More secondary school examination success stories ought to be coming from Singapore's prison school. After all, inmates have a stronger reason for passing well and aiming for higher skills. To start a new life after emerging from behind bars, they will need a set of marketable skills to help overcome any prejudice they might encounter at prospective workplaces.
What's encouraging is that more inmates of the Tanah Merah Prison School - the only such school in Singapore where inmates can study for the N, O and A levels - are taking and passing these benchmark exams. Last year, 239 inmates took these exams, up from 193 in 2011. Their results are noteworthy: Three- quarters of the inmates passed the N levels last year compared with two-thirds in 2013.
The discouraging part, however, is that the number of student inmates is a sliver of a prison population in excess of 9,000. Others opt for acquiring skills in areas such as food preparation, logistics and manufacturing. Whatever their choice, it's important for inmates to pick up the habit of learning constantly as they will re-enter a world that would not have stood still. Jobs would have disappeared or been transformed. Hence the need to take the SkillsFuture message to prisoners as well, so they can better appreciate the need to acquire the basic tools to access and apply knowledge continuously in their working life.
Since the shift from a penal philosophy towards rehabilitation, recidivism rates have dropped - for example, from over 44 per cent in 1998 to under 26 per cent last year. A stronger focus on skill training can help ensure more of tomorrow's freed inmates can avoid winding up as misfits in a changing job market.
Correction note: An earlier version of this commentary mentioned that the Tanah Merah Prison School was the only place where inmates can study for their N, O and A Levels. But inmates can also apply to study at Institution A2 and Changi Women’s Prison. The earlier article also mentioned instruction for carpentry, farming, tailoring, shoe repair, printing and laundering, but these skills have all been phased out. We are sorry for the errors.