In addition to the pieces I wrote for “The Middle Ground” during the general elections last year, here is a collection of my favourite reports or commentaries I have written since I joined the publication:
Lifelong Learning and the SkillsFuture Movement
TMG Exclusive: Ong Ye Kung on SkillsFuture: Value What You Know – And Add
“We’re blurring the distinction between PET and CET,” he said using the acronyms for Pre-Employment Training (PET), usually supervised by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and education institutions, and Continuing Education and Training (CET), which is seen as the responsibility of people in business and industry. “These abbreviations are becoming obsolete. We should make it seamless.”
“Some people have the perception that CET is about re-skilling to change jobs – like lawyers and bankers learning culinary. It’s a laudable and brave step to take in life and some of this must take place. But we also need to recognise it represents a discontinuity in learning for most people. We should ask why is the lawyer or banker not able to deepen his expertise and find fulfilment in what he or she is doing?”
More Work Needed to Improve SkillsFuture Directory
A directory, listing courses which would be eligible for the SkillsFuture Credit, may feature a wide range of options – over 10,000 skills-based courses, from arts and entertainment to pharmaceutical and biotechnology – but details are scant for some courses, and even if information is provided it is not standardised. As a result, those browsing for courses will most likely have to send queries to the training providers about the duration of a course, the commitment required in terms of contact hours or assignments, as well as the total costs involved, for example.
Should You Go to a Career Centre … Now?
“There is a disconnect and a lack of ownership about one’s own career planning and development. Possibly, undergraduates feel that they will have no trouble securing a job upon graduation, even though they should be planning for a career as early as possible during their four years in the university. Success in careers favours those who plan.”
Working professionals can be afflicted by such lethargy too. “People tend not to think about career planning and guidance until they run into some trouble,” said Mr Gary Goh, Deputy CEO at the Employment and Employability Institute, or e2i. “For instance, there are many who come to e2i only just before their retrenchment, resignation, or career switch, with greater desperation if they run into financial difficulties and hence need an instant solution. You need time to prepare and be ready for career changes, rather than worry about career planning only when troubles arise.”
Ranking the University Rankings
Earlier this week, two sets of university league tables were splashed in MSM. In a country obsessed with academic results, the scepticism of Singaporeans towards university rankings might seem odd at first glance. It could be the oft-cited criticism – especially from undergraduates – that the quality of teaching does not feature in these rankings. It depends on whether the universities place a premium on research or teaching responsibilities of the faculty, some might argue. It could even be the inadequacy of the ranking indicators, detailed by a ST forum writer: how credit for research performance may not be specific, the implications of staff affiliations, as well as the effectiveness of research (Jun. 15).
Recognising that most would be bamboozled by complicated methodologies, the presentation of these rankings is often reductive. “#1: First in Asia” was splashed across its website, when the National University of Singapore (NUS) announced it had topped the latest Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Rankings.
A PISA for Universities?
Perceptions of disproportionate emphasis placed on research in global university rankings have prompted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to launch a PISA-equivalent for universities. PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment, a survey which measures and compares the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, science, and creative problem-solving.
But there is scepticism about whether the organisation can measure the skills and knowledge of undergraduates in the first place, and even if accurate information is gathered, whether parents and their children will find it useful.
Adding Another Wing to NUS – or Winging it?
At the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Centre for Future-ready Graduates – refashioned from the NUS Career Centre in 2014 – helps “students develop self-awareness and leadership skills and facilitate engagement between our students and employers.” From recruitment talks and workshops to an online job and internship portal, the Centre already has a hotchpotch of initiatives for the university’s undergraduates.
So at his State of the University Address, when NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan announced a new Roots and Wings life-skills programme which will focus on “developing self-understanding in students, and help sharpen their communication, networking, and collaboration skills”, one wondered the need for a new programme, which did not sound very different. How different – for instance – is it compared to others offered by the Centre, which is responsible for maximising the “potential and aspirations” of undergraduates? Has there been demand from students, for additional programmes? Or concerns from industry partners, that graduates lacked competencies?
Reflections and Musings
Jubilee Wish: The Singapore I Want to Work In
So stop telling us what we should do, or give us grief for what our generation should not be doing. Advice is often well-intentioned, from people who care. But resist these temptations. Instead, give us time to make sense of the uncertain years ahead, time to accumulate some missteps and moments of despair, and ultimately time to forge our own, diverse pathways.
SGfuture Dialogues: Let Them Not Be Same Old, Same Old
Yet – beyond such ambitious rhetoric – how different will SGfuture be from its predecessor, and will the shortcomings be addressed? Details are scant right now. When asked by TODAY for the timeline and scope of the series, Ms Fu said more time was needed, and that it was “a bit early” to talk about “concrete numbers” for now.
On the contrary, one would think that this initial phase is perhaps the best opportunity for the government to explain – more specifically – how the OSC exercise segues into SGfuture, and even to describe how the OSC might have benefited the civil service or the policymaking process. Otherwise, why bother with these undertakings? In fact, without a coherent strategy for the SGfuture sessions, which will be held until mid-next year, how will the facilitators be briefed, and what end-goals should the participants work towards?
TMG Exclusive: Interview with a Hepatitis C Patient
He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C or HCV while he was an undergraduate. Afflicted by the whirling sensations and loss of balance caused by vertigo, he went to a polyclinic where blood tests showed he had the rare infection. To this day, he doesn’t know how he contracted the disease, which affects just 10,000 people here. It is so rare that just a handful of cases are detected every year. The prevalence rate of HCV – the proportion of people in Singapore who have the liver disease at a specific point in time – is estimated to be between 0.2 and 0.3 per cent.
Survey on G Performance – Murky
While comprehensive at first glance, the survey lacks transparency, with scant details of the methodology and actual questions asked. The Likert scales used for the questions – wherein respondents express the extent they agree with a particular statement – seem inconsistent and lopsided, and reports of the survey responses have been lumped together to produce aggregated observations, which can misrepresent the data.
Perceptions on Internet Freedom in Singapore
An Internet freedom report has given Singapore a “partly free” status, acknowledging that even though digital connectivity has grown, the government “remains wary of the technology’s potential for liberalising political debate and enhancing democratic participation”.
In reaching these conclusions, the findings – which considered the obstacles to access, limits on content, as well as violations of user rights – are premised upon a good summary of socio-political developments between June 2014 and May 2015.
However, beyond observations detailed in this Freedom on the Net report by United States-based organisation Freedom House (which also administers the “Freedom of the Press” report, determining that the level of press freedom in Singapore to be “not free”), perceptions of Internet freedom are important too.