Singapore Vision Session: Overview

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Summary of workshop discussions

What follows is a description of the key issues and points raised during the discussions amongst participants in the workshop.

The discussion was facilitated by Jim Playfoot, following a brief presentation of the findings from the recently published report: Effective Education for Employment: A Global Perspective.

Two key statements can be drawn from the discussions:

  • We need more communication and partnerships between educational stakeholders
  • We need more quality control in all sectors of education

The summary within this section represents the varied input of participants over the course of the session, as a background to the development of a set of key Vision statements.


The need for a qualification framework

  • The need to educate industry about the benefits of involvement in qualification development is currently a major barrier. There is a lack of ownership on this issue.
  • A real problem in Singapore is the absence of a coordinated qualification framework; this needs to be put in place and lead by industry so that skills developed are transferable across sectors. At the same time this framework needs to ensure that recognition of prior learning is organised properly.
  • As the Singapore Education Trust will now be charged with certifying education providers, they will have to start with a proper framework. The Singaporean Case Trust is not doing this; there is no accreditation of private education, as in the UK. As one participant put it: "The accreditation process at the moment involves just filling out a form. There is no status for accreditation."

Skills development

  • To counter this argument, one participant testified to the existing connection between academia and industry in Singapore. "All the skills that we develop are done through collaboration with industry, Singapore has a pragmatic approach."
  • However, many participants were concerned that companies are reluctant to invest in training for their employees.
  • This problem was considered particularly acute in developing countries. It was pointed out that many major national corporations set up operations in developing countries because of low labour costs, not because they want to help with development.

Appropriate workforce behaviours and attitudes

  • The Singaporean Ministry of Education is involved in improving teaching and a lot has been done to improve soft skills. The influence of an Australian model for a new educational approach whereby students have to demonstrate skills and behaviours to a certain level was highlighted. This approach has subsequently been incorporated into the Singaporean Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certification programme.
  • The Singaporean Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports have created a skills base programme and attitudes are also part of this.
  • When asked to elaborate on behaviours, participants observed that health and safety indicators should develop industry specific standards.
  • A further example of demonstrating an understanding of organisational culture was given as an important consideration when assessing behaviours, but there are two many examples and no definitive consensus around the appropriate behaviours needed by industry and what the associated indicators are that need to be reinforced.
  • A concern was expressed that while behaviours can be taught or trained, are they subsequently kept up? Participants stressed necessary behaviours need to be constantly reinforced post formal education and expressed concern that service standards have begun to fall in Singapore over the last two to three years ago.

Chinese perspective

The session was attended by a number of experts with a strong knowledge of the Chinese education sector. The following observations were made concerning the differing problems in China concerning behaviours:

  • Chinese education is lacking in a concrete values system. One participant pointed to a worrying trend in China; "Every year attitudes and behaviours are getting worse at polytechnic level". As far as the Chinese market is concerned, this is something which needs to be addressed rapidly. The lack of incentives is a problem as students are not heavily affected if they fail to meet behavioural standards.
  • Lack of basic skills sometimes go hand in hand with a lack of understanding of appropriate behaviour, as one participant put it, "In China you have to teach some people how to make a bed."
  • Corruption also plays a role at a high level in filtering down bad values to the rest of society.
  • We need to track behaviours in the long term. This has been done in several instances but was not maintained. A reward and punishment system has to be in place to reinforce behaviours and combat the lack of entrepreneurship and creativity in China.

Entrepreneurship and creativity

  • The Singaporean Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR) fund provides seed funding for young entrepreneurs at student level but small to medium size businesses are not approved for this. However, a number of new initiatives are emerging.
  • One participant explained why the issue of promoting creativity is so complicated: "It depends on the definition of creativity and innovation. There are many critical functions within these areas, such as problem solving."
  • Furthermore, as a word of warning, cultural/political differences mean "thinking outside the box can lead to jail in some countries".