At the macro level, the education regime first needs to be contextualised to today's society.
'We should be bold because our world is changing... The texture of our society has changed, the shape of industry has changed, the global financial crisis has rewritten a lot of rules and we have to position for a future that's a decade or two away.'
Take the parents of pupils entering Primary 1 today. As children of the 80s, they grew up in a 'prospering' Singapore, travelled widely and have different aspirations for their children. 'Their children will have many more opportunities to plug into the world. Many of them of course will grow up here, but throughout their working life, they may be working in different places and we need to prepare them for that future.'
To shape these children for the new workplace - here or overseas - Singapore cannot just count on literacy and numeracy alone. 'Students from China, India and Vietnam will be just as literate and numerate, if not more, so Singapore has to value add so that its workers will continue to have that edge,' he says.
Increasingly, the new edge will come from critical thinking, good communication skills (both writing and verbal), leadership, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.
As such, he says the importance of building 'soft skills' or '21st century competencies' in every child, a topic he dwelt on at length in his parliamentary speech last month, cannot be over-emphasised.
'I think no one would disagree that soft skills are required in the workplace, all of us know it. And here I'm signalling to say yes, it's important, we should pay attention to it.'
Schools will soon put greater emphasis on physical education, art and music so that students develop a range of 'social and emotional competencies', as well as acquire 'global awareness and cross-cultural skills, civic literacy, critical thinking, information and communication skills'.
He says: 'We have reached high standards in the other areas, such as maths and science. So we have the capacity to strengthen the system by developing other aspects in our students.
'Also, our population is less homogenous than it was 40 years ago. And a reiteration of these fundamental skills and values, the shared experiences, is an important one.'
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