SINGAPORE: The “biggest challenge” facing Singapore’s education landscape today is creating a system that would be fit for purpose to enable continued learning, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday (Sep 4).
Speaking at a dialogue session of the inaugural Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) Ministerial Forum, Mr Lee said there is existing capability to run a system for students before they enter the workforce, whether through polytechnics, universities or Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs).
However, to make a system that would be effective to educate adults, Generation X and those older than Generation X is a challenge, he said in response to a question from the audience.
“If Generation X says can’t remember so many things, better (to) do open-book exams, imagine people in their 50s, 60s or maybe sometimes 70-year-olds who want to come back for a refresher, who want to learn something,” Mr Lee pointed out.
“How do we run a course … an education system that can meet their needs and suit their style of learning?”
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Mr Lee said this is “not easy at all”. It is not an issue of just money or running the courses, he added, but to have people with experience to operate these, as well as a support system for older workers when they decide to go back to school.
“I must have the whole support system for them so that when they come in, their employers understand and they can focus on their jobs as well as on their studies and keep the balance,” the Prime Minister said.
“Employers will have to make adjustments because all employees will have to go through this at some stage in their lives,” he added.
He is confident that Singapore will have such a system.
“We will do it, we’ve got (SkillsFuture) SG. But we’re still early on in the journey,” Mr Lee said.
“BE HUNGRY TOO”
The Prime Minister also urged Singaporeans to be as “hungry” as their Asian counterparts, who may be perceived sometimes as hungry and willing to accept lower salary to get jobs here.
“I think that we have to be hungry too, because if we are not hungry then somebody will steal our lunch,” Mr Lee said.
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Such competition is managed here, he added, as the authorities track the numbers of foreigners who come here to work, their standards and their proportions. This is so they “don’t crowd Singaporeans out” and locals will have job opportunities, he added.
However, he warned that Singaporeans will have to play their part and be competitive in order for jobs to remain here.
“The reality is if Singaporeans are not up to scratch, the jobs will not come here to look for Singaporeans,” Mr Lee warned. “The jobs will leave here to go to the places where the talent and the enterprise and the hard-working people are.”
Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and India are possible alternatives for companies to bring their jobs to, he added.
That said, there are not enough Singaporeans entering the workforce even as the birth rates here continue to drop, he pointed out.
This is why there is a need to “top up” on foreign talent, whether these are engineers, IT professionals managers and even workers, the Prime Minister explained, adding if this is not done, Singapore will not be able to take up all the opportunities that are available.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing had in Parliament this week defended the need for the Tech@SG scheme, which makes it easier for qualifying tech firms to import highly skilled foreign workers amid a global talent crunch.
“We open the door, they come, they complement us,” Mr Lee said. “We have to work hard, yes, but we work hard and we hold our own.”