Time needed to redefine success in education: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung with Singapore competitors and management staff from the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education at the 44th international WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirat
Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung with Singapore competitors and management staff from the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education at the 44th international WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, yesterday.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Changing the mindsets of parents and society poses the greatest obstacle in the push to redefine notions of success in education across the globe, said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

But he was also confident that the question will be resolved with time, given that the education system and how one defines success "will be changed drastically" when the next generation grows up and becomes responsible for hiring people in companies and leading ministries.

He was part of a panel discussion at the closing plenary session of the WorldSkills Conference in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was held in conjunction with the 44th edition of the international WorldSkills competition for youth - known to some as the "Olympics of Skills".

The panel also included Mr Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister for Education for the UAE, and Dr Ghaith Fariz, director of the Unesco Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab States.

Mr Ong, who arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday night for a four-day working visit, also visited Singapore's 21 competitors at the biennial WorldSkills contest yesterday.

Singapore has taken part in WorldSkills since 1995, with this year's participants competing in areas such as aircraft maintenance, cooking, and Web design and development.

During the discussion moderated by BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, Mr Ong agreed with Dr Fariz that meaningful engagement is key when it comes to the issue of listening to young people's concerns about coping with change in a disruptive global economy.

But he also pointed out that "the voice of youth in every generation is never uniform".

While there are young people who are single-minded about pursuing their passions, some of them are discouraged by society to chase their dreams if they have an ambition in a vocational skill area that is considered less prestigious, such as being a chef.

There is also a third group of young people who are unsure about what routes they want to take in life.

So the response from governments and societies has to be a multi-pronged approach, said Mr Ong. Those who know what they want to do have to be honoured and encouraged, while the system has to "speak up" for those who are doubtful about pursuing their goals.

And for those who have not yet found a passion, a "systemic response" is needed, he noted.

"Within our system, we have to open up pathways, spaces for them to explore what they don't know yet and, hopefully in time, they discover their passion."

The four-day WorldSkills competition started on Sunday, and results will be announced tomorrow night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Time needed to redefine success in education: Ong Ye Kung'. Print Edition | Subscribe