Schools will provide diversity of skillsets and education pathways as MOE looks to re-examine teaching, testing: Chan Chun Sing
- Singapore will provide its students with diversity in school and education pathways, skillsets, as well as perspectives and experiences
- MOE will announce plans for least privileged students and families in coming months
- “Long-term goal” is to make pre-school education as affordable as primary school education with after-school care
SINGAPORE: Singapore “must build diversity” and strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as soft skills learning in schools, said Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Aug 16).
Speaking at an engagement forum for public officers jointly organised by the Public Service Division (PSD) and the Civil Service College Singapore (CSC), Mr Chan said: “We must build diversity in our schools. In an uncertain world, diversity is key to our resilience as a country.
“In a hyper-competitive world, diversity is also key to alleviating the unhealthy stress of pursuing the same definition of success. We will provide our students with a diversity of schools and education pathways, a diversity of skillsets and a diversity of perspectives and experiences.”
In a more complex world, there may also be a tendency to demand that schools teach even more, said Mr Chan.
“Against a more competitive landscape, there can also be demands to make our tests sharper to distinguish one student from another. However, we should be careful and not go overboard,” said the Education Minister.
“Teaching and testing more do not equate to learning more. We will need to re-examine the way we teach and test. What ultimately matters is not how much our students know, but how fast they learn, and how able they are to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
Schools also need to develop a culture that encourages students to discover and develop their strengths beyond what is tested in school, said Mr Chan.
Singapore has specialised schools that allow students to develop their interests and strengths in areas like sports, the arts, or maths and science.
“We will continue to have a diversity of schools, each with their unique propositions, to cater to the diverse learning needs of our students. We should not homogenise all schools beyond a common core in areas such as literacy, numeracy and values,” said Mr Chan.
There are also students who prefer or “are more suited” to an applied education pathway, he added, noting that about seven in 10 students in a Primary 1 cohort go to polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITE).
“We must continue to ensure that their education and training provide a good foundation for them to remain competitive in the job market,” said Mr Chan, noting that Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman is leading a review on ITE and polytechnic pathways.
In school, children must also be equipped with diverse skillsets that "open doors for them in the modern economy”, said the Education Minister.
“In a world driven by new technologies and science, we will need to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM learning.
“In our schools, we will strengthen our STEM curriculum to not only equip our students with the new STEM foundations to be smart users of technology, but also nurture a lifelong interest in STEM and its applications, so that more of them join the science and technology sector.”
Schools will also nurture soft skills that "endure", including curiosity and confidence, said Mr Chan.
“We need to spark our students’ curiosity from a young age. For example, by exposing them to different cultures and ideas to broaden their horizons,” he added.
“Our students must have the confidence to chart their own paths. This includes having confidence in themselves – assured of their ability to compete and thrive in a global world and be able to bounce back from failure or adversity.”
Students must also be equipped with “a sense of purpose for the wider community”, said Mr Chan.
“To understand that the opportunities that we have now are the result of the hard work of those who have come before us. That we too must pay-it-forward to the next generation.
"Only then will we become closer as a society, knowing that everyone has a chance to move up, as everyone has a responsibility to help each other move up.”
The move away from an over-emphasis on academic grades to “truly embrace” diversity also depends on teachers and parents, said Mr Chan.
Teachers are stretched on "many fronts", and the Government must find ways to give teachers more “white space” to engage in their own learning.
The Education Ministry should also explore giving them more exposure beyond school, he added.
This could include supporting them in taking sabbaticals or short stints in the private or public sectors to refresh their perspectives and renew their skillsets.
Students will also need diverse perspectives and experiences to “understand the dynamics and realities of the world”, he added.
“Notwithstanding the disruption of travel due to COVID-19, we are finding ways to re-establish and strengthen our students’ exposure to the world. Having the opportunity to learn from and together with peers from around the world is a great advantage that our students have today and must not lose,” said the Education Minister.
“If survival is a contest of evolution, then the best help that we can give them is the widest exposure possible to different experiences, challenges and circumstances.”
