March 24, 2017

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by Lee Chin Wee

CAN you imagine a Singapore where students aren’t defined wholly by their grades?

ST ran a thought-provoking piece on Mar 16, calling on the G to be bold and take in all students through aptitude-based university admissions. The proposal runs completely against the grain of our grades-centred university admissions model, but that’s the entire point. If we are to be serious about transforming education and skills acquisition in Singapore, it’s time for some sacred cows to be slaughtered.

Many of the world’s top universities have already implemented a holistic, aptitude-based admissions model. Among employers, there is also a growing recognition that academic performance is an insufficient and inaccurate barometer for professional success – Google, for instance, has moved away from hiring based solely on GPAs and IQ tests.  As Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davie points out in the ST article, “(Imagine) choosing our doctors based on grades alone. Considering how expensive medical training is in terms of taxpayers’ money, wouldn’t society want future doctors to be compassionate and caring?”

As the G seeks to prepare young Singaporeans to face the varied challenges of our future economy, it makes sense to distribute talent to where it can be best developed rather than sort students to universities based on test scores. Why, then, am I not optimistic about change?

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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

Our political and civil service leadership are the least likely to take issue with the current model. Why would they, if they have been (and will continue to be) the largest beneficiaries of a highly-intense, elite-tracked, grades-centred education system?

There exists a cognitive effect known as Survivorship Bias. It simply means that, when we are evaluating the success of a policy, there is a tendency to concentrate on the people or things that “survived” the process and inadvertently discount those who did not due to their lack of visibility. Mr Michael Shermer explains this effect in an article written for the Scientific American, where he discussed the public interest in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 best-selling biography of Steve Jobs:
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Want to be the next Steve Jobs and create the next Apple Computer? Drop out of college and start a business with your buddies in the garage of your parents’ home. How many people have followed the Jobs model and failed? Who knows? No one writes books about them and their unsuccessful companies.

.Similarly, no one listens to someone who failed to enter university under a grades-only system. The people who are heard are the survivors: the 21-year-old Public Service Commission scholars who scored perfect grades in their youth and went on to be Deputy Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries, and Ministers.

The simple fact is that there is a lack of educational and academic diversity within the ranks of our top leadership. How many of them studied in polytechnics, or barely made the cut for university? The homogeneity of their experiences may blind them to the harms of a grades-only admissions policy.

 

Parents, social attitudes and the politics of education

Miss Davie admits that she “can already hear the howls of protest from parents paying thousands of dollars to top tutors to ensure that their kids ace the A levels.” And she’s right – Singapore is not called the “Tuition Nation” for nothing. It is estimated that over S$1 billion is spent on tuition each year, with the figure steadily increasing.

Many parents have bought into the Confucian ethos that hard work and good grades will lead to a well-paying job. It is a mantra that the G has reinforced over the years, from aggressive academic streaming that began as early as in primary school (remember the now-discontinued EM1/2/3?) to public sector scholarships awarded to top exam performers at ages 18 and 19.

Particularly for the older generation of Singaporean parents, grades are a non-negotiable aspect of school life. Co-curricular training can be missed, enrichment activities can be skipped, but exams must be passed, if not aced.

It’s more than just the idea of shifting values. Many parents and families have been financially and personally investing into a future-by-the-grades for their children. If they realise that a grades-based future is no longer as good as it used to be, you can expect some outcry.

For the G to overturn this deeply-ingrained orthodoxy is to invite backlash and scepticism – parents want less stress for their children, but they also want a fair and meritocratic university admissions process. It is easy to see how an aptitude-based system, with its numerous interviews, focus on interviews and portfolios, and discretionary admissions policies could be seen as subjective and opaque, even though it need not be.

 

The irritating, but simple, cost argument

A final consideration is that of cost. A 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions system is not going to come cheap – it means expanding the university admissions office, more time spent interviewing prospective candidates, longer hours reviewing each application.

