24 Sep 2016

Speech by Indranee Thurai Rajah, President, SINDA at The SINDA Excellence Awards 2016 on 24 September 2016 at The ITE College Central


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong;

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam;

My Parliamentary Colleagues

Members of the SINDA Board of Trustees and EXCO

SINDA CEO, Mr K Barathan;

Ladies and Gentlemen,



  1. Prime Minister, we are honoured to have you here today, to celebrate with the Indian community the success and excellence achieved by our Indian students and youth.
  1. The SINDA Excellence Awards (SEA) are given in recognition to excellence achieved across a broad spectrum – academic performance, sports and arts. In so doing, we are recognising more than academic grades, sports medals or arts awards – we are lauding the values of hard work, determination and the positive mindsets which underlie such achievements. In many cases, these achievements would not have been possible without the support of family, teachers and coaches – hence these awards also celebrate indirectly all the people who have contributed to the success of our young


Sarannath Devanathan – Perserverance

  1. Among the recipients today is 23-year-old Sarannath Devanathan will be receiving the SEA award for achieving a NITEC with Merit in Electronics. His is a story of perseverance. Saran dropped out of ITE in 2010, as when he had no clear vision of where he was headed in life. He went on to do his National Service. Initially he thought of signing on as a regular, but along the way he met many who encouraged him to complete his NITEC qualifications, so that he would have more career options.
  1. This motivated him to go back to ITE and continue his studies after NS. This time he applied himself wholeheartedly to his studies. He began doing really well, which resulted in his receiving a number of awards for academic excellence. A rejuvenated Saran now understands the need for a good academic foundation on which to build technical skills. He is a testament to what can be achieved if you put your heart to it.
  1. Currently pursuing a Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Singapore Polytechnic, Saran hopes to inspire future generations of students by becoming an ITE lecturer himself. His transformation and new-found career ambitions are a proud moment for his parents and a motivation to his siblings.


Clara Lavanya Apollos – Determination

  1. Also making her parents proud today is 19-year-old Clara Lavanya Apollos. She achieved a NUS High School Diploma with High Distinction and is now enrolled at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. Her interest in the medical sciences started in primary school —with books about the human anatomy.
  1. Clara’s story is about determination. Long hours in school, self-doubts and other pressures threatened to cast a shadow on her ambitions. For example, in a school project, Clara struggled to present her report and encountered a number of hurdles, while it seemed that her peers were breezing through theirs. She questioned her own abilities and began comparing herself with her peers, which had a negative effect.
  1. But Clara did not give up. She realised that she should not measure her worth by comparing herself to others—after all, each person has his or her own unique abilities and strengths. She began focusing on what she was good at, and worked off her frustrations through positive channels. Her clarity of mind and determination got her back on track. Now she has proved to herself that she is capable of achieving her goals. Clara looks forward to becoming a General Practitioner in 5 years’ time, thereby fulfilling her childhood dream and being of service to people.


Jaspal Singh Grewal – Discipline

  1. Also receiving the SEA award today is 22-year-old Jaspal Singh Grewal who represented Singapore in hockey at the SEA Games. Currently pursuing a degree at the Singapore Management University, he comes from a sports family. Jaspal’s love for hockey was inherited from and inspired by his father, himself a hockey player in his younger days.
  1. Jaspal’s story is of discipline. He has a very demanding training schedule with hockey trainings four times on weekdays and games on the weekends. Despite this, Jaspal has also done well academically.
  1. Balancing sports and study was not easy. Many nights, Jaspal stayed up late to complete his school assignments, despite being tired after trainings. He had less time for friends and recreational pursuits. He had to watch his time management. But with strong discipline, he has done well in both sports and studies. He remains focused on achieving his dream of becoming a renowned sportsman and making his mark on the global stage.
  1. Perseverance, determination and discipline – these are among the qualities which have led to success in our award recipients today.


