Youth feel school doesn't equip them for work

7 in 10 surveyed say tertiary education inadequate; poll is part of dialogue series leading to SG Youth Action Plan

Seven in 10 young people are unsure or do not think the tertiary education they receive in Singapore prepares them sufficiently to join the workforce, according to an online poll.

The finding from a 2018 survey by Youth.SG, a portal supported by the National Youth Council (NYC), was reaffirmed at two dialogues on lifelong learning, also held last year, for people aged between 15 and 35.

One dialogue participant, Ms Nirmal Bhai S. Sundramoorthi, a pharmacy technician, recounted how a gap in her knowledge kept a patient waiting.

The patient had told her his medical allergies after she handed him his prescribed drugs.

In such a situation, her lecturers at a local polytechnic had told her to just consult the doctor for an alternative medicine.

"But at work, I found you first need to know what's available in the pharmacy because the doctors will ask you to suggest an alternative. It took me some time to find the alternative, causing the patient to wait longer than necessary," said the 24-year-old.

The episode, however, drove home to her the importance of continuous learning, she added.

  • 3,000 Almost this number of young people were involved in 30 discussion groups.

    > 5,000 Number of young people who took part in online polls.

  • More young people helping peers with mental health issues

  • Young people are taking mental health in hand by forming ground-up initiatives to raise awareness of the issues faced by those who suffer from mental illness and reach out to their peers in distress.

    These arose from the Youth Conversations dialogues the National Youth Council (NYC) held last year on mental health. It was attended by 50 people.

    Two of them subsequently launched a series of mental wellness workshops this year to help young adults exercise self-care and mindfulness to cope with their hectic lives, said the NYC in a new online report on its Youth Conversations dialogue series.

    More than 30 young people have attended the "Slowing Down" workshops under the initiative called the School of Ability and Recovery (Soar).

    The pair will conduct a fourth workshop on safe space this month and details will be available on Soar's Facebook page.

    In an online poll that accompanied the dialogues, almost all of the 170 youth said more support in schools and workplaces is needed for young people struggling with mental health issues.

    The other initiative is a panel of young people who will give feedback on the Health Promotion Board's ongoing mental wellness programmes.

    Campus PSY, a peer support group launched in 2017, reaches out to youth in tertiary institutions and at workplace who prefer not to seek professional help. It was registered as a non-profit organisation last month.

    So far, 50 youth volunteers in Campus PSY have undergone three months of training by mental health professionals to recognise mental health disorders and the ethics and boundaries of peer-helping. On top of supporting their peers in school, they also spend time with patients at the Institute of Mental Health every week.

    With funding from the Singapore Tote Board, the group will set up an e-mail portal early next year for youth in distress who want to remain anonymous.

    The volunteers will interact with them via e-mail and guide them to where they can seek help.

    Shabana Begum


Of these, almost 70 took part in the two dialogues on lifelong learning.


The account was among the highlights in a new NYC online report on the ongoing dialogue series called Youth Conversations that was launched last April. It covered such issues as success, mental health and environmental sustainability.

In all, almost 3,000 young people were involved in 30 discussion groups and over 5,000 young people in online polls. Almost 70 of them took part in the two dialogues on lifelong learning.

Like Ms Nirmal, most agreed they have to continually acquire new skills and knowledge to keep up with rapid changes in industries.

But they worry they may not have enough time or energy to pick up new skills while working full time.

Responding to their views on education, Associate Professor Mary Anne Heng of the National Institute of Education said there are several important skills students must retain from school.

"It is important for students to develop critical soft skills such as resilience, the ability to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty and failure as such human skills cannot be replicated by technology," Prof Heng told The Straits Times.

She is a faculty member at the institute's Curriculum, Teaching and Learning academic group.

On success, the report said the dialogue series showed that young people view it beyond just attaining good jobs and financial security.

Instead, they strive for non-conventional goals, such as personal development, emotional well-being and a greater purpose in life.

These were based on responses from almost 160 dialogue participants and more than 500 online respondents. Among them was Ms Cindy Chng, 29, a Temasek Polytechnic adjunct lecturer, who credits the dialogues on success for her return to community work.

Last October, she became a co-founder of social enterprise Trifam, which helps people with disabilities find jobs by matching them with homes and businesses that require specific skills that they possess.

"I asked myself if I wanted to do more community work or continue with my career progression. After Youth Conversations, I had clarity of my own values.

"I wanted to be part of another social enterprise because serving the community is the way I define myself," said the 29-year-old, who teaches entrepreneurship at Temasek Polytechnic.

Previously, she was running a social enterprise that organises environmentally-friendly trips to countries in South-east Asia and hires villagers as tour guides and hosts.

The dialogue series will be held yearly, and the findings will be used by the Culture, Community and Youth Ministry, which oversees the NYC, to produce an initiative that will let young people work with the Government to find solutions to the issues they care about.

The SG Youth Action Plan, which will begin with a selected youth panel this year, will help to crystallise a youth vision for Singapore in 2025.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline 'Youth feel school doesn't equip them for work'. Print Edition | Subscribe