MOE statistics indicate that in 2015 alone, the six autonomous universities in Singapore received a combined 70,000 applications from A-level and polytechnic diploma holders. Assuming that an aptitude-based admissions system increases the time taken to assess each student by 15 minutes (a conservative estimate), that is 17,500 hours of additional work in total.

This subsequently gets priced into university application costs. American colleges, which recruit students on a holistic and broad-based set of criteria, are an example. As someone who applied to a number of American colleges in 2014, I know first-hand how expensive these costs can be – even as a domestic US student, applying for one college costs around US$60 (S$85). Imagine if you applied to six colleges! That’s S$510 down the drain before you even go for any interviews.

Application fees in Singapore are, on the comparative, very cheap. A local student applying to NUS, for example, only need to pay $10. It is entirely possible to apply for all six autonomous universities in Singapore for the price of applying to one or two US colleges.

 

Change is still worthwhile

Such considerations, however, should not prevent us from seeking real change to the university admissions process. While it may mean that change progresses at a slower rate – the quota for discretionary admissions could be gradually increased over a period of 10 years – it should not detract from the key points made by Miss Davie. The world will not wait for Singapore to change. If we continue to drag our heels instead of trying to find new ways to maximise our human capital, then prepare to be left behind.

 

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Ong Lip Hua

UNIVERSITY admissions season looms again, and as a university admissions professional with over a decade of work experience (in NUS and SIT), I get plied with questions from would-be students and their parents.

What I’ve come to realise is that the questions that potential students ask are usually off the mark. Perhaps it has to do with the media’s fascination with rankings (which reflect research, not teaching quality), graduate pay, and employment numbers.

While these may form a part of the answer to the question “why should I choose this university”, most of us go to the university to pave the way for a future career and the career prospects of a graduate are not sufficiently represented by these metrics.

A successful career is sustained more through a university’s “after sales” service, which most applicants are not aware of. This “after sales” service is performed by several offices in the university that often go overlooked.

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Here’s what else you might want to ask about at the next admissions talk:

The Placement Office: This is the department that organises career fairs, gives you job advice, and teaches you how to write your resume. They are known by many other names. How strong is the University’s Placement Office? Which sector do they have hiring partners in? What type and amount of assistance does the Placement Office provide?

Internship programmes: The Faculty Office or Placement Office typically handles internship placements. There is only so much you can learn about the working world and an industry from the safe confines of a lecture hall or tutorial room. Before we graduate, we need to be “inserted” into the industry network. An early foray into the environment where you’ll be spending the next 40 years of your life can pay off more than an impressive Grade Point Average.

Internships get you into the network and industry lingo so you can better know what and why is that thing on page 1905 of the reference source number AI76. Great internships put you in the same office as industry leaders and key personalities: distinguish yourself there and you’ll have the makings of a priceless industry network.

The Alumni Office: Getting our first job is only the first step in what we hope will be a long career. Good pay prospects and employment ratios are good to have, but the more important question is: where do I go from there?

Strong Alumni Offices are also good after-sales service centers. They provide you with the network to get into higher level positions, make business connections for you to start or expand your businesses, and can give you access to ideas, funds and links for your project or research break-through.

How active or strong are the university’s Alumni Offices? What events or activities are held? How committed is the alumni community? What are this office’s beliefs and objectives?

One more question: What is your student profile? This is a question especially for universities abroad, or for locally-awarded degrees from overseas institutions. This tells you who you get to network with while you are in school. If you can’t get a straight answer, spend some time roaming the campus talking to, or observing current students.

At some point in life, co-operation becomes much more valuable than competition. The friends and frenemies you have made during your school years can translate into doors that are open or shut to you later in life.

These “after sales” functions of universities will become increasingly important as the world churns out even more graduates, as work/jobs become more transnational, as technology, mergers and acquisitions reduce number of jobs and increase competition.

