Can our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) help Singapore defy the odds of history and be a beacon of hope for the world?
That is the question Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing asked the audience at the Straits Times Education Forum 2023 (Mar 11).
After all, history has never been kind to small city-states. And there is no guarantee that Singapore would be an exception to the rule.
Therefore, IHLs, as brain trusts of our society, will have a unique role in helping Singapore stay relevant in a climate of domestic inequalities, external insecurities and rapid technological changes, said Minister Chan.
During his keynote address, Minister Chan highlighted three ways IHLs could help to secure Singapore’s future.
Maintaining Singapore’s status as a trusted connector
How will a middle power such as Singapore continue to stay relevant?
For Minister Chan, it boils down to our ability to bridge divides and operate seamlessly across different cultures and political systems.
“Our students must develop a curiosity for, and an understanding of the world beyond Singapore. This is why we have set an aspirational target for 70 per cent of every IHL cohort to undergo an overseas exposure programme.”
In addition, Singapore will constantly position itself at the frontier of science and technology by embracing interdisciplinary learning.
IHLs must continue to connect across disciplines, political blocs and diverse cultures.
Only then will Singapore be able to emerge as a hub for new ideas, frontier rules and governance frameworks, added Minister Chan.
Creating sustainable livelihoods and lifestyles
Sustainability might seem like an overused buzzword these days. However, there is a moral imperative and economic necessity to embrace the concept, Minister Chan warned.
Once again, it boils down to our scarcity of natural resources and a need to overcome carbon constraints for survival.
As such, IHLs must rise to the challenge and become thought leaders in envisioning future cities and societies. This will include how we design our transport, healthcare, waste management system and so forth, said the Minister.
Redefining success and strengthening our social compact
To strengthen our social compact, Singapore needs to be a nation where all children, regardless of their starting point, can maximise their potential to the fullest.
“We must do so by broadening the definition and pathways of success and move towards a meritocracy of skills,” said Minister Chan.
And according to Minister Chan, IHLs have a crucial role in developing a meritocratic skills ecosystem.
For a start, having a more diverse student profile and variegated entry points and pathways for lifelong learning will improve accessibility to higher education.
But beyond mass access, IHLs must provide tailored curricula to meet the needs of adult learners and go further to source talent beyond traditional academic profiles, added Minister Chan.
Cultivating our greatest resource
Calls to upskill and reskill oneself are not unique to Singapore, but we are one of the few places with a Government that goes beyond platitudes and actively invests in its people.
That is because we have a powerful resource in our people, shared Minister Chan.
“Our IHLs have the responsibility to amplify the capabilities and capacities of our people.
Only then, can we ensure Singapore’s relevance to the rest of the world and secure our continued survival in the next 50 or 100 years or beyond.”
Picture Source: Chan Chun Sing via Facebook