When one talks about the importance of higher or tertiary education, opinions about its structure are often raised.

Some say that our education is too focused on “academics” rather than focusing on other subjects like visual arts and liberal arts. A few would say the offerings in tertiary education across the globe are balanced. While others would say it is not something to be worried about.

But, for experts like Singaporean Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, he feels that higher education worldwide is “over-academised.” He also mentioned that Singapore is a good example of this “over-academised” high education according to this news report.

Focus on Applied Education is Important

Tharman used to serve as Singapore’s Education Minister from 2003 to 2008 and also serves as the Coordinating Minister for Social Policies.

In his speech during “Combatting Inequality: Rethinking Policies to Reduce inequality in Advanced Economies” conference in the US hosted by Peterson Institute for International Economics on Friday, Tharman said that there must also be a focus on applied education.

“I would say, liberal arts education, which has a lot of appeal to it, is not the only way to develop soft skills. It is not the only way we develop creativity, team skills, or cross-cultural skills” says Tharman,

For example, taking a vocational course can help students develop all sorts of skills because of their unique curriculum. At the moment, vocational courses like computer skills, F&B management are offered in career colleges, trade schools and community colleges. Currently, there is a mismatch between what jobs are in demand in the market, and the number of places offering training for the necessary skills for these jobs.

So instead of relying upon knowledge taught in the textbooks, I believe that students should develop relevant soft and hard skills that will be useful in the current job market and economy.

In my opinion, education path should be planned according to the skills that our students have developed over time in consideration of fulfilling what the future job market demands.

Wrong Focus on Wage Premiums

Tharman mentioned that many college students only focus on the wage premiums and this can lead to students having unrealistic expectations of income.

A wage premium is the average amount of income of a certain group that exceeds the population as a whole.

This focus should be corrected because it does not reflect the current situation in the workforce.

How can education change?

Contrary to the belief of many that today’s education frameworks are not able to provide opportunities for students to thrive in their chosen careers, tertiary education still has the potential to change to respond to these inequalities.

He also said that current meritocratic education systems can no longer handle the challenges brought by students from their homes and social groups to the school.

While it did work before, it does not have the same effect now.

Here are the other points Tharman shared in his speech:

On changing higher education

1) Students take college wage premiums too seriously in America, that the bottom half of all college students in the US (or 25%) don’t receive the same wage premium.

If you compared it with a high school graduate’s wage premium, it is more or less the same or it can even be higher.

2) 40% of US college graduates likely have a job that doesn’t match their degree or does not require it. As a result, there is a “massive” mismatch between the abilities of job seekers and what the market needs.

3) Post-high-school education now has a special curriculum that focuses on boosting a person’s skill set. Because of this, this curriculum is more important than finishing one’s degree.

4) To ensure that special curriculums focusing on skills is available for everyone, the government and companies both big and small should be able to contribute.

On Public School Systems

1) In regard to public school systems, the social and economic situation trending in the country (or in the world) influences the education choices students aim for.

2) While some of the country’s public schools are not running as well as others, strong school administration and adequate fundings are what kept the schools manageable.

To support this, Singapore’s public-school system structure was explained and how the system can help Singapore students succeed.

3) While decentralized systems can also produce successful students, it is not clear if whether our future generations will be able to keep up these good trends and if they can catch with the rest of the world.

On differentiation

1) To help school systems to change, educators and governments should consider three factors: different career paths, various modes of learning to choose from and specialization.

These three factors will help students to become confident about their skills and discover their passions even at an early age.

2) If nothing is done to stop over-standardized school systems like today, those who come from impoverished backgrounds will have the biggest impact.

Conclusion

In education, there must be a balance between academics and non-academic events. Too much focus on academics only causes students to feel a lot of pressure during exams and make them second guess if their career choice is appropriate.

It also creates a problem for job seekers who wish to get a job but couldn’t because they do not have the “skills” necessary to get the job.

