Cultivate problem-solving skills in the young

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently lamented the undervalued perception of the engineering profession in Singapore ("To lure tech experts home, 'rethink what engineering means' "; Feb 18).

It was reported that the Government will recruit more engineers, with improved remuneration packages ("Govt to hire 1,000 engineers this year"; Feb 17).

In the United States, the desire to experiment, innovate, build and create things is so strong that students with a strong focus in mathematics and science often consider studying engineering for the various specialisations it offers.

Singapore students, on the other hand, have been conditioned to achieve high academic grades by opting for courses like economics, business, finance, law, and information technology, where they can perform well.

Traditionally, engineering is associated with infrastructure - the construction of bridges, tunnels and transport networks - but today, engineers the world over are applying their knowledge and skills to industries as diverse as food production, education, hospitality, transportation, healthcare, natural disasters and climate change.

Offering scholarships, attractive remuneration packages and recruiting more engineers may, to some extent, raise the profile of engineers in the long term, but the underlying malady afflicting the engineering profession is that problem-solving is not given sufficient traction in our education system.

There is a dire necessity to instill a sense of curiosity, creativity, initiative, self-reliance, experimentation and risk-taking among our children all the way through primary and secondary school, junior college, university and the workplace. These values, though intangible, contribute to evoking their interest in the engineering profession, while bringing out a much-needed entrepreneurial, independent and innovative streak necessary to solve real-life problems - a conundrum that is confronting our leaders.

Self-belief and a can-do spirit can come about only if problem-solving approaches are nurtured and cultivated from childhood ("Develop self-belief, can-do spirit" by Mr Tong Hsien-Hui; last Wednesday).

Hopefully, a mindset change and enlightened thinking towards greater problem-solving skills, risk-taking and acceptance of failures in our education system will help to raise the profile of the engineering profession.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Cultivate problem-solving skills in the young'. Print Edition | Subscribe