SINGAPORE: To stay relevant, Singapore students need to learn to find and define problems and opportunities when these are not yet obvious, Acting Minister for Education for Schools Ng Chee Meng said.
Speaking at an appointment ceremony for principals on Tuesday (Dec 29), Mr Ng said that as advanced economies slow down in growth, Singapore "needs to transform from a value-adding paradigm to a value-creating one."
"(This) means we do not just educate our students to be good at solving problems. This is something our students excel in and must continue to do well at. But it is insufficient."
Mr Ng, who was appointed Acting Minister in October, proposed that students must develop the instincts and ability to be "value-creators", able to join disparate dots to form a larger picture and invent "new, cutting-edge innovations that will change the game".
He added: "We need more innovators, inventors, path-blazers, people who can push the envelope, who can create value for society."
'HELP THEM HAVE THE COURAGE TO TRY, FAIL, TRY AGAIN'
Singapore already has some home-grown innovators that are globally recognised, Mr Ng said, citing CEO of water solutions giant Hyflux, Olivia Lum, and co-founder of gaming hardware company Razer, Tan Min-Liang, as examples.
"We need more Singaporeans like Olivia and Min-Liang to push boundaries and in their own ways, create economic possibilities for Singapore and Singaporeans," he said.
To do so, the Acting Minister said the education system must encourage students to bravely persist in pushing frontiers, and create an environment in schools to "give students something to believe in, to be inspired by and to contribute back to".
"(We need to) help them have the courage, like Olivia, to try, fail, try again, fail again, try again," Mr Ng said.
There are very few education systems worldwide that have been capable of developing innovators, he said, adding that some of those he raised the idea to have joked that education systems, school leaders, teachers are traditionally conservative and risk-averse: "They say, 'Minister, not the best place to help innovators blossom!'"
While he said he understood there was no straightforward method to encouraging innovation, he challenged MOE, school leaders and educators to prove the naysayers wrong.
"In true innovation tradition, there probably are many possible strategies to adopt to nurture these desired qualities in our students. But what is clear is that we, collectively, will need to work on the approaches and strategies," he said.
"Can we create a similar culture and learning environment in our schools? A safe environment, with diversity in viewpoints? Are students encouraged to explore, give options - right or wrong, it doesn't matter - and not feel self-conscious? Do we feel safe to fail?"
A STRONG SINGAPORE HEARTBEAT TO HOLD THE NATION TOGETHER
Mr Ng identified a "strong Singapore heartbeat" as another area that the education system needs to strengthen.
"A strong economy and a strong SAF give us the external strength. But a strong Singapore Heartbeat gives us inner core strength – a strong fabric that holds Singapore together," he said.
This has to go beyond "head knowledge" of the nation's past, and must "touch the 'heart' and weave an inseparable attachment", he added.
He said he observed this "strong Singapore heartbeat" at the state funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year, which "bonded the nation like never before".
Mr Ng said schools should find ways to help students engage in meaningful conversations about shared values as Singaporeans.
"We are Singaporeans first and foremost; while we may have our own personal identities, we are also important members of a shared group with a shared citizenship and shared spirit as Singaporeans."