Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi to attend Regional Ministerial Meetings on Educational Cooperation
Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower, will attend the 8th ASEAN Education Ministers’ Meeting, 2nd ASEAN Plus Three Education Ministers’ Meeting, and 2nd East Asia Summit Education Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR, from 11 - 12 September 2014.
At these meetings, Education Ministers (or their representatives) from the 10 ASEAN member states, the Plus Three countries (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) and other East Asia Summit participating countries (Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the USA) will discuss educational cooperation to deepen regional integration and development.
Mr Hawazi will be accompanied by senior officials from the Ministry of Education.
Closing Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah for Parliamentary Debate on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review Report
I would like to thank the members for giving their strong support and endorsement to the recommendations in the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE (ASPIRE) report, as well as the direction and policy of this government. I would like to acknowledge that this support has come from all members of the house - PAP MPs, the NMPs, and the Workers’ Party. Members have spoken passionately, drawing from personal experience and giving examples. It is clear that this is a topic that is close to the hearts of all.Major Themes of the Debate
In listening to the debate over the past couple of days, there are a few major themes which emerged.
- First, the request for a holistic approach to the post-secondary education landscape;
- Second the issue of degree versus non-degree;
- Third, public sector taking the lead;
- Fourth, the need for employers and industry to be on board, and how one is to help industry with this; and
- Mindset change
Ms Denise Phua, Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin expressed concern that ASPIRE may be too narrow in scope, and felt that it really should be part of a holistic plan. In fact, ASPIRE is part of a bigger, holistic, strategic move by this Government.
We actually started at the primary and secondary levels, by introducing the Applied Learning Programme (ALP), and the Learning for Life Programme (LLP) in 2013. ALP focuses on the application of skills in the real world, and is taught through problem solving, supporting tie-ups with industry partners. The LLP focuses on real-world experiential learning to develop character and values, through community outreach programmes, or service learning projects.
Two years ago, the then Senior Minister of State for Education, Mr Lawrence Wong, led a committee for pathways in university education, known as the CUEP report. The CUEP report recommended an applied degree pathway which emphasises a practice-orientation, learning through work, industry focus, to be offered by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM). It also recommended creating more opportunities at the degree-level that would build industry-relevant skills in graduates.
The missing piece was how to further strengthen applied education at our polytechnics and ITE. That is why the ASPIRE committee came in at this stage.
What you can see, therefore, is that we have introduced the idea of applied learning at primary and secondary. We have then put it in place for university. Now, we have slotted in deeper applied learning for polytechnics and ITE, and so that there is a whole spectrum.
If you look at it in terms of the big picture, we build a strong academic foundation at the primary and secondary levels because you need these fundamentals - whether you go on a more academic route or a more applied route, you cannot do it without the strong fundamentals. But we have introduced the applied learning at the primary and secondary stage.
Post-secondary, they will tend to choose their paths. Some will choose a more academic path; some will choose a more applied path. Even then, they are not mutually exclusive. That is the important thing to remember. Even if you are going on the academic route, there will be applied elements. In fact, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have partnerships with industry, and they are now also looking into strengthening internships. SIT and UniSIM are forging the new applied degree pathway, which integrate learning in classroom and the work context. As such, it is actually not mutually exclusive, but it - if I may say so - is a matter of degree - for the academic route, you will have some applied learning; for the applied learning route, you will have to have academic content to build on.
You can see that we have the education components in alignment. What we are doing now is that we are bringing the whole education part into alignment with industry as well. That is the direction in which the Government is steering us.ASPIRE Has Impact Beyond Polytechnic and ITE Education
ASPIRE has impact beyond the polytechnics and ITEs. We have mentioned Education and Career Guidance (ECG). This is not just for the polytechnics and ITE students. It will adopt a lifespan approach - it starts at primary through secondary, but it will go through the polytechnics and ITE, and for university students as well, to working adults.
The sector-specific skills frameworks will define skills and competencies which are needed to progress in careers, no matter the starting point. The Business Times article highlighted by Mr Zaqy Mohamad had it right when it said: “The ASPIRE proposals are not just another tweak in the education system but possibly the missing piece in the restructuring jigsaw puzzle the government has set out to complete”.Degree vs Non-Degree
On the question of degree versus non-degree and whether conflicting signals are being sent - that was addressed by Minister Heng earlier.Public Sector to Take the Lead
Many MPs have called for the public sector to take the lead. We should look at this in perspective. The Government and public sector agencies employ 4 per cent of the total workforce. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ 70 per cent. Multinational corporations (MNCs), both home-grown and foreign, and the social services employ the rest. In terms of the overall numbers of people employed, or the total workforce, the percentage employed by the Government is very small. However, I think what the MPs are really saying or asking about is the signalling effect.
DPM Teo had, in a written reply to a parliamentary question raised by Mr Lim Biow Chuan, responded on what the Government is doing on this, but let me summarise.
For the civil service, it adheres to the policy of hiring on merit, so the most suitable candidate is selected for the job.
For new job seekers at entry level jobs, educational qualifications would have to serve as a proxy because if you do not know the person, you do not know their capabilities yet.
Some jobs require a degree; some do not. When recruiting, the civil service will indicate what kind of qualification is required according to job type.
There will be certain professional fields where professional accreditation is required, for example medical or engineering. In such cases, the applicants will have to meet the requirements.
The next question is how do you progress once within the system. As announced by the Public Service Division (PSD) after the National Day Rally (NDR).There will be faster career progression for Management Support Officers (MSOs) from Oct 2014. Most non-graduates join under the MSO scheme. The MSOs can already progress to take on similar jobs as graduates and be paid comparable salaries. From Oct 2014, they may be progressed faster where they demonstrate the required performance and capability.
The civil service has announced that it intends to merge more of what used to be separate graduate schemes of service into integrated schemes. Most non-graduates join under the Management Support (MSO) scheme, while graduates join under the Management Executive Scheme (MXS). PSD is studying the merger of the two schemes. In the integrated schemes officers may have different entry points but will progress according to performance and ability to handle larger responsibilities, regardless of the starting point. They will get training. There are agencies already with existing integrated schemes such as People’s Association (PA), Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The Public Utilities Board (PUB) is also developing a single engineering career path where diploma holders and ITE graduates can progress up the ranks to take on wider engineering or managerial responsibilities. And MOE, of course, Minister Heng has already spoken about. So you can see the public sector is doing its part.Need For Industry and Employers to Be on Board
A number of members - Ms Denise Phua, Mr K Karthikeyan, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Mohd Ismail Hussein, Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Lee Li Lian - have pointed out that in order for the ASPIRE objectives to be achieved, industry and employers have to be on board. They have also highlighted that it is a challenge for businesses, because of business cost and manpower challenges.