So at your next university admissions talk or open house, don’t just ask about cut-off points, or why this course is better than another. Ask questions that span 40 years into your future, because that’s probably what you are getting an education for.

Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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by Bertha Henson

THE Direct School Admission (DSA) programme is doing away with its general academic ability tests.

People are going hurrah because it means that their non-Gifted kid can make it into their school of choice because they have another talent that is not exam-smarts.

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That is, if they clear the talent competition for entry. That is, if the school nurturing the specific talent pool is not on the other side of the island. That is, if the school nurturing said talent and achieving non-academic awards do not ignore Ah Boy’s academic work in the process.

That is, if Ah Boy clears his PSLE in the first place. If he doesn’t make the DSA cut-off point, will he be booted out?

Parents of Gifted children have been told their kid will always get a place based on their results. But the DSA isn’t about getting a secondary school place but a guaranteed, booked-in-advance, choped-already programme. That means, no need to worry about how PSLE results turn out, got place already. So, they will still go for the DSA route.

Parents of “ordinary kids’’ will be looking at the niche programmes and wondering if their kids have the requisite talent for, say, robotics or soccer. If not, they will think about sending the kid to enrichment programmes or a sports academy so they can ace whatever interview or competitive process. It’s a different kind of tuition.

Principals of ordinary schools will be wondering if they can even fill the 20 per cent DSA quota space. They’re not top in any sport or talent but merely struggling to bring all its students up to speed. These would be the garden-variety type of schools which, by the way, is still a good school although not the best. So shy if they can’t fill the space…

Parents and principals will be wondering if schools really have the teachers for these niche programmes. Are they experts or have at least mastered some aspects of the programme or are they themselves learning along with the kids? Does the National Institute of Education prepare teachers for such programmes? If principals decide to bring in outside experts, can these experts actually teach?

This is not to pour cold water on the Education Ministry’s changes to the DSA. It’s to show that people, especially parents, will view changes differently depending on their perspective and their knowledge of their childrens’ abilities. Change always leads to more questions.

We just have to be careful about not starting a different kind of rat race.

 

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by Wan Ting Koh

MORE pathways are opening up for students who want to get through the education system via talent rather than grades, but with kiasu and kiasi attitudes still largely driving the education system here, will mindsets change?

In the debate on his ministry’s budget today (Mar 7), Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng outlined several enhancements to existing schemes that show the G’s efforts to shift away from a grade-centric education system.

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First up is the Subject-Based Banding (SBB) initiative that was first implemented in 12 prototype secondary schools in 2014 for lower secondary students. SBB lets students from the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams take subjects that they are stronger in at a higher academic level. For example, a student who is in the Normal (Academic) stream, but scored an A for Mathematics in his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), can take Mathematics at the Express level under SBB.

By 2018, the G aims to roll out SBB to all schools which are offering Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses at the lower secondary level. The SBB has been in place for upper secondary school students since 2003.

Mr Ng said that this approach would help students “deepen their learning in areas of strengths”, build their confidence and “opens up new post-secondary possibilities for them”.

Through an enhancement in the DSA scheme, the G will also be increasing opportunities for primary school students to get into secondary schools through their strengths and achievements rather than academic aptitude.

From 2018, all secondary schools will be able to admit up to 20 per cent of their Secondary 1 intake through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme. First introduced in 2004, DSA is meant to recognise students’ achievements in non-academic areas, such as sports and the arts. It offers Primary 6 pupils places in secondary schools before they sit for PSLE.

Currently, only Independent schools have a 20 per cent allowance on students they accept through DSA. Autonomous schools have a 10 per cent cap while schools with distinctive programmes can admit up to 5 per cent of its students through DSA. The general academic tests that students have to sit for as part of the DSA selection criteria will also be scrapped by 2018. While these tests allow for a comparison of students’ abilities, they “inadvertently put undue focus on general academic abilities”, said Mr Ng.

In any case, students with strong general academic abilities would already be able to qualify for secondary schools with the PSLE results, he added.

