Students should not overspecialise

The addition of seven subjects to boost hands-on learning is encouraging, given the threat of the obsolescence of our economic structures ("Seven new applied subjects to pique students' interests"; Oct 7).

Even though there is no doubt that educators will tailor their approaches to help students master skills or gain knowledge for the future, this threat of job obsolescence means overspecialisation will be a challenge too.

In other words, students cannot be pigeonholed too specifically into pathways without some generalisable abilities or capabilities. This challenge stems from two related uncertainties.

First, there is no certainty about the sources of new jobs. Subjects such as electronics and computing may be relevant for careers in engineering today, for instance, yet the same may not be true in a decade or two.

Second, even if there is certainty over these careers, is it possible to equip students with what is necessary to do well? Perhaps companies, instead of schools, would provide more effective applied, hands-on learning at the workplace.

To hedge against uncertainty - as it is with financial investments - diversification is one strategy.

In the short term, students may have their foundations established, but in the long term, these foundations must be strengthened and perhaps expanded.

Oft-cited refrains about lifelong learning aside, the notion of having multiple careers interspersed with stints for training and development will become more ubiquitous.

Singaporeans may not be able to influence changes to economic structures, but how we respond will matter.

Changes to our education system are a good start, but more should follow.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Students should not overspecialise'. Print Edition | Subscribe