Book champions technical education

(From left) Dr Loh with Mr Wayne Lim, an alumnus of Nanyang Polytechnic who features in the book, A Nation Of Skilled Talents, and the book's co-author and graduate student Chadi EL Farran.
(From left) Dr Loh with Mr Wayne Lim, an alumnus of Nanyang Polytechnic who features in the book, A Nation Of Skilled Talents, and the book's co-author and graduate student Chadi EL Farran.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Co-author, a scientist and ex-poly student, calls attention to skills-based learning

As a student, Dr Jonathan Loh loved to collect Young Scientist badges and his best subjects were chemistry and biology.

His O-level results qualified him for junior college but, being sure of his interests, he opted for a biotechnology course at Singapore Polytechnic. And he never looked back.

Dr Loh, 38, now a principal investigator at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), yesterday launched a book to raise awareness of the role of applied and technical education.

The book, A Nation Of Skilled Talents, which he co-wrote with Mr Chadi EL Farran, a 29-year-old graduate student at NUS, traces the development of skills and abilities here over the years.

It also features the stories of 50 graduates, mostly from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, such as footballer Fandi Ahmad and former chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore Fanny Lai.

PERSEVERANCE

People told me that it would be hard to be a toy designer in Singapore as no school could teach me that, but I didn't give up on my dream.

MR WAYNE LIM, who is featured in the book, saying that the skills he learnt in school helped him pursue his interest in designing and making toys

Dr Loh, who studied molecular biology at NUS and did PhD research as an A*Star scholar at the Genome Institute of Singapore, said that he wanted to produce a book to celebrate skills-based education.

"I wanted to tell the story of technical education and how it has contributed to the development and progress of our nation," he said. "The important part was looking for people we think could be role models for technical education."

In July, they came up with a list of people recommended mostly by schools and, in August, received funding from the SG50 grant for Singaporeans to realise ideas to mark the country's 50th birthday.

Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung, who was the guest of honour at the launch, said the book highlights the importance of skills-based education and training. "If you are smart, clever and hardworking, you are a talent, but not a skilled talent," he said. "But to be a skilled talent, you need to discover and work on your area of expertise."

Mr Ong, who oversees higher education and skills training and is part of the recently announced Committee on the Future Economy, said developing skilled talent will continue to be a major part of Singapore's economic strategy.

Mr Wayne Lim, who is featured in the book, said the skills he learnt in school helped him pursue his interest in designing and making toys. The 30-year-old, now a senior graphic designer, graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in industrial design and also has a degree in product design from Lasalle College of the Arts.

Since 2009, he has been making a name for himself by designing teddy bears, a hobby which grew from a love for toys as a child and an interest in handcraft in secondary school.

Mr Lim, who took classes under a local toy artist and visits trade shows overseas to learn more about other styles, has produced more than 200 designs of teddy bears in the last six years.

"People told me that it would be hard to be a toy designer in Singapore as no school could teach me that, but I didn't give up on my dream," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'Book champions technical education'. Print Edition | Subscribe