Tuesday 17 June 2014

Right training, 'deep skills' needed for new jobs: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat

Apprenticeship schemes one way to keep young people's skills relevant
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2014

AS SINGAPORE adds more university places and looks at improving its polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, it is equally important that education arms young people with the right skills to take on the new and diverse jobs thrown up by a vibrant economy.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who led a delegation from his ministry on a study trip to Norway and the Netherlands last week, said that the well-run apprenticeship schemes in the two countries, with many companies accredited as training partners to technical colleges, were one way of keeping skills relevant.

"The recession has driven home the same important message to the European countries that, while they continue to develop their young people through education, they must ensure that they have the relevant skills to seize the jobs that are in demand by the economy," he said, speaking to reporters on Friday after visiting the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

During the trip, the Singapore delegates visited universities and technical colleges, as well as companies involved in training technical college students.

Companies can provide in-house training for students as well as workers, and smaller firms could band together to provide training, said Mr Heng.

These ideas are being looked into by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee, which will release its report later this year.

Related agencies are also studying how employers can be encouraged to take on a bigger role in training, he added.

Mr Heng pointed out that the Singapore education system is already on track in many areas.

This includes building a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy, emphasising mathematics, English and second languages, and helping students who are lagging behind through schemes such as the Learning Support Programme.

The push for "stem" subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - will also continue, he added, and schools will encourage students to pursue these disciplines at post-secondary and tertiary levels.

"Every sector of the economy will be transformed by technology," said Mr Heng, pointing to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, which is part of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, as an example.

There, students use scans and 3-D body modelling to take precise body measurements of models to design clothes.

Mr Heng also said that the Government needs to set up better mechanisms, to help those already working to move from vulnerable sectors to other industries where there are jobs.

A "ladder of skills" framework, showing new entrants how they can build up their skills and move up, could also be useful.

For example, those new to the pre-school sector could build up their qualifications and skills and go on to become master teachers, he said.

And just like in Norway and the Netherlands, where students prefer the academic over the technical route, young people in Singapore too need to be persuaded to see the value of developing "deep skills" in a particular area.

"Employers too must value those skills instead of just credentials," Mr Heng stressed.

When a young person has good grounding in literacy and numeracy as well as domain-specific skills, he will have good job prospects in the new economy, and the ability to upgrade and shift careers if necessary, he said.

Education system must evolve as needs change: Heng
Study trip to Norway, Netherlands shows need for ‘skills transformation’ here, says Education Minister
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 16 Jun 2014

AMSTERDAM — The Singapore education system must be transformed to ensure students have the relevant skills to keep up with changes in the economy, starting from giving children a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy to ensuring students have a good grounding in maths and technology skills as they move through the education system, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

This goes with helping students build skills in problem solving and applying knowledge and, when they enter the workforce, employers must play their part to foster learning at the workplace, he said.

Mr Heng was speaking to the media after a five-day study trip to Norway and the Netherlands, where he noted that the eurozone crisis had affected employability and that the availability of jobs in Singapore should not be taken for granted.

“While education must continue to develop a person, we also have a responsibility to ensure it allows young people to access jobs,” he said.

The need for “skills transformation”, he said, was the “biggest takeaway” from his visits to schools in the two countries. “This skills transformation will involve many stakeholders, starting from schools to give our children a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy, throughout our system to give them a good grounding in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), moving on to help them build skills in problem solving (and) in applying knowledge,” he said.

Citing practices in the Norwegian and Dutch education systems, Mr Heng said that without a “rigorous foundation” of numeracy and literacy, students cannot learn new skills and pick up new jobs later in life.

In Singapore’s schools, this foundation has been strengthened, such as through an emphasis on bilingualism even in the kindergartens and learning support programmes for languages and maths in primary and secondary schools. “Whether the current level of literacy is sufficient, we will continue to assess and do more,” he said.

This could mean enhancing literacy programmes at the Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs). “Because, otherwise, our young people, when they go to ITE, (they) don’t have a strong foundation (and) find it hard to learn new skills for the future if they don’t have the literacy skills,” he said.

Singapore’s current participation in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s study on skill levels among adults would further help diagnose gaps for the Government to possibly move into, he added.

A strong foundation in basic STEM skills is also needed. Although not everyone is strong in these areas, Singapore needs a “significant percentage” of students to take on rigorous STEM subjects, said Mr Heng.

For example, at the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam, fashion students use 3D modelling to design clothes. This illustrates the importance of strengthening students’ fundamentals in mathematics and IT, as technology continues to revolutionise many sectors of society, he said.

In reference to the ongoing Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) to better integrate theory and practice at polytechnics and ITEs, Mr Heng said there was a need for applied learning at all levels of education. This will help students unlock the potential in their abilities and use them to solve real-life problems.

Said Mr Heng: “What is striking (in the Netherlands is that from) … pre-schools right up to research-intensive universities, everyone is grappling with this need to bridge theory and practice, to break boundaries between academic institutions and the real world.”

He acknowledged the need to raise awareness of skills in Singapore and go beyond the narrow definition of vocational work. “Employers, too, need to value those skills more than just credentials … (to) play an active role in developing their people and training,” he added.

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