Ong Ye Kung urges parents to learn to ‘let go’, let their child have a say in education future

Maybe he is also letting go as education minister?

By Martino Tan | March 6, 2018

The nature of politics is that political leaders usually act on the basis of uncertain fact, must make their judgement on the basis of today’s report by instinct and experience shared years before in other circumstances.

And what is Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung’s instinct?

His intuition is to rely on young Singaporeans to have a bigger say in their education in future.

Yesterday (March 5), Ong concluded his Budget 2018 speech on an uplifting note, as he made a commitment to young Singaporeans to seek their help to co-create Singapore’s future together.

“40 years ago, we built systems to respond to challenges which we could identify. We must now foster human ingenuity and resilience so that our children can thrive in a future we cannot yet discern. This requires us to give students a say in what, how, and when they want to learn, to help them develop, discover, and deepen their knowledge and skills in the areas they are passionate about.”

A quick history recap

Ong began by providing a historical context to the state of Singapore’s education system:

“40 years ago, schools suffered from high dropout rates. The uniform curriculum also did not cater for students’ varied pace of learning.

The then-Minister for Education, Dr Goh Keng Swee, said that the starting point should be to identify the “causes of things”, before putting in place solutions to fix them. His solution then was to allow students to study at differentiated paces that suited them. School dropout rates fell dramatically.”

Ong then proceeded to pay tribute to his predecessors.

In some sense, Ong was standing on the shoulder of giants by building on the strong foundations laid by subsequent education ministers after Goh, as they “tackle the problems of their times”.

And here, he said and we paraphrase, lies the challenge for Education Ministers of today and tomorrow: Because things are changing so fast and the future is so uncertain, education ministers have to anticipate the future and build a system that can respond to the changes.

A paradigm shift in the education system

Ong noted that a paradigm shift in Singapore’s education system is needed, where every Singaporean will “learn to learn, and never really graduate”.

In other words, there will be a greater focus on laying a strong foundation, and giving Singaporeans more time and space to seek counsel and decide on their career.

This is based on Ong’s instinct and understanding after his experiences as an education minister:

“Only an interest-driven choice will motivate students to want to learn their whole life, to master their professions and their craft, and to build expertise in their fields.”

Develop, Discover, and Deepen

Therefore, Ong came up with not As, but three Ds to drive this change.

Ong wanted Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to develop students differently, and to introduce more experiential learning into their curriculum.

These include more active industry experiences (“bringing industries into the IHLs, and IHLs into industries”); more overseas exposure and entrepreneurship programmes; obtaining knowledge and skills that are contemporary, relevant, and hands-on.

Next, Ong wanted to better support students in discovering their interests and aptitudes.

These include more common entry programmes at polytechnics, streamlining courses for greater versatility; strengthening education and career guidance; expanding the polytechnic foundation programme; and expanding aptitude-based admissions at the ITEs.

Lastly, Ong spoke about deepening what we learn, through lifelong learning.

The government will channel more funding ($100 million by 2020) into IHL CET programmes such as SkillsFuture Series courses, up from about $210 million today.

The universities will re-package certain courses that lead to smaller qualifications – often referred to as “micro-credentials”. These micro-credentials comprise only modules targeted at developing expertise for work, with Ong warning that Singaporeans should “not to let such micro-credentials become a new arms race to collect credentials”.

There will also be a review of funding for postgraduate by coursework programmes at the universities. With the review and reduction in subsidy for non-Singaporeans, the government will free up around $25m in budget each year, which will be rechannelled to support modular courses at the IHLs for our local workforce.

A stern-looking Ong dissolving into smiles

In a 2011 media interview, Ong was quoted as saying, “I know my weakness. When I don’t smile I look stern and people think I’m not happy. But what to do — I’m born with this face”.

PAP candidate Ong Ye Kung is not letting his funny name, stern face stop him

However, Ong’s stern face dissolved into smiles when he recalled his experiences as a parent in his speech in parliament.

This moment happened when Ong told the parliament that he was seeking the assistance of employers and parents to help him transform the education system.

“Perhaps one of the best things we as parents can do for our children is to know when to let go, and what to let go of. But this does not mean that they will be left alone – they will have the love of family, as well as support of the school system.

That is why parenthood is a roller coaster ride for the lionhearted. There is no guaranteed success.

But children need time and space to explore in order to discover their strengths and interests, find their place in the world, and ignite that joy of learning.”

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing a cabinet reshuffle after the Budget and Ong being a key 4G Minister, there is a likelihood that this could well be Ong’s valedictory speech as the Education Minister at the Committee of Supply debate.

In Ong’s first Budget speech as Education Minister two years ago, he said that Minister Ng Chee Meng and he did not announce any major financial schemes because they felt that the education “systems and institutions are well-developed”.

Their vision as Education Ministers “centres on the intrinsic worth and potential of a student, a vision that requires a dial-back from any excessive focus on academics and paper qualifications at all levels”.

Ong had come full circle in his speech yesterday, when he charted out “a pragmatic response to the fast changes in the world around us”, where future Education Ministers will enter a “world where the young are creating their own jobs through start-ups and innovations, and shaping their own future”.

As a Minister, let’s hope that Ong would also become one of those leaders whose education continues after adulthood.

4G Minister Ong Ye Kung wants S’pore to go right & left at the same time

Top photo from Youtube channel.

About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & D. Bonhoeffer, the words of G.Orwell & T.Sorensen, & the music of the Beatles.

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