Mr Thomas Chua made an earnest plea for SMEs. I can assure him that SMEs have not been forgotten, including in the composition of the ASPIRE committee. There are a large number of SMEs - while it was not possible to include a lot of them or all of them in the committee, we included the CEO/SPRING because SPRING has a lot of dealings with SMEs, and has an understanding of their difficulties and challenges. As such, the SME issues were well-represented on the ASPIRE Committee.
SMEs can also particularly benefit from building up progressive pathways, providing training programmes, and providing good human resources that will build up their manpower development capabilities. There are existing government schemes to help them.
- SPRING Capability Development Grant: SMEs can tap on SPRING’s Capability Development Grant to defray costs of projects to enhance their business capabilities. These can include projects to strengthen leadership capabilities, those that adopt effective HR practices, cultivate a strong corporate culture, and retain talent.
- SPRING’s SME Talent Programme: It encourages SMEs to recruit local ITE and polytechnic students. It incentivises SME employers to develop their employees and invest in human capital development.
- Aside from SPRING’s funding and incentives, SPRING has also set up many SME centres which provide assistance and training to SMEs. In 2013, the SME centres trained some 1,000 SMEs on business capability development areas and assisted over 20,000 SMEs.
- Then there is WDA’s Enterprise Training Support (ETS). Businesses can tap on the ETS scheme to fund projects that will build their in-house capabilities for human capital development and training. In total, $20Million was committed under the ETS to support companies.
Going forward, companies can, and should leverage these existing schemes and support in co-implementing the ASPIRE recommendations. The Government will continue to look into whether specific sectors will also require other forms of sector-specific support, and develop supporting schemes as part of a concerted sectoral strategy to develop manpower and talent for these sectors.
As part of the ASPIRE recommendations, lead institutions will also be established for each key sector, to coordinate efforts in working with different stakeholders. We hope this will strengthen the linkages between institutions and industry.
In the meantime, I am happy to say that a number of companies have already pledged support. We have MNCs on board, examples of which include Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. For local companies, we have examples such as YCH Group and Sakae Holdings. These employers are forward-looking and can see the long-term benefits in terms of talent pipeline, employee retention, and increased productivity.Mindset Change
Members have raised this quite rightly and said that current mindsets are deeply entrenched. It will be a significant challenge to overcome them.
Ms Denise Phua highlighted that the ability to transform mindsets of key stakeholders is a critical success factor for ASPIRE. Mr Karthikeyan, Mr Zainudin Nordin and Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about the challenge of changing these mindsets on the ground. Ms Kuik pointed out that ASPIRE’s ability to succeed depended greatly on today’s culture. Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Faisal Manap spoke of the importance of reaching out to students and parents.
The key question asked by members, is how we are going to change these mindsets. One noteworthy thing is that everybody in this house who has spoken on this has not just pointed out the need for the mindset change, but agrees that it should be changed. So, you can see that there is strong support, even in this chamber. When we speak to others, many agree that there is a need for it. That is a good starting point because if people recognise that this is something which needs to be changed - and they think it is a good thing to be changed - then it really is a question of everybody doing his or her own part and taking it on board.
- For individuals - to recognise our strengths, to build on the right foundations, choose the right paths, and adopt the right attitude to lifelong learning;
- For parents - realise your child’s unique strengths and encourage him or her on the path that will best develop his or her talent;
- For employers - value every employee, hire and reward based on actual skills;
- Government will do its part.
We should also celebrate broad definitions of success. It is true - we should celebrate individuals who have not trod the traditional paths but have achieved success in their own ways. But also celebrate those who have achieved success along the degree route. Singapore is a sum of the parts. We should celebrate the success of each individual, because each and every Singaporean makes up Singapore. You want them to be able to progress and advance. When somebody does well, you should be happy for them. So take a broad definition of success and support each other in this endeavour.
We should also highlight examples of model companies who espouse the right mindsets. These are the ones who
- Invest in their people, education and training
- Hire, remunerate and promote based on actual skills and performance
- Take on sector-specific skills frameworks and progression pathways
- Those who continually improve jobs and progression opportunities for their employees.
Ms Sylvia Lim asked whether the industry sector leads in polytechnics would have a priority, or whether they would play a coordinating role. The answer is that they would play a coordinating role. The lead institutions should also think about the polytechnic and ITE sector as a whole, and source for opportunities to grow and develop it. It is not intended that it should be a priority for a particular polytechnic.
A number of MPs have spoken in Malay. Madam Speaker, in Malay please.
Saya ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada Anggota-anggota Parlimen kerana menyokong kuat saranan ASPIRE. ASPIRE adalah untuk membantu individu mencapai aspirasi mereka masing-masing dan mewujudkan pelbagai laluan yang berbeza menuju kejayaan. Kami berharap bahawa semua anak-anak muda kami akan memanfaatkan saranan ASPIRE ini, seperti program belajar sambil bekerja, dan program Penempatan dan Latihan. Selepas mereka selesai pengajian mereka di politeknik atau ITE, akan terdapat pelbagai pilihan untuk mereka maju ke hadapan dan berjaya - mereka boleh melanjutkan pelajaran mereka; bekerja dahulu; atau memperolehi pensijilan industri. Kami juga berharap mereka akan terus belajar sepanjang hayat. Pada dasarnya, ASPIRE adalah tentang menghargai setiap individu dan menghormati setiap kerjaya, serta memberi peluang yang lebih baik bagi semua.Conclusion - ASPIRE a Game Changer
Madam Speaker, I would like everyone to understand what we are seeking to do. ASPIRE seeks to be a game changer. We are trying to realign education with industry to cope with a new environment. We are making a strategic course adjustment. The previous course was right for that time, but we are setting a new course because once again, the winds of change are upon us. We must tack to a new wind. If we do not make the change, it will be forced upon us and not on our terms.
We are making a societal change, as Minister Heng pointed out - to go beyond qualifications, to go beyond the classroom, to go beyond narrow definitions of success. Some may say that these are lofty goals, high ideals. But how will we actually implement it?
The MPs have been correct to highlight the challenges. It is not an easy task. It will not happen overnight. It will take many years, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ASPIRE is that step.
We look at the ten recommendations of ASPIRE - ECG; Enhanced Internships; Place and Train; Increase NITEC to Higher NITEC progression opportunities; Vocation Deployments during NS; Sector-Specific frameworks. These are concrete recommendations. This is the beginning, but it is just that - only the beginning.
We need everyone else to start making the necessary concrete changes in their own areas. For teachers, when giving advice to students; for parents, when helping children choose options. The Government has already started to move. Employers in adopting place-and-train, and in supporting their employees.
The only way in which the ASPIRE objectives will be able to succeed is if they permeate society and the economy and flow through to all segments and reach everyone.
