Ong Ye Kung: "If I were 18 again.."

Mr Ong Ye Kung speaking at the launch of the book, A Nation of Skilled Talents, which was held at The Future of Us Exhibition at Gardens by the Bay, on Dec 30, 2015.
Mr Ong Ye Kung speaking at the launch of the book, A Nation of Skilled Talents, which was held at The Future of Us Exhibition at Gardens by the Bay, on Dec 30, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Ong Ye Kung studied in Maris Stella High and Raffles Junior College before heading to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on a Public Service Commission scholarship. He is married with two teenage children. Here he talks about the further education choices he made when he was 18.

Q Why LSE and why economics?

A I very much wanted an overseas education. I liked maths, and also enjoyed economics, particularly macro economics because it explains why the world is as such. At LSE there was a course in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics, so that looked like an ideal combination. The skills I picked up are actually rather relevant to big data analysis now.

Q If you were 16 or 18 now, what would you choose - junior college or polytechnic? Would you go to university straight after that or work first? Which degree would you pursue?

A It is hard to say. It will depend on my interest. I may well prefer something more hands on, and may pick the polytechnic route which many top students do today. If I can, I would still want to attend university - to get the "currency" to have access to good jobs. I will do something interdisciplinary, maybe IT and business, or engineering and business. If I go to a polytechnic, I may choose to work first before getting a degree. I will get to learn about workplace and industry, and will be more mature and clearer on my interest by the time I embark on a university education.

Q What if your daughters decide to take the polytechnic route? Or decide not to further their education?

A It is really up to them. I just want them to be happy and be who they would like to be. If that means going to an applied institution to learn something hands on, good for them.

If they drop out of school, I'd be upset like all parents if I think they have not tried their best, didn't muster up the discipline to take school seriously. But if they drop out because they cannot cope with the academic demands or because they have another burning passion, then I will support them on the road less travelled.

The dreams of parents can be a heavy burden for children. My father didn't want me to study too much. He believed it was better for me to learn by working. Luckily, I didn't have to counter that. My mother, the teacher, countered him. They sorted it out among themselves and I went to university.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline ''If I were 18 again...''. Print Edition | Subscribe