Trace and address reasons for private school education

While the shake-up of private schools has ensured that only those of a higher quality remain, last Thursday's commentary is right to note that the Government should seek to profile students who attend private universities, as well as their motivations ("Private school shake-up spells good news").

In fact, with concerns over the underemployment of degree-holders, studying the mindsets of students would be useful. Information about their backgrounds, especially if these students already possess a diploma or a certificate from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), can influence policy directions.

The desire to enrol in a private school likely stems from entrenched mindsets that the academic pathway - and by extension, a college degree - is necessarily superior, and that better jobs will follow.

Individuals also point to structural barriers, such as those in the civil service, which appear to favour university graduates.

Such mindsets are further characterised by pragmatism.

While results from the graduate employment survey recently released by the Singapore Institute of Management showed that its graduates started with slightly lower salaries than those from publicly funded universities, students remain cognisant that these starting salaries - as well as rates of employability - are higher compared with graduates from polytechnics.

Parents also tend to prefer to see their children undertake higher education, thereby exacerbating education inflation.

The suggestion for a review to be conducted of the private education industry, to "see how it can be roped into the SkillsFuture movement to encourage Singaporeans to build up job-relevant qualifications and skills", is a good one, but the importance of career guidance from a young age cannot be overlooked.

Unsurprisingly, strengthening education and career guidance was a key recommendation mooted by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) Committee last year, for students to make informed decisions for the future ("Trained officers to give students career advice"; Aug 26, 2014).

Beyond the proposals made by the Aspire committee, the value of a diploma or ITE certificate should be ascertained by the industry, through closer partnerships with companies and the matching of job opportunities.

In other words, educational aspirations should be matched by capacities in the economy, with growing comprehension that a degree is not everything; the result being a moderation of enrolment rates into private schools.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Trace and address reasons for private school education'. Print Edition | Subscribe