This is an edited excerpt of a speech by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday.
IN 1965, education meant du shu or "study book". Our pioneers had a sense of where they wanted to be in the future, where they were, and worked hard to bridge that gap.
The big gap then was basic literacy and numeracy skills - so "study book" made sense as they learnt the three "Rs" - or reading, writing, arithmetic.
Many became literate and numerate. We then built on this education system.
At critical points, we made important choices to adapt and change. Educators, parents, students responded with spirit, and each wave allowed us to make further progress with purpose.
But there were also inadvertent negatives. In our mind, "study book" became increasingly about exams, grades and qualifications.
A strength - in focusing on academic grades - can be overdone and become a weakness, as we leave little time to develop other attributes that are necessary for success and fulfilment.
Students tell me of the stress they faced because of the high expectations placed on them.
The chase for better grades fuelled a tuition industry. It created a vertical stacking of qualifications, as well as the tiering of schools in the minds of parents based mainly on academic results - a hierarchy of grades.
We are not unique in this.
The same "study book" culture that enabled the three East Asian dragons - South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan - to make great strides is also generating the same, if not even greater, pressure in their societies.
Like our pioneers before us, we have to ask anew: Where do we want to be in the future, where are we today, and how do we make the leap?
The future will be more uncertain, volatile as the global economy and political order change in unpredictable ways.
An ageing population will create challenges that we cannot totally foresee. A younger generation that is digitally connected can either be more united or more divided.
The nature of jobs will also change. Many existing jobs will disappear. Smart machines and lower- cost workers elsewhere will take these jobs. We have to change jobs, maybe several times over our lifetime.
But jobs that need uniquely human qualities cannot be displaced by machines, and will become more valuable.
Traits like creativity, inventiveness, adaptability, socio-emotional skills, and cultural and global awareness will give Singaporeans an edge. Some of us will create jobs for others as entrepreneurs.
And if our economy grows well, more jobs will be created. All these present new and multiple pathways for success.