There is little doubt that a key component of future-proofing our educational system is to ensure that those whom we educate today build a foundation of knowledge that is just the start of a lifetime of learning.
In a modern economy where change is frequent and data is only a search and click away, we need to equip our human capital with tools to analyse and understand the world around us, not merely content ourselves with the transfer and recitation of information.
This does not mean we should layer on more classroom requirements and paper qualifications. If examples such as Apple and Google aren’t sufficiently clear — the two firms are among a host of cutting-edge employers that have famously dispensed with a college degree requirement for its hires — the manner by which we evaluate the capabilities of our 21st century hires should similarly evolve.
As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so let us similarly evaluate our future-ready workers by how well they execute projects and implement solutions, rather than how well they can ace an exam.
A word of caution here: when we bandy about terms like “lifelong learning”, we risk devaluing the principle into meaningless buzzwords, where upgrading” is blindly satisfied with company-sponsored “continuing education” (or SkillsFuture) credit, rather than a mindset that seeks out the latest developments in one’s field and strives for high levels of achievement as a result of an inherent pride in being relevant and valuable.
At the very least, we should place greater value on on-the-job training and award recognition for gained experience. This is the apprenticeship model the Teutonic people have developed and adapted so well to the modern economy. Ironically, this may entail a return to an appreciation of artisan skills, and the guild system that emerged in medieval times.
However, to be completely future-proof, we must also ensure that the education we currently deliver is fit for purpose. This means that qualifications conferred to graduates of our educational system — whether at the university level, or any other terminal certification — should be targeted toward filling gaps that have been identified by employers and industries. Put another way, we should be training job-matched graduates.
The national education system must be prepared to build human capital at all stops along this pipeline, from the gifted innovators, thinkers, creatives, and stars we hope will become the next Sim Wong Hoo, Andrew Ng, Stephanie Sun or Yip Pin Xiu, to the motivated engineers and technicians we want to manage our nation’s cultural, digital, and assets, to the rank-and-file support staff we expect to populate our back-end support functions in retail, industry, and banks.
Just as important, we must not hold fast to the belief that presently sexy fields — biopharma or infotech — are the only viable ones for the future. Content creators, digital musicians and composers, advanced manufacturing operators, and world-class sportsmen and women should all factor into our future jobs mix.
After all, the value of any given profession is the extent to which others are willing to pay for the goods or services produced by that job. A worker of the past may be befuddled by how a YouTuber is able to earn tens of thousands of dollars by being an influencer, but that is the reality of the world we live in now.
The final way to ensure our educational system is future-proof is to ensure our students have a genuine passion for what they do, and to pair these passions with training. Lackadaisical learners are impossible to motivate, but nearly every one of us has an innate interest in some (possibly esoteric) aspect of life.
Therefore, the trick is to somehow blend these factors in a way that is also valued by society as a whole. Among the Japanese, the concept is called ikigai, meaning life’s purpose. When we have discovered how we can do what we love and be paid for it, while contributing to the betterment of our world, then we have reached that magical bliss point, one that is undoubtedly future-proof.