SPEECH BY RADM (NS) TEO CHEE HEAN, MINISTER FOR
EDUCATION AND 2ND MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE INAUGURAL CHERISH AWARD
PRESENTATION CEREMONY ON FRIDAY, 24TH AUGUST 2001 AT THE GRAND HYATT SINGAPORE
Mr Moses Lee, Permanent Secretary (Health)
Mr Wong Yew Meng, Chairman, Health Promotion Board
Dr Lam Sian Lian, CEO, Health Promotion Board
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Last year, I officiated at the launch of the CHERISH Award, an acronym for CHampioning
Efforts Resulting in Improved School Health. Today, it is my pleasure to present the
CHERISH Awards at this inaugural ceremony to recognise schools dedicated to promoting
The Cherish Award
2 To recap, the CHERISH Award, is an annual award given out by the Ministry of Health
to recognise our schools for their efforts in promoting and implementing health-related
policies and practices.
3 Health promotion in our schools is no longer just about conducting health education
lessons in the classroom. Schools are encouraged to create an overall environment which is
healthy and conducive for learning and teaching. This is in line with the World Health
Organisation's Health Promoting Schools concept that many countries have adopted,
signifying the importance of the school in promoting health and holistic development.
4 I am pleased to note that our schools which were assessed for the inaugural CHERISH
Award demonstrated good, innovative and well-balanced practices in various areas of school
School ethos, culture and organisation
5 The school ethos, culture and organisation are vital aspects of health promotion in
school. How the school creates a conducive and healthy environment to meet the needs of
students and staff is important.
6 Most schools have well-developed policies and programmes to promote exercise and
healthy eating as a result of the Trim And Fit (or TAF) programme. Exercise and physical
activity have become part of the culture in many schools. For example, teachers in Gan Eng
Seng participate in mass exercise and jogathons. Their teachers also exercise with
students to promote healthy living. Schools are also promoting healthy eating. Meridien
Primary and St Anthony's Canossian Primary consciously encourage their students to eat
more fruits and vegetables. All schools have canteen committees to work closely with
canteen vendors to ensure a healthier menu for all.
7 The emotional needs of students and staff are not forgotten. There is provision of
basic counselling services. Among the gold award winners, strong pastoral care programmes
are in place with good referral systems for counselling. Raffles Institution, for example,
has extended its programmes to its boarding school.
Support from School Health Service
8 Overall, all participating schools for the CHERISH Award have met the basic
requirements of health promoting schools. The School Health Service will continue to
support and assist all schools to develop into Health Promoting Schools.
9 Based on this year's evaluation, the School Health Service will publish a book on
good practices to share with schools and will also be working with participating schools
to help them strengthen their programmes.
10 For school health promotion to be effective, we need schools to sustain their
efforts made in promoting good health. The Ministry of Health has thus decided to present
a sustained achievement award for CHERISH to schools that obtain gold CHERISH awards for
three consecutive years.
Launch of National Myopia Prevention Programme
11 I would like to take the opportunity today, to address a growing concern - the
increasing rate of myopia among our students. Statistics from the School Health Service
show that in 1990, 20% of our primary one pupils and 55% of our primary six students had
poor eyesight. The figures have risen to 33% of our primary one pupils and 65% of our
primary six students in 2000.
12 Over the past four years, the rate of myopia among young Singaporean males who
reported for National Service was between 60 and 64 per cent. That is 2 out of every 3
13 Myopia is the leading eye disease in Singapore, with a prevalence rate among the
highest in the world. The rate of myopia in our adults is 1½ to 2½ times that of
countries like the USA and Australia. More importantly, the prevalence of myopia has
increased rapidly among our school children and large numbers of children are becoming
myopic at a younger age.
14 To many people, myopia is merely an inconvenience in that one has to use spectacles.
However, undetected myopia before the age of 6 years, can lead to amblyopia or "lazy
eye". This can lead to a loss of vision in the affected eye, which means that the
child can become functionally blind in that eye. In older youths and adults, severe myopia
can result in complications such as retinal detachment, macular degeneration1 ,
glaucoma2 and cataracts3 . All these conditions have a great impact
on vision and can lead to blindness.
15 The increasing incidence of myopia is not as straightforward an issue to tackle as
obesity where the cause and solutions are easily identified and a systematic programme
like TAF can be successfully implemented. Although our doctors have been studying myopia
for a number of years, how and why myopia develops is still not fully understood. But
studies have shown that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. Besides
heredity, current data strongly implicates "near-work" as a major factor.
"Near-work" refers to activities such as reading, writing or the use of the
computer. Hence, it is reasonable to deduce that the increase in myopia in the population
may be curtailed to a certain extent by controlling the environmental factors related to
16 The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have therefore decided to
launch the National Myopia Prevention Programme spearheaded by the Health Promotion Board.
The aim of this programme is to prevent the onset and rapid progression of myopia4
among children at the pre-primary and primary school levels. The Health Promotion Board
plans to adopt a multi-pronged approach that includes the following strategies:
17 First, the Board will send teams to kindergartens and childcare centres to conduct
vision screening for the early detection of myopia.
18 Second, the current annual vision screening programmes in all our schools will be
enhanced by regular and close follow-up by the Board.
19 Third, a media programme will be targeted at all Singaporeans, especially those
parents with young children. The main message will be to take short "vision
breaks" of about 3-5 minutes after every 30 to 40 minutes of continuous
20 Fourth, the Board will work closely with the Ministry of Education to promote good
vision care in schools. The Ministry of Education already has technical guidelines for
appropriate lighting and furniture in schools. The specifications in these guidelines have
been incorporated into our new schools as well as those under PRIME, our school upgrading
programme. Schools will be encouraged to ask their students to take vision breaks from
long periods of continuous "near-work". For example, children should look at
distant objects, or look out of the window if they are at home or in the classroom.
21 Fifth, the Ministry of Health will establish a national registry for myopia to
improve the monitoring of children with myopia. The registry will also provide valuable
data for research on myopia in Singapore.
22 I hope that the enhanced programmes will be able to slow down or stop the steady
increase in the incidence of myopia among our students. With further research, I hope that
our doctors will gain a better understanding of how myopia develops and will be able to
improve on this Myopia Prevention Programme so that we can reverse the trend over a number
23 I hope all schools will actively participate in this Myopia Prevention Programme as
part of their health promotion efforts. The schools' activities in the programme will be
part of the assessment for the CHERISH Award in the coming years.
24 In conclusion, I would like to congratulate all participating schools for their
excellent performance this year for the CHERISH Award and I hope that more schools will
take part and strive towards attaining Health Promoting School status in the coming years.
25 Thank you.