SM Teo Chee Hean at St. Joseph’s Institution's 170th Anniversary Parade

SM Teo Chee Hean | 8 April 2022

Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, at St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI)’s 170th Anniversary Parade on Friday, 8 April 2022.


A Values-Based Education – Guideposts for the Future

Mr Lee Kok Fatt, Chairman of the SJI Board of Governors;
Members of the Board of Governors;
Mr Justin Pierre, Principal of SJI;
Brother Paul Ho, Brother President;
Teachers and students of SJI,

Good evening to all of you. I am very happy to join you this evening for the SJI Anniversary Parade and the school’s 170th Anniversary. It’s a great pleasure to see all of you together for the parade, especially after these very long two years. There are four generations of Josephians in my family, and we are all proud to be part of the SJI family. Coming back to SJI always brings back fond memories of the wonderful six years I spent as a student in SJI at Bras Basah Road. I participated in the 115th Anniversary Parade in 1967, like you today. This was not long after Singapore’s Independence. I also attended the 121st Anniversary Parade in 1973. I remember attending the 150th Anniversary in 2002, when we buried a time capsule under the former portico of St John Baptist de La Salle before this campus was redeveloped, and I was here 10 years ago, for the 160th Anniversary in 2012 .

A Rich Heritage

SJI is the first Catholic school and the third oldest secondary school in Singapore. It was founded in 1852, in the early days when Singapore was a colony, at a time when a good education was very hard to come by. It was started by Reverend Father Jean-Marie Beurel as a free school at Bras Basah Road, built using the generous donations from many donors and members of the public. I always remember seeing the plaques of our donors on the walls at the old school porch and remembering that these were the people who helped build our school.

Even in the early years, SJI was an inclusive school that took in students from all races and religions. The initial syllabus was based on the De La Salle curriculum, in which moral teachings were included in all lessons – even math questions were framed to emphasise thrift and frugality. This focus on values and moral teachings has become a hallmark of SJI. The school has remained steadfast in its mission to educate young people to become men of integrity and men for others. Through two World Wars, Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, separation and independence, this mission has never wavered. The Government values the ethos of our government-aided schools, and the sense of community and values that they imbue in you, our students. On their part, our government-aided schools have embraced the multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual society that we are, contextualizing their programmes, teachings and values to strengthen our social and community bonds. Indeed, I believe that the mission of the school is that regardless of whatever religion you are, when you come through the doors of this school, when you leave, you will be stronger in your faith. That is why the Government has supported, nurtured and funded our government aided-schools, including our mission schools, as an important part of our school system, because you help to bring people together, all communities together in Singapore – the values and what you teach strengthen our community bonds.

From an initial intake of 75 boys, the school began as St John’s School in 1852, in an old chapel. The school expanded steadily over the years, increasing to 2,376 students when SJI celebrated its centenary in 1952. I still remember when I did my O-levels, we had 16 classes then. SJI also had Pre-University classes in the 1950s to 1964 where the female students from CHIJ at Victoria Street joined Josephians for the A-levels. These classes were transferred to Catholic Junior College in 1975, with SJI focusing on secondary education. In 1984, a historic decision was made to relocate the campus here, to Malcolm Road, a move completed in 1988. This was an important milestone as it provided our students with a new campus with much bigger, better and more modern facilities. It was the same year that SJI began a new chapter as an Independent School. The campus underwent a major upgrading from 2014 to 2016. Throughout these physical moves and developments, what was most important was that the spirit and the values which are the hallmark of an SJI education remained at the core of everything that the school does.

SJI has continued to evolve, in line with new needs and the changes in Singapore’s education landscape. Becoming an Independent School in 1988 was a major step, as it gave the school greater autonomy to shape its curriculum and its pedagogy. In 2013, SJI took another significant step to open up more pathways by offering an Integrated Programme (IP) leading to the International Baccalaureate Diploma, in addition to the O-level track. With the IP track, Josephians can now continue their secondary and pre-university education for a total of six years in SJI, and SJI can once again welcome female students who have completed their O-levels into the IB Diploma Programme.

Whatever the programmes offered by SJI, its ethos and values must remain its motivating force – what SJI fundamentally offers is a values-centred education and learning driven by passion. We nurture men and women of integrity, and men and women for others, who make a difference to society. We don’t live for ourselves, we live for our community and our society.