It is like turning a ship. You turn the ship’s wheel, the gears engage. You are fighting against the water resistance. The ship slowly starts to move, and the initial move takes a lot of effort. Then it gains momentum and you start to pick up speed, and then you are full steam ahead. This is what the ASPIRE effort is like.
We are doing something uniquely Singaporean. The Committee visited many countries - Switzerland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand. We also had insights from Netherlands and Austria. I would like to acknowledge these countries and their agencies and institutions who generously shared information with us.
The end product however - the recommendations of the ASPIRE committee and the thinking behind it - is something uniquely our own. We have drawn from what we have seen, for example apprenticeships and career guidance, but have woven it into our own context, our economic structure and our system.
We are building on the strength of our polytechnic and ITE system which we have strengthened over the years and which now have a brand of their own.
We are proud of our polytechnics and ITE, and of their students and graduates. International visitors from other education ministries and agencies are always very impressed by them
We are also building on the strength of our tripartite system, and most of all, we are building on the strength of our people. This approach is also very much our own. We are contemplating the horizon, trying to figure out what is to come, anticipating as best we can, coming up with solutions and strategies , and doing it in a concerted effort. That is a very Singaporean thing, and it is a very Singaporean approach.
We are doing this for one reason - and one reason only - to secure a better future for Singaporeans and Singapore.
With this, Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the members for their support.
Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat for Parliamentary Debate on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Report
We debate an important motion that can set the tone for our society.
I thank SMS Indranee for her leadership and the ASPIRE committee for their tremendous effort.
Members in this House have given thoughtful and constructive ideas. I commend in particular our Nominated MPs who made their maiden speeches - Mr Kathikeyan who spoke of his experience in the industry, and Mr Ismail who spoke from his experience as an employer.
When the report was presented, I was happy to accept, on behalf of the Government, the recommendations in full. I appreciate the report for the highly-consultative approach, in the vein of Our Singapore Conversation, engaging many stakeholders on a significant scale - polytechnic and ITE students, parents, alumni, staff, employers and workers.
I appreciate how faithful ASPIRE strategies are to Singaporeans’ aspiration to build a society of opportunities, regardless of our starting points. The report addresses the needs of polytechnic and ITE students. SMS Indranee and I have interacted with many of them - we applaud their spirit, we are determined to help them succeed. That is why we are strongly supporting the many interesting ideas that came out - structured internships, Place-and-Train programmes, Higher Nitec places, online learning, better development programmes in the campuses and so on.
I also appreciate its deep insights. Although the report focuses on polytechnic and ITE education, its findings can transform our beliefs about education and learning - in all areas, in our schools, in our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), in the universities, at the workplace.
I would also like to thank Mr Zainuddin for giving us a history of the polytechnic and ITE education in Singapore. I am happy to say that 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 policy-making and it represents a way to respond to the aspirations of Singaporeans.
Members would agree that our beliefs can shape our choices; our beliefs can either limit or expand our opportunities. My remarks will address three beliefs about qualifications that limit our potential, how ASPIRE breaks through these limiting beliefs, and the actions that we must take to break through these limits.3 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 good 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 is a variety of jobs out there, requiring us to learn in different ways, and all our life. Some jobs require degrees; some jobs don’t. Some - like heart surgeons, for instance - require deep skills that takes 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.
This belief that qualifications are all that matter is also limiting because, as several members have pointed out, we need a whole package of attributes to succeed. Mr Ismail mentioned about Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Quotient (EQ), and Adversity Quotient (AQ). Ms Jessica Tan yesterday mentioned about soft skills. Qualifications are a proxy measure for some competencies and some attributes, but cannot represent the full package of attributes each of us brings to the table.
The second limiting belief is the opposite extreme - that qualifications don’t matter at all. As several MPs have noted, 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? Let me be clear - ASPIRE is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves or pursuing degrees or pursuing any form of qualifications. 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. For example, we want our doctor, our nurse, our pharmacist, our physiotherapist to each have the right qualification for the job they do. We want the engineer who certifies that our buildings are safe, is ready, well-trained and well-qualified for the job. We want our architects 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. 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 $2000 - because her company did not find her degree skills relevant. She lost 3 years of salary had she gone on to work - an opportunity cost of over $70,000, plus the cost of doing this programme. What’s worse, she realised after all these, that this line of work does not suit her strengths and interests. She was so caught up in chasing a piece of paper, she lost the chance to discover what she really cared about. Of course, each person has a different learning and working journey. This story moved me because her family is not well-off. It is such a huge cost to them. It is only now, 3 years and a lot of cost later, that she is getting a good sense of what she really wants to do. Would it not have been so much better for her and her family if she could have realised this earlier.
By sheer co-incidence, last evening at my Meet-the-People Session, I had the chance to play an untrained education and career guidance officer. The father of this young lady had come to see me a few weeks back, asking me for help to get his daughter to university. I asked him to get his daughter to come to see me instead, because I wanted to understand what I could do for her. Last evening, she came and I found out that she had a diploma from one of our polytechnics. She was very interested in communications and design. I asked her why she wanted to do a degree. She said of course, it would allow her to do better. I was really impressed with this young lady. She was so obsessed with learning and wanting to do well. I explored a number of options with her, as to what her career options were, what her passion was, and what she enjoyed learning and doing most. She told me that she was actually very keen to learn how to marry communications with design and with planning. I said that was very good and that there were quite a number of useful courses in the polytechnics for doing that. I told her to send me a longer note on what she was really interested in doing, what her career plans were and I would send someone trained and well-versed in this industry to advise her.
I feel strongly that we must provide better career and education guidance to our young. Our captains of industry must come out and explain what they are looking for.
A third limiting belief is that if others are better qualified, I would lose out. Is it true that if polytechnic and ITE students learn better, the value of degrees would go down? Again, this is very limiting. The opposite is true - when our friends and colleagues can do a better job, we all benefit.
Just think about this. What does it take to make a visitor to Singapore have a great experience? From the pilot to the cabin crew, to the moment he lands at the airport, to the way our counter staff deals with it, to the taxi-driver, to the baggage handler, to the frontline staff at the hotels, in the restaurants, in the places of interest - everyone would have some role to play in making it a great experience. And not to mention, the architects and engineers who design all these attractions, and not to mention the technicians and the cleaners who maintain these facilities. In fact, the more that each of us can do our part, the more that each of us is highly-skilled and can do a great job, the more we create the right conditions for everyone to thrive.
In fact, this is the Singapore Story - we enjoy a better standard of living because we work as a team, and we earn others’ respect and we earn a premium for being team players, for cheering one another on, for helping one another do better. If we do not have enough skilled people, investors would not even come in the first place.3 Breakthroughs of ASPIRE
The ASPIRE report encourages us to break through these limiting beliefs, to think anew about qualifications, jobs and opportunities:
The first breakthrough is to go beyond qualifications to the pursuit of excellence, by recognising that attitude, deep skills, knowledge and experience matter if we want to perform and excel.
