SINGAPORE: Singapore “must build diversity” and strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as soft skills learning in schools, said Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Aug 16).
Speaking at an engagement forum for public officers jointly organised by the Public Service Division (PSD) and the Civil Service College Singapore (CSC), Mr Chan said: “We must build diversity in our schools. In an uncertain world, diversity is key to our resilience as a country.
“In a hyper-competitive world, diversity is also key to alleviating the unhealthy stress of pursuing the same definition of success. We will provide our students with a diversity of schools and education pathways, a diversity of skillsets and a diversity of perspectives and experiences.”
In a more complex world, there may also be a tendency to demand that schools teach even more, said Mr Chan.
“Against a more competitive landscape, there can also be demands to make our tests sharper to distinguish one student from another. However, we should be careful and not go overboard,” said the Education Minister.
“Teaching and testing more do not equate to learning more. We will need to re-examine the way we teach and test. What ultimately matters is not how much our students know, but how fast they learn, and how able they are to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
Schools also need to develop a culture that encourages students to discover and develop their strengths beyond what is tested in school, said Mr Chan.
Singapore has specialised schools that allow students to develop their interests and strengths in areas like sports, the arts, or maths and science.
“We will continue to have a diversity of schools, each with their unique propositions, to cater to the diverse learning needs of our students. We should not homogenise all schools beyond a common core in areas such as literacy, numeracy and values,” said Mr Chan.
There are also students who prefer or “are more suited” to an applied education pathway, he added, noting that about seven in 10 students in a Primary 1 cohort go to polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITE).
“We must continue to ensure that their education and training provide a good foundation for them to remain competitive in the job market,” said Mr Chan, noting that Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman is leading a review on ITE and polytechnic pathways.
In school, children must also be equipped with diverse skillsets that “open doors for them in the modern economy”, said the Education Minister.
“In a world driven by new technologies and science, we will need to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM learning.
“In our schools, we will strengthen our STEM curriculum to not only equip our students with the new STEM foundations to be smart users of technology, but also nurture a lifelong interest in STEM and its applications, so that more of them join the science and technology sector.”
Schools will also nurture soft skills that “endure”, including curiosity and confidence, said Mr Chan.
“We need to spark our students’ curiosity from a young age. For example, by exposing them to different cultures and ideas to broaden their horizons,” he added.
“Our students must have the confidence to chart their own paths. This includes having confidence in themselves – assured of their ability to compete and thrive in a global world and be able to bounce back from failure or adversity.”
Students must also be equipped with “a sense of purpose for the wider community”, said Mr Chan.
“To understand that the opportunities that we have now are the result of the hard work of those who have come before us. That we too must pay-it-forward to the next generation.
“Only then will we become closer as a society, knowing that everyone has a chance to move up, as everyone has a responsibility to help each other move up.”
The move away from an over-emphasis on academic grades to “truly embrace” diversity also depends on teachers and parents, said Mr Chan.
Teachers are stretched on “many fronts”, and the Government must find ways to give teachers more “white space” to engage in their own learning.
The Education Ministry should also explore giving them more exposure beyond school, he added.
This could include supporting them in taking sabbaticals or short stints in the private or public sectors to refresh their perspectives and renew their skillsets.
Students will also need diverse perspectives and experiences to “understand the dynamics and realities of the world”, he added.
“Notwithstanding the disruption of travel due to COVID-19, we are finding ways to re-establish and strengthen our students’ exposure to the world. Having the opportunity to learn from and together with peers from around the world is a great advantage that our students have today and must not lose,” said the Education Minister.
“If survival is a contest of evolution, then the best help that we can give them is the widest exposure possible to different experiences, challenges and circumstances.”
STUDENTS FROM DISADVANTAGED BACKGROUNDS
Students from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds are of “utmost importance” to the Education Ministry, said Mr Chan.
“The disruptive effects of technological developments and globalisation, accentuated by COVID-19, are often felt most acutely by them and their families. In such times, education must remain an uplifting force and beacon of hope for them all,” he added.
Singapore must adopt a “life-cycle approach” to support these students across various stages of life beyond school “to make a real and sustained difference”.
“We will strengthen child development support starting from the ante-natal stage to preschool years. We will also mobilise the public and community resources to provide greater support at the family level, as family problems can have outsized impact on a child’s attendance and engagement at school,” said Mr Chan.
The UPLIFT community pilot in four towns has seen an improvement in attendance for eight in 10 students involved, he said, adding that the programme will be further strengthened.
After foundational schooling years, MOE will partner with institutes of higher learning and the community to help these students “maximise their educational potential” and support their transition to the workforce after they graduate.
“We will be announcing what we plan to do more for our least privileged students and families in the coming months.”