In his first public speech as Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) on Wednesday (14 Oct), Mr Ong Ye Kung said that Singapore’s institutions are moving away from a cookie cutter approach to offer diverse choices to meet Singaporeans’ rising and varied aspirations.
Even as the education landscape changes, economic and social changes taking place in Singapore and around the world must be taken into account, said Mr Ong, who was speaking at the opening of the OECD-Singapore Conference on Higher Education Futures at the Resorts World in Sentosa.
He said that “education systems exist and have meaning only in context” and these contexts are evolving, having significant implications on higher education.
For instance, a company can only be successful if it is innovative and makes its products special to customers. There is also a blurring of tradition lines between products and services.
"Today, one can offer a taxi service without owning any vehicles, offer hotel services without owning any rooms or buildings. And soon we may have a big successful university that has no classrooms," he said.
Societies are also changing and technology is creating new opportunities. "Advances in technology have the potential to replace or transform jobs that not just involve manual work, but also cognitive and increasingly complex intellectual tasks," Mr Ong said.
He added that education institutions have to be “well plugged into the needs of the industries and the real and unpredictable world.”
In the past, Singapore’s higher education institutions focused on serving the nation’s interests. However, to young people, education is often about choices - “where and how to channel their energies and passions”, said Mr Ong.
"Every Singaporean counts, and he or she can count only if the system allows maximum play of what he or she is best at doing," Mr Ong said.
“We are growing the number of university places for our people not by adding more of the same, but in the form of new programmes and new institutions,” he added.
This “multi-dimensional, qualitative change” will be achieved through the SkillsFuture movement, launched in 2014 to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to develop to their fullest potential throughout life.
Tertiary institutions must respond to allow individuals to intertwine study and work throughout their lives and not confine learning to classrooms.
Mr Ong also said the definition of merit and success must be broadened.
How society regards and recognises skilled workers and craftsmen is beyond the Government’s control, and “will have to be part of our continuing evolution as a society,” he said.
The two-day conference is attended by 500 leaders and experts in academia and public policy to discuss trends and challenges in higher education.
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Source: "'Diverse choices' in education to meet rising aspirations". (The Straits Times, 15 October 2015) and "Education ‘needs rethink to focus on individual’" (TODAY, 15 October 2015).