Governments and key players like parents, teachers and tutors in the education industry should work together to find ways to stop over-academised our education. Thus, producing better results in students who don’t feel the pressure in pursuing their dream goals.

To understand my take on education here are some articles:
How to help our children stay competitive by embracing a changing attitude towards learning and acquiring new knowledge.
Which Degree Is Best for Me?
Is A Degree A Must In This Time And Age?

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16 replies on “Is Our Education Relevant to Current Workforce Demands?

  1. We used to have many apprentice-based jobs (like plumbing, electrician, bricklayer etc) here in the UK where companies would take on a junior and train them ‘on-the-job’ for 3-5 years, on a basic salary. This seems to have disappeared, in the most but I would dearly love to see it brought back. And not just a way to gain cheap labour!

    Some of our youngsters don’t have what it takes for academic study and are therefore left out of the long-term job market and a life-long career. We need new nurses but they’ve taken it to degree level where, for many years, this was taught on the wards and now there’s a shortage.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I would have loved to learn as an apprentice! Classes can teach you a lot if they are structured right, but there are some things that simply must be learned on the job. The problem with that is that mistakes made during the learning process can be costly or even deadly depending on the chosen profession. Having an apprentice learning from observing and gradually stepping into the role of a more experienced worker/practitioner might help minimize that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a fascinating article. In my experience, the “mismatch” isn’t merely between categories of jobs versus categories of skills, but also the timeliness of applied skills. That’s to say that something such as the software, technology, or even the cultural standards of a given time can become entirely obsolete, perhaps multiple times within the span of a career. Experiencing “obsolescence” is almost a given.

    As a technical graduate, my own experience has been that while the underlying framework of mathematics and sciences was of long-term value, technologies change so rapidly that application requires a commitment to constant updating. Consequently, and not be facetious, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing high schools, colleges and universities can do for their students is to prepare them to teach themselves.

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  3. In the US, many of the Democratic candidates focus solely on making it easier for people to afford to go to college. Not everyone wants to or should go to college. I think that the opportunity to acquire post-secondary education (or tertiary education as you call it ) should be available whether it is college, trade school technical training, or some other type of training. Your post brings up many excellent points.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I Guess the action to be taken lies in our hands. Many years ago, I was deliberating whether to continue to further my education after high school but I choose not to. I didn’t know what I wanted and I didn’t want to waste time and money like my friends on a paper qualification that I have no passion on. So I dabbled in multiple jobs in different industries before I went back to further my studies part time. Sure, not the usual route but it give me better insights as to what I like and I have never regret it.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you, Kevin. My parents never pressured me to do any type of career. They just want me to be happy. Because a happy person can always go on to be successful but a successful person may not be happy all the time.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. A post that is food for thought, Kally. It is a good question, is our education relevant to the workforce demands. For quite a few of us, what we studied in school or university might not have anything to do with our career – a completely different field. Education can teach us soft and transferable skills but as Tharman Shanmugaratnam said, ther are different way to develop any kind of skills.

    I think a balance of education and work experience is a necessity in today’s workforce. Both can complement each other. Here in Australia people are pretty flexible on if you got to university of not. Compared to Singapore where I lived, Australia seems to encourage do what you love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Singapore has a long way to go when it comes to pursuing your own passions and dreams. Mainly due to our parents being one track mind on success will only come with paper qualifications. Skills are not highly sought after. Medical degree has much better prospects in their eyes than a nursing degree. Arts and music are still a long way to be recognised as a career, although now widely acceptable to most parents.

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      1. The typical Asian mentality still seems to be very strong in Singapore these days. Education and the fact you graduated is still viewed as very valuable. It’s funny how many Asian parents give their child piano or violin lessons yet don’t recognise the arts as a good career.

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  5. Great article again, dear Kally. I also believe topics regarding self-esteem and related should be integrated at school. What does a student really want to be(come) and does the education of choice match that.

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