I was reading a Monocle article about the Swedish Education minister. His words struck a chord on me as he said that the role of a nation was not to save jobs but rather to save its workers. Industries will inevitably come and go but most importantly, its citizens have to be nimble, skillful and fluid enough to glide from one industry to the next.
It was an interesting take especially in the era of driverless cars that will potentially wipe out millions in logistics. Something like the movie Passengers. No more taxi drivers, truckers or pilots for that matter. An era of driverless planes, boats guiding the seas automatically around the world or trucks that do not take a restroom break. People in Singapore do not even realise that their North-East line is already fully automated with a train driver there only to serve as a precautionary measure.
Too Old to learn?
When I look in a Singaporean perspective, I realised that we are not malleable enough to shift between industries. The government is trying to alleviate that with Jobs Credit Scheme for retraining of workers. But is it too late to teach people new skills. It is like asking a differentiated photoreceptor eye cell to convert itself into an auditory ear cell. We may have the DNA to create everything, but our genes have been regulated and switched off.
Thus, I realised that such a skill has to be imbued at a young age like an undifferentiated Stem Cell. Singapore’s education system needs a revamp. Specifically at Primary school level. My time teaching in a Secondary school has made me come to the opinion that students are already too ‘old’. We can teach them things while they are in lower Secondary but they are too focused and targeted in upper Secondary especially with the looming GCE ‘O’ levels.
Why only English, Mother Tongue, Math & Science?
Looking at shows like Masterchef Junior and even Baby Boss, children have an enormous unquantifiable capacity for learning. And yet, Primary schools in Singapore and fellow Singaporeans for that matter are too focused on only English, Mother Tongue, Math, and Science. Frankly, our children have the ability to learn three languages or even more. Why stop them there. The society and the economy have to move away from the perception that only Math and Science is King. Not everyone is supposed to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Banker. You can be a Poet, a Pianist, a Sculptor or a Graphic Designer. Most of these sectors are dominated by foreign talent from models to Public Relations and even CEOs.
Other Subjects to be Incorporated
The German education system is unique as they have lessons in their curriculum system called Life Skills. Modules each term where students learn to ride a bike, swim, ice-skate, roller-blade, charity drive, camping and outdoor survival. Physical Education is not about running 1.6km but rather about learning sports and diet nutrition. In India, its students learn coding from the age of 8, practices the classical dances and has modules called entrepreneurship.
We need to incorporate Design and Technology, Art, Music, Computing, Engineering, Food & Nutrition, Entrepreneurship, Life Skills, a third language like Spanish or French and Social Work modules from Primary School onwards.
Scrapping of PSLE
Something’s gotta go to incorporate all these lessons. This means that we have to forgo the PSLE. Students begin preparing for the PSLE from Primary 4 onwards. Some schools even call students back during June and November school holidays to start practising on worksheets. We are creating zombies of knowledge that do not know how to function as a normal adult, to feel for their fellow man and experience the colourful life.
Ultimately, the change has to come not only from the government but also from its people. Only then shall we have a workforce that is able to tide over any waves of future uncertainties.