The second breakthrough is to go beyond the classroom to recognise the value of applied learning and lifelong learning - and make the workplace a great learning place.
The third breakthrough is to go beyond narrow definitions of success to recognise that everyone excels at different things, in different ways, and that we can all excel if we apply our minds, hands, and hearts to what we do.
Mr Zaqy and Er Lee Bee Wah asked what ASPIRE’s breakthroughs mean for the value of a degree. Does this mean that degrees no longer matter? None of these breakthroughs devalues some qualifications over others. None of these breakthroughs limits opportunities for one group of people over another. It is not about one kind of qualification versus another; one group versus another. ASPIRE seeks to support each of us on the path that best suits our personal needs and aspirations, so that we can each excel and lead fulfilling, happy lives. It is about breakthroughs, not limits; widening opportunities, not narrowing them; addition, not subtraction; more, not less.
As members pointed out, these indeed add up to a major transformation. Can we put these breakthrough ideas into practice? The answer is yes.
The Public Service Division is doing so. In MOE, we recognise that qualifications matter for teachers. We also recognise that some teachers who did not take the degree route can develop the depth of knowledge which, along with other qualities like care and skill at their craft, allow them to excel as teachers. All teachers should have opportunities to deepen and upgrade their skills. That is why we will be emplacing outstanding non-graduate teachers on the graduate pay scale. These are teachers who have proven themselves to be excellent teachers.
Er Lee and others asked if this means that there has been a change to MOE’s position. Let me assure members that we will not just maintain but seek to raise the level of teaching. We have an important responsibility to all our children. MOE will continue to recruit graduates as we need teachers with strong grasp of the academic subjects, to help our children build the foundation. But we will also hire some non-graduates who have the passion and predisposition for teaching, and help them deepen their skills.
Let me recap: We must not be a society where paper credentials mean everything. We must also not be a society where paper credentials mean nothing. We limit ourselves if we believe that qualifications are all that matter to get a good job, or, the opposite, that qualifications don’t matter at all. We limit ourselves if we think that some people improving their qualifications increases competition for others. If we limit ourselves this way, we block our individual ability to reach our aspirations, and our collective potential to build an inclusive, fair society of opportunities for all. As individuals, we can shed these limitations and see things in these terms: What are our real interests, and what is the right qualification, the right form of learning to help us be the best at that? What are all the changing conditions around us that can affect our ability to succeed at our jobs, and how can we keep learning to be ahead of these changes? And finally, how can we support one another through our unique learning journeys to each reach our best?3 Action Areas
We create opportunities for all Singaporeans to learn and succeed, through multiple pathways, through multiple modes of learning, in a continual progression, developing a culture of passion, recognition and respect, with every part of society playing a part. It is about learning the right thing, at the right time, at the right place, in the right way, and learning all our life.
This leads to 3 action areas.
First: Learn at Every Stage - We need to have seamless integration from schools to IHLs to the workplace.
Our education system must provide the broad and deep foundation for life, and lifelong learning. I have spoken on this before, in MOE’s Work Plan Seminar last year.
Mr Chris de Souza pointed out yesterday that ASPIRE’s recommendations build on Every School a Good School, Applied Learning Programmes, and he reminded us, the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP). Indeed, this is so.
The 10 years of basic education in primary and secondary schools enable our students to develop the values and character traits, give them the basic academic foundation, and help them discover their strengths and interests. We recently added Applied Learning Programmes and Learning for Life in our secondary schools, to help students develop the life skills and to learn how to apply knowledge, and to develop a lively interest of the world around them.
ASPIRE takes these forward. By having Education and Career Guidance (ECG), it will help our students develop an even better understanding of the options. By deepening the structured internships and Applied Learning opportunities especially for our polytechnic and ITE students, it helps our students explore these even more deeply.
We will, over time, develop a seamless integration across our schools and IHLs, to help students learn the right thing at the right time, while encouraging them to explore their strengths, and discover the opportunities out there for them to deploy their strengths fully.
I appreciate Ms Denise Phua’s point yesterday that we must have a porosity between the pathways. Indeed, our aim is to create many pathways, to facilitate and encourage the inter-connections among them. There will be multiple pathways, with no dead ends.
Earlier on, Mr Faisal Manap spoke about applied learning as an alternative to university education. As SMS mentioned in her opening address, it is not one or the other. In fact, applied learning will be a key feature of our 5th university - Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and the degree programmes at UniSIM. Our existing universities are all developing applied learning in some ways. The learning is two-way. It is not just the polytechnics and ITE are learning from what the universities are doing. The universities are also learning from what the polytechnics and ITE are doing. I think this is a very healthy interchange. I see the integration of theoretical and applied learning running throughout our education system - not just in the polytechnic or ITE. This sets the foundation for future learning.
The second area is to Learn in Every Way, to embrace and encourage Lifelong Learning.
Learning must not stop when we leave school. In fact, the more reflective we are, the more we turn each day into a learning day, and the more we can learn from everyone we meet or work with, the richer our learning experience, the wiser we get. I have been very amazed at how many teachers and many professors in the universities tell me how much they learn every day from their students. And these are the reflective teachers, when they reflect on how they do their lessons, whether they do them well, whether they encourage students to express their views - they too learn from their students. We must have this habit of learning in every way. We must sow the seeds of lifelong learning in our students when they are in school.
Beyond schools, we must make learning real, relevant and meaningful. Many lecturers create simulated situations to help students to learn in a real life manner. These are useful. But nothing is more real than the workplace. Great employers understand this, and have plans to help staff learn the real stuff, the relevant stuff. So we will work with employers to turn workplaces to great learning places, to help every Singaporean build deep skills that matter.
Earlier on, Mr Thomas Chua spoke about Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and indeed, we will work with SMEs, whether as individual organisations or as an association. Let me share a very inspiring story.
I recently met a polytechnic student at the National Day Rally. He designed our ASPIRE logo. He has just graduated from a polytechnic, and I asked him what he was doing. He started work doing something similar to what he was taught in the polytechnic. He is a very talented designer. So I asked him what was the biggest difference between studying in a polytechnic and working. He said, “The difference is that in the polytechnic, I do one project for the term. Here, I have many projects any time. So, it is extremely challenging!” But he said it was also an extremely rich learning experience. Because of this variety of work, he learnt such a variety of skills. Every client has a different need, and he gets to understand the needs of a whole spectrum of clients. His learning curve is steep, but so is his learning.
