Aspire to break through limiting beliefs

Aspire to break through limiting beliefs

We reproduce excerpts of speeches from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who spoke about the need for three breakthroughs in thinking; and from Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah's speech on Monday, where she explained what the report means by deepening skills.

We are not fixing a broken system. In fact, the polytechnic and ITE education in Singapore is first-rate. It has allowed many Singaporeans to make good progress, it is widely admired around the world.

Aspire represents the forward-thinking and planning in our policymaking and it represents the way that we respond to the aspirations of Singaporeans.

Our beliefs can shape our choices. Our beliefs can either limit or expand opportunities. My remarks will address three beliefs about qualifications that limit our potential, how Aspire breaks through these limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs

The first limiting belief is that qualifications are all that matter to get a good job, to get a good life. This is limiting because the highest qualifications will do a person no good if there are no jobs available in the first place.

In many parts of Europe, even nearer home Taiwan and other examples, we see highly educated people without a job because the economy does not create jobs for them for structural or cyclical reasons. It is very painful.

The belief that qualifications are all that matter is also limiting because there's a variety of jobs requiring us to learn in different ways and all our life.

Some jobs require degrees; some jobs don't. Some, like a heart surgeon, for instance, requires deep skills that take years of post-graduate specialised training. And there are some jobs, like those of a master craftsman or master chef, that also require deep skills but which can be better acquired on the job.

Qualifications are a proxy measure for some competencies, some attributes but cannot represent the full package of attributes each of us brings to the table.

A second limiting belief is the opposite extreme - that qualifications don't matter at all.

Some members of the public are asking: is the Government now saying that qualifications don't matter? Then why are we urging people to learn and upgrade?

So let me be clear. Aspire is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves, or pursuing degrees or pursuing any form of qualification. Aspire is about creating opportunities for all, not creating more competition for some. Aspire is about keeping pathways open for all, not blocking pathways for some.

Qualifications matter but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do.

So, for example, we want our doctor, our nurse, our pharmacist, our physiotherapist to each have the right qualifications for the job they do. We want the engineers who certify our buildings are safe, to be really well-trained, well-qualified to do the job. We want our architect similarly to be well-qualified for the job. The right qualification signifies that you have the right skills, the right combination of knowledge, application and experience.

But not all qualifications matter. Not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do. And this can happen when we seek qualifications as a paper chase, rather than as a quest for skills.

Recently, a young resident came to see me for advice. She shared that after she got her diploma, she went directly to do a private degree programme because she thought that she could get a better job and earn a better pay. But after spending tens of thousands of dollars on the programme, she got a job that paid her at a fresh diploma holder level - about $2,000. Because the company did not find her degree skills relevant.

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