S'pore top in Asia in readying youth for future

Republic is ranked fifth globally, behind New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Switzerland

Secondary 3 students of NUS High School of Math and Science trying out a virtual reality (VR) game during a ProjectFUN Workshop.
Secondary 3 students of NUS High School of Math and Science trying out a virtual reality (VR) game during a ProjectFUN Workshop. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's education system came out tops in Asia in an index that looks at how effective countries are in equipping their younger generations with the skills needed in future labour markets.

Worldwide, it ranked fifth out of 35 economies, standing behind New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Switzerland, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The EIU index assesses how well governments prepare young people aged 15 to 24 with skills for their working life.

The reasons for Singapore's ranking included factors such as a curriculum framework that supports education for future skills.

Singapore was also found to have "a comprehensive national strategy" in this area. It also holds the top spot worldwide in policy environment.

New Zealand, which leads the list, did well because of its university-industry collaboration and high quality of teacher education.

Japan was second in Asia and seventh worldwide as it had relatively high teacher salaries and teacher qualifications.

South Korea came in 12th and Hong Kong 14th, while China ranked No. 31.

The EIU report measured education policy approaches, teaching conditions and broader gauges of societal freedom and openness.

It found that challenges arising from globalisation and technological developments make it more important for younger generations to gain skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and global awareness.

But it also noted that more than half of the economies failed to stress or effectively assess these skills in their education systems.

The index suggests that governments need to create supportive policies to address future challenges, said the EIU report.

It also noted that economies with liberal social traditions are most likely to inculcate independent mindsets and help young people think critically about a fast-changing world.

Finland, New Zealand and Britain took the top three spots in this domain.

Effective teachers are also more central to a successful future-skills education system, compared with traditional schooling environments, said the report.

But attracting the most able students to the teaching profession requires raising the professional and societal status of teachers, experts said.

Professor David Hung, associate dean of education research at the National Institute of Education, said that salaries and the substantive quality of teachers as observed by the public are important.

"The culture of Singapore has moved to a place where the profession of teaching is more highly valued by families and parents," he said.

"Two decades ago, this wasn't the case."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore top in Asia in readying youth for future'. Subscribe