Companies big or small can play a very important role. I find this story of this polytechnic student very inspiring. He wants to apply what he has learnt, and he’s doing really well.
Beyond the workplace, let us have many more ways of learning, including online learning. Earlier this year, I was at Silicon Valley to look at what the Americans were doing on online learning. I see that there are some very important areas that we have to pick up and learn. We will have to make a concerted effort in this area.
At the same time, as Mr Heng Chee How pointed out earlier on, the unions have also been playing a very important role working with companies and creating their own learning institutions, e2i and so on. We will support all these efforts and work together on these.
The third area is to respect everyone - developing a culture of respect and recognition in Singapore.
It is to respect that we all have different talents and every job deserves respect.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan mentioned this earlier today. So did Mr Zaqy Mohamad yesterday and several other members. I am glad to say that we are putting a renewed emphasis in this area. Our Values In Action programmes in our schools seek to do precisely that. I am very happy to see our students showing great respect, be it for cleaners in the schools, and in fact, taking on cleaning duties themselves, in order to understand and appreciate that this is hard work and it is work worth of respect. I agree with Er Lee Bee Wah that we must not frighten our children to say that “If you don’t study hard, you will end up doing certain kinds of jobs”.
Employers are very important. I hope that employers recognise performance, not just paper qualifications. By recognising performance, we expand the space for staff to learn, to innovate, to contribute. And to encourage them to learn the relevant skills and apply these in their daily job.
I agree with Mr Lim Biow Chuan that we need to look for ways to enlarge the jobs, and that this is how we create the virtuous cycle that Mr Heng Chee How spoke about - the higher skills, higher job content, higher salary, higher productivity, higher competitiveness - everyone benefits.
So, Madam, Every Stage, Every Way, Everyone.
Now may I say a few words in Mandarin.
首先，在每个阶段虚心向学 - 让国人从学校，到高等学府，直到职场都能够不断地学习。我们的教育制度必须为国人提供一个更深更广的基础，帮助他们终身学习。ASPIRE委员会建议提供学生教育与职业辅导、强化实习课程和各种应用学习机会。
第二，以任何方式致力学习 - 所谓“学无止境”，我们要鼓励每个人活到老、学到老。职场是最能够提供真实学习机会的场所。我们也会与雇主合作，让每一个工作场所都能够提供学习机会,让每一个人都能够终身学习、终身受用。
第三，让各行各业受到尊重 - 我们要在新加坡建立起彼此尊重和认可的文化。行行出状元，每一个人都各有所长；每一份职业都是值得大家尊敬的。我们重视的是个人的表现，而非一纸文凭。
Madam, to conclude, I addressed three limiting beliefs that hold us back from realising our full potential. I talked about three important breakthroughs that ASPIRE makes. And I shared the three areas of action for us to break through our limiting beliefs - We must “Learn at Every Stage, Learn in Every Way, Respect Everyone”. These are not ideals, Madam, these are imperatives. We must not limit ourselves to some places, some times, some people over others, we must breakthrough into every stage, every way, everyone. The Government will work hard on “Learn at Every Stage” and “Learn in Every Way”, together with employers, schools, and families. To me, the most important part of all is “Respect Everyone”. Because, at the heart of the matter, it is not just about qualifications, not just about jobs, not just about economic growth — all of this is to create the conditions for Singaporeans to pursue lives of meaning, achievement and joy. Every One of us, regardless of our starting points.
I urge members to give your robust support to this motion.
To provide a quality education, support students’ holistic development, and provide them with a rich learning experience, there needs to be an adequate number of students for meaningful class organisation and interactions as well as the provision of a rich array of learning programmes, both curricular and co-curricular.
Given the significance of schools to students and alumni, and the emotional attachment between students, alumni and their schools, as far as possible we would not want to merge schools. However, in some mature estates, the population of school going children has declined, and enrolment in some schools are too low for them to offer a good range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities. The merger of schools will allow their students to benefit from the range of educational programmes that can cater to the all-round development of students. This is in fact one way that we provide better programmes to bring out the best in every child, and make every school a good school. Moreover, by deploying our teachers and other resources in an optimal manner, including to schools in new towns with higher population densities, we raise the quality of schools across the board.
Schools are identified for mergers based on several factors such as the size of enrolment, the nature of existing programmes, the suitability of merger partners and infrastructure capacity. These factors are considered qualitatively before a decision is taken. In some cases in the past, MOE had relocated schools when there was low demand for school places in a particular estate, or when it was not feasible to upgrade the existing school facilities due to land and building constraints.
MOE seeks to preserve the history and heritage of the schools which are merged by documenting the history of each school. In many schools, these are displayed at a heritage space in the merged school building. This serves to inform and educate the new student cohorts of the school’s history and legacy. For example, Queenstown Primary School which was set up before Singapore’s independence had previously merged with Birkhall Road School in 1984 and with Mei Chin Primary and Tanglin Primary in 2002. The school has a Heritage Corner to reflect its rich legacy by documenting the history of the other three schools.
Fees are reviewed regularly and are differentiated by nationality to reflect the privileges of citizenship. The total fees collected in any given year would depend on the prevailing fees and the student enrolment in that year.
In general education, the school and miscellaneous fees collected from students in Government and Government-aided schools (GGAS) are set out in Table 1 below.
In post-secondary education, the tuition fees collected by Autonomous Universities, Polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) for their full-time programmes are set out in Table 2 below.
Overall, total fees collected from Singaporean students have gone up mainly because of a larger number of Singaporeans enrolled in post-secondary institutions, and some fee increases. For PR and international students, the increase in fee collection is primarily due to fee increases, as PR and international students face higher fee increases than locals.
Starting from the 2014 Primary One (P1) Registration Exercise, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has reserved 40 places in every school for registrants in Phases 2B and 2C. This is to ensure that our schools, especially the popular ones, remain open to children with no prior connections to the school. As a result of this change, four schools balloted in Phase 2A2 this year, but without the reservation of places in Phase 2B and 2C, there would have been fewer than 40 places in each of these schools open to students without prior connections to the school. In addition, without this 40 reserved places policy, some schools may in the future run the risk of not having any access at Phase 2B and 2C.
Home-school distance is already one key consideration during the allocation of P1 places, with priority for those who live within 1km of the school, followed by those who live between 1km and 2km from the school. As the number of children seeking admission in a particular year and the population in the area change, we seek parents’ understanding that even as we attempt to plan the location of schools and the number of vacancies carefully, it is not always possible to meet the changing number of students who will register in a particular school in a particular year. In addition, there needs to be a critical mass of students in an area before it is feasible for us to start a new school. But there will be sufficient places in schools that are within a reasonable distance of their homes. Our assessment is that the current criteria have met the needs of most parents well, and making further changes at this point would not be meaningful.
