I am heartened by the growing conversation on the value of a vocational education, and see it as critical both for preventing a glut of degree holders in the labour market and for correcting historical inequities in our education system.
In particular, I applaud the Government's efforts to enhance opportunities for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates, outlined in the recently released Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review report.
As ITE chief executive Bruce Poh has stated ("Championing the cause of non-degree holders"; last Saturday), by improving career placement and advancement opportunities for non-degree holders, students and their parents will begin to view the non-degree route as a viable option leading to secure and successful careers.
This is the right first step, since career prospects are the biggest determinant of whether students find vocational training attractive, relative to getting a university education.
However, these changes must be accompanied by a parallel shift in societal perceptions of "intelligence" and "talent".
Being book-smart is not the highest form of intelligence, and earning power is not the most legitimate criterion for ranking intelligence.
Students graduating from the National University of Singapore's law school, for example, are usually labelled "smart", but perhaps we should learn to view them simply as possessing the unique analytical skills and work ethic demanded by the legal profession.
Similarly, students earning vocational certificates in hairdressing or graphic design should by no means be seen as being "less intelligent", since the skills required for those vocations are talents in their own right.
This shift in perception is not one that the Government can engineer. It requires each of us to view vocational training not just as a path to a pay cheque, but also as a way to develop each individual's unique strengths. This will ensure that diploma holders will be rewarded not just by the economy but also by society.
Developing a multi-dimensional perception of intelligence will help our society to mature into a more dynamic one that celebrates creative people, artisans and technicians, and not merely A+ students.
Jacqueline Ho Shing Xi (Miss)
This article was first published on Sep 11, 2014.
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