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In dialogue with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan

19 Aug 2013



Dr Balakrishnan spoke on redefining education in the 21st century during a REACH dialogue session


The student audience posed various questions to the Minister

Students from the Tembusu College at NUS were privileged to hear from Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishan on the topic of redefining education in the 21st century on 14 August 2013.

“The purpose of education is to maximise human potential so as to lead a meaningful life,” the former NUS medical student told the more than 50 attendees.

Sharing about his personal education journey, Dr Balakrishnan elaborated on his experiences related to competition, relationships and choices to be made. By competition, he meant the need to vie for places at secondary school, junior college and later at university and medical school.  

As an NUS student, Dr Balakrishnan, who was awarded the President’s Scholarship, chose to seek out opportunities for extra-curricular activities such as participating in the NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU) and joining the debating team to build relationships. He was elected NUSSU President from 1981 to 1983 and Chairman from 1984 to 1985. 

Dr Balakrishnan found, however, that his experience is vastly different from those of current students. Today’s students face greater challenges due to increasing competition, technology and its impact and urbanisation.

Against this backdrop, education has to be redefined. Given the local and international scale of the competition, students will have to work harder and smarter. Owing to advances in technology, white-collar work will be increasingly commoditised, affecting future jobs. With increasing urbanisation, there will be implications for Singapore’s relevance to the world and the types of jobs in cities.

Responding to the question on the opportunities and threats to Singapore’s current education model, Dr Balakrishnan said that there is now a wider spectrum of avenues made available to students. At NUS, he cited the options of studying at University Town, the Yale-NUS College and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore.

However, Dr Balakrishnan noted that the concept of the university is no longer about getting certification and presuming thereby that “life is set” with the attainment of a degree. Instead, re-learning, re-certification and re-tooling are necessary.

During the lively exchange of ideas that ensued, Dr Balakrishnan fielded many questions posed by the student audience. The topics raised included the character of Singapore’s economic evolution and the pragmatic approach to education in Singapore, morality in education, the weight of curriculum at the primary and secondary school levels.


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