TL;DR – Someone didn’t get the memo.
Earlier this year, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said that skills would be sought after by employers in the new economy, and not paper qualifications. He urged the public not to be “overly fixated” with the university cohort participation rate.
It sounded liberating. It suggested that there are different pathways to success.
But reality doesn’t quite match the picture Minister Ong painted. Employers still care about paper qualifications. A prime example is the very ministry that Minister Ong heads – the Ministry of Education (MOE).
A 64 year-old man, Mr Richard Lim, was looking to conduct learning journeys for MOE, and MOE asked for his O-Level results.
If MOE really asked for Mr Lim’s O Level results to assess whether he’s qualified to conduct learning journeys, then it’s really disturbing. Here are three reasons why.
1. Say what you will, exam results still matter
MOE’s action completely contradicts what Minister Ong said. Never mind that Mr Lim has been vocationally trained for the tours and been conducting them for schools for at least three years. Apparently, his O-Level results still matter. It signals that to MOE, as an employer, paper qualifications are important.
Mr Lim was spot on when he said,
“So much for all that talk by MOE Ministers about how important skills and vocational training will be for future work and jobs. They should really talk to their bureaucrats first and convince them that there is more to learning than ‘O’ levels.”
It’s ironic that the very ministry that Minister Ong heads has acted in a way that completely contradicts what he said. So can you blame Singaporeans if we don’t believe what Minister Ong said? Can you blame Singaporeans for still being fixated with academic results? Can you blame Singaporeans for still seeing a university degree as a key, if not sole, path to success?
2. Even if the exam results are ancient and irrelevant
Mr Lim is 64. He would have taken his O-Levels over four decades ago. Surely O-Levels then were drastically different from O-Levels today. How will MOE use those O-Level results to assess Mr Lim’s suitability to conduct learning journeys?
What’s more, Mr Lim’s highest academic qualifications go far beyond his O-Levels. He has a university degree. Anyone in his position and age would probably have thrown away or misplaced his O-Level certificate. Isn’t it unreasonable then to ask someone like Mr Lim for something as ancient, as irrelevant, and as trivial as his O-Level certificate?
We crawled the comments on Mr Lim’s post and they unveiled that not only does he have a university degree, he’s also a straight-A student, top of his SJI cohort for his A-Levels, and he won the President Scholar award and the SAF Scholar award.
Anyway, the university degree and the awards are beside the point. For a job like this, aren’t vocational training and actual experience matter a great deal more?
Further, Mr Lim’s comment about how this runs against the whole narrative of keeping the elderly active and working is well worth reading.
“Even as a formality, MOE or any other Ministry shouldn’t ask for ‘O’ or ‘A’ level qualifications from a senior citizen for any skills or vocational job. His or her experience and performance on the job should suffice. How else can you enable the elderly to keep active and working. Surely not by putting unnecessary obstacles in the way.”
3. Suggests that bureaucrats just blindly follow procedures
If MOE really did ask Mr Lim for his O-Level results, it suggests that MOE’s officers are blindly following procedures. Perhaps they don’t understand the context and the intent of those procedures. Or if they did, they have no choice but to follow those procedures, even if they don’t make sense. Perhaps there were boxes to check, and cells to input. They aren’t empowered to change archaic, irrelevant practices.
Either way, it doesn’t bode well for Singapore. Given the pace of disruption of the economy, we need to be able to rapidly transform and shift our mindsets quickly. However, if our government officials are stuck in the same old same old, and we don’t have the systems in place to be agile and change quickly, then we will inevitably be caught wrong-footed.
Ministers should look at their own Ministries
In addition to giving speeches and making public exhortations, Minister Ong and his Cabinet colleagues should really look at their own Ministries. Change the mindset of civil servants.
Start with your own house first. Get them to practise what the Ministers preach.
Otherwise, all these speeches that Ministers make will be nothing but empty words.
Skills over Degrees;
Potential over Pedigree.