Children must be ready for jobs 'that do not yet exist'

The ABCs every child needs to learn in school today are vastly different from those of just a generation ago.

At the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, enormous disruptions have begun to occur, and children starting primary school today will be working in jobs that do not yet exist, said Minister-in- charge of Singapore's Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

Laying out a vision of the transformation of education at the opening ceremony of the 6th Singapore International Science Challenge (SISC), Dr Balakrishnan said: "A is for a sense of the aesthetics, because technology has to be designed to be user-centric and people-centric."

B is for an ability to build, he told the 320 students and educators present, because humans increasingly need to build both hardware and software to solve a problem, address a need or stretch the application of technology.

Lastly, C stands for a mastery of communication, to bridge the gap between user and technologist and experts of diverse fields so that they can work together to deliver impactful solutions.

These are skills required for the dynamic workplace of the future, said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The fourth industrial revolution will be an era driven by technology and smart systems, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and material science, he noted.

Thus it is necessary for educational institutions to prepare students for jobs that have yet to exist. "You honestly cannot predict what jobs you will do, five to 10 years from now. I don't think anyone of you will be doing one single job for the rest of your life."

Singapore remains well positioned as its education system provides a strong foundation to get students ready for a technology-rich world, but "we need to go beyond just the formal school curriculum", he said, and lifelong education is crucial with the rapid pace of technological change.

In line with that, he lauded the more than 126,000 Singaporeans who have used the SkillsFuture credit as of  Dec 31, 2016.

In a lighthearted moment, Dr Balakrishnan challenged students taking the A levels to write an AI program that could take the exams for them because the way exams are conducted today is "archaic and belongs to the previous industrial revolution".

He said: "We should be giving marks to people who can find a better way to address challenges of the future."

The biennial SISC is on till Saturday, and about 100 students and educators from 24 institutions worldwide will gather at the National Junior College to discuss the latest developments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as participate in problem-solving challenges.

Correction note: This story has been edited to reflect the correct number of Singaporeans who have used the SkillsFuture credit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Children must be ready for jobs 'that do not yet exist''. Print Edition | Subscribe