Ms Theresa Schopper, Minister for Education, Youth and Sports, BadenWürttemberg, Germany
Ladies and gentlemen;
Good morning to all of you.
Happy to see many of you here today.
A warm welcome also to those attending the conference virtually.
The pandemic has given us the impetus to do things not just differently, but also more efficiently and effectively. For example, technology, allows us to engage more counterparts around the world today.
Many organisations across the globe have accelerated their adoption of technology and alternative business models over the past two years.
This has brought about changes in the skillsets desired by industries across the labour market.
Which brings us to the theme of this year’s conference: Pivoting Technical and Professional Education and Training for a Sustainable Future.
The shift in desired skillsets makes it necessary for us to help our students and workforce pivot quickly to remain industry relevant, throughout their life.
The question is how we can do this.
An effective lifelong learning ecosystem is made up of several key ingredients. We need relevant courses and curriculum, flexible pathways for learners and opportunities for progression for upgraders, and buy-in from industry partners.
But most importantly, in any enhancement to training and education, we need effective trainers.
For trainers to develop lifelong learners, we need to equip our trainers with:
i. The right skillset,
ii. The right toolset; and,
iii. The right mindset.
The Right Skillsets
First, to ensure relevant skills are taught to our learners, we must equip trainers with the skillsets to meet the demands of a fast-evolving market.
Given the practical and specialised nature of technical and professional education, trainers must keep up to date with the latest industry trends and tools to teach learners effectively.
Take the example of automotive engineering. Trainers today need to teach students to work with not only traditional combustion engines, but also newer electric vehicles.
To do so effectively, we not only need to hire trainers with industry expertise. We must also support those hired to keep pace with the right skillsets throughout their career.
The most direct way to achieve this is enabling our trainers to maintain close links with industry.
In Singapore, the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) work closely with industry partners to design curriculum.
Through these partnerships, lecturers keep up-to-date and acquire industry-relevant skills. For example, Singapore Polytechnic’s ‘trainthe-trainer’ sessions connect academic staff with industry specialists to co-create key training and development programmes for their workplace. In doing so, academic staff can acquire relevant skills from industry specialists, which helps to shorten the cycle of acquiring and imparting new skillsets to students.
We can also involve industry more in the teaching and curriculum development process.
One example is ITE’s Work-Study Diploma (WSDip) programme, where industry partners play a key role in co-creating curriculum that is in tandem with the evolving needs of companies and the economy. Participating employers can recruit fresh graduates within three years of graduation and prepare them to take up suitable job roles. To date, more than 400 companies have come on board as co-trainers of WSDip trainees.
The bottom line being that we must have a system to ensure the currency of our trainers’ skillsets for us to enable the currency of our students’ skillsets.
The Right Toolset
Second, we must equip our trainers with the right toolset to design engaging and personalised learning experiences.
A more engaging and personalised education experience will help students enjoy learning, and make them want to keep learning.
Technology is a powerful tool to improve engagement with learners.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies enhance traditional teaching methods by bringing learners into immersive practical learning environments.
Instead of practicing in a controlled lab setting, we can now simulate different scenarios in life-like environments. This broadens students’ learning experiences.
Tools to collect and analyse data also help educators ascertain and respond to students’ various needs. This is especially important given the multiple responsibilities that educators juggle, and the unique needs of each student.
Technology also provides an opportunity to personalise learning.
The simple act of uploading lectures and content online allows learners to progress and revise at their own pace.
Pushing the boundary further, adaptive learning systems show us the potential of an even more customised approach, which adjusts to the learning pace of each student.
Our institutions are actively exploring these technologies and encouraging educators to incorporate these into their teaching.
This requires more than just investment in infrastructure, software or hardware.
Technology is only an enabler. What matters more is whether we know how to use it effectively.
Through professional development opportunities, teaching and learning guides, we can build our trainers’ capacity to leverage these new
technologies to redesign the classroom experience.
Using the right tools can also provide our educators with more time to create a meaningful impact in the classroom.
This includes streamlining workstreams by helping educators automate tasks which are more straightforward.
One example is in automated marking and feedback. In schools, this could take the form of automated marking of exam papers or essays.
In technical education, this could involve using video analytics to review tasks performed by students, and providing real time feedback on performance.
This is already being done today. For example, ITE’s lecturers have developed an Automatic Video Analytics Training System to monitor students’ ability to perform tasks correctly, such as the assembly and disassembly of a computer. The training system’s AI can detect if individual students are adopting the correct procedures to complete the tasks, and automatically score students based on a set of marking rubrics.
The Right Mindset
Third, and most importantly, educators must have the right mindset.
Our educators will need to learn alongside their students and learn from the frontier industry and business practises constantly.
They will need to go beyond their existing expertise and be willing to upgrade and retrain themselves to acquire the right skills.
To instil this mindset amongst staff, we need to establish in them the right culture and attitude towards continuous learning and support them in their efforts to do so.
In Singapore, we are committed to build an environment that celebrates continuous learning, and give trainers the opportunities to learn, grow, and recharge.
To support this, we are developing an employment model where educators can enjoy the flexibility of spending time both in the workplace and the classroom.
One way is through staff exchanges, where academic staff take on industry attachments, and industry experts serve as adjunct lecturers in the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs).
For example, Republic Polytechnic’s industry attachment scheme supports academic staff to refresh their knowledge with the latest industry practices and developments through joint industry projects, and consultancy services rendered to companies through mutually identified problem statements.
At the same time, we should also provide organisational incentives to encourage cross-faculty collaborations. These collaborations can leverage on interdisciplinary expertise and skills, and spur faculty members to learn from each other.
Support from Industry
More importantly, Government and educational institutions cannot do all these on our own. A key enabler and stakeholder for us to equip trainers with the right skillset, toolset, and mindset is industry.
Support from industry partners is crucial in ensuring more trainers are given opportunities to acquire the relevant skillsets, and engender a mindset of lifelong learning.
This, in turn, will translate into more relevant curriculum, and better skilled learners entering the workforce.
I urge more industry partners to step forward and open your doors to our IHLs.
The examples I have shared only scratch the tip of the iceberg. I am sure that the conference will explore many more ideas to pivot technical and professional education and training.
I look forward to hearing you share on how technical and professional education and training has evolved in various countries and regions across the globe. These best practices can inspire our institutions to embark on collaborations with international and local companies, who play an integral role in shaping the workforce of the future.
Our efforts to create a generation of lifelong learners must start with our trainers. We must equip trainers with industry relevant skills, the right tools to enhance the learning experience for students, and the right mindset for lifelong learning.