Learn for skills and life, not just grades: Heng Swee Keat

Learn for skills and life, not just grades: Heng Swee Keat
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat

EDUCATION should be about more than just chasing marks and aceing exams, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday when he called for a transformation in Singaporeans' attitude towards learning.

This is necessary as jobs will keep changing in future and people will need to keep learning, master skills and learn for life, he said.

Parents would have to give up their obsession with grades; employers would have to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for an all-round development of their students.

The new road map for the future was set out by Mr Heng in an hour-long speech in Parliament that spelt out the rationale for the radical move.

The education system, which has served Singapore well for the past 50 years, is at a crossroads, with two options.

One is a path with a narrow focus on grades and examinations, which could descend into "a spiralling paper chase and expanding tuition industry".

It leads to a dystopian future where stress levels climb, and "the system churns out students who excel in exams, but are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future, nor find fulfilment in what they do".

"Unemployment or under- employment becomes pervasive. Everyone is worse off," Mr Heng said. "This is a grim road, but sadly one which other societies have already trodden down."

The other is a road no country has travelled, he said.

It requires employers to look beyond paper qualifications when hiring or promoting, and educators to focus on building a strong foundation of values in students.

Parents will need to recognise their children's strengths and build their characters instead of being preoccupied with grades.

But the route is uncharted territory, said Mr Heng, adding that Singaporeans will have to be pioneers in plotting the way forward.

His ministry always draws attention, and the debate on its budget saw 22 MPs rising to ask what it plans to do to improve the education system.

The four-hour debate started with Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, expressing his worry about whether there will be enough jobs for the increasing number of university graduates.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) called for new types of schools without any streaming exam in the first 10 years, while Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) wants the ministry to look into why parents spend so much on tuition for their children.

Mr Heng, in laying out his new road map, said the change will entail three major shifts.

One is to go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery of skills. In doing so, Singaporeans will become resourceful, innovative and pioneering in the field of their choice.

Second, develop a lifelong learning habit among Singaporeans so that they are equipped for changing economic realities.

The third is to move from learning for work to learning for life, so that a student develops interests beyond work and a commitment to serve society.

To make it all happen, the Government will introduce several key measures.

These include getting more students to do internships as well as expanding education and career counselling at all levels, from primary school onwards.

Workers will be offered more bite-size modular courses and generous fee subsidies.

In summing up, Mr Heng said: "These are fundamental changes that will take time. But we need to take the first step now, and take it together."

sandra@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 07, 2015.
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