Empowering Youth, Industry and Lifelong Learners
for a Brighter Future
Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education
Ms Theresa Schopper, Minister for Education, Youth & Sports, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Mr Andrew Chong, Chairman, ITE
Ms Low Khah Gek, CEO, ITE
Past Chairmen and CEOs of ITE
Permanent Secretaries, Past and Present
Partners, staff, students and alumni
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
It is always a pleasure for me to be back at ITE. I have been following closely ITE’s development through the years, even before I was Minister for Education in 1997. I had the privilege of attending ITE’s 10th Anniversary in 2002 and its 20th Anniversary in 2012. It means a lot to me to be back here again for ITE’s 30th anniversary.
Evolution of Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore
The evolution of vocational and technical education in Singapore is a reflection of Singapore’s development story, and our Government’s determination to equip all Singaporeans with industry-relevant skills that will enable every Singaporean to get good jobs and meet the needs of our economy. In the 1980s and 1990s, Singapore was finding our economic footing and trying to establish ourselves as a hub in the region and in Asia. As we opened up new industry sectors and new technologies, we started to slowly emerge as a centre for these industries, and we needed to raise the skill levels of our workers to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have the skills of the future, necessary for the jobs of the future. We had many partners and friends who helped us in this journey – friends from Germany, France and elsewhere.
At that time, learners who did not wish to continue along the purely academic pathway, and who were more interested to pursue careers that drew more on their kinaethestic abilities, had few options. They could either enter the workforce early and learn what they could on the job, after primary school or some secondary schooling, or pick up vocational skills at the Vocational & Industrial Training Board (or VITB). Half of those who entered VITB did not complete secondary education. This meant that they did not have the pre-requisite foundation, knowledge and skills at that base level to enjoy the opportunities that would arise from the new economy. The government decided to provide a new skills development and upgrading pathway for our youths. This was a comprehensive programme of which the ITE was an important part. There was a new track in our secondary schools that was opened to provide the foundation, and technical and vocational education was given a significant makeover, leading to the creation of this new post-secondary institution, the Institute of Technical Education. At the same time, our Polytechnic sector was greatly expanded by two to three times of its size and upgraded, providing a comprehensive pathway for students of all aptitudes and abilities to develop their potential to the maximum.
Today, it is fitting that we are holding this ceremony in the Tay Eng Soon Convention Centre at the Institute of Technical Education. It was the late Dr Tay who laid out his wish, played an instrumental role in conceptualising and advocating the adoption of an expanded ITE and Polytechnic sector, and saw to its initial implementation. I had first-hand experience of watching Dr Tay’s personal conviction, commitment and zeal in pursuing this mission. ITE was the key element in this transformation.
ITE was given a new mandate – to admit 25 per cent of the annual school cohort and prepare them as skilled professionals for Singapore’s growing economy. Importantly, it was to be the post-secondary pathway focused on providing our youths a solid foundation in skills education and training. Students would enrol in ITE after ten years of basic education, which would give them a stronger foundation to build their knowledge and skills to equip them for work or further education and skills upgrading. Industries value their higher technical skills and work-readiness. ITE was a critical part of the Government’s approach to provide multiple opportunities and pathways, with bridges and ladders between them, so that every child could progress through the education system as far as possible, based on his ability and learning style. With ITE, our youths gained a valuable opportunity to better themselves, and their lives. No one would be left behind. Everyone would have an opportunity.
In ITE’s first decade, seven brand new campuses were built and three existing campuses were upgraded. This ensured that our ITE students had access to the latest teaching facilities and learning infrastructure – including clean rooms to learn how to work in wafer fabs; computer, automation and robotics centres; healthcare and hospitality settings; and other hands-on learning laboratories. These would better prepare our students for the real needs of a modern developing economy. However, having 10 campuses meant that each campus was relatively modest in size with around 1,400 to 1,800 students each, with limited course offerings at each centre. In 2001, the Government announced its plan to consolidate these ten campuses into three regional campuses, under the ‘One ITE System, Three Colleges’ model. Each campus could now cater to between 7,000 and 10,000 students. With more students at each campus, ITE could invest in more specialised equipment and simulators, and provide better facilities for inter-disciplinary learning. ITE could also have better sports, recreation and interaction spaces to provide our students with a vibrant campus life and social and self-development opportunities beyond their courses of study.
A key ingredient of ITE’s success has been its dedicated and passionate staff and lecturers. I was happy to see several of them just now, who had been with ITE on this exciting journey. They believe in their students, do their best to maximise each student’s potential, and ensure that every student is well-equipped to join the workforce, make meaningful contributions to Singapore and lead fulfilling lives. Please join me in giving all our ITE staff and lecturers, past and present, a big round of applause for making a difference in our students’ lives.
