Wednesday 9 October 2013

Heng: Vibrant economy key to new jobs

With a strong economy, the youth will have interesting jobs to choose from
By Lim Yi Han And Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2013

EVEN as Singapore continues to expand its education options for students, it is important to have a vibrant economy so that there will be new and "interesting" jobs for young people to choose from.

A strong economy also means that the Government can invest a lot more resources in the education system, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"The reason why over the last 20 years we have been able to expand polytechnics... university places, is because... our economy is growing," he told some 300 students who attended the annual Polytechnic Forum held at Downtown East yesterday.

"If you have a growing economy, we can create new jobs, interesting jobs, well-paid jobs, jobs that give you a future," he said.

Mr Heng was responding to Temasek Polytechnic accounting and finance student Tan Jun Ming, 19, who asked about the perception that polytechnic students are generally viewed as less capable than university graduates.

The minister said the education system has become more open over the years, with more pathways to cater to students of different strengths. But these changes were possible because of a strong economy.

Said Mr Heng: "So I would say that you should not focus on just what the education system can do, but you should also focus on what the economy can create."

The forum serves as a platform for students to gain a deeper understanding of national issues. This year's theme was The Power of Youth in Community Action.

At the forum, students also quizzed Mr Heng on a range of issues, from giving more emphasis to moral education, to introducing more flexibility in the university admission criteria for polytechnic graduates.

Currently, about 43 per cent of each Primary 1 cohort go on to attend a polytechnic and the figure is expected to go up to 45 per cent by 2015. More polytechnic graduates are also going on to pursue a university degree.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Tan Yao Kun, 18, asked if local universities could consider factors like community service for those who fail to meet minimum grades.

Mr Heng noted that universities are already expanding their admission criteria. But at the same time, it is important to keep the "rigour and competitive standing of all our programmes".

Another student asked if there will be a sixth polytechnic here. The minister noted that five is currently sufficient to meet demand, and the focus is to continue to improve the polytechnics.

Students said that the forum has been beneficial. Mr Tan, the Nanyang Polytechnic student, said: "The forum is definitely enriching as it allows us to come together and discuss social issues."


I get very, very worried when you have people out there who are comfortable in their career or retired with a lot of money and they say 'Oh no, you know Singapore, the Government is just too focused on the growth of the economy, and the Government is going for growth for growth's sake'. I think it is quite irresponsible to say that... Young people like yourselves will get a lot more opportunities when our economy is vibrant... and we can create a lot of interesting jobs.

- Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Polytechnic Forum

Improve quality rather than capacity of polys: Heng
By Kok Xing Hui, TODAY, 8 Oct 2013

Rather than build a sixth polytechnic here, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday said the focus of polytechnic education is to improve on its quality and develop ways to make learning more engaging and valuable for students.

He said this in response to a student’s query on whether there were discussions on setting up a new polytechnic at a half-hour dialogue session at the 17th Polytechnic Forum, which was attended by students from all five polytechnics.

He also said that the five polytechnics have enough capacity.

Another student asked if local universities could consider a polytechnic student’s community involvement instead of only his grade point average when admitting students.

Responding, Mr Heng said some universities already make such discretionary decisions.

He added that while schools do take these qualities into account, they must also maintain certain academic standards and it is important to keep the rigour and academic standing of all programmes.

However, he urged the 300 students present to not be discouraged if they fail to enter their school of choice as learning is a lifelong process and they can “try again”.

“Opportunities will always be there,” said Mr Heng.

He noted that while there are many post-secondary pathways for students to choose from and the education system is “a lot more open than it was before”, the focus is not solely on what the education system can do, but on what the economy can create.

It is worrying when Singaporeans say the Government is looking at growth for growth’s sake, he added, as young people get more opportunities when the economy is vibrant and only a growing economy can create new jobs.

Asked what can be done about the perception that polytechnic students are not as gifted academically, the minister said: “At the end of the day, how well-regarded you are … does not depend on what I say … depends on what you are able to achieve.

“If you’re from a polytechnic and you’re able to achieve a great deal, I think the image of polytechnics will continue to grow.

“And that is how our polytechnics have been able to measure up, have been able to show that … it really is an education system that prepares each and every one of you well.”

At this year’s forum, which took place over a period of three days, students discussed how they could take a more active role within the community. They then organised events based on five sub-topics: Inter-generational bonding, environment, healthy lifestyle, arts and social resilience.

The minister yesterday also urged students to sign up for the Volunteer Youth Corps announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during this year’s National Day Rally.

The corps, he said, will “enable more of us to translate our words into community action and to harness the power of our youths”.


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