Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong, delivered by Minister Chan Chun Sing, at Raffles Institution's Bicentennial Founder's Day 2023

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 28 May 2023

Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong, delivered by Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing, at Raffles Institution's Bicentennial Founder's Day 2023 on 28 May 2023.


You can watch the speech here: go.gov.sg/ri200-pmlee-speech.

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Mr Bey Soo Khiang, Chairman of the Board of Governors
Mr Frederick Yeo, Principal
Distinguished Guests
Parents, Teachers, Rafflesians, both physically here and online,
A very good morning to all of you.

As some of you might have known, PM came down with COVID-19 earlier this week. He is generally feeling okay, but his doctors have advised him against attending mass functions for a few more days. PM sends his apologies for not being able to turn up in person, but has asked me to read his speech on his behalf.

RI was founded in 1823, four years after Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading post in Singapore. Raffles' vision for RI was to improve the education level of those who settled in Singapore, and contribute to the development of the entrepot. And indeed, RI has witnessed all the major events in our Singapore’s modern history, including: Occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War; merger with the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak in 1963; and the formation of an independent state after separation from Malaysia in 1965. In fact, many graduates from RI had played significant roles in shaping the course of Singapore's history. In government, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong oversaw the transformation of Singapore from a British colony to a prosperous independent nation today. In the early colonial years, prominent philanthropists such as Dr Lim Boon Keng and Sir Song Ong Siang were passionate contributors towards social causes such as education. Dr Tan Eng Liang and Mr Goh Choo San were key figures in building up the sports and arts scenes in Singapore respectively. They are but a few of the many Rafflesians who made their mark and contributed to the growth of our nation in their respective roles.

As Singapore progressed through the years, RI has grown in tandem. In 1844, a girls’ department was added, which in 1879 became Raffles Girls’ School. In 1982, the pre-University classes at RI split off to form Raffles Junior College (RJC). A few years later, in 1990, RI became the first Government school to turn independent. That was also the year that the newly independent RI moved from Grange Road to its current home in Bishan. And in 2004, RI introduced the six-year Raffles Programme. This led to RJC moving its campus to join RI at Bishan, and subsequently re-integrating back with RI in 2009, to be collectively known as Raffles Institution again.

Over its 200-year history, RI has maintained its ethos and spirit, and built up a strong reputation for student leadership, academic excellence and service to our nation. RI has become an institution whose name is recognised internationally, and all Singaporeans are proud of the school.

At RI200, how can RI and Rafflesians continue to uphold its ethos, continue to excel and serve Singapore well? Let me outline three areas:

First, RI must continue to exemplify Singapore's inclusive spirit and egalitarian ethos to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for all regardless of their backgrounds. At every stage of a society's evolution, fault-lines can develop to divide it. That is especially true of Singapore, which has pre-existing fault lines like race, language and religion, as well as potential new ones like socio-economic status or place of birth. This is why in Singapore we insist that every child, regardless of their background, should have access to opportunities that allow them to develop to his fullest potential. For its part, RI needs to uphold its long egalitarian tradition of gathering able and promising students from diverse backgrounds to join the school, and give them all the opportunity to excel and inspire them to serve. RI should therefore maintain a school ethos that encourages diverse talents to consider studying in RI, regardless of which primary school they come from, or their family circumstances. There are many good choices of schools in Singapore, and being admitted to RI is only one of the many paths to a good education. But RI should work hard to attract good students to join the school, and no promising student should be deterred from coming to RI because he cannot afford the fees or feels he will not fit in. A diverse school community benefits all of the students. The potential of learning is best achieved when there is a good mix of students in school. It allows everyone to appreciate different perspectives and learn from others with different life experiences and backgrounds. I am glad that since 2018, RI has put in place the Diversity, Inclusivity and Community Engagement efforts, or D.I.C.E for short. This includes offering scholarships and encouraging students with potential to apply to the school, so that no one is turned away due to financial constraints. Over 3,700 students from disadvantaged backgrounds have received the Raffles Scholarships, which are funded by donors and alumni. RI has also recently broadened Direct School Admissions (DSA) domains to take in and develop talents in many more areas, including in Leadership and the Malay Language. This year RI’s Year 1 intake come from over 120 primary schools, a wider trawl than any other secondary school in Singapore. These important initiatives will help deserving students from different backgrounds to realise their unique potential, in line with what we want to achieve as a society & for Singapore always to be a place of opportunity, where diverse talents can grow and succeed, and where you can do well for yourself as long as you work hard, regardless of your background.