More Indians Accessing Tertiary Education and Doing well at it

  1. Today’s SEA award recipients — 466 in total — is the biggest cohort since SEA began in 1992. Of these, nearly 1 in 6 students have received the award at least once before, for outstanding performance at an earlier stage of their lives. This is an encouraging statistic because it shows 2 things: (a) there are recipients who have consistently done well and (b) there are many new entrants to the ranks of those who achieve excellence.
  1. I am also happy to note that the number of recipients across all post-secondary categories — A-Levels, ITE NITEC and Higher NITEC, Polytechnic Diploma and University — have seen a significant increase this year.
  1. This underscores a few important things.
  1. First, it shows that there are many paths to success. Our different post-secondary institutions are all different channels to helping students achieve their potential. Furthermore, in addition to the traditional courses of study there are now many more new and exciting options to help our students position themselves for the new economy. For example, ITE offers a NITEC in Aerospace Avionics; in poly you can do a diploma in Sustainable Architectural Design; our universities are now offering courses in data analytics.
  1. Second, the awards reflect the fact that there is a much broader definition of success, by recognising excellence in areas other than pure academic performance.
  1. This is very much in line with SkillsFuture – a national movement which is about helping individuals to achieve their fullest potential in life irrespective of their starting point. SkillsFuture is about helping individuals find their strengths and their talents and channeling them to pursue growth areas which best match these strengths and talents. SkillsFuture goes beyond the academic and emphasises deep skills for work and life. SkillsFuture is about being able to progress at every stage of life and about lifelong learning.
  1. Many here today are familiar with the works of the Indian sage, Thiruvalluvar. One of his wise sayings is: “The wealth which never declines is not riches but learning”. That is the philosophy behind SkillsFuture.
  1. Third, the range and profile of the award recipients and the MOE data shows that more Indian students are eligible for, and are actively pursuing, a post-secondary education. In 2000, only 74.9%[1] of Indian students were eligible to enrol in post-secondary institutions. The most recent available data indicates that in 2014, 94.6%[2] of Indian students were eligible to advance beyond post-secondary qualifications.
  1. So more Indian students are pursuing post-secondary education and more of them are excelling at it. In the university category, for example, we have 50 recipients who achieved first class honours, more than double the number of recipients over any other year.
  1. However this does not mean that we have made it and that as a community we can rest on our laurels. While we celebrate the success of the youth here today, it is important to remember that there are also others in the Indian community who are not doing so well. Typically these come from lower income backgrounds and from difficult family and social circumstances. As a community we must work to ensure that no one in our community is left behind. SINDA’s role is to be the catalyst in this mission but the uplifting of the Indian community is the work of the community as a whole, by supporting and encouraging each other to do better.


Working as one to uplift the Indian community and contributing to the Nation

  1. Singapore was built by our pioneers, who shared a common vision for a better future for all. The Indian community has played an integral role in this, from Naraina Pillai, who arrived in Singapore together with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1989 by ship – which, by the way, was named “Indiana” – to the many prominent Indian ministers, civil servants, businessmen and captains of industry who have contributed towards nation-building. Foremost among these is the late Mr SR Nathan who has deservedly been described as one of Singapore’s greatest sons.
  1. What all these great Indian leaders had in common was not only a commitment to the pursuit of excellence as individuals but they all had a higher and broader sense of duty, not only to the Indian community but to the country. They whole-heartedly embraced their ethnicity but they also saw themselves as part of something bigger – the nation, and they dedicated themselves.



Thus to the award recipients here today, I congratulate you on your achievements. But remember that true success – real success of the sort that endures – is when you go beyond personal achievement and make what you do count towards improving the lives of others; when you contribute to your community and your country.

So on this occasion of the 2016 SEA awards which is also in the 25th Anniversary year of SINDA, I call upon the community not only to celebrate the achievement of our youth but to work together for the upliftment of the entire Indian community and the betterment of Singapore as we move forward SG100 – together.

[1] MOE Press Release – Performance by Ethnic Group 2000-2009, 20 December 2010, Chart D

[2] MOE Press Release – 10-year Trend of Educational Performance 2005-2014, 20 November 2015, Chart A