Opening Address by Mr Ng Chee Meng at the Education and Career Guidance Seminar

Published Date: 30 October 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Professor Arnoud De Meyer,
President of Singapore Management University,
our keynote speaker for today

Mr. Neo Kian Hong,
Permanent Secretary (Education Development),

Director General of Education,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good morning.

Earlier, we watched a video of some of our youths sharing stories of how they came to make key decisions in their education journey.

What struck me in each of the stories was how each one was somehow lucky enough to have either found their way, or had someone at the right moment to help them find their path. In fact, someone in the video said the process for her was one of “trial and error”.

These stories are likely to echo across many of our young people today. Many at that age are still not quite certain about what career they want, what courses to take, and more importantly, what drives and motivates them, what their long-term interests would be, and what they are passionate about.

It is clear to me that they could do with some help in their journey and that Education and Career Guidance, or ECG, is a vital enabler in matching education outcomes to the career choices that they make.

Education and Career Guidance Is Most Effective with a Tripartite Partnership

ECG is most effective when parents, education institutions and students work together. To do this, we will have to strengthen ECG through our tripartite approach in the education institutions, get our students to own their ECG journey and work closely with parents and the community.

Strengthening the Role of Government and Education Institutions in ECG

First, we will strengthen the roles played by education institutions and government in ECG. Let me talk about two of our efforts.

Our Institutes of Higher Learning will forge closer links with industry so that our students will learn skills relevant to the workplace. This effort is part of the broader SkillsFuture movement, a national movement to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to develop their fullest potential in life. Over the next few years, industry associations and government agencies will put together 25 sectoral manpower plans. These will provide opportunities for continuous upgrading, skills certification, promotion opportunities and meaningful productive work. For example, Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Workforce Development Agency have just launched the hotel sector manpower plan to develop a skilled and productive workforce in the hotel industry. In addition, there will be enhanced internships, an Earn and Learn programme for ITE and Polytechnic graduates, and a skills framework and career progression pathways from operations level to senior management roles.

But we don’t need to wait till our students are in tertiary institutions. Our efforts can start earlier, in our schools. In 2008, ECG was introduced in our schools to better help our students develop and work towards their aspirational goals. Through the years, teacher-led ECG programmes were developed for Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Pre-university courses.

I read about Mr Lim Cheng Yong’s story in our CONTACT magazine. Cheng Yong was formerly with our Guidance Branch, and is now a HOD CCE in Serangoon JC. He recounted his own experience helping his students in ECG. He realised that ECG should help students answer three essential questions: “Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?” This meant that students need time and space to discover their interests, strengths, skills, work values and personality - all of which will affect their career choices.

So, in 2014, to support our teachers in ECG, we established a national ECG curriculum with rich teaching and learning resources. An online ECG portal was also implemented earlier with tools for students to discover their interests and strengths, and match these to courses and occupations in Singapore.

At the same time, our students will grow up in a world which increasingly has expectations of a highly skilled and diversified workforce. This means they will need to continually upgrade their skills and knowledge to be ready to adapt to new jobs. To guide their students and help them make informed choices, teachers too will need to keep abreast of the rapid changes and diverse options and opportunities in the education system and job market.

Our teachers’ efforts will continue, but we want to do more to support them. We have reached a plateau with the current strategy. To complement teachers’ frontline efforts at empowering students to make better informed education and career choices, MOE has hired and deployed the first batch of 50 ECG Counsellors to Secondary Schools, Junior Colleges, Centralised Institute as well as ITE and the polytechnics. They have received 120 hours of training on career facilitation and another six months of training on counselling skills.

Our ECG Counsellor scheme has started off well. We are on track to provide our schools, ITE and Polytechnics with 100 ECG Counsellors by 2017. Our counsellors will not only conduct individual and group education and career counselling, they will work with teacher coordinators in the schools to design and conduct relevant ECG programmes.

We are also establishing education and career centres in our education institutions. For instance, Nanyang, Ngee Ann and Temasek Polytechnics have recently opened their education and career centres. By January 2016, there will be a total of eight career centres in all ITE colleges and Polytechnics. These career centres will serve as a resource venue for post-secondary students and their parents, and address their education and career needs.