Second, Rafflesians should exemplify excellence throughout life - in and beyond your time in RI. Examples of excellence achieved by Rafflesians during your time in school abound. Many of you perform well in examinations, academic competitions, and international Olympiads, and clinch offers from highly competitive courses and universities in Singapore and overseas. Beyond academics, Rafflesians have demonstrated excellence in many co-curricular domains. At the recent Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, 45 Rafflesian alumni and student athletes represented Singapore across 10 sports. RI’s performing arts groups participate in the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentations, and stage concerts in school and in the community to share their passion and promote an appreciation for the arts. The uniformed groups, clubs, and societies in RI also frequently win awards, demonstrating their discipline and competence in their craft. While Rafflesians should be heartened by these achievements, I encourage you to continue to exemplify excellence in any and every domain you may be in. As the lines in your school song urge you all – to “do our best whatever the test, and keep our colours flying…” While geopolitical tensions and technological advances present challenges to our lifelines and livelihoods, they can also create new opportunities. To seize these opportunities and break new ground, Rafflesians should maintain the strong work ethic and spirit of excellence which you have developed during your time in RI. One such Rafflesian is Mr Lai Chang Wen, co-founder of Ninja Van. Recognising that Singapore lacked the logistics infrastructure to support the expansion of e-commerce, Chang Wen and his team kickstarted Ninja Van using one second-hand van. Today, Ninja Van is a leading technology-driven logistics firm with operations across South-east Asia. Another example is Dr Tan Min-Han, who founded Lucence, a medical firm that develops advanced liquid biopsy blood tests for cancer detection and treatment. Min-Han is globally recognised for his innovative research in the field of oncology, with over 100 original research publications and more than 12 patents filed thus far in his career.

This brings me to my third point: As Rafflesians seek to make an impact during and after your time in RI, I challenge you to define excellence not just by personal achievements but by your contributions to society. Many Rafflesians have worked very hard, done well, and proven yourselves. But we must always remember that our achievements are not solely the result of our own efforts or talents. Underpinning that is the entire Singapore system, which has provided every child the opportunity to grow and fulfil his or her potential. An economy that enables everyone to have good jobs and support their families, so that children can focus on studying and not have to leave school to work. An education system with well-appointed schools, rigorous curriculums, many pathways to cater to different aptitudes and talents, and dedicated teachers and professionals who pour their hearts and souls into nurturing the next generation. A community whose social values support the principle that if someone is capable in one way or another, he should be given opportunities to develop and to serve, and if he contributes to society, he will be recognised and rewarded. On a personal level, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our teachers, parents, and members of our community, who have guided us, nurtured us, and invested their hopes and dreams in us through our formative years and beyond. Whichever path in life you choose after graduating from RI, you must preserve that mission of pioneering for the greater good. Many Rafflesians have done this. For example, Dr Goh Wei-Leong co-founded HealthServe, a non-profit organisation which provides affordable medical care, counselling and social services to low-wage migrant workers. HealthServe also organises engagement events to promote appreciation of migrant workers in our community. Another example is Mr Rayner Loi, co-founder and CEO of Lumitics. The Singapore-based start-up works with airlines, hotels and restaurants to track and reduce food waste using AI and machine learning, creating an impactful solution for businesses to improve their sustainability practices.

Today, I have shared the stories of just a few of the Rafflesians who have played significant roles, shaping our nation's history, contributing to our society, and doing Singapore proud. Many generations of Rafflesians have used their abilities to lead meaningful lives and left their mark, individually and collectively, on Singapore.

The challenges ahead of us as a nation are no less than what confronted earlier generations of Singaporeans. They, including Rafflesians, overcame the odds and surmounted these challenges to get us here.

To continue the legacy of these earlier generations, RI must fulfil its mission of bringing up the next generation of leaders and pioneers who embody the spirit of egalitarianism for diverse talents, excellence in every field and service in diverse domains. This way, RI can continue to play a pivotal role to help Singapore develop into a more vibrant land of opportunities for our children, for many more years to come.

Let me once again offer my heartiest and warmest congratulations to RI on your Bicentennial celebrations. Happy Founder's Day!

Thank you.