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 Skills in a world of changes


There is no lack of news in the education sector in Singapore. Amid restructuring of curriculum of many educational institutions, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is also making its voice heard. Unlike other institutions, the ITE caters to the segment of student population with a strong need for learning practical skills for livelihood. It is for vocational training under a relatively narrow curriculum for specific jobs, so that graduates are expected to enter the industries that match their skills learned in classroom. As the institution has a pragmatic teaching philosophy, its restructuring is supposed to be along the same line. However, the current restructuring goes apparently against pragmatism: instead of teaching more job-specific skills, the institution requires all students to study under a more broad-based curriculum in their first year of learning. But upon careful thinking, such a move is actually more pragmatic than the current situation, as the restructuring is a quick response to the changes in economic situations.

It’s no longer about one job only

The current change to the ITE curriculum is to make it impart a set of skills for cluster-based jobs, instead of a few skills for a specific job. Is being a warehouse assistant remotely different from being a library assistant or a general administrator in a community centre office? All of them demand skills such as data entry techniques. However, working as a librarian requires cataloguing knowledge, which may not be taught to a student who plans to work as a general administrator. But how difficult is it for an administrator-to-be to take one module in cataloguing, so that it is much easier for the same person to cross between the two industries? Many industries are classified under different majors of study, but much of the distinction can be artificial, and sometimes counterproductive for career success. Hence, to minimize artificial distinction in majors, the ITE’s first-year curriculum teaches a student a set of skills that are essential to any job that deals with data management. Instead of studying for a major, a student begins to study for a set of skills, the ultimate result students want to get out of their ITE education.

Versatility is key

The shift in curriculum focus is not just for expediency. More importantly, it makes students more versatile and adaptable to the constant changes in the economy. Long gone the era where one held a job for a life! Switching jobs is no more a terrifying decision and changing a few jobs to gain different experiences is sometimes encouraged at the early stage of one’s career. Moreover, Singapore being a small economy is vulnerable to the changes of external conditions. Lower labour cost in China once snatched away many low-end local manufacturing jobs. The development of ports in neighbouring countries, particularly Malaysia, has been competing away ships from the ports of Singapore. Such changes are happening at an even more rapidly rate in recent years. It will be highly unwise to stick to one job, hoping that it will be one’s source of income for the rest of his life. Hence, the new ITE curriculum is a necessary component for the survival of our graduates in the future.

Time and money

Besides making graduates more adaptable, the curriculum has benefits for current students too. Since one is taking common curriculum that is designed for a cluster of jobs, one can take one year to consider his major before he moves on to the second year. Wrong choice of major can be costly, and many students make decision based on limited information, or simply the advice of parents before they enter tertiary institutions. With the exposure to skills common to a cluster of related industries, one will gain first-hand experience of what different industries are really about and make more informed choices. Moreover, a student can graduate faster because he has cleared many modules necessary for his major in the first year. For career-minded ITE students, graduating faster has an immense advantage: they can start to earn an income earlier. Since practical skills should be applied, why not let them apply in the real industries earlier, instead of holding them back to memorize lecture notes in school?   While holding a degree is something admirable, having a set of lifelong skills that enable one to cross related industries with ease is also worth pursuing. The present change in curriculum highlights such a benefit and makes ITE more attractive to students. With our educational sector more diversified and each institution doing its best part in helping our students to succeed, the whole nation stands to prosper.

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