SINGAPORE — With “skills” emerging as the buzzword, following the National Day Rally and the publication of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) report last month, some children have been telling their parents that they do not have to study anymore, Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah said yesterday.
However, skills mean more than just “doing things with your hands or some manual form of work”, she told Parliament as she moved a motion seeking its endorsement on the recommendations made by the ASPIRE committee.
They included better internships, more opportunities to work and study concurrently, and clearer pathways for career advancement for poly and ITE graduates.
Skills comprise knowledge, including academic content, application of what one has learnt and experience, said Ms Indranee, who chaired the committee.
There are also hard skills, which are related to industry-specific technical know-how, and soft skills, such as leadership and communication skills, attitude and the ability to deal with people.
“Once we understand that skills encompass all of these things, then it is also easy to understand why skills are so important to an individual’s personal development and growth, as well as to his or her career prospects,” said Ms Indranee.
Her comments on the broader concept of skills came as several Members of Parliament (MPs) highlighted the need for the Government to communicate its message better.
They noted that confusion still exists among many Singaporeans, especially on issues such as whether a university degree is still valued and whether the Government has changed its stance on certain policies.
Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) — noting that the Education Ministry had announced in 2008 that it will recruit only graduates for teaching positions in primary schools by next year — asked if this policy will be changed or whether it will be applied to the pre-school sector as well.
She said: “I also hear residents asking: Does it mean that degrees are now useless? … Does it mean that my children who have degrees will have more competition when it comes to promotion?”
Ms Lee added that the actual intentions and benefits of the changes, such as creating additional options for those who do not have paper qualifications but shine in other ways, must be effectively communicated to the public.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said some residents had asked whether the posts of ministers, MPs and even the ones in the Administrative Service should be open to poly graduates as well.
“We do need to close the loop on these contradictions or perceptions of contradictions … We must persevere to get the communications and messaging right, on what we mean by alternative pathways, differences in what is presently practised and how we address some of these practical concerns,” he said.
Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) questioned the “narrow scope” of the ASPIRE committee’s work. “In separating the university track from the non-university track, it appears as if the ITE and the polytechnic tracks are the ones that need fixing and improvement,” she said.
This may not be so, as these two institutions have improved over the past few years, she noted.
On the other hand, there is a common lament among employers on university graduates who are still not quite work-ready, Ms Phua added.
Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke about those who are concerned that choosing a less academic path may put them at a disadvantage when compared with their foreign counterparts who have degrees or post-grad certificates. Singaporeans may then be shuttled to “support roles” only, she said.
Some MPs also gave suggestions on how ASPIRE could move forward.
Mr Zaqy said employers need to hire more ITE and poly students under a place-and-train programme and dedicate extra resources, such as deploying existing staff to oversee and train the students.
Newly-appointed Nominated MP Mohd Ismail Hussein said more buy-in from employers is necessary to “reduce or even eliminate recruitment practices and career development policies that unjustly favour degree holders over non-degree holders” and this has to be applied across all sectors and not just those currently served by ITE and poly graduates.
The debate on the motion continues today.
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