What is most important is that every pupil receives a good quality and holistic education, regardless of which school he or she attends. Therefore, we have been resourcing all our schools with well-trained teachers, high-quality education facilities and rigorous school programmes and will continue to do so. This is part of our commitment to make every school a good school, so that we can meet the educational needs of all children in Singapore.
Our ground feedback has been that the recent changes in our primary one registration framework and our outreach to parents on the programmes of schools in their neighbourhood have been met with good response from parents. We are pleased to see more parents taking the time to visit schools during open houses and to understand the programmes of the schools. They take the effort to see for themselves the quality of education provided in these schools. So let us continue our efforts in this direction.
Good afternoon to all of you. I am delighted to be here this afternoon to present the Eurasian Community Fund (ECF) Education Awards. Let me first congratulate all 302 award recipients for your achievements. Your good results are a result of your diligence and determination to excel. It is also a result of your families, your teachers, and others giving you the support that you need.EDUCATION - A KEY PILLAR
Education is a key pillar. It is one of the most important things that we can give our children. The Eurasian Association, I am pleased to see, plays an essential role in giving our young people the encouragement and confidence to persevere in their educational journey despite challenges they may meet.
The responsibility of education does not lie with schools or families alone. The active partnerships between parents, schools and the community are critical for the growth and development of our children. Here in Singapore, we adopt a collaborative model for the educational endeavour. The community complements our schools’ efforts in ensuring that our children receive holistic education and are given opportunities to realize their potential.
Just to illustrate what I mean, for those students who do not perform well, very often they come from difficult family backgrounds or circumstances. You can see from this fact alone, how important family support, encouragement and family’s attitude to education are, and how much they impact a child’s growth and educational development. That is why we have a collaborative model. Because schools will impart the content and a holistic education, but also important are children’s wellbeing and a sense of total support behind children that they need from their families as well as values which are taught both at homes as well as in schools.
I am, therefore heartened that self-help groups such as the Eurasian Association play an active role in supporting education. Since its inception in 1996, the Eurasian Association has focused its efforts to help students attain their full potential through education and skills training and played an active role in supporting needy students to give them the upliftment in education and life.
Particularly, the ECF funds have been used to support an estimate of over 3,300 primary, secondary and tertiary level students. They reward students who have emerged in the top 25% of their cohort and those who achieve outstanding results at their level of education. These awards uplift the educational standards of students and ensure that they are not deprived of the opportunity to have a meaningful education.GIVING BACK TO SOCIETY
We have among us outstanding young men and women who have benefited from the ECF funds and who are not only excelling academically, but have forged new paths and inspire the rest by generously contributing back to the community.
One such remarkable student is Chloe Roberts. At age 14, she has already started to juggle her time between school, CCAs and volunteer work. Chloe started to actively volunteer with the EA in 2013. She has represented the Eurasian community in various events, including the Inter Racial Inter Religious (IRIR) Harmony Nite, Orange Ribbon celebrations and Chingay Parade 2014. Her enthusiasm in contributing to the society is not just limited to the EA. She also volunteered to perform for the annual Heritage Fest organised by the National Heritage Board.
The next student that I would like to highlight is Dean Hunt, 21, who commenced at NUS, Bachelor of Business Administration in August this year. Dean has been active in SG Cares Volunteer Activities since 2011, and was privileged to mentor students from low-income families at the Teck Ghee Youth Centre weekly, as part of the Evergreen Bees Mentoring Programme. Aside from his work with SG Cares, he has also been an active member of the Punggol Coral Residents’ Committee, and was recently appointed as an Executive Member. I understand that Dean’s current project is in setting up a youth chapter in Punggol Coral RC to increase youth participation in neighbourhood activities. Dean will be awarded the Oscar George da Silva University Scholarship for his outstanding achievements.
These two young individuals have distinguished themselves beyond their academic studies, giving their best in community work. We want to see more young men and women like them—with the confidence and willingness to do something different and go beyond the ordinary, in order to contribute to society. I am sure that many of you here have drawn inspiration from them, and aspire to do the same, defining your own areas of personal excellence. I urge you to give of your best, not because you will win awards but because you believe in what you do and enjoy what you do. I am certain that in the process you will pick up traits that will enable you to thrive in this increasingly globalised, complex and dynamic world.
I am also pleased to see more and more youth coming forward to learn about their culture and heritage. It is heartening that they have the inquisitive desire to explore their roots and feel a sense of belonging and responsibility to the community.CONCLUSION
I offer my heartiest congratulations to all the students and their families. To all awardees, no matter what you choose to do in the future, always put in the hard work, and strive for excellence. Also remember the opportunities that you have been given today, and one day, remember to give back.
Opening Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah for Parliamentary Debate on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review Report
Two weeks ago, the ASPIRE Committee released its report, making 10 recommendations which have been accepted by the Government in full.
But ASPIRE is much more than just the 10 recommendations.
What is ASPIRE about? It is about:
- Creating multiple opportunities to realise aspirations;
- Creating multiple pathways to success;
- Facilitating progression and advancement.
It is also about:
- Embracing lifelong learning;
- Valuing every individual and respecting every job;
- Letting people go forward, not by always and only looking back to their start point, but by how they perform, what they achieve, what they become
Above all, it is about doing this together.Singaporeans’ Aspirations
In 2012, we had the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). One very strong theme that emerged was Singaporeans’ desire to progress and do well. Parents have high aspirations for their children. Young people have high aspirations for themselves. The ASPIRE engagement sessions also reflected the same thing. They all want opportunities.Aspirations and the economy
Career aspirations cannot be achieved in a vacuum. They are linked to jobs, and jobs in turn, are linked to our domestic economy and international economic trends and forces.
This means two things:
First, the fulfilment of Singaporeans’ aspirations is closely tied to Singapore having strong economic growth.
Second, it means we need to ensure that there is a strong alignment between our people’s knowledge and skills (the supply side) and the jobs and skills that are needed (the demand side)
In the last 50 years, we have achieved phenomenal development and made the leap from Third World to First. This was only possible by having an educational strategy that was closely attuned to the economic situation of the day.
It is important to understand that it is not a matter of educating people to serve the economy. Rather, the overarching objective is to enable Singaporeans to prosper, to do well and achieve their aspirations. It is in service of that objective - making lives better for Singaporeans - that this Government’s consistent strategy has been, and continues to be, to try and identify trends and developments, and equip Singaporeans through education to take advantage of them.
From the 1960s to 1970s, our economy was labour-intensive. Education focused on basic level of skills.
From the 1980s to mid-1990s, our economy became capital-intensive. Education focused on equipping Singaporeans with deeper technical expertise to meet this environment.
The late 1990s to 2000s saw a knowledge-based economy, so education geared for critical thinking, creativity and innovation.
