The Straits Times says

Preparing students for viable careers

Among the goals of the Singapore education system is the cultivation of "necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future", as put by the Ministry of Education. Perhaps the greatest challenge the young will face in the future is the uncertainty of the kinds of work which will yield stable jobs and lifelong careers. Allied to that are the types of skills they should acquire: specialised or general in nature? Some recommend a broad-based education that aims at the completeness of a child's cognitive, moral and social development, while teaching particular skills - in science and mathematics, for example - for certain paths.

With much to chew on, students require trained professionals to help them relate their interests, aptitude, abilities and strengths to work they can realistically obtain in the future. This is why all schools now have education and career guidance counsellors assigned to them, to give students better support in making choices about their future. Unlike their young wards, these counsellors have tasted the real world of work. Indeed, the Ministry of Education has done the right thing by drawing them from fields as diverse as real estate, finance and engineering consultancy. Their personal experiences should give them the depth to counsel young students, who are often confused about which path is best for them.

The counsellors' inputs would also act as a useful counterpoint to the expectations of parents, which do not always keep their children's preferences and abilities in view. In spite of changes that are transforming the workplace, there is still a high degree of residual fixation with jobs and careers carrying a certain status. That would not have been a bad thing perhaps but for the sobering reality that the status of many professions might recede as their usefulness is eroded by market changes and technological developments.

While no one will deny law, for instance, remains an honourable profession, the uncomfortable truth is that automation, artificial intelligence and cross-border transactions are diminishing some work traditionally done by lawyers. Hence the need for law schools to consider reinventing themselves and to radically rethink the way future lawyers are taught, as Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon remarked recently. Other disciplines like medicine and engineering will also not be immune to disruptive change.

Even teachers might well find their value being challenged by artificial intelligence which can teach itself to be far better than humans, like DeepMind's all-conquering AlphaGo Zero software. But when it comes to steering the pathways of the young, the human touch will always be needed to ensure the calculus is not just about status and pay - advice a robot could dispense. Critically, their future should be imbued with passion and a sense of purpose.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'Preparing students for viable careers'. Print Edition | Subscribe