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Singapore Minister of Education on the importance of higher education reform for Industry 4.0

Singapore Minister of Education on the importance of higher education reform for Industry 4.0

Industry
4.0 and its impact on education is the central theme of this year’s annual
conference and exhibition of the Asia-Pacific Association for International
Education (APAIE). As we live in the time of Industry 4.0, we
increasingly find that we must change the way we learn, work and live, in order
to adapt and survive in this digital revolution.

At the APAIE 2018 Conference, Singapore Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong
Ye Kung shared about Singapore’s latest efforts as well as key considerations
in higher education reform.

According
to Minister Ong, education is a “key conduit for social policies to address
issues such as income disparity and social stratification”.

Industrialisation changes education

Minister
Ong started his speech by tracing the impact of industrialisation on work and
education. Historically, prior to industrialisation, people learned in guilds
and from masters. But when industrialisation led to the division of labour and
the rise of factories, schools were established and configured to teach the
young how to fit into industrialised job.

“Since
a key function of education is to produce workers for the economy,
industrialisation naturally had a profound impact on how education is being
delivered and how teaching is done,” said Minister Ong.

According
to him, the essence of the current phase of change is not that different from
the previous revolutions – technologically-driven, disruptive, and turning the
known order upside down.

As
we ride a new wave of industrialisation today, we should naturally expect and
push for the shape of education to change.

However,
the nature of change is very different now. The minister said there is no
longer “straightforward equation” as technology advancement is re-organising
work so drastically that we no longer know what jobs of the future will look
like.

“We
must now foster human ingenuity and resilience so that our children will grow
up and thrive in an environment we cannot yet fully fathom or discern,” he
emphasised.

Education in Industry 4.0

According
to Minister Ong, in the new wave of industrialisation, education system must
focus on achieving and measuring learning outcomes and avoid over-emphasising
the importance of academic grades.

“We
need to examine more carefully the pathways that are most suitable for
different groups of students, to help them achieve these good outcomes,” he
said.

This
also applies to universities, that their success cannot be measured merely by
pass rates, employment outcomes, or international rankings, but the long-term
resilience of students, and students’ willingness to take risks, innovate, and
create.

To
do so, Minister Ong stressed on the importance of an education system that
supports lifelong learning. The whole education system must recognise the diversity of strengths and
talents amongst the young, and that only a passion-driven learning process will
be self-directed, lifelong, and resilient to disruption because the young
person is motivated to learn, unlearn and re-learn.

Credit: APAIE 2018

Singapore’s approach to higher education reform

(1)   
Experiential
learning

While
Education Minister stated that higher education should simulate and prepare
students for real life as much as possible, he also pointed out that knowledge no longer carries the same
premium it used to because technology has made knowledge very accessible.

“What is highly valued today is how
someone applies knowledge in real life – in other words, skills. That comes
with experience and with practice,” he said.

“Learning at the universities
have to become experiential.”

As
such, industry attachments have become the norm so that students are fully
immersed in real-life work. It is also because universities are beginning to
recognise that there is value of co-operative programmes by bringing companies
into campuses, and vice versa.

(2)   
Promote
digital literacy

According
to Minister Ong, universities in Singapore are also making curriculum changes
to ensure that students are well-versed in the latest lingua franca of international commerce – digital literacy.

“Most
of our universities have made quantitative reasoning and computational thinking
compulsory subjects for all students,” he said.

In
SkillsFuture, IT and digital literacy-related course are also some of the most
popular choices.

(3)   
Diversify
higher education pathways

Minister
Ong emphasised the importance of helping students identify and pursue their
interest, as it will keep them motivated to learn through life and achieve
mastery in the process.

A
way to achieve this is to create diverse higher education pathways to cater to
different students’ inclinations and learning styles.

Another
way is to diversify the recognition and admission of students. Minister cited
studies by the Ministry of Education (MOE) which reveal that polytechnic
students admitted based on aptitude and interest in the course perform better
in their studies, compared to their counterparts with similar O-Level aggregate
scores. These students are also far more likely to embark on careers in the
sectors in which they were trained, compared to those admitted based solely on
academic grades.

For
younger students, MOE is putting
in place a systemic Education and Career Guidance programme, starting in
secondary schools, to help students get a better sense of where their interests
and their strengths lie. As education becomes more experiential, students will
also learn about and come into contact with different vocations and professions
earlier.

(4)   
Encourage
lifelong learning

SkillsFuture
is Singapore’s major initiative for lifelong learning, which Minister Ong
described as “a national movement to provide Singaporeans with the
opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout their lives,
regardless of their starting points”.

“It is
about recognising diverse interests and talents, encouraging a lifelong pursuit
of mastery through multiple pathways, embracing an even broader definition of
meritocracy based on skills mastery, rather than past academic results,” he
said.

“It
is about celebrating diverse talents, social mobility, economic competitiveness
and well-being of the Singapore society.”

To
this end, a major change is the restructuring of the country’s Institutes of
Higher Learning to break from their traditional mould and become “centres of
lifelong learning”. By actively ramping up courses for adult workers, 54,000
adult learners passed through Singapore’s various Institutes of Higher Learning
in 2017 alone.

“Now,
universities as centres of lifelong learning have realised that they do not
have 3 to 4 years, but 20, 30 years to work with students, because they will
keep returning for more knowledge and skills after graduation. So, the old
mindset of front-loading education will change, as universities learn to
embrace lifelong learning as part of their mission,” Minister Ong stated.

(5)   
Broadening
the role of universities

In Singapore’s
pursuit of a culture for lifelong learning, Minister Ong commented that the National
University of Singapore is blazing the trail for the higher education
sector in Singapore. 

Last year, NUS announced that all alumni are entitled to 2
free modules over a 3-year period. According to Minister Ong, the response was
so overwhelming that NUS is expanding the programme to become one that treats
every student enrolment as lasting for 20 years, helping their students to
build their careers and learn for life. As such, the concept of alumni is
therefore also changing.

Minister
Ong pointed out that universities are player broader roles in education.

“In
particular, a university’s impact is no longer confined to education and
changing the lives of students – it has now broadened to driving innovation and
enterprise, providing a launch pad for future entrepreneurs and start-ups,
keeping our industries at the forefront of the pack,” he concluded.

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