In addition, a new ECG Centre @ MOE (Grange Road) will be ready by November. This centre will be a one-stop ECG service for students-in-transition and their parents to benefit from ECG consultation during the periods following the release of GCE N-, O- and A- Level results. The ECG Centre@MOE will also be the centralised resource centre for our ECG personnel in schools, ITE and Polytechnics.

Strengthening the Role of Parents and Community in ECG

The second partner in ECG is the parent, and by extension, the community. Parents often know their children’s interests best. Many parents want to guide their child in their education and career choices, and this is a good thing.

But parents also realise that the education landscape today has transformed in many ways. Our schools and IHLs have created many more pathways and opportunities to meet different interests, learning styles and aspirations. We have more subject combinations, and offer Subject-Based Banding in our schools. In the 1970s, we had limited number of courses offered by the Vocational and Industrial Training Board, two polytechnics and two universities. Today, ITE offers about 100 full-time courses, the five polytechnics around 240 full-time courses, and the five autonomous universities and UniSIM around 450 full-time courses. There is also an increasing array of part-time programmes offered by our institutions.

With the plethora of choices available, making the best decision can indeed be more challenging for both the parent and their child.

To help parents navigate this landscape of multiple pathways, MOE has published helpful resources. These include a publication titled “The Next Step Forward” which illustrates the different pathways and sets out information on courses categorised by industry. Another publication called “Nurturing Dreams - Guiding Our Children for their Future” is distributed to parents of all Primary 6 and Secondary 2 students and provides tips and advice on ECG. We hope parents will find these helpful in guiding their child on the considerations they need to make at key education stages.

Finally, we need the larger community to play a role in ECG. We welcome industry players to introduce the world of work more vividly to our students and for students to be exposed to a larger variety of occupations. Through these experiences, students will have a better understanding of the specific skill set and craftsmanship required and pursue an education pathway that will lead to a meaningful career in their chosen field.

Strengthening The Role of Students in ECG

Finally, the third element - and indeed, the central element - in this partnership, is the student himself or herself.

For myself, when I was growing up, I had a very clear ambition to be a fighter pilot and fly combat jets. But when it came to matching my ambition with my educational outcomes, I was vacillating. After my A-Levels, I was very uncertain about what educational choices I should make. At the very beginning after I got my A-Level results, I applied to Business Administration in NUS. But as I was thinking through the chances of making it through to be a fighter pilot, I wavered and I thought in case I failed my pilot training, maybe I should really think about a career in law. So I was in the midst of re-applying to NUS and changing my subject to Law. And then came the scholarship results - I was awarded the Air Force scholarship and I decided to pursue a career in the Air Force. So, while I applied for Business Administration, switched to law, I ended up being an electrical engineer. So I can empathise with the usefulness of ECG, helping me to determine what could match my passion, education and career choice.

From a 2009 study by MOE on students’ career decision-making patterns, about 48 per cent of our youth made their course or career decisions without sufficient exploration. Students relied on general suggestions from friends and family rather than researching reliable information and choosing options related to their interests, skills or values. Another 17 per cent did some exploration but were still confused, while about 9 per cent were not thinking about their future at all.

Some surveys by the Government also show that a good proportion of our youth graduating from ITE, Polytechnics and Universities did not even take up their first jobs in a field related to their course of study! In fact, a significant proportion of graduates indicated they would have preferred a different course of study if they had a chance to start all over again. Many cited reasons such as ‘losing interest’ during the course itself or after their internship experience. Some did not have the right information about wages or career prospects at the point of choosing the course.

Teachers, ECG Counsellors, parents and the community can play our part, but our students must take ownership of their own ECG journey. So as our education institutions strengthen their ECG programmes and provisions, our students must learn to capitalise on these. How can they make full use of the ECG Portal, or the resources at ECG Centres at their institutes of higher learning? What questions will they ask of their teachers and ECG Counsellors so that they may work out what they want and how to get there? No one else can help our kids, and they must take ownership for this.

Conclusion

There are about 1000 of us gathered in this auditorium today. Amongst us, we have school leaders, educators, ECG counsellors and members of the broader education community. We are here with a single purpose: to participate in an important discussion on how best we can create a bridge between education outcomes and career choices for our youths and students.

What Franklin Roosevelt said in 1940 is still relevant today, “We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

The theme of the Seminar is thus a very apt reminder that our work empowers our young and prepares them for an inspiring future.

Thank you.

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