Today, ITE has become an outstanding institution, among the “best in class” in the world, recognised both within and outside Singapore. ITE has carefully tailored its teaching and learning strategies to the needs of its students. Today, ITE has a Student Success Rate of 90%. This is an excellent result, compared across OECD countries, where the average success rate is 38% for similar students at upper secondary level obtaining a vocational qualification. In 2007, ITE made a name for itself globally by clinching the inaugural IBM Award in Transforming Government, from the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School, for creating a successful and highly sustainable model for transforming educational institutions worldwide. When we think of ITE students, we think of young students who are equipped with applied skills, who are optimistic about the job opportunities that their education will bring them, and who are energetic and eager to keep learning in life and contributing to our country. ITE is the elevator and the escalator for their future success. This gives our youths confidence in themselves, and gives us confidence in ourselves as a nation as we face new technologies and trends, knowing that we can all progress together equipped with skills needed for the future.
The Next Lap
How can ITE keep up its success, and continue to play a key role in our nation’s future? To do so, ITE must continue to add value to our Students, Industry and Lifelong Learners. Let me elaborate on each of these.
First, ITE must continue to empower our young people and add value to its students, by constantly adapting and transforming itself to meet their needs. ITE has evolved from offering generic courses on a large scale, to focusing on niche areas to keep its courses relevant to industry. ITE also needs to maintain its breadth and depth of courses to meet its students’ learning aspirations, and ensure that students always have a wide range of courses to choose from. I am glad that from 24 courses across four industry sectors in 1992, ITE today offers 91 courses across 12 industry sectors.
ITE has also constantly revamped its certification to meet the needs of its students and industry. Over the past thirty years, ITE has introduced many new initiatives, such as the National ITE Certificate, commonly known as Nitec; new Pedagogic and Curriculum Models; a hallmark Authentic Learning Approach; niche Diploma courses; and the Work-Study Diploma programme (or WSDip). Under the WSDip programme, employers work with ITE to co-develop curriculum and co-train the trainees, who are ITE graduates they have taken on as employees. From four WSDip programmes and collaboration with 41 companies in 2018, ITE now has 36 WSDip courses with 400 companies. This is a ten-fold increase in the past three to four years.
Second, ITE needs to add value to its industry partners and contribute to their transformation to meet new challenges. ITE has been playing a key role, in partnership with industry, to help our companies to empower their own workforce through the in-house on-the-job (OJT) system. This helps our workers to pick up new skills for their jobs quickly, recognise transferable skills, and certify new skills through the ITE Certified On-the-Job Training Centre (COJTC) and the ITE Approved Training Centre (ATC). 455 local industry partners have partnered ITE in building their in-house training capabilities and training their employees via the OJT and ATC schemes. I am glad that ITE has recently reviewed its OJT framework to better serve the needs of the industry and support workplace learning. These enhancements include helping companies to develop their job blueprints; supporting company trainers through ITE’s Train-the-Trainer (TTT) programme; and working with participating companies to issue certificates in digital form to employees who complete their OJT training.
ITE also needs to continue working with industry to leverage innovation and technology to enhance productivity and transform their business models. In a way, what you are doing with the industry is to help create the jobs for your graduates, and as the graduates are in their jobs, to help those companies to transform, and help your graduates to upgrade.
Third, ITE must add value to our nation’s lifelong learning movement. The pace of technological change has increased, shortening product cycles, and shortening the average lifespan of companies. At the same time, the average lifespan of workers and Singaporeans has gone up from 60 plus to 80 plus. Most of our students here today will probably work for several organisations in your lifetime, and you will need to upskill and reskill regularly to keep yourself up to date over a working lifespan of another 40 years at least. Therefore, ITE’s role in education cannot stop when a student graduates. It has to move beyond that, and continue to provide opportunities for ITE graduates and other working adults to continue to upgrade and deepen their skills.
In 2018, ITE introduced a series of accessible bite-sized Certificates of Competencies, for adult learners. These short, convenient workshops serve to bridge knowledge and skills gaps quickly. Today, ITE offers 140 Certificates of Competencies, up from just 35 when it started in 2018. ITE has also started offering webinars and free Micro-Learning courses, so that anyone who wishes to learn can do so at their own pace and convenience. These initiatives not only help Singaporeans to achieve their personal and career aspirations, but also ensure that Singapore continues to have a skilled workforce, high employment rates to meet evolving industry needs and demands.
ITE’s journey over the last 30 years has been challenging, rewarding, exciting and exhilarating. ITE has not only created an impact on its students and learners, it has also contributed to the capabilities and resilience of the Singapore workforce and economy. I am glad that this story of learning and growth has been chronicled in ITE’s 30th Anniversary Commemorative Book.
I am confident that ITE will continue to occupy a special place in Singapore’s education and workforce development landscape – by providing a holistic education for its students, optimising their potential, equipping them with skills for the future, and inspiring them to pursue their dreams and build a brighter future for themselves and for our nation. Dr Tay would be pleased, but knowing him, he would want ITE to continue to do more. I look forward to seeing ITE reach greater heights in the years to come.
Congratulations, thank you very much and have a pleasant evening.