On what secondary schools could use to assess entrants, Mr Ng said: “Schools can conduct their selection via a range of assessment tools including interviews, trials, auditions and subject tests. They will also consider the applicant’s overall portfolio and achievements.”

One other change applies to the tertiary front. Polytechnics will be increasing their intake allowance for students who go in through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) scheme, which, similar to DSA, admits students based on their interest and aptitude, rather than academic performance.

This scheme was introduced in 2016 for Academic Year 2017, and allowed polytechnics up to 12.5 per cent intake through EAE. However, from Academic Year 2018, the allowance would be increased to 15 per cent.

What’s new is also the expansion of the scheme to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) so that ITEs will be able to admit up to 15 per cent of their Academic Year intake through the ITE EAE.

While the G is taking tangible steps to expand the education system’s focus beyond academics, mindsets will take a longer time to catch up. This problem was flagged by Member of Parliament (MP) Denise Phua, who asked what could be done to change mindsets that are geared towards grades.

Mr Ng said that while academic excellence is “a key strength of our system, it should not be over-emphasised, at the expense of other meaningful activities”.

But whether the G’s push towards a more holistic education can genuinely change mindsets remains to be seen.

 

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WHENEVER there’s money to be given out, you can bet somebody will find a way to get hold of it via dubious means. Remember how companies took advantage of Productivity and Innovation Credit schemes to get cash? Now, that $500 SkillsFuture credit dangling in front of each adult Singaporeans is too tempting for some.

Some people – about 4,400 people – decided to pluck such tempting fruit by submitting false claims for a SkillsFuture course they didn’t attend. It’s intriguing because they all went to the same course by the same service provider – which remains un-named. MSM reported how the scam was uncovered because of data analytics which flagged a sudden spike in claims. The total amount claimed: $2.2 million.

Now the question is whether the system worked before – or after – the claims have been processed and money given out. Well, some 4,400 people are richer by $500 each, more than a GST voucher for most. The G has sent the people letters to return the money in 30 days, but it didn’t say what will happen to those who don’t.

SkillsFuture Singapore said its course directory and claims process were designed to be simple, inclusive and user-friendly, to encourage usage. “It is regrettable that some individuals have abused the system and submitted false claims,” the agency said.

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Investigations are still going on but it’s a wonder how 4,400 people can somehow be making claims for the same course. Was there a mastermind or did they somehow get wind of money to be made this way? If so, how did they get the supporting documents, like receipts for the course fees, to make the claims?

The other theory of course is that they have been unwitting accomplices who had their names used without their consent. If so, no one came forward to say so. Cash in hand is not to be sniffed at?

According to TODAY, SkillsFuture Singapore was asked if there is a risk of the claims system. Its reply: “The SkillsFuture Credit System has never been compromised … SSG’s enforcement system involves data analytics to detect anomalies, regular audits of training providers, and manual audits of individual claims. These measures have allowed SSG to uncover false SkillsFuture Credit claims. We will continue to strengthen the sensitivity of our data analytics system in flagging out anomalies.”

What a thing to say! If giving out $2.2m is not a compromise of the claims system, then what is it?

Still on training – but something that doesn’t look like it can be abused: two universities here are offering work-study degree programmes for its students. The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University have 65 such places which integrate work and training.

Did your eyes glaze over because you’ve heard about such programmes before? The difference is that the students will be spending a lot more time in a hands-on job, like up to four days a week, than in class. Free labour for companies? Nope. They will be contract staff and it will be for employers to decide if they should be given permanent positions after their graduation.

Minister for Higher Education Ong Ye Kung who announced this yesterday noted that with more people getting into universities, “employers need to ensure a good match between talents and skills of the graduates they hire and organisational needs.”

In other words, when the Singapore graduate cohort hits 40 per cent, employers need to be able to tell one grad from another and this scheme will give some students a cutting edge. The universities are beginning to look like polytechnics, aren’t they? It will be more so when the other universities add this scheme to their current internship and exchange programmes.

What sorts of courses are being offered? They include information security, software engineering, hospitality business, electrical power engineering, civil engineering and finance and business analytics.

Now why would anyone want an arts and social science degree?

 

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YOU’D think these were graduates from two different countries, so starkly different were the headlines about the 2016 graduate employment survey in Singapore’s main English dailies. ST decided to lead with how “most grads find jobs in 6 months” and the “new high” starting median salary of $3,360, while TODAY highlighted the 2.9 per cent drop in the number of graduates who found permanent jobs within six months of graduation, the lowest ever for the survey.

Another sobering statistic that TODAY noted was that the rate of salary increase has slowed from 3 per cent last year to 1.8 per cent.

All in all, it’s a slower year for graduates, with SMU leading NUS and NTU in terms of median salary and employability. SIT and SUTD conduct their surveys in February and March.

So what’s all this say in the context of Singapore’s ongoing SkillsFuture initiative? It seems that relevant coursework and experience win out for grads, and university rankings don’t mean very much to employers.

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The tension between Malaysia and North Korea over the assassination of Kim Jong Nam is escalating. KL has named a North Korean diplomat as someone they sought to question for the case, but the North Korean Embassy refused, citing diplomatic privilege.

Another North Korean who works for North Korean national carrier Air Koryo is also being sought for questioning. KL has threatened to issue arrest warrants for the duo, but a warrant is unlikely to be effective in securing the diplomat. Four other North Korean suspects and one North Korean person of interest remain at large.

The embassy also made a startling demand for all suspects to be released, including the “innocent females”. Apart from the two women, a Malaysian man and a North Korean man are being held in remand for the killing.

And then, someone tried to break into the morgue in KL, where Mr Kim’s body lay. Who did it? KL police simply said, “We know who you are. There is no need for me to tell you.”

Someone’s done a smear job on Sam’s Early Learning Centre, it seems. Photos of the centre and its students posted on Chinese social media service WeChat seem to have been taken out of context, and surprise checks and interviews by the Early Childhood Development Agency have turned up no issues at the centre.

Who could have done the deed? Centre director Mrs Samia El-Ibiary says it was the work of a disgruntled former employee who has since returned to China. The WeChat post claimed there was abuse, neglect and waste at the centre.

Where do you go if you want to buy a ship? How about Taobao? Singapore-flagged crude oil tanker Varada Blessing, of late owned by Singapore firm Varada One, was sold for $16.7 million after 19 bids were made by six parties. The Varada Blessing had fallen into an “admiralty dispute” and was then auctioned off. These are bad times for oil tankers, and Taobao is gaining popularity as a place to offload toxic assets. So… does that Taobao purchase come with free shipping?

 

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by Suhaile Md

AS THE work day comes to a close, a giant mass of office workers stream towards Tanjong Pagar MRT station, ready to head home. Against this flow are a few who are walking towards the GB building for classes at the London School of Business and Finance in Singapore (LSBF).

Thick in the midst of the business district seems an unlikely place for a college campus. There are few open spaces for shorts-and-sandals clad masses of chattering students to mill around. The laid-back atmosphere normally associated with a campus has no place in the fast paced walkways of the district.

But so what? Not everyone looks for a laid back experience. “I’m already past the stage for school-based social life”, said 23-year old Mr Mohamed Mujahid. He’s studying for his Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) certification. Most of his classmates, like him, were “focussed on their studies”, unlike during his time at a local Polytechnic where he completed his Diploma in Banking.

Mr Mujahid joined LSBF because his friends recommended it to him. Most of his friends cited the good reputation of lecturers. “They simplify what seems complicated”, said Mr Mujahid. The quality of the teaching at LSBF was a key reason why he joined LSBF.

Classes

Silence greeted everyone exiting the lift at 6.30pm on the 18th floor of GB building. But a short walk past the lobby revealed a large classroom, that takes up almost the entire floor with a corridor hugging its perimeter, steadily filling up with students.

A quiet intensity hung in the air. Little wonder, since classes started in 15 minutes. Almost all the students were in business attire – work had just ended. There was little time before class. Some made quick trips to the washroom. Others had a short shut-eye with heads resting on their desks. Most of them, though, were eating packed food.

At 6.45pm sharp, the ACCA class started.

The atmosphere in that classroom was quiet, studious. But that is not all there is to LSBF.

Head over to the 6th floor of Springleaf Tower, a mere 3 minutes walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, and you’d be awash with the constant buzz of conversation liberally interspersed with laughter. Student-led activities were underway.

Culture at LSBF

There were nearly 60 activities and events for students held in LSBF last year. Student clubs like the go-green club, photography club, sports club, and students council, among others, add life beyond the classroom for students who want to do more than their studies. Through these clubs, students get to meet diverse students outside their courses.

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Student bonding activity at Marina Barrage. Image by LSBF.

“The best thing about LSBF is the diverse and friendly culture,” said Malaysian student Ms Nabilah Aimi. The 20-year-old is studying for an advanced diploma in logistics and supply chain. She has made friends from Singapore, Mongolia and Russia through the student clubs.

“Staff here are engaging and friendly… I don’t feel homesick”, she added.

Echoing her sentiments was Ms Otgonjargal, a diploma in international hospitality management student. She recounted her experience with staff at another renowned PEI when she was doing a campus visit: “I needed help… I waited so long, wait, wait, wait, and finally some guy came and rushed through.” After which he left even though she was still confused. That was not the case when she visited LSBF.

That difference in experience, among other reasons like the course itself, convinced Ms Otgonjargal to join LSBF. When asked if the smaller campus at LSBF was an issue, she shrugged it off and said “it’s cosy”, and that the friendly, helpful culture of the people managing the institution mattered much more.

The human touch

Last December at the LSBF staff workplan seminar, Managing Director Mr Rathakrishnan Govind said: “Yes, technology is important, but the human touch matters.”

It’s not just talk.

Prospective foreign students don’t just email LSBF staff when they have queries. Staff engage them live, through online chats, said student Mr Baldev Singh. The 28-year-old Indian national joined LSBF just over a month back to study hospitality. The staff were “very cooperative”, engaging him directly and immediately. It was more intimate, and human, compared to just email correspondence.

Another example: The programme management office, which is responsible for the various study programmes, work in the GB building because that’s where most of the classes are held, and students can have easy access to them. And if there are evening classes, the office remains open way past its closing time for the students. Sometimes even coming down on the weekends, on their own accord, if there are classes.

LSBF has been in Singapore for only six years. It registered as a Private Educational Institute (PEI) in 2011. In spite of its young age, there are over 10,000 full-time and part-time students. It provides 55 different courses ranging from preparatory courses to post-graduate and masters courses. These are in various fields like hospitality, logistics, and business among others.

But this is not enough. LSBF is looking to do even better. As Mr Govind said to his staff at the workplan seminar: “If you think you’ve already achieved, you will fail miserably… the focus [is] on quality, quality, quality.” And quality can always be improved.

 

This article is the first of a three-part series in collaboration with LSBF.

 

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BUT first, today is Budget Day. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce the national budget and measures to tackle the current economic slowdown and its attendant problems. Stay tuned to The Middle Ground as we report on and react to the announcement in the late afternoon.

Malaysia is looking for four North Korean men in connection with the assassination of Mr Kim Jong Nam. Rhi Ji Hyon, 33; Hong Song Hac; 34, O Jong Gil, 55; and Ri Jae Nam, 57 left for Jakarta after the attack last Monday (Feb 13) and Malaysian paper The Star reports that they are back in North Korea via the UAE and Russia.

