This is a short addition to an earlier post I had regarding the cost of education. Most of my points were aimed at academic education. Now, it is puzzling to many when ‘academic’ and ‘education’ are separated. My definition of an academic education is one that gives a more theoretical fundamental understanding of the arts and the sciences. Basically, most of the majors offered in their namesake faculties in most universities.
The Benefits of an Academic Education
The main benefit is disciplining the mind and shaping thought processes. This is a very important stage of development but frankly, you do not need the bulk of your students going through that. The desired output for academic education are thinkers, researchers, policy makers, etc. As you can see, the direct output does not send one to a professional job (ok besides teaching and lecturing). That is where the vocational degrees come in.
Vocational Degrees – More Please
Vocational degrees were created for well established professions that require tertiary certification. Medicine, Law, Engineering, Accountancy, Business, Computer Science (Programming), Architecture, etc. They create students that are ready made for the industry. They fit right in after they graduate. There’s no scratching your head for a bit figuring out how to apply theory to practice because all you have been getting is largely practice. The trend is vocational degrees are expanding. Lesser known degrees have higher take ups – such as journalism and media writing. We need to expand in this area because you do not need 30% of your population walking out as academics; unless you have close to 30% of your jobs requiring academics (no known economy functions this way). Expand on the vocational degrees, if you want to push as many as you can into the tertiary level of education – make relevant degrees and certifications that satisfy the jobs you are offering in your economy.
Shaping education is tricky because you basically have to plan about 5-10 years in advance which calls for a massive amount of projection and inevitably risk and inaccuracy. It takes that amount of time to craft a unit of labor into the job you have. Yet, this is key. This is exactly what we need to ensure that our labor force is able to fit into the market and expand the economy. Stop producing square pegs for round holes. Policy makers should look at the jobs they expect Singaporeans to take up on completion of their studies and ensure they are crafted to fit it. Obviously you cannot craft a 100% fit but at least their tertiary education should see a 70% fit. The benefits of academic shaping should be pushed earlier in the primary and secondary stage. Again, obviously you cannot have the best of both worlds. It is prioritizing what is most important that is key in forming education policies and steering the trajectory of learning.
Increasing Job Value
As much as we were brave to push into a knowledge based economy (KBE), let is diversify to embrace an economy that requires skilled labor. It is often that these jobs do not come with a social shine because they currently do not need degrees. And this social perception was created by our overzealous push for a KBE. Let’s embrace the fact that skilled efficient labor is often more important and required in larger quantities. Bring the positive social shine on it and increase the value of such jobs in social perceptions. This is how you create intrinsic demand for a particular set of jobs. This is how you make people proud of the field that they work in. And like everything, it begins with education – the right form and focus of education.