Why It Matters

The right skills for a new world

In the last decade, schools at all levels have moved from purely teacher-led lessons to having more discussions and dialogues, in and out of classrooms.

Project work was introduced as a junior college subject; and at primary and secondary schools, group work was incorporated across academic subjects and other areas, including the applied learning programme, where students learn to translate classroom knowledge to real-world issues.

While these efforts add to the complexity of teaching in schools, they have paid off. Students in Singapore have shown that they do not just excel academically, they are also good team players.

Recently, they emerged tops in a global survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that measured 15-year-olds' ability to solve problems in groups. This includes skills such as negotiating with teammates, sticking to assigned roles and managing conflicts.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) Collaborative Problem Solving results, released on Tuesday, is the first assessment of such skills to see how prepared students are to live and work in an increasingly interconnected world where working with others is needed.

And going by the results, young people here are ready to face the real world, where social skills like communication and the ability to "play well" with others are more valuable in the job market.

Singapore had the highest proportion of top performers - more than 20 per cent of teens here achieved the highest level of proficiency in collaborative problem-solving, compared with the OECD average of 8 per cent.

Going forward, the next Pisa exercises will test global competence - how well young people can navigate a world of diverse cultures and beliefs - and creative thinking.

These are also going to be more important for the future, and schools must continue to hone not just students' academic abilities, but soft skills as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2017, with the headline 'The right skills for a new world'. Print Edition | Subscribe