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The Straits Times says

Rev up approaches to adult learning

Adult learners will be the main beneficiaries of Singapore's sixth university, named Singapore University of Social Sciences. Its launch is the latest confirmation of just how crucial lifelong learning will be to future employability.

It joins the five other autonomous universities, all of which have set up lifelong learning units. That is not a simple matter of offering their existing courses to adults, for adult learning differs significantly from undergraduate education.

It is thus important to keep developing the science and philosophy of adult learning. The first order of business is for all institutions involved in the national skills effort to stay abreast of changes across the economy and in specific sectors and industries. Only then will their course offerings actually help workers stay economically relevant.

It generally takes about a year to launch a new course, notes the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). It wants to hasten the process and catalyse new ways of learning, for instance, the use of online games that test skills. Bite-sized modules which can be accessed via a mobile application and updated within days would also be useful.

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Nifty private-sector players that excel in areas such as "speed to market" will have a role in the continuing education ecosystem. They can help inject diversity, though the scale of their offerings will not match those of public institutions.

With most adult learners juggling studies with work and family, upgrading opportunities must be made manageable. Stackable modules are thus the way to go. At both SMU Academy and National University of Singapore's School of Continuing and Lifelong Education, credits can be "stacked up" towards graduate certificates, diplomas or master's degrees. Learning is structured to aid those with other commitments, through a blending of online lectures and in-class discussions.

Nanyang Technological University is working with the labour movement to offer classes for working adults at NTUC's premises in the city. Accessibility will be key if the venture is to meet its ambitious goal of reaching 30,000 people a year.

Also crucial are flexible admissions to modules, since what older cohorts may have missed out in formal education can be made up for in skills and experience gained on the job.

Another growth area is local certification of new skills in high demand, such as data protection where 10,000 job openings are expected over three years. Making training and certification available locally will help rein in costs.

The International Monetary Fund described Singapore's SkillsFuture as one of the most comprehensive programmes it has seen. The challenge is to constantly update courses to ensure industry relevance and to ensure programmes are widely embraced. Adult education is the best way to allow all to share in the fruits of growth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Rev up approaches to adult learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe