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Continuing Education and training: What is it and how it helps?

Living is learning

The 2008 financial tsunami flooded the tiny nation Singapore where many people were swept out of jobs. The widespread retrenchment in Singapore highlights the vulnerability of the nation to external changes. Perhaps the workforce here has to be more adaptable than those of many larger countries whose sheer size is a good buffer from outside fluctuations. Because of the reality that Singapore faces, the function of the Continuing Education and Training (CET) becomes all the more important. It ensures that the Singapore workforce remains resilient and agile, so that everyone can be gainfully employed and have a stake in the economy.

Survival of the fittest

“Adaptable” a key word you will hear whenever you have discussions on continuing education. Behind the discussion is an assumption that one should engage in lifelong learning, which is the only way to ensure that one remains relevant to the changing economic demand of different industries. Hence, learning does not stop when one graduates with a certificate, and starting to work does not mean stopping to learn. Quite on the contrary, one starts a different learning journey in the workforce, one that requires a good balance between theories and practicality. The outcome of the learning is not reflected in a transcript, but in one’s monthly pay. Failure to learn well does not lead to a lower grade; it leads to lower job prospect or, in the event of a downturn, retrenchment.

Shared responsibility

Moreover, inability to adapt does not just lead to unhappiness of individual employees. It imposes cost on the whole society, as the government has to use more taxpayers’ money for unemployment benefits and other social services. Being a pragmatic, the government dislikes the concept of “welfare”. Drawing lessons from the catastrophic consequences of the National Health Services of the British welfare system, the Singapore government is committed to shared responsibility between the government and the citizens. That’s why the Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin commented in a Singapore Conversation that “best form of welfare is work.” The emphasis of shared responsibility is even seen in the area of continuing education itself. Responding to the complaints from participants during the Conversation, Mr. Tan replied that after a student partially pays the school fee, the student will be invested in the learning. Such a policy reflects a good understanding of psychology. We tend to take for grants things that are given to us for free. Hence, by making the education heavily subsidized instead of free, students will learn more seriously as they do not wish their own money to go wasted. Ultimately it’s the students themselves who benefit from having to pay some fees out of their own pockets.

Staying relevant

The attractiveness of the Continuing Education lies with its constant relevance. What is obsolete or unnecessary for an industry is not taught. The pragmatism in teaching maximizes the value of adult students’ time, which is limited as they balance their careers and families. Hence, the teaching centers should be like intelligence centers, capturing key information that reflects industry trend. However, since it is an adult education center, some theoretical teaching may not be highly regarded by students. Some older students feedback that writing and academic parts of the curriculum are very hard for them to digest. Teaching theories and academics is an essential part in developing a person’s intellect, but for result-oriented adults, what they want is skills so that they can quickly get out of unemployment or move on to better jobs in their lives. The constant pressure of “bringing home the bacon” makes academic learning a luxury, especially when one’s age is slowing his or her ability to process abstract knowledge. The Masterplan of the Ministry of Manpower envisions that the workforce of the future– nearly 50% of our resident workforce—will have at least a diploma qualification by 2020. While we are not encouraging a paper-chase mentality, having a certificate means that the person is constantly learning, upgrading and staying mentally active. It reflects a positive working attitude of the workforce, one that believes that living means learning.

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