Ong Ye Kung: Singaporeans need to develop skills beyond the academe to level-up for the future

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Education Minister Ong Ye Kung/Youtube screengrab

Singaporeans will need skills beyond academic qualifications in order to be prepared for the future, to prevent “computers and robots replacing Singaporeans” in the future, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

A killing combination of knowledge and skills is what Singapore needs to not be redundant or phased out in the future. Recent fundamental changes in the nation’s education landscape, such as the upskilling of adults, school admissions based on aptitude and relaxing the pressure on examinations reflect Singapore’s efforts toward levelling-up.

The new direction, according to Ong, will make Singaporeans invaluable assets to their own nation, necessary even in the face of automation.

Ong cited the SkillsFuture movement, “a national movement to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life”.

SkillsFuture is focusing on the “skills, passion and contributions of every individual [which] will drive Singapore’s next phase of development towards an advanced economy and inclusive society”.

SkillsFuture, which was launched in 2015, has affected schools, higher education and the adult learning sector and was transforming preparations for the future.

“The SkillsFuture movement is not just about promoting vocational or technical work,” Ong said at the triennial Singapore International Technical and Vocational Education and Training Conference yesterday.

It was instead to tell Singaporeans that they had to go beyond academic qualifications and add skills to their repertoire.

Through SkillsFuture, “the skills, passion and contributions of every individual will drive Singapore’s next phase of development towards an advanced economy and inclusive society”.

Ong cited that further development beyond the academe is necessary, “because the lines between cognition and skills have blurred”.

“It is not a traditional two-track system, with an academic path and a vocational path, but a multi-path system,” said Ong.

This change in mindset has meant that institutes of higher learning have become resources for life – education for the young and a skills upgrade for adults.

Around 370,000 of the 2.6 million eligible Singaporeans have used their SkillsFuture credits to attend training courses. From 2015 to last year, the total training hours put in by adult learners increased by 55 percent from 26.5 million to 41 million.

The rate of training participation for the resident labor force increased, going from 35 percent to 48 percent in the same time period.

“At the core of the SkillsFuture movement is passion,” said Ong. “A strong personal desire to do something really well, a motivation powerful enough to drive someone to learn and hone a craft for life.”

This passion must be cultivated from early on in order for it to be ingrained in the culture, said Ong, drawing attention to the recent shift in education – reducing examinations to allot more time for learning.

To give priority to students who were passionate about a subject, a program called the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) was launched in 2016 to grant students showing aptitude and talent conditional admission even before their qualifying final exams.

A record 13,900 EAE applications have been received for the admission year 2019, 13 percent higher than last year.

“Collectively, all the changes that have been taking place are transforming the way we prepare Singaporeans for the future,” said Ong.