Singapore teens lack initiative and leadership skills? Local start-up aims to hone their soft skills

Students at a board game tournament organised by education-tech company Face The Future in May 2022. PHOTO: FACE THE FUTURE

SINGAPORE – With youth these days growing up with smartphones and social media, it is not surprising that some of them face difficulties interacting in person and eventually feel isolated and disengaged.

“As teenagers become engrossed in the Internet, gaming and social media after school, they invariably do not have the opportunities to learn and practise their soft skills in the real world,” says Dr Ong Say How, a senior consultant psychiatrist and chief of the department of developmental psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

Soft skills, he says, are social “lubricants” which help one to successfully negotiate and navigate through life. Often not explicitly taught in school, these areas include critical thinking and problem-solving.

Working in teams can be a challenge for some teenagers too. They can be overly assertive during group work and disregard other people’s opinions. There are also those who do not know how to resolve conflicts, leading to angry outbursts.

“I have seen teens reacting in situations where they feel stuck, becoming really angry and turning physically aggressive on their peers,” Dr Ong says.

He notes that from 2015 to 2020, the number of youth aged 13 to 19 seen at IMH for depression increased by 60 per cent.

Former primary and secondary school teacher Faeza Sirajudin advocates honing young people’s soft skills to better prepare them for their future.

From her observation and experience as an educator, she finds that Singapore teens mostly lack initiative and leadership skills.

“If they don’t develop and activate the skills, they are continually reacting and responding, rather than having real influence,” she says.

Parents can help by asking their children to choose and organise family activities. “The more they get used to making decisions, the more confident they will be to take initiative and exercise leadership,” she adds.

Ms Sirajudin is the co-founder of Singapore education-tech start-up Face The Future, which will run a four-day event in December for youth aged 14 to 18.

Through activities and board games designed by her company, the Crackerjack Convention aims to help participants hone the skills needed to navigate complex and unpredictable situations.

They will learn, for instance, that good leadership means listening to opinions, but still having to make tough and unpopular decisions sometimes.

Each board game, designed by education-tech company Face The Future, aims to hone a different soft skill such as communication and critical thinking. PHOTO: FACE THE FUTURE

Meanwhile, in a simulation challenge centred on a zombie apocalypse situation, participants will be quizzed on how best to manage limited resources, food and funds. They have to negotiate and collaborate with one another as well.

DBS Foundation, which supports communities with future-ready skills, will be sponsoring $60,000 for the event to support 60 local and overseas youth from less privileged backgrounds.

“Over the years, we have been reaping the benefits of technological advancements,” Ms Monica Datta, head of Community Impact Chapter at DBS Foundation, says. “But it is increasingly crucial that we support future generations and develop them as well-rounded individuals.”

During the convention, a first in Singapore, participants will also get to share their passion projects with one another as well as invited guests, including Dr Ong and some corporate leaders.

Face The Future organised a similar event in 2019 in Jakarta, as part of the Indonesian Economic Forum.

On Nov 16, it picked up the Start Up Company of the Year honour at the ninth GESS Education Awards in Dubai. The annual international event aims to encourage the raising of educational services and product standards.

(From left) Ms Sunita Venkataraman and Ms Faeza Sirajudin are the co-founders of Singapore education-tech company Face The Future. PHOTO: FACE THE FUTURE

Dr Ong is supportive of platforms such as the Crackerjack Convention to better engage tech-savvy youth, adding that learning can be made more effective through games.

“They allow students to develop skills which they can use to properly understand and process knowledge, rather than just blindly memorising. These skills can also be used and are perhaps more important in life outside the classroom.”

The Crackerjack Convention Singapore 2022

Where: National University of Singapore, Shaw Foundation Alumni House, 11 Kent Ridge Drive
When: Dec 14 to 17
Admission: Individual registration at $595; teams of five participants or more at $485 each; school registration of 15 or more at $375 each. Sign up by Nov 30.

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