Lee Sing Kong, 1951-2017

Educationalist who transformed teacher training in Singapore remembered

June 8, 2017
Lee Sing Kong

A leading educationalist who transformed teacher training in Singapore has died.

Born in July 1951, Lee Sing Kong was of Singaporean nationality, although he was brought up on the family farm in Malaysia. He once claimed that “education and farming share a very strong parallel – they involve the process of nurturing and the goals are to help unleash the potential of either a plant or a child”.

After securing a scholarship from the Public Service Commission of Singapore, Professor Lee studied horticultural science at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (1974). He worked for 14 years (1975-89) in what is now Singapore’s National Parks Board, where he was responsible for planting trees according to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s vision of a garden city. He also obtained a PhD in plant biotechnology from the National University of Singapore (1985), which led to a job setting up courses in biotechnology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (1989-91).

From there, Professor Lee moved to Singapore’s newly established National Institute of Education, where he spent most of the rest of his career. Starting as a senior lecturer and head of the biology division (1991-2000), he went on to become dean for the graduate programmes and research office (2000-06), dean for the external programmes office (2005-09), and served as director from 2006 to 2014.

Ambitious to have the same sort of impact on society that the business school and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University have had, Professor Lee used his position to radically reassess the requirements of teaching in Singapore, developing a new “Thinking Teacher” framework and offering international executive leadership training. Singapore’s top place in the recent Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings in maths, science and reading owes something to his initiatives. 

In 2014, Professor Lee moved on to Nanyang Technological University, Singapore as vice-president for education strategies, introducing many innovations in curricula and teaching methods, and then became vice-president for alumni and advancement.

Bertil Andersson, president of NTU, described him as “a champion of education, research and entrepreneurship. He was known for his boundless energy and big heart for his colleagues, teachers and students. A great mentor and an innovator in urban food production, he inspired many to step out with their entrepreneurial dreams.” He also praised Professor Lee for his “important role in driving research on tertiary education learning at NTU”.

Professor Lee died on 19 May of a suspected heart attack and is survived by his wife, Lek Yian Ping Cherie, and two children.


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