Singapore is reviewing applied studies at polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to better connect classroom lessons to the working world in a move to prepare young Singaporeans for a changing economy.
The review seeks to improve their job prospects and academic progression, and better match their strengths and interests to a hands-on education, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at the official opening of a new ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio.
It will also beef up the role of the institutions in research, innovation and enterprise, he added.
Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah is chairing the review committee, which will include industry players, education institution leaders and government officials.
The Applied Study in the Polytechnics and ITE Review, or Aspire, is expected to be completed by next year.
PM Lee said the increased focus on applied learning is one of two important shifts Singapore will make in educating the young.
The other is to promote lifelong learning.
The impetus, he said, is a more sophisticated and diversified world economy in which productivity improvement and new products and services will feed growth. Good jobs will require a wide range of higher-order skills and expertise.
But he warned: "Many existing jobs will be completely transformed by technology, and some jobs will disappear entirely."
Mr Lee is, however, optimistic.
He noted that the Government's commitment to develop every student to his full potential as well as the investments in vocational and technical training since 50 years ago have paid off.
He gave credit to the ITE and polytechnics for ensuring that students gain relevant skills.
Nine in 10 of them get a job in six months; their starting pay is rising and joblessness among university graduates is one of the world's lowest.
All in, Singapore has avoided the pitfalls of youth unemployment in Europe and China, he said.
But even as he recognised students' strong desire to upgrade themselves, he struck a note of caution. Chasing after paper qualifications could lead to a degree that is irrelevant to the industry and does not raise job prospects, and may be worth less than the cost of attaining it, he said.
Mr Lee held up the Swiss, Germans and Danes, whose emphasis on applied education, like in Singapore, have borne fruit.
There, most students who finish compulsory schooling go on to technical and vocational education. Companies invest in it by paying for apprentices' salaries, training materials and instructors.
Going forth, Singapore's students will need to acquire "deep" skills and meld theory with practice. Mr Lee also called on students to "consider seriously" working for a while after graduation, instead of going for a diploma or degree immediately.
"Then take up a course which is relevant to your work... earn a more advanced qualification that will help to advance your interests. That is a practical or even ideal model for many students," he said.
Ms Indranee said her committee will look into infusing the curriculum with learning that can be applied in the workplace.
Similarly, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on his Facebook page: "When students develop a deep interest, when we capture their imagination, they can go on to do wonderful things."