SINGAPORE - The stress Singapore students face is caused largely by the belief that there is a narrow gateway and one path to success.
And despite moves to reduce stress and create a more supportive environment, the thinking persists because changing mindsets is not easy and takes time, said Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah on Wednesday (July 11) .
She was responding to concerns expressed by MPs on students' stress and an over-emphasis on grades during a wide-ranging discussion in Parliament on education for the future. The MPs include Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Mr Daryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun.
To allay their worries, she set out how Singapore's education system has evolved in response to challenges over the years, moving from the focus on ensuring mass education for a young population in the initial post-independence years to introducing greater choice and flexibility in schools and programmes in the 2000s.
Today, the focus is on developing each individual and creating multiple pathways to success but always with the student at the core of the education philosophy, she said.
Other factors the Education Ministry considers in its approach include character development, as well as social and emotional skills that students need to navigate the world.
"We now put a lot more emphasis on developing the whole child - not just their academic achievements," she said.
Book knowledge alone is not enough. The churn and change caused by technology and other disruptive factors means that learning has to continue well into adult life, she said.
"The ability to learn, un-learn and re-learn will be key," she stressed.
This is because the future economy will be much more diverse, and an estimated 85 per cent of jobs in 2030 have not even been invented yet, according to a report by Dell Technologies.
A paper by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development this year also noted that future-ready students will need practical skills, like the ability to use new technology - on top of broad knowledge.
"For that, you cannot have a system that is one-size-fits-all," she said, adding that there is no longer a single measure of success either, and learning will be lifelong.
Recognising this, different types of schools - like the Singapore Sports School - and programmes have been introduced to cater to the strengths of each individual.
There are also more pathways that students can take, like the ITE Work-Learn Technical Diploma, which allows students to undergo apprenticeships while studying at the same time, she said.
There are multiple ways to reach an ultimate goal as opposed to only one adacemic route from secondary school, to junior college and university, she noted.
Ms Indranee urged parents and students to explore what is available and choose what works best for them.
She also assured the House that her ministry is committed to improving the lot of students from lower-income homes.
"We too are concerned about the widening income gap even as the middle class are uplifted and do better over time," she said.
The solution, she added, is to help those at the lower end and close the gap without "chopping the top" and holding back individuals who do well.
"Our system has enabled people to rise from disadvantaged circumstances and to do well," she said. "With the creation of the multiple pathways, it means that there are many opportunities with potential for good outcomes - not necessarily the same outcomes - but good outcomes for all."