Education is more than a means to an end

The funding of master's programmes that are "purely academic" in nature is to be reviewed, in the light of the push for institutes of higher learning to come on board with SkillsFuture (Funding for master's courses to be reviewed; Oct 29).

At the heart of this issue is whether education should be viewed as a means to an end, or as an end in itself.

While the pragmatic approach taken by SkillsFuture is not unexpected, given the constant need for Singaporeans to possess skills relevant to the global economy, the odds appear to be against the valuation of education in itself.

While not many would disagree with the direction of SkillsFuture, I contend that there is value in viewing education as an end in itself - as a pursuit of knowledge regardless of whether it improves one's employability.

As compared to data analytics and finance, philosophy and the theories of social sciences may not be in vogue, yet, such disciplines have timeless value in helping individuals gain knowledge and acquire the ability to think critically and act responsibly.

Conversely, a one-sided emphasis on education as a means towards vocational outcomes may inevitably produce an instrumental logic among students.

A skills-based vocational education should always be a subset of one's education, where the ability to reflect and think critically forms the cornerstone on which the former is built.

The pursuit of knowledge equips individuals with the tools to participate as effective citizens in society.

An overemphasis on education as a means to a vocational outcome may neglect and even thwart the development of such an ability over time.

I hope that policymakers, in the process of reviewing master's programmes, are mindful of the inherent value of education.

The pursuit of knowledge equips individuals with the tools to participate as effective citizens in society.

An overemphasis on education as a means to a vocational outcome may neglect and even thwart the development of such an ability over time.

Chong Yen Kiat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2017, with the headline 'Education is more than a means to an end'. Print Edition | Subscribe