Speech By Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam
Mr Tan Tock San
Tan Kah Kee Foundation
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my great pleasure to be here tonight to celebrate with you the 20th anniversary of the Tan Kah Kee Foundation. This gala dinner is the highlight of a series of events organised by the Foundation to mark this major milestone.
The Tan Kah Kee Foundation has been actively engaged in the promotion of education and culture, and in so doing, keeping alive the spirit and memory of Mr Tan Kah Kee. In the last few years, the Foundation has extended its good work beyond Singapore, and to the region.
A Philanthropist and an Entrepreneur
Mr Tan Kah Kee is most well known as a philanthropist. He took an active interest in education as a means to uplift the community, and strongly believed in "giving back" to society. This sense of "giving back" is the heart of philanthropy.
At a time when Singapore was in need of schools, Mr Tan was instrumental in founding three primary schools - Tao Nan, Ai Tong and Chongfu, and two high schools - The Chinese High and Nan Chiao High. Today, these schools are among the most well regarded educational institutions in Singapore - a lasting testimony to his generosity and commitment to education.
The Tan Kah Kee Foundation has ensured that Mr Tan's philanthropic tradition and spirit of community care have continued to this day.
An exemplary pioneer in community service in Singapore, Mr Tan was typical of his generation of Chinese community leaders who dedicated their time and effort to uplifting the community during Singapore's early turbulent years. As PM mentioned in the National Day Rally Speech, our challenge is for more Singaporeans to feel the same commitment and dedication to Singapore, and for a new generation of successful Singaporeans to step forward and play their part in community development, just as Tan Kah Kee did in his day.
However, we must not forget that, primarily, Mr Tan Kah Kee was an entrepreneur, in an era when life was at least as challenging and volatile as it is today. Mr Tan lived in turbulent times, surviving the destruction and disruption brought by two world wars, and the economic uncertainty of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Like all entrepreneurs, not everything was smooth sailing for him. When the family rice business failed, he was faced with an uncertain future. But he started his own pineapple canning business, and later made a fortune from rubber plantations. It was his bold move into rubber manufacturing which established him as one of the most successful businessmen in South East Asia.
Mr Tan Kah Kee managed to turn adversity into opportunity, and emerged as a highly successful entrepreneur with an outstanding sense of social responsibility. Mr Tan's success story shows us that to be a successful entrepreneur, we need fortitude, enterprise and the guts to try.
Inculcating Entrepreneurship and Community Spirit
We live in a knowledge-based world. The wealth of a country and its sense of well being will depend not on its natural resources, but on the quality of its people and their capacity for innovation.
We need Singaporeans who can go beyond just being productive employees to become enterprising individuals who can create employment opportunities for themselves as well as for others. In short, we need Singaporeans who have the spirit of inventiveness and the ability to seize opportunities in uncertainty and take failure in their stride.
The educational reforms that Singapore has embarked on in recent years are shifting the focus of learning from digesting content to developing thinking and other process skills. We are moving beyond efficiency to creativity and experimentation; beyond fitting students to jobs, to equipping them to shape and even create their own jobs.
The school curriculum has been reduced and reviewed to give greater scope for creative and critical thinking, and practical problem solving. Inter- disciplinary projects are now a feature in all our schools, and will be an added criterion for admission to university within a few years. The universities are also moving to a broader and more flexible university curriculum. We are studying whether we can achieve greater diversity in the education system, by allowing some schools to offer new paths to a university education, and new curricula and alternative qualifications.
There is no one formula which will prepare our young for an innovation-driven future.
At the same time, we are also teaching our young the importance of contributing to society. Our schools have set up community involvement programmes to inculcate in our young a keen sense of social responsibility and to help them understand that every Singaporean has a role in enhancing the well being of the less fortunate in our community. The community involvement programmes, which include visits to homes and special schools, fund-raising, tutoring and mentoring programmes, have benefited both society and the students.
Tan Kah Kee Foundation
It is timely and appropriate that as we enter the new economy, the Tan Kah Kee Foundation has chosen to highlight and promote Mr Tan Kah Kee's entrepreneurial spirit during this anniversary celebration.
Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award
One of the major activities organised by the Foundation is the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award Competition which was the brainchild of Nobel Laureate Professor Yang Chen Ning. Professor Yang keenly felt the need to complement the typical Asian education systems, which are traditionally strong in academic content, with an Award to stimulate the inventive and hands-on entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generation. Since its launch in 1986, the competition has been held annually to provide an avenue for young Singaporeans to express their creative and innovative potential.
The Foundation has also worked with the National Arts Council and the Singapore National Academy of Science to organise a workshop on "Creativity in Arts, Science & Technology". Riding on the success of the first workshop, the Foundation is organising a second creativity workshop which will be held by early next year. This is a commendable effort on the part of the Foundation to promote continuous innovative learning and thinking.
Another major activity of the Tan Kah Kee Foundation is the award of Postgraduate Scholarships to outstanding students pursuing postgraduate studies and research in local and overseas institutions of higher education. In line with Mr Tan Kah Kee's commitment to social responsibility, the candidates are appraised not only on their academic achievements, but also for their involvement in community services.
The Tan Kah Kee Postgraduate Scholarships are open to all qualified individuals, regardless of race or religion. Since the launch of the Scholarship in 1983, 180 Singaporeans and permanent residents, including many non-Chinese, have been supported in their studies in various disciplines.
Since its establishment 20 years ago, the Tan Kah Kee Foundation has successfully built upon Mr Tan Kah Kee's legacy through its many contributions to Singapore, especially in promoting creativity and innovation among our young. As we enter the knowledge-based economy, Mr Tan Kah Kee's entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to education and community development remain highly relevant as a model for young people today. It is my hope that our younger generation will be able to identify with these admirable traits of such a remarkable pioneer.
Finally, let me extend my heartiest congratulations to the Tan Kah Kee Foundation on its 20th anniversary, and my best wishes for its continuing success and contributions to Singapore.