Now, 2014 onwards, we are once again on the cusp. The future is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - the VUCA environment. We now have to think once again on how to equip Singaporeans to navigate and do well in this VUCA environment.Demands of the future
It is not possible to predict the future. However, from where we stand now, looking forward, this is what we can see:
- There is a demand for deep and relevant skills;
- The nature of jobs will continue to evolve, and the way we do the jobs will change. In some cases, the jobs themselves will change. Some may disappear forever;
- Technology will continue to drive disruptive change.
This means that our people will have to constantly adapt and learn new skills in order to remain relevant and to get good employment. It also means that learning must be lifelong, more than ever before. The old paradigm where education ends at school is no longer applicable. Education continues throughout life.Skills
What are skills? We must be clear on what we mean when referring to skills. I have heard that since the National Day Rally (NDR) and the ASPIRE report, some children have been telling their parents that since it is now about skills, they do not have to study anymore.
There is a misapprehension that skills means only doing things with your hands, or some manual form of work. “Skills” means much more than that.
So what do we mean by “skills”?Skills = Knowledge + application + experience
Broadly, skills means knowledge, application, and experience. Knowledge necessarily includes academic content and theory. For example, it is not possible to do construction work, which involves measurement and dimensions, without maths. You cannot do product design without learning about materials and understanding manufacturing processes. Hence, our primary and secondary schools have an academic syllabus to provide a strong foundation for students, whether they later choose an academic route or a more applied route such as polytechnics and ITE.
Knowledge alone is not enough - it is how you apply it. “It’s not what you know. It’s what you can do with what you know”. This is where applied learning comes in. It allows students to learn through practice and application. The workplace is one of the best places for applied learning. Experience is, of course, the fruit of constant practice and application.Skills - hard skills and soft skills
When we refer to skills, we are also referring to both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are technical know-how. It is not limited to skills in technical sectors, such as precision engineering. It also includes skills in service sector, such as hospitality, as well as skills in professions like nursing and accountancy. It covers the entire spectrum of work.
Then there are soft skills, such as attitude, leadership, communication skills, teamwork, the ability to work across cultures, the ability to deal with people, and the ability to solve problems.Skills - Ability to achieve desired outcomes
The third sense in which we use skills is the ability to achieve desired outcomes. Once we understand that skills encompass all these things, it is easy to understand why skills are so important to an individual’s personal development and growth as well as to his/her career prospects. It is also easy to understand why skills are so much in demand by industry and employersProgressing Through Skills - What Do We Mean By This? Raising skills levels across the board
The first thing we mean by progressing through skills is raising skills levels across the board.
Jobs are becoming more complex. For example, in the past if you were a car mechanic doing maintenance and repairs, all you needed was mechanical knowledge. Today, car functions are increasingly computerised. If something goes wrong, it is not just a matter of a mechanical repair - there is also a need to run computer diagnostics on the car to find out what is wrong. In the future, we will have driverless cars. The car mechanic will then have to acquire even more skill sets. In fact, he may be replaced by a maintenance robot. To stay relevant, he will need skills that enable him to direct and control the robot - a higher order of skills. So taking the example of a car mechanic, the skills needed yesterday were mechanics. Today, it is mechanics plus electronics. Tomorrow, it will be mechanics, electronics and robotics.
In order to cope with this, we have to raise our skills levels across the board, in every sector, at every level, to bring Singaporeans to a new skills equilibrium. This is so that as the way we do jobs change, as jobs themselves change, as new ones are created and old ones swept away - Singaporeans will be ready, not only to cope but to thrive because those with the raised skills levels will be the ones who will be able to access better pay, better prospects, better progression and better outcomes.Building on skills
The second way of progressing through skills is building on skills. We want people to be able to progress by building upon a solid preceding layer of skills at each stage.
Let me give an example which I encountered when I visited the Keppel shipyard. An employee comes in with a Diploma in Marine and Offshore Technology. He works for a few years as an Assistant Engineer installing and commissioning equipment on a rig. Later on, he goes on to do a degree in Naval Architecture. He graduates, and becomes a Naval Architect and can design ships or rigs. Think of how much more someone who has actually worked on building a rig can bring to the design and functionality of a rig when he one day becomes a naval architect.Broadening of skills
We want people to progress not only by building on skills but by widening their range of skills. For example, a technician or engineer on the shopfloor may show leadership or organisational potential. To help them fulfill potential, we need to broaden their skills. For example, we can send them to a course in project management and human resource management, and so they acquire a different set of skills.Deepening of skills
There is a need for deep knowledge and expertise. This is the path of specialisation. For example, in the aerospace industry, a trainee Licensed Aircraft Engineer (LAE) starts with becoming familiar with an aircraft’s major systems and powerplants. He deepens his skills such as in performing transit check procedures, and eventually becomes a full LAE, performing detailed system, engine component and functional checks and troubleshooting proceduresDeep Skills - A Tale of Two Men
Also in line with deepening skills are the Master craftsmen. Mdm Speaker, I have 4 slides for my speech. With your permission, may I display them at the appropriate time.Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The first is a documentary film about Mr Jiro Ono, a sushi master and his quest to perfect the art of sushi. He is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny sushi bar with only 10 seats, in the basement of a Tokyo subway station. Yet, his is the first sushi restaurant to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. Jiro learnt the art of sushi at age 9. He has been learning and perfecting the art of sushi ever since. Next year, he will be 90! He was 85 when the film was made. He is widely hailed as the greatest sushi chef in the world. His sushi is said to be so delicate, exquisite and sublime that his sushi rice was once described as “[a] cloud that explodes in your mouth”.
Yet, despite his age and accolades he is still driven to perfect his technique. In the movie he says: “Even at my age, in my work I haven’t reached perfection. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is!”
This mindset and dedication to his craft has elevated a skill to an art. In fact, Japan has declared Mr Jiro as a living national treasure for his contributions to Japanese cuisine.Mr Tham and his Rolina curry puffs
We do not have to look so far to find someone like Mr Jiro. At home, right here in Tanjong Pagar, we have Mr Tham Niap Tiong, who owns the Rolina Traditional Hainanese Curry Puffs at Tanjong Pagar Plaza.
Mr Tham is 75 years old. He learnt the art of making curry puffs at age 19 from a 70 year old Hainanese sailor. The sailor understood that Mr Thiam had problems getting a job and offered to teach him how to make curry puffs to earn a living.
It took Mr Tham one to two months to learn the basic skills of curry puff making. He started selling his curry puffs at the Thomson area, near the Novena Church, in the 1960s. In 1976 when the Government introduced hawker licencing, he opened a stall at Serangoon Garden.