STUDENTS FROM DISADVANTAGED BACKGROUNDS
Students from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds are of "utmost importance” to the Education Ministry, said Mr Chan.
“The disruptive effects of technological developments and globalisation, accentuated by COVID-19, are often felt most acutely by them and their families. In such times, education must remain an uplifting force and beacon of hope for them all,” he added.
Singapore must adopt a “life-cycle approach” to support these students across various stages of life beyond school “to make a real and sustained difference”.
“We will strengthen child development support starting from the ante-natal stage to preschool years. We will also mobilise the public and community resources to provide greater support at the family level, as family problems can have outsized impact on a child’s attendance and engagement at school,” said Mr Chan.
The UPLIFT community pilot in four towns has seen an improvement in attendance for eight in 10 students involved, he said, adding that the programme will be further strengthened.
After foundational schooling years, MOE will partner with institutes of higher learning and the community to help these students “maximise their educational potential” and support their transition to the workforce after they graduate.
“We will be announcing what we plan to do more for our least privileged students and families in the coming months.”
EDUCATION AS AN ENABLER
Education must remain a “key enabler” to counter the social and economic divide that happens if “forces of inequality” are left unchecked, said Mr Chan.
“Our education policies and structures will need to be refreshed to meet the evolving demands of our times," said Mr Chan.
"Beyond formal, foundational schooling in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, the game-changer of global competition will be in lifelong education and early childhood education."
With technological and business disruptions, Singaporeans must be able to keep learning through their careers, said Mr Chan.
“How fast we close the cycle from frontier industry knowledge to the classroom will be a key competitive advantage for Singapore,” he added.
Learning must not stop when students graduate from school, and Singaporeans "will never leave school", said Mr Chan.
Adding that Singapore’s continuing education and training (CET) must be responsive to changes in the economy and evolving industry trends, he stressed that learners must feel that training programmes “make a real difference” to their employment outcomes.
The Education Ministry will also continue extending its focus upstream to early childhood education, said Mr Chan.
By 2025, eight in 10 children will have a place in a Government-supported pre-school, he said.
Noting that young parents are worried about the higher cost of pre-school education and care, the Education Minister said the ministry’s “long-term goal” is to make pre-school education as affordable as primary school education with after-school care.
Parents now pay between 40 to 90 per cent less than they did in 2019 for full-day childcare in anchor operator pre-schools, and lower-income parents pay as little as S$3 a month, he added.
“We will continue to find ways to reduce the cost pressures of educating and caring for our youngest Singaporeans. We must continue to enhance preschool education and care by training our educators and investing in early childhood research,” said Mr Chan.
SINGAPORE’S ECONOMIC CHOICES
Moving forward, Singapore faces several challenges, including geopolitical uncertainty, technological disruption and a population that has “increasingly diverse” aspirations.
A large part of the geopolitical uncertainty is driven by domestic developments in the major powers, said Mr Chan, describing this as “not surprising”.
The global power balance is “shifting”, he said, adding that China’s rise and the US’ response will affect all countries.
How relations between the two countries will pan out “remains to be seen”, but amid the uncertainty, Singapore must remain a “principled and relevant” partner to both and to the rest of the world, said Mr Chan.
“Amidst an ageing population that desires stability and a more dynamic and vocal younger generation, our social fabric is evolving and being tugged in different directions,” he added.
“We should not neglect such concerns, for they can strain our unity as a nation. In Singapore, we must address the concerns and aspirations of different groups and communities, while rising above differences for our common good.”
To counter these challenges, Singapore must "double-down" on strategic growth opportunities that would make us harder to displace from the global supply chain, said Mr Chan.
“In an integrated and globalised economy, companies have options to invest in many more places. Countries are also competing aggressively for these investments.”
Another strategy is to build a global talent network, because businesses “always gravitate” to where this is most dense and connected.
“Any country or city aspiring to be a global hub will have to move past the debate on foreign-local worker balance. It will have to instead focus on the critical task of building a global innovation and knowledge network,” said Mr Chan.
“Singapore is no different. We need the best ideas and talent to compete on our side.”