Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Speech at National Junior College's 45th Anniversary Dinner, 6 June 2014

6 June 2014

 

Mr Heng Swee Keat
Minister for Education

Mr Heng Chye Kiou
Chairman of the NJC School Advisory Committee

Mr Lim Chin Hong
President of the NJC Alumni

Mr Ang Pow Chew
Principal of the NJC

Distinguished Guests, fellow alumni, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.

Happy 45th birthday NJC (National Junior College)!

I am very happy to be here this evening to see so many familiar faces and so many old friends. I attended NJC many many years ago in 1969. In 1970, my wife attended, 1970 – 1971. I had joined the first batch of students in their second year because I had already done my Chinese Higher School Certificate – for those of you old enough to know what that is, in Catholic High School. I spent a year at NJC doing the English A levels.

We were then at the old campus at Linden Drive which seemed very grand to me then, especially coming from Queen Street. Although by today’s standards the facilities would be considered quite basic. I thoroughly enjoyed my year there in NJ – attending classes, making friends, growing up.

History of NJC

NJC has been synonymous with Singapore’s education journey. Before it was established, secondary schools ran Pre-U classes to prepare students for university. You could say they were the original through-train schools!

The Government felt it was better to build dedicated JCs to prepare students for university life because JCs would be single sessions and there will be more time for lectures, tutorials and ECAs. You could have lectures instead of classes and the students would have a more gradual transition from classroom learning, structured - almost spoon-fed, to more independent learning – your own programme, your own activities, sports, time to interact and to find your own way. So NJC was the first junior college in Singapore and it was set up in 1969 as a national institution to train national leaders – loyal to the country, proud of ourselves and our identity, with a sense of duty to serve the nation – loyalty with integrity.

NJC had no affiliations with any primary or secondary school. It admitted students not just based on their academic results, but on a broader assessment of their leadership potential, on their values and their contributions to college life. In fact the students or candidates-to-be-students had to attend an interview to join NJC. So they were self-selected and the teachers were specially selected too from among the best in Singapore - many of whom later rose to senior positions in our Education Service.

The pioneer teachers and staff in NCJ put the college onto a strong footing. In particular, I should thank the first principal Mr Lim Kim Woon. He is not here tonight but Mrs Lim and their son Professor Lim Yee Wei who was also an NJC student in 1984 – 1985 are here with us today. Lim Kim Woon was a human dynamo and a great inspiration to all of us. He was always spending time with students – playing sports, hanging out in the canteen, debating with students, arguing, influencing, motivating, being a role model (He was) a consummate teacher, who took a keen interest in students beyond their academic performance. We remember his pep talks and speeches during school assemblies – to “never say die”; to help ourselves and not just to complain; and to do something meaningful and worthwhile in our lives not just for ourselves but also for our country – service with honour. I hope your principal today keeps on doing that to you.

I remember many other teachers - Ms Kwa Ee Hua who is with us this evening, who taught me Economics, Mr Ho Hwee Long in the school band – both of whom are here tonight. And so are some others - Mrs Neeva Dutt who also taught me economics, Mrs Lim Soon Tze who is sitting with her this evening, and Mr Lim Nai Tian who taught me mathematics and became principal of Hwa Chong JC – the second JC.

On behalf of all the students and generations of NJCians, I like to say a big thank you to Mr Lim Kim Woon and all your staff and teachers for doing a quite good job with all of us.

Keeping Paths Upwards Open To All

NJC made a significant contribution to our education system. It prepared students well for higher education. Nearly all the students - 95 per cent go on to university, either here or overseas. NJC pioneered learning methods and systems that have been adopted by other schools – you have lectures and tutorials which have became the blueprint for other junior colleges and NJC went into the 4-year Integrated Programme.

It has trained students to question, to constantly seek better answers – to create new knowledge as we imbibe age-old wisdom – scholarship with creativity. Most importantly, it has help to keep paths upwards open to all Singaporeans.

Our schools are important platforms for us to level up Singaporeans who start off from less advantaged backgrounds, so that every child can have the opportunity to fulfil his potential. NJC has done its part. It has continued its tradition of having no affiliations with any primary or secondary school all the way till today. Its student intake at JC1 and Sec 1 comes from a wide range of secondary and primary schools – from almost 100 different schools. They sought out NJC, they made the grade and they are in NJC developing, learning and one day we hope contributing.

NJC actively seeks out talented students from humble backgrounds, and offers talented ones bursaries to defray their educational expenses. When we raise funds, a lot of funds go to the bursary and scholarship funds in NJC. Its Boarding Programme builds character and fosters instincts in students to lead and serve – including enrichment classes for students who did not come with the full range of exposures, and community attachments so students better understand the issues in Singapore, in our society and identify with the aspirations and challenges of fellow Singaporeans, or as you put it in your school motto - leadership with sensitivity.

NJC promotes a culture of moderation and restraint, so that all the students and staff feel comfortable and interact on equal terms with one another. I was very happy I asked the principal just now what new infrastructure are you building, he says, not really because I think we have enough and too much can be too much of a good thing. So in Chinese they say “山不在高,有仙则名,水不在深,有龙则灵” - it is not how high the mountain is, how deep the water is, but the spirit which is there and the dragon which is in the water - that is what counts.

Many students embody NJC’s values and make valuable contributions to Singapore, even while they are students. I give one example; Clarissa Ho Xin Hui who captained the NJC Canoeing Team. While in NJC, rallied schoolmates to volunteer at the Grace Orchard Primary School for students with learning disabilities, and there they redesigned the science curriculum into mini activity booklets for future batches of students. She did her ‘A’ levels, then she collected past Ten Year Series from the graduating batch and donated them to NJC. I used to have Ten Year Series too and they still exist today. She volunteers at Tan Tock Seng Hospital with Lions Befrienders and this year she has won the NJC Lim Kim Woon Award. Congratulations Clarissa!

Over time, NJC has developed a broader community which supports it in its mission and roots for it all the time - the parents, the community, corporate partners helping NJC succeed and the alumni giving back to the college in big ways and small. So they set up the NJC Bursary and Scholarship Fund which provides financial assistance to needy students. They donate generously to the school, including at charity events like tonight’s dinner which is a small fundraising activity. They also serve as role models for students, like Ms Joyce Lye who is from the batch of 1969 - 1970. She was inspired by Mr Lim’s renditions of Chinese folk songs to start her own Chinese folk song group in Changkat Changi Community Centre. After a 25-year career in banking, she decided to start Kampung Senang in 1999 with her husband James whom she met in NJC, to help the elderly, disabled, cancer patients and children. Or Dr Pauline Cheong, batch of 1972 - 1973, one of our first paediatric ophthalmologists, who participated in the Himalayan Vision Project which provides free eye operations for poor villagers in Ladakh, India.

I am very glad that Clarissa, Joyce and Pauline are here tonight. Well done alumni and students!

Conclusion

NJC has come a long way over the last 45 years. Its founding goals of developing leaders with honour and providing quality education for students of all backgrounds remain essential today. It must continue to be a truly national junior college, engaging the broader community and alumni network to thrive. I am confident that your teachers, students and alumni will uphold the NJC spirit and values, and take it to higher peaks year after year for many more years to come.

Thank you very much and congratulations.  

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