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Every Child Must Be Trained for the Future (Article with Examples)

Every child must be educated and equipped with the skills that will let him thrive in the economy of the future, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. While Singapore has built an education system admired for its high student achievement rates and top-notch teaching force, it must now align its system to cope with the fast pace of globalisation, technological change and innovation. The world economy will become even more complex and jobs do not have clearly defined boundaries, Mr Heng told an audience of 200 participants at the Singapore Conference here on Wednesday.

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Elaborating, he said that the line between manufacturing and services has blurred. And both are also overlaid with the digital economy, he added, noting for example that IT giant Apple sells ‘an experience, not just a product’. On how technology is changing swiftly, he noted how the Human Genome Project, started in 1990, took 13 years and nearly US$4 billion to complete. But last month, a private company in California announced a machine that will map an entire genome for US$1,000 (S$1,250) in one day. A more complex economy means a greater variety of different jobs will exist, requiring a wide range of skills.

Said Mr Heng: ‘Hence, to prepare our students for the future, it is critical for us to have some notions of the variety and demands of the jobs of the future. The education system can then tailor the right skill sets for each individual. ‘Not all the jobs will require academic degrees. Indeed, in many areas, practical, hands-on skills are valued. ‘ He added that aligning education to industry needs as Singapore does with its universities, Institute of Technical Education and polytechnics will continue to be critical. But in whatever area, deep skills, high standards and strong motivation will be needed. ‘ A strong focus on science, technology, engineering and maths in education should be preserved, he said. Mr Heng also touched on the diversification of the school system over the last few years, explaining the need to create multiple pathways for students to excel. But this does not mean everyone gets to do the course of his choice, as the programmes are competitive to ensure standards, he added.

It is also critical to equip students with the basic knowledge and motivation to be lifelong and adaptable learners and have other 21st century skills such as information and communication know-how, critical and inventive thinking, and civil literacy and cross-cultural skills. Ultimately though, he said, the best policies alone are not enough. Ministry officials and school leaders must be clear about the principles and there must be ‘fidelity of implementation’. All parts of the education system must support the policy implementation, including the teachers, parents and even the physical facilities of a school.

Educators will remain key to the structure. ‘No system of education can be better than its teachers,’ he said. During his visit here over the past week, American officials have heaped praises on the Singapore education system and during the panel discussion following his speech, similar responses flowed. Panellist Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor in education, said the US could learn from Singapore’s teacher recruitment and development process. Praising the Singapore Government’s policy of paying teachers ‘top dollar’, she noted that by comparison, the US paid its teachers ‘much, much less than other college graduates’.

The deep cuts in education spending in the US, she warned, would leave the country behind while other countries like Singapore forged ahead with their investments in education. Co-panellist Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and who visited Singapore schools last year, said she was impressed by the ‘culture of continuous improvement’ in education. ‘Singapore policymakers go out, identify the best practices and bring it back and adapt them to the context of the country. They then replicate them across the schools in the country. ‘