Education system must be aligned with economy: Ong Ye Kung

A system that focuses on skills will help people find jobs and improve their lives, Mr Ong Ye Kung said at the symposium.
A system that focuses on skills will help people find jobs and improve their lives, Mr Ong Ye Kung said at the symposium.

The education system needs to be aligned with the structure of the economy, so that people will continue to be armed with the required skills to find jobs in the current age of disruption, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

In Singapore, this means capping the proportion of graduates in a cohort at about 30 per cent to 40 per cent, while training the rest for vocations in various industries.

This approach, he added, has ensured that there has been no glut of graduates in Singapore, and has kept graduate unemployment low, unlike in some Asian countries.

Mr Ong was a member of a panel discussing politics and education in the age of disruption at the 47th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland.

Also on the panel were Swiss Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann and Denmark's Minister for Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen.

In the discussion moderated by television presenter Mehdi Hasan, Mr Ong said Singapore had placed an over-emphasis on academic qualifications in education. But to successfully deal with disruption, the education system needed to shift and adopt a "dual-education track", in which young people can become craftsmen in a wide range of fields.

In this, Singapore can learn from countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany, Mr Ong added.

"Today, there is a strong emphasis on skills, and there is a logic to that," he said. "Information and knowledge are all on the Internet. You can Google everything in the world, but skills - you get from experience, you can't Google for skills."

Mr Ong cited the SkillsFuture initiative as an example of what the Government was doing to encourage people to learn new skills.

An education system focusing on skills will help people find jobs and improve their lives, he said. In doing so, it will help governments address one of today's key challenges: to rebuild the social compact between political elites and the masses.

Politics is about giving people a better life, Mr Ong said, adding: "And that has to do with employment and education, (helping people find) a sense of self even in a very globalised world." Mr Schneider-Ammann noted that "one of the medicines" for disruption was maintaining a first-rate education system.

Panellists were also asked about political disruptions such as Brexit and the Trump presidency, which have led Britain and the United States respectively to look inward.

Mr Samuelsen said the problem faced by the poor in this age of disruption is not globalisation, but not being part of it. "That is a big problem because that is what's keeping people in poverty," he said.

The symposium is an annual conference attended by business and government leaders, as well as students and young professionals.

Mr Ong arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday for a four-day working visit. He met Mr Schneider-Ammann, who heads Switzerland's Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, and visited various institutions of higher learning and companies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2017, with the headline 'Education system must be aligned with economy: Ong Ye Kung'. Print Edition | Subscribe