STUDENTS from two vocational schools received an added incentive to do well yesterday - a new national award kick- started by the Prime Minister himself.
The awards will mean that students from NorthLight School and Assumption Vocational Institute - who are less academically-gifted - will get recognition on the national stage for the first time.
Also announced yesterday: Two awards for secondary schools with innovative practices in the Normal course.
Why PM picked these causes
Yesterday's statement by Mr Lee Hsien Loong:
ONE of my top concerns has been to build an inclusive education system to nurture our young and provide them with a broad range of opportunities so that we can grow and develop students of every ability.
Last year, after I decided to donate the increase in my salary to worthy causes, I began thinking about how I might make a direct contribution to this goal.
I asked (the Ministry of Education) if we could set up some awards for those who faced more difficulties in school.
I wanted to recognise both the students who have persevered and done well, as well as the schools that have paid special attention to these students and found effective ways to help them develop as individuals.
The MOE suggested several ideas, and after discussing it with them, I decided to start with these two special awards.
This year, I have put in $300,000 to set up an endowment fund for the two awards.*
Over the next few years, I intend to build up this fund progressively with further contributions. This will enable the MOE to introduce more awards.
I hope the awards will encourage teachers and principals to do their utmost to improve school quality and education outcomes, and also motivate students to work hard and do their best.
If you make the effort, we will help you to do even better, and give you every opportunity to get ahead.
In fact, this is the attitude and mindset we want, not just in our schools and students, but throughout our society.
* The rest of the salary increase, amounting to about $200,000, I have donated to a range of community, grassroots, arts and social welfare.
PM Lee Hsien Loong contributed money for the awards from his own pocket: He gave $300,000 from his salary increase of about $500,000 last year to set up an endowment fund for the awards.
Mr Lee had already donated the other $200,000 from his pay hike to a range of community, grassroots, arts and social welfare organisations.
Explaining his move yesterday, the PM said that one of his top concerns has been to build an inclusive education system to grow and develop students of every ability.
'I wanted to recognise both the students who have persevered and done well, as well as the schools that have paid special attention to these students and found effective ways to help them develop as individuals,' he said.
He hopes the awards will motivate teachers, principals and students.
'If you make the effort, we will help you to do even better, and give you every opportunity to get ahead. In fact, this is the attitude and mindset we want, not just in our schools and students, but throughout our society,' he said.
To qualify for the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Special Achievement, which will be given out from next year, students from NorthLight and Assumption must have done well enough to gain entry to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
The winners - one from each school - must also have a positive attitude towards learning and self-improvement, strong leadership qualities, strength of character and a commitment to community service.
Both schools prepare less academically-inclined pupils for the ITE. NorthLight, which opened last year, takes in students who have failed the Primary School Leaving Examination and would otherwise have to drop out of school.
Each winner will receive an award of $600.
The principals of the two schools said the prize money is not as important as the morale boost it would give the students.
Though Assumption students are given awards for academic, sports, character building and participation based achievements, these are school-based ones.
NorthLight has its own Student of the Month award, recognising students for improvement in behaviour, as well as awards for academic subjects and co-curricular activities.
Assumption principal Christopher Neo said of the new award: 'This will be our most prestigious award to date and it lends additional credence and will certainly boost the morale and motivation of our students.'
NorthLight head Chua Yen Ching said she liked the community service criteria for the award.
Citing an example of how her students collected Lego pieces to send to children in Cambodia, she said: 'It shows they have moved from receiving to giving, even though they may not be very privileged themselves,' she said.
The other new award, the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Innovations in the Normal course, will recognise up to two schools each year that have implemented innovative practices benefiting Normal course students.
Their students would also have to excel in academic and non-academic areas. Each winning school will receive $3,000.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 23, 2008