Chan Chun Sing: 5 key shifts to keep our education system relevant

What is the future of education in Singapore? 

That is the question that Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing sought to answer when he gave the keynote speech at the Singapore Perspectives Conference yesterday (5 Jan). 

During his address, Minister Chan highlighted the challenges we face in an increasingly pernicious world and the urgency for our education system to stay relevant to the times. 

Most importantly, he also spoke about the outcomes he wants our education system to deliver and how we can achieve them with five “key shifts”.

1. Departing from a one-size-fits-all system 

According to Minister Chan, now that mass access to quality education is achieved, it is time to start mass- customising the education journey for our students. 

“First, we need stronger investments in the early years, especially for the less privileged children. This is important as we must not allow the learning and developmental gap to widen from young,” Minister Chan explained.

Moving on to the second pillar of customisation, the Education Minister stated that adaptive learning technologies and pedagogies enabled by data will help to tailor a curriculum to individual students. 

Ideally, differentiated learning will provide schools with the means to stretch the top while freeing up resources to uplift the disadvantaged.

Lastly, Minister Chan indicated that the Government will continue diversifying pathways to success and offer greater flexibility in subject choices for students.

In his words: “A good selection and posting system cannot rely on a narrow, single-dimension evaluation of an individual. Aptitude-based admission based on potential and interest will be a greater part of our more diverse selection and placement system.”

2. Defining success beyond the first 15 years of life

Source: Chan Chun Sing’s Facebook

Considering the frequency of disruptions in our world today, he then pointed out that no amount of front-loading will ever be sufficient to prepare people for life.

For that reason, success should not be defined by the first 15 years in schools but rather by the next 50 years beyond schools. 

As such, the spirit of inquiry and a desire to create new knowledge, Minister Chan feels, are likely to be our new competencies and benchmarks of success. 

Of course, other than changing individual attitudes, building up a culture of lifelong learning will require a paradigm shift in industry practices and institutional capabilities.

“Industry cannot wait passively for the perfect worker to be developed,”, said Minister Chan. 

Instead, he envisions a scenario where industry and schools come together to design, develop, and deliver the pre-employment and continuing education modules for both students and adult learners.

Finally, Minister Chan shared that as part of the Forward Singapore deliberations, the government will be looking into how it can fund and support lifelong education. 

In particular, the focus would be on encouraging apprehensive mid-career workers at risk of becoming irrelevant to take the plunge and acquire new skills. 

3. Tightening the connection between industries and schools

“Our third shift is the way we need to tighten the nexus between frontier industry and academia,” he continued.

For a start, Singapore, being unable to compete with other countries in scale, would have to be pioneers in various interdisciplinary subjects to create new value. 

The move will likely see industries and schools working across boundaries and collaborating with one another, sometimes beyond their comfort zone. 

In addition, Minister Chan added that a closer partnership between industries and schools is needed to interest and inspire the next generation of students. 

As a result, work-study programs will become more common as the government seeks to expand the involvement of industry partners in co-delivering skills training.

Lastly, Minister Chan stated that while Singapore has done well in the research portion of the Research-Innovation-Enterprise cycle, we are not translating the research into enterprises. 

Because of that, there is now more reason than ever to push for a tighter industry-academia tie-up at all levels since doing so will enhance the flow of frontier research and industrial practices between industries and learners.

4. Harnessing the strength of our society 

From the get-go, Minister Chan acknowledges that the Ministry of Education (MOE) alone does not have the power to change society or develop the next generation.

Therefore, MOE will have to work closely with parents and community partners to build a culture that celebrates diverse learners and abandon the habit of measuring everyone with the same yardstick.

More importantly, Minister Chan is adamant that it is time to rally our industries and have them pay workers based on contributions rather than credentials. 

That is because without closing the pay gap between graduates and diploma holders, no amount of preaching about the multiple pathways to success will ever work.

Ultimately, a society that does not embrace the diversity of strengths and broaden its definition of success will find itself on the route to decline. 

Concluding the fourth shift, Minister Chan said, “We need to leverage the strengths, skills, and perspectives of our entire society to sharpen the perspectives of our next generation. Without it, our speed of change will occur in generation-time rather than years.”

5. Investing in our educators 

To Minister Chan, the final shift – investing in the lifelong learning and innovation of teaching staff – is also the most important one. 

As more skill sets are required to navigate the classrooms of today, Minister Chan noted that there must be opportunities to expose teachers to the world beyond the education system. 

That is because doing so will help them to better understand the changes taking place and bring new perspectives to their teaching methods.

Additionally, Minister Chan felt that we should not leave the teaching abilities of those in the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) to chance. 

He added: “This is why I want our Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) to be a pillar of our teaching fraternity’s professional development.”

Lastly, reiterating the need to broaden the definition of success, Minister Chan stated that the research path is only one of many paths to success. 

Moreover, running an IHL will require the leadership team to have a diverse skill set. Therefore, those outside the research track should be encouraged rather than precluded from taking leadership roles. 

Cover photo credit: Chan Chun Sing/Facebook