Singapore, September 23, 2018: grappling with an aging population and a shortage of high-tech workers, says it needs to bring in foreign talent in areas including software programming while the country re balances its education system to meet future demands.
Social security and health care are among the biggest policy challenges with Singapore’s rapidly-aging population, Ong said, citing government figures showing a quarter of the country will be 65 or older in 2030.
“A transformation is required,” Ong said, “A transformation towards an economy that is more innovation-driven, that is more productivity-driven.”
Ong’s chief responsibility — the local education system — is a key to Singapore’s labor needs and economic transformation.
“We need to use an inquiry-based approach to teach students how to exercise critical thinking,” he said. “It used to be ‘knowledge is power.’ Now, power is knowing what knowledge to ignore, and what to take in, and decide for yourself.”
He noted that while the system has “strengths that we should not discard,” adjustments need to be made between an “over-focus on exam results” and “higher-order outcomes.”
“We need to re-balance that so education is more fun, more joy, more holistic and children have a passion and an aptitude in deciding what they want to do,” Ong said in the Sept. 19 interview. “It’s not just my marks but also developing my passion, an idea of my future, my journey, and getting soft skills.”
With its current heavy reliance on trade, Singapore is toeing a delicate line as China and the U.S. — its No. 1 and No. 4 trading partners — duel with tariffs and protectionism.
“The most important bilateral relations in the world are between the U.S. and China,” Ong said. “If that doesn’t go well, starting with trade, the whole world suffers.”
U.S. President Donald Trump this week ordered tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to take effect Sept. 24 and Beijing announced a retaliation with taxes on $60 billion of U.S. products. These came after tit-for-tat levies earlier this year.