Learning For Life: Stories That Inspire

by Joachim Sim, 2018

Foreword by Viva Sinniah – President
Singapore Association for Private Education

Challenges Facing Education Industry: A Private Higher Education Perspective

Viva Sinniah – President
Singapore Association for Private Education

It is almost passé to start an essay by stating that these are challenging times. But I feel the current environment does warrant such a description. The education and training industry faces three key challenges that I would like to address: lifelong learning; engaging learners; and transforming the education and training industry.

Institutions as centres for lifelong learning

At times we look at lifelong learning as something very unique to our era. It is not so. Every generation has to master new skill sets with changing times. What is new in the current epoch? Previously, one had to master one or two skill sets.

With rapid disruption, the need to master several skill sets becomes the norm. Private education continues to play an important role in Singapore’s social safety net to help individuals to upgrade and earn degrees and diplomas that are of good standing, enabling them to compete with global talent and seize exciting opportunities in our cosmopolitan marketplace. Our goal is simple – equip learners with the right skill sets and ability to learn, unlearn and relearn quickly, accurately (including knowledge retention) and effectively. With recent changes in the learning environment, this goal is less straightforward. Soon, there will be no place for rote learning or a straightforward or linear form of academic progression.

We have always viewed the pursuit of an academic degree and a set of matriculated qualifications as a standard for success. Going forward, this will not be the only way to acquire skills (that are authenticated and proven) that will allow learners to work effectively in the new economy. Workers are now more likely to change industry or job than before due to disruptions caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the advent of Web 3.0. In a new era of volatility, educational institutions should aim to act as a bulwark against uncertainty, as we become both advocates and practitioners of lifelong learning. Perhaps this means that we must change the way we look at examination-based qualifications and traditional delivery methods, and instead focus on evidence-based approaches that involve more coursework, practice-based assessments and the like. A score for acquired knowledge should mean less than qualified experience in a handson project. While foundational hard skills remain central to the learning process, the teacher must also evolve to become a facilitator, and impart the softer skills of leadership development and encourage inquisitiveness and experimentation, so as to develop resilient and self-motivated learners who can adapt to changing environments, workloads and even job functions.

While our aims and goals as institutes for learning remain steadfast, let us not make the mistake of thinking that we have undisputed authority or expertise in the necessary skills that students must learn. Global conglomerates that have kept ahead of disruption have been able to ingeniously crowdsource ideas and content that help to keep their workers updated — to the point where many are setting up their own academies and training centres. It is important that we maintain close cooperation with industry that will help us to match talent demand with the supply of highly-skilled workers. I hope we can continue to keep an open mind to see what we can learn and gain from various ground-breaking companies.

Engaging a new and older generation of learners
We have the challenge of evolving our methods to serve millennials who have different learning characteristics and habits from the baby boomers and Generation X. Just as workers across industries today try to stay ahead of technological disruptions, so do private educators, who confront the same challenges as we help learners to upskill and upgrade. Our pace of change often needs to go in tandem with the increasing speed of technological development — so that we can harness ways in which we can provide greater and more convenient access to quality information for skills development.

In our work as advocates for lifelong learning, there are also increasingly new methods we can use to reach out to millennials in more personal and highly-interactive ways, and through social media and mobile platforms. While we target this young and dynamic generation of learners, a large part of our focus on the lifelong education process is also on improving andragogy — thus we engage mature learners in the workplace who need to continually upgrade themselves. Because of this, the education industry may face more difficulty in addressing those “left behind” who might not be able to keep up with the speed of change that is affecting their industries, or new learning methods that are supposed to improve engagement with millennials. It would be interesting to see how we can continue to customise the learning experience to individual students and allow every learner to learn at his or her own pace and space.

Transforming the education and training industry
Lessons from different industries show that over time collaboration rather than competition becomes the norm as the industry matures, competition intensifies, and the market becomes more sophisticated. The Singapore private education industry is no exception to this trend.

Thankfully, there is acknowledgement of the fact that no one private education institution can do everything and have the resources to go it alone. While there is nascent co-operation among the key players in the industry, more can be done. By collaborating and leveraging and harnessing our combined resources, we can do more for our ourselves and students and help to shape a more forward-looking and progressive industry. The Singapore Association for Private Education (SAPE) sees itself as a catalyser for this process to promote collaboration to achieve a better outcome for all stakeholders, especially the students. The future of education is indeed an exciting one, and we private educators are in a unique position to harness the best of technology and research out there, as long as we can stay nimble and are motivated to continue to experiment with new methods of teaching, which could very well mean that we will be evolving faster than traditional institutions.

I look forward to seeing how we can delight learners of all levels with education technology tools, stimulate the discovery process in refreshing ways, and look further into the different learning modes (such as microlearning, e-learning and stackable modules) that can make learning more efficient and flexible, just like the learners of today. While education in general becomes more commoditised, with an ever-growing list of ways and channels through which students can pick up and hone new skills, we can help learners to keep a focus on their goals by guiding them and by continuing to provide them with the avenues to pick up soft skills that no online courses or YouTube videos can.

I’d like to quote my colleague in education, Dr Sam Choon Yin, who reminds me that beyond realising a sustainable and responsible return in the economic sense (as what privately-owned businesses do), the true reason we are educators is our mission to provide timeless quality education – where the real valueadded in class is derived from the passion for teaching and the knowledge, skills and real-world experiences that the lecturers bring into the classroom. We continue to look up to educators who keep a good balance of interestbased learning and outcome-based learning. In addition, we hope to support and motivate them and their students through the wider adoption of coaching and mentoring techniques and technology, as well as learning analytics, so that we can create an exciting future in education together.

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