As the Covid-19 outbreak intensifies and accelerates large-scale socio-economic and technology trends, there will be lasting effects on how people live, work and interact with one another. This applies to education too. Across the world, students have been shut out of classrooms. Where schools have stayed open, tests have been interrupted and lessons moved online. Rapid shifts in the employment landscape, made starker by the pandemic, have also called into question what sort of future schools are preparing students for. This has made more urgent the need to ensure that the education system here equips Singaporeans with the ability to learn, work and thrive in a disrupted and significantly changed world.
The most pressing task is to ensure that education continues to enable children from disadvantaged homes to level up to their peers. For instance, schools with a higher proportion of such students could receive more state support to organise after-school programmes - a needs-based resourcing approach which the Education Minister alluded to in his speech last week. Students must also be allowed to excel across multiple pathways, with each child - and school - thriving in his - and its - area of interest or specialisation. A careful balance will have to be struck between generalist courses, deep skills, and vocational training, so that students meet the needs of industry and are prepared for the working world.
The third task is to develop attitudes and skills which cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence. Home-based learning during the circuit breaker has shown that students are capable of being more self-directed in their learning and can adapt to a more unstructured environment. This presents new opportunities for blended learning and "flipped" classrooms. This increases student engagement by having them complete readings on their own at home, so that they can concentrate on live problem-solving during lesson time in school. Institutes of higher learning should provide more opportunities for students to collaborate with industry on innovative real-life applications and entrepreneurship projects.
The final piece of the puzzle is inter-disciplinary learning. This will support career mobility and cognitive agility - qualities that are important in a world where problems and their solutions are increasingly cross-cutting in nature. Universities here have kick-started this process by reviewing their curriculum, so as to give students wider exposure across different subjects. Soon, all students may need to master foundational competencies in areas such as data and digital literacy. For those who have graduated, more investments are also being made in lifelong education and training. The shape of the future may not be entirely clear, but the goal is to make sure that everyone is adequately prepared for it.