When discussing the future economy of Singapore, education might not rank highly in certain circles. In fact, it is absolutely critical. Of all the recommendations of the Committee on the Future Economy, the section on the role played by educational institutions is one of the most important. They have a key part to play in nurturing and fostering a creative and enterprising spirit among Singapore students - to prepare them for an increasingly uncertain world constantly disrupted by rapid technological change.
Singaporeans have to come to grips with the notion that in this brave new world, it is not what they have learnt in school, polytechnic or university that might matter the most in their future jobs. Such education provides a necessary base, but they will need to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills as novel businesses and industries emerge.
How can a new culture of learning and an appreciation of deep skills be nurtured? It starts with changing the mindset prevalent among those who think education is just about doing well in exams. It is not. More important is learning how to learn well. Schools have to move away from an overemphasis on academic results and help students develop an attitude towards learning that will better prepare them for the future. When the goal is to simply complete a course, tutors might focus on "memory techniques" and study notes. However, the process of learning should not be mechanical. Applying knowledge, experimenting, asking questions and using one's imagination can make a subject come alive and contribute to mastery later. The committee also recommended that institutions of higher learning offer more modularised and technology-related courses to allow adults to refresh their knowledge and learn new skills. This should be implemented creatively. Commitment by all is also needed, akin to the rigorous way NSmen sharpen their capabilities when they return for their annual reservist duties.
There needs to be closer collaboration between educational institutions and industry, between employers and those in charge of curriculum planning and teaching. And students should be required to take up internships in relevant industries while studying so they acquire real world experience early on. Educational institutions have to change the traditional way they view their role. It does not end with the student receiving his certificate or degree. In fact, that should open new pathways for students to explore as they return regularly to the campus to keep going forward.
Just as national service became a way of life in Singapore, so must continuous learning. A key challenge will be to change the culture of society so people value deep skills in all forms, acquired via different routes, and not just prestigious academic qualifications obtained via an elite track.