Had difficulties catching up with Education policy changes in recent years

Each time when there was a new Minister of Education or Minister of State (Education), I remember the apprehensions felt when I was still in the polytechnic. With each new Minister or Minister of State, we were expecting changes to the education policies. It had to be because these political appointees had to show results during their tenure.

The tenure of appointment was getting shorter in recent years.

Year appointed Minister Years between
2011 Heng Swee Keat Current Minister
2008 Ng Eng Hen 3
2003 Tharman Shanmugaratnam 5
1997 Teo Chee Hean 6

Significant education policy changes had long-term impact that can some time surfaced many years down the road. A minister with short-term tenure would not be able to see through the changes through the years. It then became someone else’s baby to either change or drop that policy. Some recent examples are P1 registration policies, focus on academic grades for getting into independent schools, and more law graduates than demand.

I remember the times many years ago. Dr Tay Eng Soon was the Minister of State (Education) and later Senior Minister of State (Education) from 1981 to 1993 before he passed away. That was 12 years of service in the Ministry. He was attributed to building up a very respected polytechnic education of today.

Next up we are going to see changes to ITE and polytechnic education. Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee chaired by Senior MOS Indranee Rajah will be releasing its report on this sector soon. Senior MOS Indranee Rajah was appointed to this position in November 2012, less than two years ago. ASPIRE is the biggest thing on her plate and I am waiting to see what policy changes are being proposed.

Some time a good policy can remain in place but tweaks can be made to address some of the concerns. There need not be overhaul in policy. This is to allow a policy decision time for implementation. Bear in mind that staying still is also a management decision. Even more so, one should not fall into the trap of pampering to some vocal groups and adopt populist decisions. If it ain’t broke why fix it?


ASPIRE released its report yesterday. After seeing the 10 recommendations made, I do not consider it transformational or powerful as indicated by Minister of Education. Like the executive summary of the report stated – “to meet the demands of the future and the aspirations of our students, the system must continue to evolve in an innovative and dynamic fashion” – it is more evolutionary than a shake-up of the current polytechnic education framework.

What is of significance is the emphasis of continuing training and education for fresh graduates of polytechnic. The Place-and-Train scheme with the industry leading to certification on the jobs is the right step to take to encourage polytechnic graduates to consider working first instead of jumping into a degree program. For this to work, we need buy-in by companies/employers in the industry.

The polytechnics/ITE must be commended for continuing to innovate and improve over the years and in bringing polytechnic/ITE education to a level that is the envy of other nations.

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