He has been in this trade for 56 years and is still going strong. Till today, each curry puff is prepared by hand - from the spices to ingredients, to the crimps in the crust. He is very strict on his ingredients and quality. He still uses the same recipe he learnt all those years ago, and his artisanal craft has been honed over the years. He takes pride in his business and is constantly seeking to improve the quality of his curry puffs. Even now, he still goes around buying curry puffs made by others to make sure his curry puffs are as good or even better than the rest. He has expanded his business and started operating the stall at Tanjong Pagar Plaza 7 years back. The original stall is still run by his son.
On how his stall came to be called “Rolina” - he used to sell curry puffs near Novena Church. His regular customer, an aunty always shouted “Rolina curry puff” instead of ‘Novena curry puff’ and so he decided to use this name when he set up his first stall in Serangoon Gardens.
I am not advocating that everyone should be a sushi chef or curry puff maker, but the stories of these two men and their success contain the recipe for success that cut across all professions:
- Both have a strong passion for what they do;
- Both embody the mind-set of skills and expertise through practice and application;
- Both espouse the philosophy that they must seek to be the best in their profession;
- Their success is founded on real and deep skills;
- They both have great pride in their work;
- They strive relentlessly for perfection, always seeking to improve, upgrade and better their performance, and as a result they have become masters of their craft;
- The quality of their work generates its own demand; and
- They are both virtually recession proof
When we consider the future of jobs and see skills from the perspective that I have outlined, then we can understand why learning and education must now be lifelong.
In the past, graduation from an educational institution marked the point where education stopped and work began. Now, education and work are intertwined. Learning and education must continue even after one has started work.
This is for all occupations - even politicians are not spared. It used to be that you just needed skills to make policy. In the last 4 years alone, we have had to acquire a whole slew of additional skills - blogging, facebooking, tweeting, instagramming, and lately, the art of the selfie.
We too have been disrupted by technology. We too have had to raise, broaden and deepen our skills. We have different progression rates. Some of us are still apprentices, though a couple are fast becoming master craftsmen in this area.
The continuous learning and acquisition of new skills will enable people to upgrade and progress throughout their working lives and achieve better outcomes for themselves and their families. This is the reason why we place such importance on continuous education and training (CET) and invest so heavily in it.
While the ASPIRE recommendations are geared for polytechnic and ITE students, the government’s policy of supporting CET applies to all Singaporeans - from graduates to those with only primary or secondary education. To this end, the Government is working on a CET Masterplan.Multiple Pathways
ASPIRE is also about multiple pathways. There is a wide diversity of jobs. They require different knowledge, skill sets and experience. Different individuals have different talents, interests and strengths. Some thrive in a more academic approach, others are more hands-on.
We want a system that provides opportunities for all to progress at any stage of their working lives. It is not one size fits all - or one educational path for all. We want to have multiple pathways for people to upgrade and progress, to go as far as they can, according to their abilities.
For some, pursuing further studies immediately after JC, polytechnic or ITE is the right path for them. Others may find that working first and then pursuing further studies is better. Others may find getting specialised industry qualifications or certifications is the correct path for them. And yet others, may find that going on a path of skills deepening through work and becoming a master craftsman or specialist may be a better route.
We want a system that is flexible - where upgrading can be taken either full-time or part-time, or in small modules over a period of time. Online learning will become an important enabler.
It is all about the right career choice, the right qualifications for the right job at the right time.Concerted Effort Needed
To achieve this, a concerted effort is needed. One of our greatest strengths is our tripartite relationship of cooperation and collaboration between employers, employees and the Government. We must harness this.Employers
I have explained the importance of applied learning. We need employers’ input and involvement for applied learning when
- Developing the curriculum;
- Structuring the internships, and
- We will also need the employers’ collaboration to provide good mentorship to students and employees.
We also need the employers to recognise and reward individuals based on skills and performance. We need them to invest and develop their employees, and to help the employees grow.
We need employers to support their employees in CET and lifelong learning. Scholarships may be one way, and the place-and-train programme, which benefits employers too, is now another way. Providing on-the-job-training as part of CET would also help. At the end of the day, from the employees’ perspective, the most important thing is to have moral support from the employers, and time to study outside of working hours.Employees
For the employees, we need their input and collaboration as well, to:
- Make the right choices;
- To seek out the areas of demand where you can grow;
- Adopting the mindset and qualities exemplified by Mr Jiro and Mr Tham;
- To have the willingness to retrain, upskill and upgrade; and
- To support their employers too.
Unions - being employee representations as well as the bridge between employers and employees - also have an important part to pay in achieving the ASPIRE objectives.Government
On the part of the government, to:
- Provide quality education and gear for applied learning;
- Provide resource for our schools and institutions and ensure that they are well-resourced;
- Ensure IHLs collaborate with industry in an even more close and coordinated fashion;
- Support CET;
- Develop frameworks for each industry sector together with industry because this provides the reference frame for progression;
- The Government will also do its part as an employer in recognizing skills and performance
In fact, we need everyone on board, not just the tripartite partners but also teachers, parents, students and society. Everyone.
Achieving this needs a lot of effort and coordination, and hence the new inter-ministerial committee to be led by DPM Tharman.Changing Mindsets
In order to do this, we will also have to change mindsets. We will have to change mindsets in many ways - in how we see education, where it is no longer just the academic, but to recognise the importance of skills. We will have to embrace lifelong learning
We will also need a mindset shift in how education is developed. It is no longer the sole preserve of educators. It must now be a collaboration between educational institutions, in particular the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), educators and industry.
We also need to change the way we think about how we recognize and reward people, as well as in how we see jobs.
Olivia Lum of Hyflux, who was on the ASPIRE committee, told us of technician who was very good at his work. With his expertise and years of experience, he was being paid more than some of the graduates. However, he wanted to switch to a white collar job even though it paid less. His reason was because his wife did not like him coming back in dirty overalls, smelling of the factory and the plant. She wanted him to have a white collar job, even if it paid less.
This effort also leads us to valuing every person - not seeing them as just an employee or a worker; but as a person with potential, and giving each one the chance to grow and develop.
There is an advertisement by an employer which encapsulates this best. The employer is focusing on an employee and says “From apprentice to manager of 12,000”. The important lines were below - “There are many paths to the top. All it takes is a company who believes you can”. That supportive relationship between employers and employees makes a big difference.Conclusion
In conclusion, Mdm Speaker, what we are seeking to do, through ASPIRE and other government efforts, is to ensure that Singapore continues to be a place of opportunities for all Singaporeans, through education and lifelong learning and a concerted effort by all.
I look forward to hearing the Members’ views and urge this House to support the motion.
Speech (in Chinese) by Mr Heng Swee Keat at the Lunch for Retired Chinese Language Teachers 2014 on Friday, 5 September 2014