Four others remain in custody – two women (Vietnamese and Indonesian), a Malaysian man, and a North Korean man. The whereabouts of three other men, one North Korean and two other unidentified men, are unknown.

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A larger proportion of each local university cohort can now be admitted through the discretionary admissions scheme. The shift away from a grades-only approach means that 15 per cent of each cohort, up from 10 per cent, can rely on interviews, essays, aptitude tests and portfolios to secure a place instead.

The G has also targeted that by 2020, 40 per cent of all students each year will attend local university.

Hiker Steward Lee, 27, is still missing in spite of a 70-man search of forested and nature reserve areas yesterday. The search team, comprising police, park rangers and volunteers who had responded to Mr Lee’s elder sister Lee Yunqin’s appeal on Facebook, spent four hours on the search.

Mr Lee was last seen at 2pm on Friday at Block 407 Fajar Road. He was wearing a plain black short-sleeved T-shirt and blue jeans with slippers and glasses.

If you have information on the missing hiker, please call the Police hotline (1800-255-0000) or make a report at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

 

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by Suhaile Md

WHAT’S the secret to career success? That’s a perennial question and these days, skills mastery has come to be accepted as a key component of a successful climb up the career ladder.

But what exactly is “skills mastery”?

To put it simply, it is a mindset – of continually striving towards greater excellence through knowledge, application and experience. Skills mastery is more than having the right paper qualifications and being good at what you do now.

We discuss three important areas of mastery:

 

Mastery of learning 

The mastery of learning is not just about intellectual humility and the willingness to learn, but also about building on existing knowledge bases and not throwing them away.

Yes, there are jobs today that did not exist yesterday – social media marketing for example. But that does not mean that you have to jump to an entirely different field to be relevant.

For example, a brick-and-mortar shoe salesman’s job may be at risk due to e-commerce. But he may want to capitalise on his knowledge of various shoe products to learn more about purchasing for the e-commerce company and not necessarily try to pick up coding skills to run the website.

Not everybody is able to pick up entirely different skill sets. And age is also a factor here. The young are better able to learn something completely new. But adults have an edge over younger employees – existing knowledge.

“If learning can be assimilated into an existing knowledge case, advantage tilts to the old,” said Dr Timothy Salthouse, Director of The Cognitive Aging Laboratory at the University of Virginia, in The Economist earlier this month (Jan 14).

So the idea of skills mastery here, is to pick up a new but related skill that extends from your existing knowledge base and not from scratch. 

Skills mastery is about striving to be the best in what you can do, so as to innovate better and progress. It’s hard to innovate when you have to build up your knowledge base again.

Which is why SkillsFuture has its fellowship programme for Singaporeans with at least 10 years of experience in the same industry or similar job function, possess deep expertise, and wish to upgrade further. Fellows will get $10,000 to spend on courses relevant to their work. This year, 30 such fellowships will be given out and the number is set to increase up to 100 annually at a later date.

While not everyone can be a fellow, there are many affordable skills-based modular courses at post-secondary institutions here for the rest of us. From customer relationship management to manpower resource management, these part-time courses courses are designed for working adults.

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Mastery of industry

How do you know what to learn if you don’t know what skills are going to be relevant in the future?

The e-commerce scene in Singapore for instance, is expected to grow to US$5.4 billion (S$7.46 billion) by 2025, up from US$1 billion in 2015, according to a report by Temasek and Google last year. The up-to-date brick-and-mortar retail worker should then work towards acquiring skills relevant to e-commerce, whether it’s purchasing or online marketing.

The shipbuilding industry has also been taking a hit. Just last year, Keppel Shipyard, one of Singapore’s largest, cut 35 per cent of its workforce, which is over 10,000 workers. Such changes do not happen overnight. Workers alert to such changes can prepare beforehand to absorb the shock better.

While there’s no need to know details like stock price movements and so on, a general awareness of industry trends is important in developing skills mastery.

