While universities around the world come under pressure to evolve to prepare students for future jobs, they must continue to fire up curiosity in young people and inspire them to keep learning.
At a closed-door roundtable dialogue at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) yesterday, some 30 thought leaders - including five Nobel laureates - pondered the challenges and opportunities for education in the 21st century.
The dialogue was part of the inaugural Nobel Prize Series, produced by Nobel Media and the Nobel Museum in partnership with NTU. The series, the first of its kind, was set up to bring together experts to debate issues of the future.
"I think it is very important for people to be curious and to follow their passion," said Nobel laureate Stefan Hell, adding that these two qualities are key ingredients for discoveries.
Professor Hell won the Nobel Prize in chemistry last year for using fluorescence, a phenomenon in which certain substances become luminous after having been exposed to light, to make microscopes more powerful so they enable deeper insight into cells.
Other Nobel laureates present were Wole Soyinka, James Mirrlees, Harold Kroto and Ada Yonath.
The speakers agreed that beyond grades, institutions should focus on the human aspect and help students cultivate a passion for learning.
Students also need to acquire soft skills, which are increasingly important in today's workplaces.
Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung noted that the Government's SkillsFuture drive is one way Singapore's education system is moving forward. The initiative is meant to get Singaporeans to focus not just on the right paper qualifications, but also on deep skills.
Speaking at the conference of the series, President Tony Tan Keng Yam reiterated that Singapore's education system must equip students with the competencies to thrive in the workforce of the future. "Technology will play an even more prominent role in our lives and create new ways of working and living," he said.
Dr Tan noted that future challenges would become more complex, encompassing social and ethical issues as technology enables mankind to do more.
•The Straits Times is the official media partner of the Nobel Prize Series Singapore 2015.