Many Paths to Success


 

Education is a topic close to every parent’s heart. We want the best for our children and we want to ensure good jobs for them when they leave school and enter the working world. At the same time, many parents are concerned about competition, exam stress and whether children can still get to enjoy their childhood and youth.

As a government, this is our preoccupation too. In the last few years, we have made major shifts in the direction of our education system to address these issues.

The old paradigm is heavily focused on grades. This has led to the fear that if children do not get into particular schools, then they will not have a bright future. There is also a concern that if a child is not in the Express stream, then he or she will not succeed in life. These fears are based on the assumption that there is only one path to success.

However, the reality is that there are many paths.

Different children have different personalities, talents and abilities. They also have different likes and interests. Some are more academically inclined; others are much better with their hands or are more creative and artistic.

Many parents still aspire for their children to become doctors, lawyers and accountants – these being the professions by which success is most often benchmarked. There is nothing wrong with this.

However, the future economy will be much more diverse than today’s. We are already seeing demand for many new types of jobs and professional skills which pay well. Growth areas of the future include cyber security, data analytics, artificial intelligence, financial forensics, intellectual property management and asset valuation to name just a few.

We are re-shaping our education system to cater for the varied job landscape ahead. Our system offers choice to cater for the diversity in interest and abilities. Hence, in the school system the different streams – Express, Normal Academic and Normal Technical – cater to students with different strengths and learning pace.

In addition to the usual ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, we have the Integrated Programme (IP) and the International Baccalaureate (IB). We have specialist schools like Northlight, Spectra, and Crest for those who prefer practical hands on learning, SOTA for those who love the arts and the Sports School for those who excel in sport.

At the same time, there is also a growing demand for artisanal skills. Following a skills path that one is passionate about instead of an academic path can also lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career.

In April this year, Business Times carried an article on a young Singaporean, John Chung, who won the world championships in the World Shoe Shining Competition! Now, most parents would not aspire for their child to be a shoe-shiner. But John is not just any shoe shiner. He owns a shoe shine bar called Mason & Smith at Telok Ayer Street, and charges for their shoe shines start at $18. A military grade mirror shine with 50 layers of wax costs $60. Repairs can come up to $450. John is not just a shoe shiner. He is someone who has taken a humble skill and made it into a successful business.

On 24 June, the South China Morning Post reported on Sean Lee, who decided to pull out of university and pursue a career in photography instead. The photos he took of his family and of people in Cambodia won the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu photography award in 2011, leading him to a steady stream of work and subsequently, a successful photography business of his own.

An ageing population, changing demographic profiles, social needs and the gig economy will also combine to generate unusual new jobs. I was discussing the future of work with fellow SINDA EXCO member, Mr K.V. Rao of the Tata group, who told me about a job with the fascinating name of “Walker/Talker” which made the list of “21 Jobs of the Future” by Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work.

What is that you might ask? Well, as the name implies, a walker/talker is someone who provides companionship, conversation and a listening ear to those in need of it e.g. lonely elderly.

In an increasingly fast-paced world driven by technology, the deficit we will experience is human attention.

The walker/talker fills that gap. The skills and qualifications needed are: any type of work background and experience, ability to use phone-based apps, ability to travel to the customer’s home, excellent time management and follow-through skills.

We are re-shaping our education system to cater for the varied job landscape ahead. Our system offers choice to cater for the diversity in interest and abilities. Hence, in the school system the different streams – Express, Normal Academic and Normal Technical – cater to students with different strengths and learning pace.

In addition to the usual ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, we have the Integrated Programme(IP) and the International Baccalaureate (IB). We have specialist schools like Northlight, Spectra, and Crest for those who prefer practical hands on learning, SOTA for those who love the arts and the Sports School for those who excel in sport.

We have the junior college route for those who are more academically inclined; and the polyclinic and ITE routes for those who prefer an applied pathway. Within the polys and ITEs there are a wide range of courses to choose from – from nursing, mechatronics, sports management to aviation, maritime and design.

Poly and ITE graduates have many options upon completion of their courses: they can pursue further studies then work, or start work immediately and, optionally, pursue further studies later. They can also choose to take part in the Earn and Learn programme – at the end of which they will get an Advanced Diploma (for poly graduates) and a diploma (for ITE graduates).

It used to be a case where education stopped when you left school. However, now it is a continuum. Learning continues through working life. To help Singaporeans continue learning through life and keep up with changes in various sectors, we have the SkillsFuture programmes, the Adapt & Grow schemes and the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP).

With such a diverse and varied landscape, the key to success is in choosing the path that best suits the individual, and not having everyone follow the same path. This is where career counselling, internships and career trials come in. Career counselling is available in schools and from Workforce Singapore.

We are making the system much more flexible so people can progress at different stages of life. We must move away from thinking that there is only one path to success. There are many paths for young people and adults to reach their goals. Choose the one that is right for you.

 

This is an excerpt from a monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance and Education and President, SINDA.