“Foundational subjects such as science, mathematics, and languages will retain their core place in pedagogy, but they will need to be complemented judiciously by applied learning” (Crossing Old Boundaries of Learning, The Straits Times Editorial).
Necessitated in part by the threat of job obsolescence – since “changes unleashed by digital, robotic, and genomic technology, renders economic structures obsolete rapidly” (ST, Oct. 14) – the addition of seven subjects to hands-on learning at the GCE “O” and “N” level examinations is encouraging. And even though there is no doubt that educators will tailor their approaches to help students master skills or gain knowledge for the future, this same threat of job obsolescence also means over-specialisation will be a challenge too. In other words, students cannot be pigeon-holed too specifically into pathways without some generalisable abilities or capabilities, if these pathways may not exist in the future.
This challenge stems from two related uncertainties. First, despite technological advancements and the creative destruction of industries, there is no certainty about the sources of new jobs. Subjects such as electronics and computing may be relevant for careers in engineering today, for instance, yet – especially if education in Singapore is perceived as an investment, to mould individuals into productive economic units – the same may not be true in a decade or two. And second, even if there is certainty over these careers, is it possible to equip students with that is necessary to do well? Or would companies, instead of schools, provide more effective applied, hands-on learning at the workplace?
To hedge against uncertainty – as it is with financial investments – diversification is one strategy. In the short-term, students may have their foundations established, yet in the long-term these foundations must be strengthened and perhaps expanded. Oft-cited refrains about lifelong learning aside, the notion of having multiple careers interspersed with stints for training and development will become more ubiquitous. Singaporeans may not be able to influence changes to economic structures, though how we respond will matter. Changes to our education system is a good start, but more should follow.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.