Our long-serving and dedicated teachers continue to be the stalwarts of the school – always imparting knowledge and values, and serving as our beacon of light and certainty. I will always be indebted to my teachers at SJI, who taught me not just knowledge but also leadership, self-reliance, self-motivation, teamwork, and so much more. These lessons shaped me into the person I am, and stayed with me throughout the different stages of my life. I am glad to see several of my teachers here today.

New Driving Forces for Change

SJI has upheld its values and enduring mission throughout the changes of the past 170 years. I recount this history because it is important to know where we came from, what we stand for, what we believe in, what we work for, and what we strive for. Today, we are once again witnessing new driving forces that are reshaping the world and bringing new challenges for all of us. We hoped for and worked for a peaceful and better world following the end of the Cold War in 1990. But the geopolitical environment has now become more unpredictable. The world is becoming even more polarised and fragmented, with the clash of ideas, ideologies and influence set to intensify. At the same time, the pace of technological change has increased, shortening product cycles and the average lifespan of companies, even as our average lifespan as human beings becomes longer. Most of our students here today, all of you, will probably work for several organisations in your lifetime. Even after you complete your education and join the workforce, you will need to upskill and reskill regularly to keep yourself up to date over a working life of another 40 years, and a life-span for another decade or two beyond.

Against this backdrop, how can SJI face these new challenges and prepare our students for the future?

First, uphold our Lasallian traditions. The education mission which the founding brothers of the De La Salle order brought to Singapore is even more important today. In the midst of a world that seeks instant gratification, and is more self-centred and consumerist, we must continue to stay true to the Lasallian education philosophy encapsulated in our motto, “Ora et Labora”. Always remember that there is a greater good that guides us. We must make sure that we always serve that greater good, and that nothing comes without hard work and effort. It is this mission and our strong values-based education that distinguishes SJI.

Second, give our students self-confidence. We need to give our students the ability to decide for yourselves and take responsibility for your own learning, to bring out the best in each of you. Our students had some experience in taking ownership of your own learning when we had Home-Based Learning (HBL) during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many drawbacks in HBL, but it showed us how we can make good use of new resources and pathways and find creative ways to press on in life, even in the face of adversity and sickness. We should continue to look for more new ways to create learning opportunities to bring out the strengths in our students and build their self-confidence and self-reliance. This will not only optimise the SJI experience for our students, but also instill the mindset to continuously improve themselves for the future.

Third, continue to strengthen our alumni networks. One key feature of successful educational institutions is the strong support they receive from their alumni. SJI is blessed with a strong alumni which the school has been able to draw on to help achieve its mission. The alumni provides guidance on how to position the school for the future, financial backing to help the school strengthen its facilities and programmes, and resources and opportunities for staff and student development. More importantly, the alumni are an important part of SJI’s rich heritage and identity. They are important role models for our students to look up to. It’s a nice, simple equation. If you come to the school and you take, and you leave, and nobody puts back and gives back to the school, then what do you have left? There will be generation after generation, all hoping to take and withdraw from what the school gives us. But giving back to the school will strengthen and create a better school and better learning opportunities for future generations. Then, we can grow as a school, as a nation, from generation to generation. I hope that we can continue to strengthen our SJI Old Boys’ Association and have their support as the school forges ahead to meet new challenges.

SJI Uniformed Groups – On Parade

Today, I am pleased that our parade features SJI’s uniformed groups, who play a vital role in fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie in our SJI community. I myself was on parade in 1967 as a cadet in the SJI Cadet Corps which subsequently became the SJI NCC Land. All our SJI uniformed groups have helped to cultivate a sense of community, strengthen the character of our students, build discipline and grit, and equip our students with essential life-skills. Take these skills that you have learnt, bring them into your life as I have.

Our parade today also marks the stepping-down of our Year 4 senior cadets, and the passing of the mantle of leadership to our incoming Year 3 student leaders. To our Year 4 students – well done on all your achievements. To our Year 3 students – keep the fire and our SJI spirit burning bright.


In SJI, all of you stand upon years of tradition and honour built by the seniors who have come before you. In whatever you do, you should always be guided by the values that your SJI teachers and CCAs have imbued in you. These will stand you in good stead to face future challenges and to take them on with pride, determination and courage.

Congratulations to all Josephians on the 170th Anniversary of SJI. ORA ET LABORA.