for approval. But we made it! I am glad to say that till today, international history continues to be taught at the upper secondary level.
  1. An important lesson I learnt is to be persistent, and push for what we believe in. As the coordinator, I felt the need to speak up, arguing for the cause we believed in, and taking responsibility for whatever outcome that came. You may not always get to change certain things immediately, or even after some time. If so, don’t keep bashing your head against the wall. If circumstances are not ripe for change, then bide your time, wait for the right moment to bring it up again. A principle that has guided me throughout my career is to do the right thing, at the right time, and at the right place; have the discernment to know when to bide your time, and never to give up.
  1. Lesson 4: Build teams, and build lasting friendships Finally, whether at work or in personal life, because we co-exist with others, harmony is essential. You may not always agree with each other, but there must be the respect for others.
  1. During my time as coordinator, I learnt how important it was to gel the team together. Each person is an individual, each with his or her thinking, personality, style of working. To get everyone working together as a team, it was essential to listen closely to different parties, next weigh carefully what you have heard, always keeping the larger picture in mind. Then have the courage of conviction to state your point clearly and persuasively, without fear or favour.
  1. Above all, it was useful to constantly remind everyone of the larger cause we were working for. And because we believed in working for a cause that was larger than ourselves, we could come together despite different personalities and working styles.
  1. Over time, I made good friends, and their friendships have stood the test of time. Good friends are angels in life’s journey. You never know what will hit you, sometimes in the least expected manner, be it issues on health, money or relationships. Good friends will advise, comfort and sustain you. They will go the extra mile for you, without expecting anything in return. And if you can count the number of good friends you have on just one hand, you are indeed a very lucky person. They will walk life’s journey with you, be there with you to celebrate and share the joy in good times; yet sustain and support you through the troughs and valleys of life. So make good friends, friends who are honest and caring, and keep them for life..


  1. In conclusion, allow me to reiterate the four lessons: Be clear about your passion, and stay true to your calling. Work hard, but pace yourself. Be persistent, and take personal responsibility. Build teams, and build lasting friendships.
  1. On this note, I wish you good health always, an exciting future ahead, and deep fulfilment when you finally choose to retire 30 – 40 years from now.


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