Students about to enter the workforce may have the largest gap in industry related knowledge. Fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates may want to enrol in the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme. The work-study programme enables them to learn skills that are relevant to their industry, while drawing a regular paycheck. The certification they acquire along the way would also be recognised by other companies in the industry.

 

Mastery of social skills

Many jobs today are lost not just to lower wage workers overseas, but also to machines and automation.

By 2035, over a third of jobs held in Singapore are at risk of automation, according to a 2015 report by the Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office.

The solution to securing future job prospects would be to develop social skills like negotiation and social perceptiveness. The labour market rewards workers with social skills according to a study last August (2016) by Professor David Deming of Harvard University. Between 1980 and 2012, the proportion of jobs that required high social skills increased by nearly 10 percentage points while math-intensive roles that did not require much use of social skills fell by about 3 percentage points in the same period.

The reason is that machines cannot read emotions, build consensus and basically, be human. So even though the study was conducted in the United States, the lessons for Singapore in the face of automation, is still relevant.

Again, new graduates are at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring social skills at the workplace. Which is why they should take up internships, to start to acquire social skills at the workplace before they formally enter their careers. By 2020 all polytechnics and ITEs will have enhanced internships integrated into their core curriculum. Enhanced because there will be clearer learning outcomes and closer interactions between industry partners and educational institutes in developing the internships.

In a nutshell, acquiring skills alone does not lead to mastery. There’s a need to know what skills are relevant in the future through understanding industry trends, building on – and not discarding – existing knowledge to be able to innovate and having the social skills to get work done well.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Pixabay user congerdesign. (CC0 1.0)

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by Suhaile Md

WHEN it comes to food, Singaporeans are a passionate bunch. No wonder, then, that our story about late lunches in primary schools was shared more than 500 times on Facebook. You can read the story here if you missed it.

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After we posted the story on social media last Friday (Jan 6), a lot of people wanted to know why. Why are our primary school children having lunch as late as 3pm?

We went to the Ministry of Education for some answers. They didn’t say much – except that the lunch schedules are planned by the schools and are “reasonably spaced” from recess breaks. A quick check online found most schools did not schedule any lunch breaks but had recess breaks in the mid-morning.

Here are the questions we asked MOE. See their full response copied below.

1. Does MOE have guidelines for primary and secondary schools when it comes to scheduling time for recess? If not, why not? If there is, kindly elaborate on the guidelines. E.g. recommended duration, timing, etc.

2. Or is it completely up to the schools to decide when and how long they decide to schedule time for recess? Why or why not?

3. Are there guidelines for when normal class schedules for schools (primary and secondary) should end? That is, formal classes which exclude CCA time and remedial classes.

4. Does MOE have guidelines for primary and secondary schools when it comes to scheduling time for lunch? If not, why not? If there is, kindly elaborate on the guidelines. E.g. recommended duration, timing, etc.

5. Or is it completely up to the schools to decide when and how long they decide to schedule time for Lunch? Why or why not?
6. Some schools have 10 min break during a time when people usually have lunch (12-1.30). Is that an MOE guideline? If so, why is it only 10mins, it seems too short for lunch.

Furthermore, is this restricted to the classroom or can student go down to the canteen? Can they eat meals in class? Or is it restricted to snacks?

… And here’s MOE’s response, in full:

“Our schools are mindful of student well-being when they plan the school schedule. Schools take into consideration the length of the school day and the size of the cohort to determine the duration and timing of the recess. This may require recess to be staggered for different levels.

“In addition, many schools include a snack break during formal curriculum time to allow students to eat regularly without increasing school hours further. Schools with any afternoon classes or programmes provide lunch breaks of about 30 min for the students. The timing of the lunch breaks are reasonably spaced from the recess break.”

 

Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

Why do our primary school kids have such LATE lunches?

5 quick and easy meals for a lunchbox

 

Featured image from Little Fairyland Childcare & Development Centre‘s Facebook page.

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