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Singapore’s education should reflect the real world: Minister Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s education system should, as far as possible, reflect the real world that our children are going to grow up and live in. That is why the Government is making changes to take the emphasis away from just academic grades, said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Singapore’s education should reflect the real world: Minister Ong Ye Kung

Minister Ong Ye Kung said more emphasis should be placed on teaching students critical soft skill. Photo: Singapore Chin Kang Huay Kuan

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s education system should, as far as possible, reflect the real world that our children are going to grow up and live in. That is why the Government is making changes to take the emphasis away from just academic grades, said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Speaking at a dialogue organised as part of Singapore Chin Kang Huay Kuan’s 100th anniversary celebrations on Sunday (April 1), Mr Ong was asked how parents — who continue to place great importance on their children’s grades — can be convinced to change their mindsets about the education system in a disruptive world.

The hour-long dialogue with some 350 local and overseas youths was themed around thriving in a disruptive world.

Mr Ong said academic grades cannot be the be-all and end-all of education, which is why the authorities are make changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system. From 2021, the current scoring system will be replaced by eight Achievement Levels, which delinks an individual’s placing from his peers’ performance.

He added that more emphasis should be placed on teaching students critical soft skill — such as building up their resilience to be able to fail and pick themselves up — and also helping students discover what they are passionate about.

While planning the changes to the education system, the Government has also taken into account the types of jobs and skills that are in demand.

“The worst thing for a graduate is for them to go to university, come out and (find themselves unable) to find a job because they have learnt something that is not in demand,” Mr Ong said.

“(Parents) must have confidence that when the Government sets up an education system, especially at the higher level that prepares the students for work — meaning Polytechnics, Institute of Technical Education, or universities — we are not doing things in a vacuum.”

Despite this shift away from an emphasis on academic grades, a participant asked how that will fit with the current practice in the public sector where fresh graduates’ salary tend to be pegged according to their academic grades.

While Mr Ong acknowledged that some of these practices are outdated, there are also many in the government sector — the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, for example — who have since moved progressively away from this model.

“All around the different government departments, these are all slowly changing,” the Minister said. “I hope it will pick up momentum and then send a strong signal to the private sector that, perhaps, (they) should also do the same.”

Asked about ensuring a fairer platform for those of lower socio-economic status to excel, Mr Ong said the education system and the principle of meritocracy have been society’s levellers.

For instance, Singapore’s education system adopts a national curriculum while teachers are centrally trained and deployed to all schools.

He said the PSLE is also an objective examination system, before adding: “It is up to you to do your best. And if you do your best, you go to the secondary school of your dream, and then you can do well from there.”

“How many of us from poor families were able to move up thanks to these major features in the system, so don’t throw the baby out together with the bathwater,” he said.

But more can also be done to help those of lower socio-economic status attend pre-school, he said, citing the example that MOE kindergartens will set aside a third of their places for families with lower-income.

Responding to a question on how one can balance the desire to follow their passion and the need to have foundational knowledge, Mr Ong said once it is clear that an individual wants to achieve something, he or she will realise the need to learn many other things to achieve their goal.

He gave an example of how his “biggest motivation” is to work on policies that will improve lives of people. But that requires running for elections to achieve it.

“Do I enjoy running for elections? I won’t tell you!” he quipped.

“But I know it comes as part and parcel of the job. You want to be a decision maker that can change lives, you have to run for elections and do everything that electioneering requires you to do… you cannot pick and choose.”

DIVERSITY NEEDED AMONG TOP GOVERNMENT LEADERS, SAYS MINISTER ONG

Singapore has to ensure that its top Government leaders come from diverse backgrounds as "diversity will help us in the long term", said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Speaking at Sunday's dialogue as part of Singapore Chin Kang Huay Kuan’s 100th anniversary celebrations, a participant had shared her observation that top graduates tend to come from similar backgrounds and could share similar views.

Noting that she may have been referring to the top levels of the Government, and is concerned that the country's top leaders may share similar views, Mr Ong said whether they are top civil servants, political leaders or Members of Parliament, the Government has to ensure that they come from a wide range of sectors who have different expertise, outlooks in life and views about the future.

“If we have not done well enough, then I think we need to try harder,” he added. “But that has to be the direction going forward because I think that diversity will help us in the long term.”

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