SINGAPORE - Better teaching of life skills at the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is on the cards, after six months of community engagements by Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman.
The engagements are part of a larger review of applied education led by Dr Maliki, and have found that students need more integration of life skills such as conflict management, resilience and cross-cultural understanding into their curriculum.
The review found that students' needs could be organised into four broad themes, which include more investment in teaching life skills.
The other three are: more flexibility in educational pathways, more adaptable skills to keep pace with changing industry needs, and more holistic support for students with higher needs or from difficult backgrounds.
Dr Maliki's review of ITE and polytechnic education began in January this year, and has so far involved around 1,200 students, alumni, educators, parents and employers in more than 40 engagement sessions.
The last of these sessions was held on Saturday (July 10) at ITE College Central. In his closing remarks there, Dr Maliki said that while the polytechnics and ITE already have a diverse range of courses, new needs are constantly arising.
The objective of the review is to ensure the education system continues to meet the aspirations and needs of students here, he said.
"My personal conviction is to have every student go through ITE or poly feeling that the majority of the experience resonates with them and that the system is for them as an individual," he said.
Much of the discussion in Saturday's session centred on the teaching of life skills in ITE and the polytechnics.
Ms Wu Mei Ling, senior director at Shine Children and Youth Services, who was at the session, said students wanted the teaching of life skills to be improved in terms of both delivery and content.
"Students said they want teaching to be experience-based (and for) teachers who can share their stories," she told The Straits Times.
Shine is a social service that runs projects such as school engagements for those aged five to 21.
Some students at the session spoke about how they wanted to be engaged and learn how to discuss current affairs and national issues.
Ms Nadia Begum Nainish, 19, a third-year mass communications student at Republic Polytechnic, said: "With regard to the recent slew of race-related issues, I think we can better equip our generation with skills to deal with these topics."
She added that a lot of the time, conflict management or cross-cultural sensitivities are not taught practically even though they are covered in class, and dialogues on larger issues are often reserved for student leaders and are not for all students.
A strong relationship between the institutes and the industry also remain a priority, said Temasek Polytechnic (TP) principal and chief executive Peter Lam.
Mr Lam, who participated in four of the engagement sessions, said that while the ITE and polys were coming from a "position of strength" in terms of preparing their students for working life, it is important that they do not rest on their laurels.
He said a priority for TP is to continue to develop a close connection with the industry.
"Our focus is always that our students have good employment outcomes from the diplomas that they are passionate about," he told ST.
"It is our responsibility to make sure that they are exposed to the latest in the industry."
Former students, such as Mr Mohd Nur Hidayat, 24, said that while they have benefited greatly from a close connection between their institutions and industry, more can be done to support students at the internship stage when they are still in school.
"I actually got my first job through my ITE lecturer so I'm very grateful for that, but the session and hearing about other students' experiences opened my eyes to how there can be more support for students going out to internships as we are very young when we first go for attachments," said Mr Hidayat, who is now working as a fitness trainer.
He graduated from ITE with a Nitec in Fitness Training in 2020.
While more concrete policy proposals from the review are still in the works, some changes have already been announced.
In April, Dr Maliki, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that starting next year, students at the ITE will have their route to advanced certification shortened from four years to three.
Other changes already announced will see ITE students have two industry attachment stints instead of one to strengthen their capabilities at the workplace, while those with better aptitude will benefit from a more flexible curriculum and be able to attain their Higher Nitec certification in two years.