Pursue diverse capabilities for a more complex world: Chan Chun Sing

Minister stresses key role of teachers as 'critical thinkers and communicators'

To navigate an increasingly complex and competitive world, Singapore students have to pursue more diverse interests and capabilities, beyond what is taught and tested in schools.

How far the Republic can move in this direction and away from an overemphasis on academic grades depends on educators, parents and societal culture at large, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

Highlighting diversity as key to alleviating the "unhealthy stress" of pursuing the same definition of success, he spoke of the need for diverse schools, education pathways, skills, perspectives and experiences.

Mr Chan stressed the important role played by teachers and called on them to be "critical thinkers and communicators" who "read extensively, learn widely and reflect continuously".

"We should also explore giving them more exposure beyond school - by supporting them in taking frequent sabbaticals or short stints in the private, public or people sectors to refresh their perspectives and renew their skill sets."

But he also warned that 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."

Mr Chan was addressing more than 1,500 public officers at a virtual forum organised by the Public Service Division and Civil Service College.

In a speech on Singapore's strategies for the future, he noted that beyond formal schooling, the "game changer" of global competition would be in lifelong and early childhood education.

"(Adult) learners must feel the training programmes make a real difference to their employment outcomes," Mr Chan said, adding that institutes of higher learning and their staff must remain current and relevant.

While the Government could lower barriers with incentives like lifetime credits, he said employer support was just as vital. Ultimately, individuals must have the desire and drive to keep learning, he said, adding that helping students from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds is of utmost importance.

Education must remain an uplifting force and beacon of hope for this group, which is often most affected by disruption brought about by technological changes, globalisation and the pandemic, Mr Chan added.

The Government will announce plans to help the least privileged students and families in the coming months, he added.

Mr Chan also outlined Singapore's core challenges of geopolitical uncertainty, technological disruption and a population with increasingly diverse aspirations. "We must not let any community fall behind or feel like they have been excluded from the Singapore story."

First, while the world may become more protectionist, Singapore must remain open and connected. Digital connectivity will now be critical and regulatory connectivity is being enhanced - efforts that will position the country as a safe harbour for long-term investments.

Second, Singapore must double-down on investment areas that entrench the country at strategic points in global supply and value chains. "We will target areas where we can develop deep niche expertise and where our skills would not be easily displaced."

Third, with businesses gravitating to where the talent network is most dense and connected, Singapore must focus on building a global innovation and knowledge network. Fourth - and most importantly, said Mr Chan - all Singaporeans will be taken care of, by creating a wide range of jobs for those with different aspirations and skills.

"We also must make sure workers earn a dignified wage and that our growth is inclusive," he added.