Speeches/Interviews

July 20, 2019

Welcome Remarks by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the National Engineers Day 2019 at Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (E2i) Singapore

1. Thank you for inviting me to the prize presentation ceremony of the 10th National Engineers Day 2019.

2. I admire engineers greatly. You are behind so many new technologies and creations, and are responsible for making life better for billions of people around the world. SUTD Academy interviewed me last week, and asked me which technologies have most improved our lives. I rattled off: electricity, the light bulb, air-conditioning, the internal combustion engine, semiconductor chips. We have taken for granted many of these inventions, especially as we get dazzled by the latest digital technologies. Engineers are behind every one of these inventions.

3. Having been Minister for Education for several years, I must also share with you my observation that science and technology continue to fascinate our young students. Never believe people who say that our students are now not interested in engineering and science. Students are fascinated by science and technology in every primary and secondary school. This lays a good foundation for students to further pursue studies in STEM in future.

4. A visit to the Science Centre never fails to fill students with awe and fascination. We are going to build a bigger and better Science Centre at the Jurong Lake District, next to the MRT station. It will have an iconic design, and will be an iconic development in Singapore. More importantly, it is conceptualised differently from the current Science Centre, because practically all exhibits will be integrated with workshops, which means the Science Centre will become a huge applied learning classroom for all schools in Singapore. Schools will, in time, build a visit to the new Science Centre and the experience of a workshop there into their Science curriculum. This will be a major boost to STEM learning in Singapore.

5. I should add that childhood heroes, real or imaginary, play a part in cultivating interests in STEM. In this regard, the wind is blowing in favour of engineering. Because children now grow up with technology, and I think they know that Steve Jobs is behind Apple, and Jack Ma is behind Alibaba. Both are not engineers, but are deeply associated with technology. Their imaginary heroes, be it Tony Stark or Peter Parker, are all scientists and inventors. And this is what fires up the imagination of our young.

6. At the higher education level, the Government has always encouraged students to take up STEM subjects. There are pros and cons to the Government promoting the take-up of STEM subjects. On the positive side, we started new institutions with a strong focus on STEM. The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which focuses on applied learning, offers many good engineering courses. We also started the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), focusing on design and technology innovation. This spurred also NUS and NTU to develop the Global Engineering Programme and Renaissance Engineering Programme, both of which are admitting top notch students.

7. On the other hand, our encouragement of students to study engineering also resulted in the provision of many engineering places in our IHLs. The supply has suppressed the cut-off points into engineering courses. So from time to time, we hear of very good graduates from polytechnics or Junior Colleges avoiding engineering courses in universities so as not to ‘waste their good results’. It is a pity, and I will encourage students to pursue what they are most interested in, rather than basing their decisions on the cut-off points of courses. Engineers are extremely versatile, and even more so when universities are all encouraging cross disciplinary learning.

8. From MOE’s perspective, we will continue to encourage the study of STEM and engineering, especially given the rapid advancements in technology today and the fact that our economy is becoming more innovation driven. Students are keenly aware of this. But we also recognise that innovation needs to be inter-disciplinary, and the humanities and creative arts are also very important. Furthermore, inventions need to be commercialised, so business studies have a role too. Amidst all these competing disciplines, MOE will work with the polytechnics and universities, to enhance and uphold the prestige and reputation of engineering studies.

9. Promoting the learning of STEM will require collaboration between MOE, our education institutions, companies, enterprises and also professional associations such as the IES. You represent the profession, and also uphold its ethos, standards and reputation. You can also play a big part in ensuring that engineers continue to learn, upgrade and serve as a driving force for innovation and productivity in their respective organisations and industries.

10. Hence, IES has aligned its strategic direction with the various Industry Transformation Maps, to meet the evolving requirements of industries. It accords recognition through professional registries. It has brought together industry practitioners and academics through its technical committees to develop innovative engineering solutions. Through mutual recognition with other international professional registries, engineers in Singapore can look forward to greater career opportunities.

11. Nonetheless, I think more can be done. I have been encouraging our universities to recruit more practice professors, or at least adjunct professors, because students do benefit from and will need a practical perspective in their university education. IES can contribute to the engineering curriculum of the universities based on what is most relevant to industries today, and offer practitioners as lecturers.

12. Second, IES can also play a big role in lifelong learning. As a professional guild, it is in a unique position to offer training that can lead to industry accreditation. This can co-exist with the formal higher education system. This means that an aspiring engineer can either frontload education, get an engineering degree and in time become a Chartered Engineer; or he can achieve this by working in the industry, learning as he practises, and clock up experience and accreditation. They are both viable routes to arrive at the same destination.

13. We have done well in the first route, but not as well in the second. As our economy matures, and society values our people in different ways, we need to develop the practice route across different disciplines and industries. So I am glad that the IES, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the Public Service Division (PSD) and other relevant Government agencies have formed a taskforce to study and build up this pathway.

14. The taskforce has already constructed a scaffold. There are three levels of certification – starting from Chartered Technician, to Chartered Technologist, and finally, Chartered Engineer. A practitioner, regardless of education background, can progress from one level to the next by attending modular programmes, and accumulating work experience. To illustrate, an ITE graduate can work towards becoming a Chartered Technician in the first instance, and progressively upgrade from there.

15. I hope to receive the Taskforce’s recommendations by end of the year, to set up this industry accreditation framework. The MOU we are signing today to develop these pathways is a step in the right direction.

16. Finally, my congratulations to all our prize winners today. Thanks to IES for organising the Engineering Innovation Challenge, to give students a taste of learning by doing, experimentation and taking risks. I hope our students enjoy the experience, and continue learning STEM.

17. Thank you.