TL;DR – Parents and employers also need to be part of the change.
DPM Tharman gave the inaugural NTU Majulah Lecture last Wednesday (20 Sep 2017). In his actual speech, he focussed on education. He said that our education system needs to keep experimenting for the future. He emphasized:
“The biggest mistake we would make is think that because we are doing well in the PISA test, or we get a good rating by the Economist Intelligence Unit or anyone else, that therefore we keep things as they are. The biggest mistake is to think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Because in education, more than in any other field, we will only know how well we are doing 20 or 30 years from now. If it ain’t broken, experiment. That’s the way we will secure our future.”
Our education system needs to make these shifts
To that end, DPM Tharman highlighted five shifts that our education system needs to make:
- We need to do more as early as possible to “mitigate the ‘lottery of birth'” and give every child “a fair chance of success”
- There needs to be “fluid and flexible pathways as children grow up”
- Our education system needs to reduce the academic load in schools and move towards a broader meritocracy
- Our system needs to develop everyone’s potential throughout life
- We need to deepen our multiculturalism
DPM Tharman noted that much has been done to address those challenges. For instance, KidSTART, a government scheme to help disadvantaged children – is a major initiative in early intervention. We have also started to move away from rigid streaming in primary schools. Now, we have subject based banding in primary and secondary schools. The Direct School Admissions system is our attempt to move towards a broader meritocracy.
However, there is much more that we must do.
And it’s not easy.
We need to go beyond just changing policies in MOE. Parents and employers need to be part of the change. As DPM Tharman noted:
“If we don’t change the admission system, parents don’t buy the talk. Otherwise, if we take out a load from what is taught in schools but the admission systems are unchanged – high-stakes exams and admissions based on them – the private tuition industry goes into overdrive.”
Parents want the best for their kids
Parents want their kids to be successful in life. And often, parents use their own experiences to determine what they think their kids need to do to be successful – go to certain schools, obtain certain qualifications, enter into specific professions, earn high pay.
However, in this day and age of rapid change, the path of success for today’s parents may not be entirely applicable or appropriate to today’s children. In fact, we can even say there’re more paths to success these days.
So, if we want our education system to meet the challenges of the future, parents need to be educated about the sort of challenges that children will have to meet in the future, and how best they can be prepared for those challenges.
Employers also need to change
Almost every job posting requires the applicants to have some academic qualification. It’s no wonder that parents are therefore so obsessed with their children getting academic qualifications. But, given the rise of non-traditional education, it is possible for someone to have the required skills even if they don’t have the “proper” academic qualifications.
Also, as noted by DPM Tharman, there still isn’t a culture amongst employers in Singapore of investing in their employees for the long term. That would help convince parents that it’s alright for their children to spread out their learning and training throughout their entire lives, rather than pack everything into the first twenty or so years of life.
For the sake of our future, we need to unite with a new spirit
DPM Tharman ended his speech by quoting our national anthem:
“When you think of our Anthem, remember ‘Mari kita bersatu, dengan semangat yang baru’ (Let us unite with a new spirit). That new spirit was not intended just for the day we became a new nation 52 years ago. Every so often we need that new spirit in our society, and that’s how we go forward together.”
So, while it’s easy to say that the government or MOE must do things to change our education system, parents and employers must also unite together so that we can have the necessary changes.