Speech for Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education, at The Singapore Association for Private Education (SAPE) Annual Conference 2017

Published Date: 12 October 2017 12:00 AM

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Mr Leon Choong, President of SAPE, Mr Brandon Lee, Director-General of Private Education, Distinguished Guests and Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be able to join you here today. This annual conference is an important platform for members and other stakeholders in the industry to come together and share best practices and experiences.

The Next Phase of Education

2. The theme of today’s conference – “Education for the next wave” – aptly captures a key priority for policy makers, the government and various stakeholders in the sector.

3. We live in an age where disruption is the norm. New technologies will change the type, nature and location of future industries and jobs. While these present new demands and challenges for the future, they also open up exciting opportunities. If I may quote a Chinese saying “契机”. We always use the word “危机” but there are also opportunities, even as we sense uncertainties ahead. To help Singaporeans take advantage of these new possibilities, we need to rethink education and the way it is delivered.

4. Because skills can get obsolete quickly, education can no longer be front-loaded, but needs to be continual and lifelong. Through SkillsFuture, we are investing heavily in lifelong learning, to ensure that Singaporeans have access to opportunities to upgrade their skills, and continue to stay relevant in a rapidly changing work environment. If you read the McKinsey report two years back, I think the report quoted that the learners of that day will change jobs about 15 times in their lifetimes. I daresay the same report will cite a higher number today, considering the gig economy for instance.

5. So beyond just expanding the opportunities, we need to change the way in which education and training is delivered, so that it is relevant and flexible, and can truly support the needs of working Singaporeans, to help them develop and progress in their careers.

Learning from Other Countries

6. I had the opportunity to visit Denmark earlier this year, and to observe their adult education system. This comprises a range of different institutions that cater to the specific training and education needs of different segments of the labour force. Some focus on imparting fundamental literacy and numeracy skills, while others provide vocational training and more advanced continuing education programmes.

7. In addition to these institutions, Denmark has adult education centres that have been set up nationwide since 2010. These centres play an intermediary role in helping companies to access relevant training programmes for their staff provided by the Danish education institutions for their employees. Their work also include visiting their SMEs to understand the latest trends and developments in the market, and providing education and career guidance to adults based on the knowledge they have acquired of the various sectors.

8. This tight link between education and industry is a key feature in some European education systems. Even though they have a different culture, history, and demographics from us, we can learn from them how they have managed to closely integrate work and learning in their education and training systems, and how they promote lifelong learning. Lessons might need to be conducted on campus, but lessons can also take the form of blended learning which may be delivered through mobile devices. Lessons can also take place in the workplace, to provide learners with an authentic experience. These are areas that can strengthen our education system, including the private education landscape.

Implications for Private Providers

9. What does this mean for private education providers like you? The focus on lifelong learning, especially for the adult education and training segment, presents significant opportunities for you to be captured. Providers that can deliver high quality, industry-relevant training in innovative ways, such as blended learning and workplace learning, can better support the growing needs of our working adult population.

10. Local private education providers already play a role in the SkillsFuture movement. For instance, we have PEIs that have successfully applied to become Workforce Skills Qualifications Approved Training Organisations, or WSQ ATOs. There are also private education providers who now offer courses that can be paid for using the SkillsFuture credit. At this point, I would like to touch on three areas that private education providers can further explore.

Catering to Under-served Areas

11. First, you can develop programmes that cater to under-served areas. Take a scan of the private education space, and we will find that the majority of providers offer programmes in very similar areas. Data collated by the Committee for Private Education, for example, shows that the courses offered presently are typically concentrated at the degree and diploma levels, with around half of them in the areas of business and administration.

12. Rather than venturing into this crowded space, instead why not explore how your institution can contribute to areas that need more training. For instance, consider offering skill-based bite-sized modules that are more accessible to working adults who wish to reskill and upskill. If I may use PSB Academy as an example –you could leverage on the location of your campus and link up with corporations in the vicinity, to see whether there are opportunities to provide seamless learning experiences in campus and even in the workplace.

Working with Industry

13. Second, I hope private education players can ensure that the programmes offered impart not just information, but skills that are relevant to the industry. Skills cannot be googled. So, you may consider designing and curating courses which have the theoretical part and also the skill-based bite-sized modules. You can do so by engaging and working closely with the industry players. I am quite sure that if you strengthen your nexus with MNCs, local large enterprises, SMEs and even start-ups, you would be well-placed to develop courses that serve the needs of adult learners.

14. The government recently announced the development of Industry Transformation Maps that are tailored to the needs of each industry. There are 23 ITMs, of which nine have already been launched, while the rest will be released later this year. Each ITM has a Skill Framework to support the industry’s skills development. We want to engage in skills development to ensure that there are good jobs waiting for our Singaporeans. It also shows the existing and emerging skills required for the occupations under the respective industry. This gives you a chance to identify and meet the skill gaps in the various sectors, and better advice your students and adult learners who are prepared to make a career switch.

15. There are various PEIs that are already engaged in networks that leverage industry experience and expertise so as to deliver industry-relevant training to their students. One example is the collaboration between the HMI Institute of Health Sciences and Ren Ci Hospital to jointly provide training to Therapy Assistant trainees undertaking the WSQ Higher Certificate in Therapy Services. Under the collaboration, Ren Ci Hospital will deploy their therapists and provide training facilities for HMI Institute’s trainees so that the trainees may hone their skills in an authentic clinical learning environment.

16. Such collaborations are mutually beneficial, ensuring the quality of the education and training delivered by the private provider, and providing the industry with a source of well-trained manpower.

Enhancing Andragogy and Design of Programmes

17. Third, we want to encourage you to design and deliver your programmes in a way that is attractive and suited to the needs of adult learners. As you help them make the most of their time and energies, you can also bring out their potential.

18. There is a growing body of research dedicated to methods and principles used in adult education. Tap on these to understand the motivation, psyche and experience of adult learners, and devise teaching strategies that can build on their interests and leverage on their strengths.

19. In a competitive sector, a provider that is able to innovate and provide quality options that meet the needs of the consumer most will be able to set itself apart from the rest.


20. I commend the Singapore Association for Private Education (SAPE) for its work in promoting the quality of education and student services of PEIs, as well as fostering closer working relations with relevant government agencies and industries. SAPE has provided assistance to lead agencies in identifying industry-relevant PEIs that are willing and able to develop industry-relevant courses, and I hope that these engagements would continue to bear fruit.

21. As our training needs become increasingly more complex and extensive, I encourage private providers to continually review how you can remain nimble and responsive to the larger developments in our local, regional and global landscape.

22. Thank you.

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