Singapore must build diversity in our schools, strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning in our schools, and nurture soft skills that endure, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said.
“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.”
Speaking at the Civil Service College’s Social-Economic Nexus Speaking Engagement Series, Mr Chan said, “We will provide our students with a diversity of schools and education pathways, a diversity of skillsets, and a diversity of perspectives and experiences.”
Moving away from an over-emphasis on grades to embrace strength in diversity
Today, we have specialised schools that allow students to develop their interests and strengths in domains such as sports, music, arts, or math and science.
Mr Chan said, “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.”
“How far we can move away from an over-emphasis on academic grades to truly embrace strength in diversity depends on the full participation and support of educators and parents.”
“In a more complex world, there may be a tendency for us to demand that our schools teach more. Against a more competitive landscape, there can also be demands to make our tests sharper to distinguish one student from another,” Mr Chan said.
“We should be careful not to go overboard,” Mr Chan cautioned. “Teaching and testing more do not equate to learning more. We will need to re-examine the way we teach and test. What matters is not how much our students know, but how fast they learn, how able they are to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
“Most importantly, we will need a culture that encourages our students to discover and develop their strengths, beyond what is tested in school.”
“The reduction in teaching and testing must not lead to a perverse outcome of bringing more intense academic competition. Instead, we will do well to pursue a diversity of interests and capabilities as a country,” the Education Minister said.
Nurturing soft skills that endure
“Beyond knowledge, we will nurture “soft skills” that endure,” Mr Chan said.
Two qualities– curiosity and confidence – will help them navigate an uncertain world and engage meaningfully on the issues of our time, he said.
“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. This will enable them to appreciate and embrace diversity, to innovate and experiment, and not shrink away from the unknown.
“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 able to bounce back from failure or adversity. This also includes a sense of confidence in Singapore’s place in the world. We must be bold to learn from others, yet confident to define our own solutions for our own needs.”
“Above all,” Mr Chan said, “our students must be equipped with a sense of purpose for the wider community. To understand that the opportunities 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.”
Diverse perspectives and experiences
For our students to understand the dynamics and realities of the world, they will need diverse perspectives and experiences.
“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,” Mr Chan said.
“Notwithstanding the disruption to travel due to COVID-19, we are finding ways to re-establish and strengthen our students’ exposure to the world.”
“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,” said Mr Chan.