Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Signing of the Joint Declaration Between the Ministry of Education, Singapore, and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Baden-Württemberg, & the Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding Between the SIT and the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg, ABB STOTZ

Published Date: 12 December 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mdm Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore,

His Excellency Volker Schebesta, State Secretary of Education Youth and Sports, Baden-Württemberg,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Friends and Colleagues,

1. It is almost a rule in life, that when things get complicated and difficult to understand, we have to revert to the basics.

2. Take for example the music industry. Musicians used to make CDs and cassettes to sell and make a living. Then came digitalisation, with MP3s and streaming services. Musicians then realised that they could no longer sell CDs to make a living. In fact, they want to put their songs on Spotify or Apple Music just to let listeners know about their songs. The music business has been totally disrupted.

3. So Musicians are now reverting to the basics. What are the basics for a Musician? It is to play live music at concerts and they earn money from there. I just watched U2 perform live in Singapore. It took them 40 years to perform in Singapore for the first time. One of my favourite albums of theirs is Achtung Baby! Be careful not to get disrupted. Go back to basics!

4. Another example is journalism. We used to get our news from newspapers. There are reputable ones where we know the reporters are professional, and there are sub-editors and editors to ensure quality control. But today, anyone can publish and try to gain an international audience. Facts and falsehoods are all commingled. It is quite hard to read and understand what we get from the internet now. Public discourse has entered into a free for all situation. So similarly, there is now a quest to go back to the basics – a desire for good old professional journalism.

5. In industry, the same thing is happening. There are reports in Germany that the advent of electric vehicles will disrupt the German automobile industry and threaten the livelihood of tens of thousands of part suppliers. But I heard something insightful from a member of our delegation two nights ago. He said that because of the potential disruption, a reversion to basics is in the works. Companies are realising that they need to depend on their core competency – which is really precision engineering – and use precision engineering skills to produce something else for new industries.

6. How does this apply to education? It is a sector that is also undergoing disruption. Online education is becoming very popular, and there is a new emphasis on computing and AI – these are changing the education industry. Changes to industries and jobs also mean that educators are unsure about the types of jobs to prepare their students for as they are unsure about the types of jobs that will be available in the future. Students themselves come to a conclusion – and I think it is a wrong conclusion – that they need a portfolio of jobs in order to have a nice CV. For example, 3 in 5 years or 5 in 10 years. But I tell them that no employers will employ them with such a CV because they are seen as jumping from company to company.

7. So it again calls for a back to basic approach. Educators and industries realise that with rapid technological advancement and the advent of robots and AI, what workers really need are the basics, which is skills. You need skills – and not just skills to do something repetitively – but deep skills, even artistry, which computers and AI will find very hard to replace.

8. What is the equivalent of the basics in education? It is therefore the teaching of skills. Not so much by institutions, because institutions, universities and polytechnics were inventions after the Industrial Revolution, where production becomes a procedure and an algorithm, and a good worker is one who can follow the algorithm and improve it. But the more basic and earlier form of education are actually apprenticeships - the transfer of skills, values, wisdom - from master to disciple, and for the disciple to outdo the master in time and then continue the tradition of competency transmission.

9. People sometimes have the wrong idea that such a system is rigid and inflexible. I think it is the contrary – that the mastery of skills and especially basic and core competencies is what makes one creative and adaptable in the face of changes. That is why Singapore embarked on the SkillsFuture movement, and we are a big admirer of the German apprenticeship system. We can now combine the strengths of our institutions as well as apprenticeships to develop a new pathway that we call the Work-Study pathway.

10. ITE in particular, has started its own Work-Study Diploma to upgrade ITE graduates through apprenticeship programmes. It requires ITE to reach out to industries, and partner companies to co-develop and co-deliver programmes. We are aiming for about 12% of our students in every cohort to undergo the Work-Study pathway by 2030. This will be Singapore's version of dual education and will be a mainstream pathway that we will learn from Germany.

11. Today, we have two agreements before us – a declaration between the Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE) and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS), Baden-Württemberg to upgrade our long-standing MOU. We also have a new agreement between the Singapore Institute of Technology – one of our youngest universities, and Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg Mannheim to strengthen our cooperation.

12. Partnerships like these are invaluable to Singapore in our reform of the education system in preparation for a new future. In particular, MOE and MEYS have 28 years of collaboration in vocation education and training and our collaboration has always had Presidential attention. Our first MOU was initiated during a study visit by then Minister for Education Dr Tony Tan, who later became the President of the Republic of Singapore. Today we are refreshing our cooperation, witnessed by our current President, Mdm Halimah Yacob.

13. It is truly our honour. Let's continue to work closely together, focus on what is core and basic, to strengthen our relationships and better prepare our people for the future of change. Thank you.

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