SINGAPORE -The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated many large-scale societal, economic and technological trends, and this will have lasting effects on how people live, work and interact with each other, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said.
To better prepare students for this fast-changing environment, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will adopt four main strategies, he said on Thursday (Dec 3).
It will step up efforts to maximise opportunities for disadvantaged students, build multiple pathways for students to hone their strengths, help them develop attitudes and skills beyond book knowledge, and focus more on interdisciplinary learning.
"There are major trends that are already under way which will continue to accelerate, things like online shopping, digital entertainment, virtual communications and even virtual presence... And these trends will surely continue after Covid-19,'' said Mr Wong.
"There will be unequal recovery across industries and across countries, post-pandemic, and there will surely be lasting effects on how we live, work and interact with each other for the foreseeable future."
Mr Wong was speaking on the future of education at the first session of a webinar series by the National University of Singapore (NUS) to celebrate its 115th anniversary.
The NUS115 Distinguished Speaker Series, with the theme "Shaping the Future", will run until the middle or third quarter of next year, depending on the Covid-19 situation.
Mr Wong said the MOE's first strategy is to double down on ongoing efforts to maximise opportunities for disadvantaged students. The Government will be increasing its investments in research and development in this area to guide these efforts.
"We want to invest more to even out the differences early in life, and give children full access to the appropriate health, learning and developmental support," he said.
The second strategy is to ensure that institutions have, and continue to build on, multiple pathways for students to hone their strengths.
"We have long recognised that every child is unique, and we need different approaches to help them learn and grow," Mr Wong said.
He noted that over the years, there has been a wide range of options for students.
For example, schools like the NUS High School of Math and Science cater to those with specialised interests. For those who thrive in a more practical, hands-on learning environment, there are schools like Crest and Spectra Secondary.
But Singapore "should also be careful about taking this customised approach too far", he said.
For example, streaming, which was a customised approach, led to stigmatisation and labelling, and a self-limiting mindset among students from what they perceived to be a "lower" stream, he said.
This is why the MOE decided to remove streaming by 2024 and replace it with subject-based banding, where students can take subjects at a higher or lower level based on their strengths.
This multiple pathway approach must also extend beyond schools to tertiary education, Mr Wong said.
He noted that there is now a range of varied and high-quality institutions here - comprehensive universities like NUS and Nanyang Technological University, more focused ones like the Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Technology and Design, and applied universities like the Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Social Sciences.
There are also specialised institutions such as the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, as well as strong skill and vocational pathways anchored by the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education.
"This diversity is a major strength, which we must continue to uphold," he said.
Third, students will need to develop attitudes and skills beyond book knowledge, Mr Wong said.
"The way forward for us is to continue to emphasise our competitive advantage and our human strengths - the ability to build relationships with one another, to collaborate and work in teams, to be able to think creatively... to brainstorm and challenge one another and then develop better solutions together."
Pupils will learn to do this from primary school, he said, noting that the ministry has freed up time and space for them by removing assessments and examinations in certain years.
"And with that time, we are focusing on developing what our educators call 21st century competencies - core values like respect and resilience, social emotional competencies like responsible decision making, and skill sets like critical and inventive thinking."
The fourth strategy is to push for more interdisciplinary learning to support career mobility and "prepare Singaporeans for a more dynamic and uncertain future".
But he cautioned that it is important to "get the balance right".
"We don't want to swing from one extreme to the other. Subject specialisation is still necessary and will still be important.
"But at the same time, we must think of individual disciplines as the different branches on the tree of knowledge - the branches are constantly growing and producing new twigs. But remember, we are ultimately part of the same tree.
"So we must nurture the ability to see the broader connection of things and to work seamlessly across different disciplines, because often it is in the borders or the gaps between disciplines where we find opportunities for new discoveries, and we can advance the frontiers of knowledge."