Education systems need to evolve to recognise the growing influence of social media: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung also noted that increasingly, people agree that social media is "profoundly altering public discourse, and the functioning of the democratic system".
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung also noted that increasingly, people agree that social media is "profoundly altering public discourse, and the functioning of the democratic system".ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Social media is changing the way people receive and consume information, and education has a part to play in addressing this challenge, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Jan 16).

Although society has yet to find a solution to the ills of social media , education systems have to recognise its growing influence and "equip our young with the values, mindsets and skills to live in this digital world", he added.

Mr Ong also noted that increasingly, people agree that social media is "profoundly altering public discourse, and the functioning of the democratic system".

Beyond social media, education systems are also confronted by two other challenges, said the minister.

These are changing education to one that is lifelong and experiential, and changing society's perception that university degrees are the only avenue to success.

Mr Ong was speaking on the final day of a two-day conference on political and societal changes in the Middle East, and whether the East Asian experience is relevant to the region.

Organised by the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, the conference at Orchard Hotel was attended by 200 people, including educational leaders and academics from the Middle East and Asia.

In his speech, Mr Ong, who was among four speakers, cited how social media had changed the way people give feedback or criticism.

Traditionally, one needs to explain the situation, describe why a particular action led to a negative outcome, and share areas for improvement. "Today I'm not sure these skills are observed as most people just click thumbs up or down, and key in some comments, almost unthinkingly.

"So (social media) really changes the way we interact and give affirmation to each other," he said.

It has also altered the trust relationships between the authorities, professionals and the people they serve, Mr Ong added, noting that it can affect the socio-emotional well-being of Singapore's young.

 
 
 
 

But there is a way forward, said associate chair of research Alton Chua, of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University.

The young need to be equipped not only with hard and soft skills to navigate a technologically-connected world, but also imbued with "values such as respect, honesty and love", he told The Straits Times.

Associate Professor Chua also noted a convergence between social media and lifelong learning.

"The need to survive and even thrive in a capricious job market means we have to continually pick up new skills, and social media is the conduit to do so," he said, citing the case of learning to do a task through a video tutorial.

Similarly, Minister Ong stressed that academic results is no longer the only route to success. Employers today need talents who possess diverse skills that, when combined together, can deliver results.

"A degree will therefore not be the only proxy to skills. I suspect that over time, real experiences, internships, mentorships and micro-credentials may become closer proxies," he added.

Qatar University president Hassan Rashid Al-Derham said at a dialogue that while there is no single blueprint for success, there are lessons to share. But these have to be adapted to the local and cultural context.

On what the Middle East could learn from Singapore, he pointed to the need for effective and target-based education, which, he said, has helped unify different ethnicities in multi-ethnic Singapore.

"In order for us in the Middle East to overcome our societal divisions because of ethnic, sectarian and class differences, we need to reform and unify education systems through the curriculum to incorporate values that contribute to building the unity in the society," added Dr Al-Derham.

Elaborating, the deputy director-general of Singapore's Education Ministry, Ms Liew Wei Li, said a lesson for any education system - Singapore and Middle East included - is how to tie it to economic development and what the industry needs.

The ministry revises the curriculum, assessment system and teaching pedagogy every six years, she added.

"(It's important that) you're not educating students based on purist disciplines, but on what the industries need... It's not what you know that's important, but what you do with what you know."