DPM Heng Swee Keat at the SINDA Excellence Awards 2019

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 28 September 2019

Speech by DPM and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the SINDA Excellence Awards on 28 September 2019.


Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 
Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, and Chairman, SINDA,

Ms Indranee Rajah, 
Second Minister for Finance and Education, President, SINDA,

SINDA Board of Trustees and Executive Committee Members,

Mr Anbarasu Rajendran, CEO, SINDA,

Award Recipients, Family Members,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


A very good morning to all of you. I am very happy to join you this morning at the SINDA Excellence Awards.

As you have seen in the video, we are gathered here today not just to recognise the students’ outstanding achievements in academic and non-academic areas, but also to affirm their perseverance, diligence and passion for excellence.

This year, we have 517 award recipients – the largest number of recipients in the 28-year history of the SINDA Excellence Awards. Well done!

My heartiest congratulations to all the award recipients, and also to the families, friends, teachers and coaches who have supported you.

Succeeding despite challenges

Among us today are two award recipients who have excelled despite difficult personal circumstances.

For instance, Tiru Kumarran. Tiru is 21 this year.

While he was in secondary school, his family encountered financial hardship. He and his family also had to care for his grandmother, who had suffered two strokes.

Nevertheless, Tiru was determined to work hard, and do well. With the support from his school, SINDA and his family, Tiru became one of the top students at Anderson Secondary.

He went on to study Mass Media Management at Nanyang Polytechnic, and made the Director’s List five times.

During his time at NYP, he also interned at The Walt Disney Company in Singapore. This sparked his interest in programming, and he intends to become a programmer after he completes his full-time National Service.

We wish Tiru all the best in his future endeavours.

I also want to introduce you to 25-year old Suraendher Kumarr, the valedictorian of today’s awards.

Suraendher’s parents separated when he was only 5 years old. He has four siblings, and his mother was the sole breadwinner.

Finances were tight, and at one point, the family of six had to squeeze into a one-room rental flat. 

His family’s hardship motivated Suraendher to do well in school, so that he and his family could have a better life.

He did well academically, and got into St Joseph’s Institution, and then into Catholic Junior College.

He also picked up hockey, and worked his way to team captain of the hockey team.

After graduating from CJC, he went on to study Political Science at the National University of Singapore.

Today, Suraendher works as a research analyst in a private company, and one of his goals is to provide for his ageing mother.

I am happy to know that he and his family are doing well, and now have greater financial stability in their lives.

Well done Suraendher!

Education as a social leveller

Tiru’s and Suraendher’s stories demonstrate the power of education to transform lives – Individually, it empowers people to rise above difficult circumstances, and secure a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

Collectively, it ensures that our society remains open, and where people succeed based on their hard work and talent, not because of their family background.

In other societies, we have seen the dangerous consequences when there is limited social mobility.

In many advanced economies, inequality has widened, driven in part by globalisation and technology, and reinforced by societal biases and norms.

This has contributed to a fraying of the social compact that hold these societies together.   

We must ensure that this does not happen in Singapore.

This is why the Government made access to quality education a priority from the beginning, and continues to invest heavily in all Singaporeans, at all stages of life. 

As PM Lee affirmed in his National Day Rally in August: Every Singaporean son and daughter must have the opportunity to receive a good education, and start well in life, regardless of their family background.

First, we have invested more in preschool in recent years.

At the recent National Day Rally, PM Lee announced further enhancements to the preschool subsidies, which will improve affordability for lower- and middle-income families.

We will also be increasing the number of Government-supported preschool places to 80% of total places over time, to provide more affordable, high-quality options for parents.

Second, during the schooling years, we develop each child to the fullest, regardless of his or her background or learning needs

By making changes to our Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system, to move away from overly focusing on academic grades. 

By developing our children holistically, through outdoor learning, applied learning, and instilling in them the right character and values. This is why we put so much emphasis in our Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), and in encouraging our students to put values into action.

By providing additional learning support for students who are weaker in English and Mathematics. I am very happy that the SINDA Awards now recognise a wide range of achievements and abilities.

Third, we are making higher education more affordable, and more accessible to students of different strengths.

By enhancing government bursaries for undergraduate and diploma students.

By broadening the criteria for admission into our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) – to look at students’ aptitudes and interests, and match them with the right programme.

By building new learning pathways, such as the work-study programmes and our applied universities.

Fourth, we are making a sustained effort to encourage lifelong learning through SkillsFuture

So that workers can pick up new skills, and access new job opportunities, at every stage of life.

The Government is committed to finding new ways to make sure that our education system serves all Singaporeans, and allows all Singaporeans to develop their full potential, regardless of their starting point in life.

Partners in nation-building

However, the Government’s efforts, while necessary, are not by themselves sufficient.

Most of our lives – and therefore our learning – takes place outside the classroom.

Families, community partners, and employers all play a key role in developing people to their full potential.

That is why the Government is actively partnering with the community to support and empower our most vulnerable students and families.

One such initiative is “UPLIFT”, which stands for “Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce”.

Indranee is leading this Taskforce, which works with social service agencies and community partners to identify and provide support to students and families from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For instance, students receive special after-school care to help them focus on their studies, and strengthen their mental and emotional resilience.

Parents will also receive support on how to engage, guide and motivate their children.

SINDA has done good work, in working closely with your stakeholders to provide a range of activities for our students and youths.

Take the Peer Leadership Programme for instance, a programme for youth who display leadership potential.

The programme nurtures youths’ leadership skills and heart for the community and giving them the opportunity to serve as peer mentors, or to lead SINDA’s youth activities.

Another example is SINDA’s work to support disadvantaged families, such as your door-knocking programme.

Under this programme, SINDA volunteers work with grassroots bodies and other partners to befriend those from low-income households, understand their needs and connect them with possible avenues of support.

This extra support empowers parents and children to overcome their difficulties, and have better lives.

As Anbarasu shared earlier, SINDA is able to make a positive impact on more lives through the work of many hands. These efforts by SINDA reflect the spirit of our Singapore Together movement – by looking beyond ourselves, and forging strong partnerships within and between communities as we collectively envision, own and build our future Singapore.

Drawing inspiration from our pioneers

In doing so, we build on the legacy of our pioneers, who forged a cohesive and prosperous nation out of a group of immigrants. These include pioneers from the Indian community, such as:

Mr Naraina Pillai, a trader and entrepreneur who used his wealth to serve the Indian community by building the Sri Mariammam Temple;

Mr S Rajaratnam, a writer, journalist and political leader who, as our first Foreign Minister, helped a fledging nation survive in a turbulent region. He also authored our National Pledge, and articulated our aspiration to be “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”, a pledge which all our children take every day in school.

More recently, Mr J Y Pillay, who was born in Selangor, but chose to serve in the Singapore civil service, building up key companies such as Singapore Airlines, and for leading GIC, Monetary Authority of Singapore, and the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Each of these three men came from different backgrounds, and served at different times, but they shared a strong commitment to the pursuit of excellence as individuals, and a great sense of duty to their community and country.

They remind us that even as we persevere and do our best, we must always remember to give back to society.


On this note, let me conclude.

Once again, my warmest congratulations to the award recipients – you and your families should be very proud.

I wish you all the very best as you enter into the next chapter of your life journey, and hope that even as you continue to pursue excellence, you will always remember to give back, and to bring out the best in those around you.

Thank you.