The buzz surrounding lifelong learning continues in the COS debate 


Since the launch of the SkillsFuture initiative in 2015, Singaporeans have been inundated with calls to retrain and upskill. Lifelong learning, once the domain of specific professions, has been democratised and trickled down to include everyone else.  

Nine years on, the SkillsFuture movement has yielded mixed results. According to Minister of State for Education (MOS) Gan Siow Huang, training participation hovers around 50 per cent as of 2022. Consider this a glass-half-full/ half-empty situation. On the upside, lifelong learning is certainly gaining momentum, buoyed by businesses making use of government grants to send their employees for training. But on the downside, the concept is still not taken seriously enough. A recent uproar by netizens who had a field day mocking a toilet cleaning course embodies our somewhat cynical outlook towards lifelong learning.  

Clearly, something must be done to lift SkillsFuture to new heights. In a bid to turbocharge our learning efforts, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong announced during Budget 2024 that all Singaporeans aged 40 and above would receive $4,000 of SkillsFuture Credit to pursue selected courses. Furthermore, those enrolled in selected full-time courses can receive a monthly training allowance (capped at $3,000 per month). With these new policy drops, it was no surprise that lifelong learning took centre stage during the Committee of Supply debate on Monday (Mar 4), with plenty of MPs speaking up on the matter.  

With over 29,000 courses on the SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) website,MP Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris–Punggol GRC) asked how the government intends to identify programmes with the best employment outcomes. Meanwhile, MP Rachel Ong (West Coast GRC) raised the question of how we can ensure persons with disabilities (PWDs) have equal access to upgrading opportunities. Finally, MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer SMC) suggested expanding the range of courses offered under the career conversion programmes. The move will bolster SSG’s ability to empower Singaporeans, said Mr Tay.  

In response, MOS Gan reiterated PAP’s commitment to making training accessible. More importantly, upskilling must be designed in such a way that it leads to better outcomes for Singaporeans and businesses, said Ms Gan. 

“(To) ensure good take-up and outcomes, we must cater to the diversity of individuals needs and aspirations,” said Ms Gan. For a start, MOE has since curated over 7,000 courses covering a good range of sectors and job profiles, added Ms Gan. With input from industries and professional bodies, SSG will review the courses eligible for the SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme over time. 

By now, all the talk about upskilling and retraining might sound tedious and repetitive. But as we all know, education is never really about education. Ms Gan noted: “Lifelong learning is now a key pillar of our social compact.” 

In this case, the push for lifelong learning goes beyond empowering Singaporeans to take charge of their future. It is the means to an end towards several goals. Besides acting as a social policy to bridge the wage gap between degree and diploma holders, it is an opportunity for Singaporeans to realise their potential. An affirmation that there is no linear pathway to success, and the way of getting there can be long and winding.  

Dig deeper, and that is when lifelong learning becomes a rallying cry to confront an existential threat. The modern labour market is a fickle one, with the days of the iron rice bowl all but gone. Instead, there are occupations that do not yet exist and many more that will be annihilated in the age of artificial intelligence. The best defence against all of this is to stay one step (or two) ahead while we still can. That is because while jobs might not be for life, our capacity to learn and overcome challenges is.  

Photo Source: Gan Siow Huang via Facebook