Award for Outstanding Contribution to Psychology in Singapore (AOCPS) – 2007

The Award for Outstanding Contribution to Psychology in Singapore (AOCPS) was presented at the 29th Annual General Meeting.

The Singapore Psychological Society is pleased to present the AOCPS to Dr Esther Tan.

Citation for Award for Outstanding Contribution to Psychology in Singapore (AOCPS) 2007

Since her graduation from the Department of Applied Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto in 1988, Esther Tan had developed a passion for the advancement of Applied Psychology in Singapore. As a teacher educator attached to the National Institute of Education, she was already involved in teaching Educational Psychology courses to trainee teachers but she longed to do more. The opportunity came when she was appointed Head of Psychological Studies at the National Institute of Education in 1989. The leadership position gave her the opportunity to initiate a number of events to advance the development of Psychology in Singapore. Immediately she took the initiative to broaden the range of psychology courses in NIE’s teacher education programme to include modules on thinking, creativity, assessment, counselling and vocational psychology.

In 1994 Esther represented Singapore at MIT, Boston, to bid for the 7th International Conference on Thinking. After a series of presentations, Singapore was chosen from 7 contenders including universities from Canada, UK Australia and New Zealand. Upon her return, Esther became the driving force behind the organization of the major conference which took place in 1997 when NTU/NIE played host to 2,400 conference delegates from 42 countries, including all the school principals and senior education officers from MOE. Mr Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister of Singapore, officiated at the opening and shared his vision of TSLN (Thinking Schools and Learning Nation). World renown psychologists such as Howard Gardner from Harvard (Multiple Intelligences), Robert Sternberg (Creativity) from Yale and Reuven Feuerstein from Israel (Instrumental Enrichment) were keynote speakers at the conference. Their presentations stirred up great interest and created a strong impact on the education circles. The ripples are still felt today when “teaching the MI way “ and “infusing creativity and critical thinking into classroom teaching” have become common goals for many teachers, no longer alien and unfamiliar concepts. With the Thinking Conference being such a huge success, Esther was invited to be Advisor to the Organising Committee of the 25th International Congress of Applied Psychology hosted by SPS in 2002, another mega-conference that put Singapore on the world map.

Esther‘s greatest contribution to the advancement of Psychology in Singapore is the introduction of postgraduate education in Applied Psychology. She was instrumental in the conception and development of the Master of Arts in Applied Psychology programme (MA/AP) which was launched in 1997, the first of its kind in Singapore and the region. Adopting a scientist–practitioner approach, the programme places equal emphasis on theory and practice and equips its students with two sets of skills, those of a researcher and those of a clinician. It also has a twin-track structure offering specialization in Educational Psychology and Counselling Psychology. The main goal was to equip educational psychologists for schools and professional counsellors for the community. To compliment and reinforce the courses taught, Esther set up a Psychology Clinic on campus as a practicum site for the students as well as to offer psychological services to students, staff and their families in the university community and schools in the neighbourhood. To raise the profile of the programme and highlight the importance of applied psychology, Esther raised funds in 2004 to institute a gold medal award for the best all-round graduating student in the MA/AP programme.

Launched as a forerunner in Applied Psychology, the MA/AP programme was very well received. It has also undergone several revisions, growing from strength to strength. In a decade the programme has produced a body of some 250 accomplished alumni, many of whom have taken on key leadership and specialist roles as educational psychologists, professional counsellors, counsellor educators in tertiary institutions, heads and directors of counselling departments in major ministries, corporations, schools, and voluntary welfare organizations. A few have been inspired to move on to pursue PhD studies for further professional development.

As an academic Esther has also contributed to the advancement of applied psychology thought her research. She was appointed Principal Investigator in 1990 to lead a 4 year R & D project with a government research grant of $450,000. The end result was the development of JOBS (Jobs Orientation Backup System), a comprehensive computer-assisted career guidance package which was released to schools in 1995. The package has undergone a few updates and its on-line version OSCAR (Orientation System for CAReers) is still widely used in schools today, benefitting thousands of adolescent students in their career exploration and vocational planning. Since then Esther has led a number of research projects at NIE, including stress management of teachers and a 5-year longitudinal study on the cognitive, psychosocial and school adjustment of secondary students in Singapore.

In terms of publication, Esther has written more than 30 journal articles and several book chapters on various topics in applied psychology. To date she has published 4 books: Counselling Pupils (1983), Winning Ways with Teens : A practical Guide for Parents (1997), “Counselling in Schools: Theories, Processes and Techniques” (2004) and What do I say to my NET-Savvy Kids? Internet Safety Issues for Parents (co-author, 2006). Currently she is working on a chapter on multicultural counselling practices in Singapore to be included in an international handbook of cross-cultural counselling targeted for publication in the US in late 2008.

Driven by her passion for and commitment to life-long learning, Esther remains actively involved in teacher training and counsellor education even after her retirement from NIE in 2005. As Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology of NTU (2005 to 2007), she introduced vocational psychology to undergraduates from Accountancy, Engineering, Business and Humanities programmes across the campus. As Visiting Consultant to ITE (2005 to 2006), she played a key role in developing a year-long curriculum in social and emotional education for ITE students. As Programme Consultant at SIM University (from 2006), she is instrumental in developing and launching professional training in counselling for adult learners. At MOE and STU (Singapore Teachers’ Union) she conducts workshops for teachers to promote the importance of affective education. At the Civil Service College she taught life career planning to government employees from the various ministries (2004 ton 2006). She continues to give public talks on issues pertaining to parenting, family life education, social and emotional education for children, values education, career counselling and juvenile delinquency.

A firm believer in serving the community and volunteerism, Esther continues to serve as advisor to the juvenile court, a role she has undertaken for close to 30 years (since 1979). This involvement gives her the opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of juvenile delinquency and contribute to the rehabilitation of troubled youths in Singapore. As a Justice of the Peace (since 1998), she has solemnised the marriage of more than 100 couples and makes regular visits to all the prisons to monitor the rehabilitation of prisoners and drug offenders. Her other community services include the roles of mediator at the Family Court working with estranged couples (1998-2000), Board member of Students Carer Service for 30 years (1976 to 2006), Board member of SAGE Counselling Centre (since 2006), Committee member of Life Imprison Review Board (since 2005), Member of Film Appeal Committee (since 2005) and consultant trainer for volunteers of NKF (since 2006). She is also the recipient of two National Day awards (PB in 1986 and PBM in 1993).