S'pore exploring how to curate best modules across institutions for adult learners: Chan Chun Sing

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said there is a need for a new "work-learn balance". PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - In Finland, all 38 of its higher education institutions have joined forces to provide more flexible lifelong learning opportunities on one platform.

Singapore, which has a similar population size as Finland but has smaller land area, has the potential to develop such a platform in its push to meet the needs of lifelong learners, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (June 17).

The Republic has already invested much in the first 15 years of school life - but needs to look at things from a new perspective by also focusing on the next 50 years of learning, he said.

He added: "We need to break down this artificial divide between study and work. In fact, we need a new 'work-learn balance'."

Mr Chan said that there has been discussion on how to curate the best or most relevant modules across education institutions onto a platform for adult learners.

National University of Singapore president Tan Eng Chye said the six autonomous universities here have different expertise and strengths which can be leveraged to curate very targeted programmes for continuing education and training (CET) learners.

Singapore Management University president Lily Kong noted collaborations between the universities in research, postdoctorate and undergraduate programmes, adding: "But the CET space is the one space I think we haven't actually put our minds together and that seems to offer a real opportunity."

The Finnish initiative, titled Digivisio 2030, will use big data and artificial intelligence to come up with personalised guidance for students, taking into account their backgrounds, previous education history, work experience and the job market situation, said Professor Ilkka Niemela, president of Aalto University in Finland.

The platform will then "flexibly combine offerings from different universities to really try to fit the individual needs of the students", he said.

These remarks came at the closing of a meeting of the 12th International Academic Advisory Panel at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel from Wednesday to Friday.

The panel, appointed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), meets about every three years. The current panel comprises a diverse group of 15 academic and industry leaders from around the world such as Japan, China, Israel, Australia and the United States, among others.

It is chaired by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In his opening remarks at the meeting on Thursday, he said that there is a need to prepare the young and equip them differently for the challenges and opportunities of the new phase that the world is in, that tests resilience and resolve.

He questioned the balance between input-driven learning - knowledge is imbibed from different fields - and problem-driven learning - where learning is organised around the challenges faced, such as the challenges of climate change, of ageing societies, or the challenges of keeping the peace.

"These are not mutually exclusive options. We may need a range of models. But we do need to decide on the basic shifts in balance between these options for a new future, within each university and across the system," he said.

In a statement, MOE said the panel discussions revolved around three key priorities for universities in a rapidly changing world - developing agile and resilient graduates committed to the collective good; lifelong learning; and enhancing university teams and ecosystems.

The panel suggested infusing more experiential learning into the curriculum, greater flexibility in learning pathways and modalities, as well as developing stronger university teams that are forward-looking and agile, among others.

MOE said that the panel noted tensions between breadth and depth of learning, given the time available to students and the range of learner needs.

Panellists then suggested striking a balance between the two by strengthening experiential and team-based learning that brings together individuals with different domains of expertise to work together in multidisciplinary teams.

SMU president Lily Kong noted collaborations among Singapore's six autonomous universities. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Mr Chan noted that Singapore universities already have some form of this in their capstone projects.

He said: "The way they structure the problem, the way they structure the challenges, requires them to bring together people from different disciplines."

The panel also encouraged intermediaries to work with small- and medium-size enterprises to aggregate their skills demands, and that multiple education institutions and companies should work together to better meet business needs.

MOE said the panel also recommended that universities create more porosity in career tracks for faculty, or set up joint appointments to bring in industry expertise.

The panellists also suggested that local universities work with international partners to develop a more holistic set of metrics.

Mr Chan said that Singapore has already been looking into the different dimensions needed to evaluate its own success beyond the traditional metrics of research and teaching, but also lifelong learning and societal impact.

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