Nurture a generation that learns differently, bravely

In the recent Budget debate, the words "enterprise" and "innovation" were often mentioned, with regard to improving Singapore's economy .

As a highly globalised country, Singapore is well equipped with opportunities and assets for start-ups and entrepreneurship.

Yet, fresh entrants to the workforce do not seem to be making full use of these resources.

While the cause of this seeming lack of entrepreneurship and originality may lie in prevalent "kiasu" mindsets, which have deterred many budding entrepreneurs from taking a bold leap of faith ("'Kiasu' culture is stifling originality in business: NMP"; April 6), it is my contention that deeper roots lie in our education system.

Singapore's education system receives world acclaim for its successes in standardised and international test scores.

But I wonder if enough is really being done to nurture 21st century competencies and skills, such as creativity and innovation.

Even though many new initiatives, such as the Applied Learning Programme, have been launched, students are still assessed primarily with summative examinations, which, in many ways, determine their next steps in life.

Much as we say that we want to depart from a streaming culture, an ethos of risk aversion and a focus on paper qualifications, the structures that exist within our education system invariably reinforce "kiasuism" and a climate of risk aversion.

Very few students bother leaving their comfort zones, given that the stakes are perceivably high, and this runs antithetical to the spirit of adventure required for entrepreneurship.

If we genuinely want young Singaporeans to depart from the "safe route" of studying hard, getting good grades, graduating with a degree and then securing a stable job, structures that privilege and advantage conservative learners must be relooked to allay the anxiety that comes with departing from traditional routes to success.

This might, in many ways, also change how students learn, which is a key grouse of many parents, educators and students themselves - that students are learning for the test.

We have made significant headway in assessing students holistically, for example, by assessing critical thinking and application skills, and oral presentation and communication skills. But the reality is that current assessment modes still fall short in measuring how well students deal with uncertainty and novel problems that require higher levels of critical, creative and inventive thinking.

The future is an unknown entity and the demands of tomorrow will always change.

How should we prepare youth for uncertainty and flux?

The key is to nurture a generation that learns differently, bravely and with a genuine sense of curiosity.

Zhu Hongyue (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Nurture a generation that learns differently, bravely'. Print Edition | Subscribe