This year's Budget is about changing the way things are done here so as to help Singapore stay ahead of the curve in the disruptive economy, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.
He noted that the Budget debate - which ended last Thursday after eight days of parliamentary sittings - took place in the wake of economic uncertainty and a report from the Committee on the Future Economy that has sparked debate over whether Singaporeans have the relevant skills to take on future jobs.
He added that the Government's financial plans for the year do not involve major fiscal adjustments nor huge resource adjustments, as these have been carried out previously.
"Instead, this economic exercise is about us doing things differently from before," said Mr Ong, who gave out awards to some 330 students in the Canberra ward together with fellow Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak yesterday.
The students received Education Merit Awards for their good academic performance. In addition, 185 students were given the Canberra Education Award for their academic performance and good conduct.
Citing the education system as an example, Mr Ong said that it may appear unchanged on the outside, like a computer.
"But inside, the operating system is changing, the algorithm is changing. From the Education Ministry's perspective, that is an overwhelming adjustment," said Mr Ong.
Unlike the case in the earlier days, big changes in the system cannot be brought about by pumping money into infrastructure projects, such as by building a new polytechnic or university, he added. Instead, he said, the changes that he and Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced last week can prepare students for the new economy.
These include measures targeted at reducing the over-emphasis on academic achievement and grades, and which encourage students to pursue their passions and talents.
For example, aptitude-based admissions in polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education have been expanded, with both being able to admit up to 15 per cent of their intakes through such schemes from the next academic year.
From next year, a pilot scheme that allows lower secondary students from the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams to take subjects at a higher academic level will also be extended to all schools.
Mr Ong said plans to bring SIM University under the ambit of the Ministry of Education are on track. He hopes to table a Bill in the middle of this year to restructure it into Singapore's sixth autonomous university. The university will support lifelong learning and target students and adult learners.
"Altogether, I think we are taking meaningful steps towards changing the way education should work for our children so that they grow up fully prepared for the changes (in the economy)," he said.
Correction note: In our earlier story, we said the Budget debate ended last Friday. It should be last Thursday (March 9). We are sorry for the error.