PM Lee says students excel in studies can find good jobs but Minister Ong says degrees don’t earn us a living

Speaking at a gala dinner commemorating the 100th anniversary of Hwa Chong Institution yesterday (21 Mar), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it is still important for students to master the academic curriculum and strive to excel in their studies.

“Our schools, our ITEs, polytechnics and universities maintain rigorous academic standards, and give students a solid grounding in their different subjects,” he said. “Singapore students by and large take their studies seriously, and do their best to master the material and excel.”

“And that’s why most young people leaving school can readily find good jobs, and go on to do well in their careers and lives,” he added. “This remains a crucial factor in Singapore’s success, and must remain a focus of Hwa Chong’s.”

That is to say, if a student is able to master the school material and excel academically, he would be able to readily find good jobs, do well in their careers and lives, according to PM Lee.

At the dinner, he also commented that Hwa Chong has a special responsibility to promote Chinese traditional culture, values and heritage, and to help students to master their mother tongue, as a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school.

He asked Hwa Chong students to know how the society works and to identify with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions, and “feel a responsibility for your fellow citizens”.

“You need to feel a calling to participate in community and national affairs, to contribute to the society and system that has nurtured you, and to take on leadership roles to take Singapore forward,” he said.

Education Minister: Degrees don’t earn us a living

Meanwhile, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung seems to think otherwise with regard to getting degrees.

Two years ago in May 2017, he told Parliament that “degrees, like most things in life, can become obsolete”.

“Skills are what carry a premium now, and skills need to be honed throughout our lifetimes,” he said.

He told Singaporeans not to be overly fixated with how many percentage of each cohort would move on to attend universities. He said all of us need to keep on learning to deepen our skills throughout our lives.

Turning to degrees, he said, “Degrees don’t earn us a living, and don’t make our dreams come true.”

But added that the ability of individuals to keep pace with changing needs of the economy is what helps them earn their keep. “It is the dedicated pursuit of a discipline that makes dreams come true,” he said.

“It would truly be ‘unimaginative’ to confine ourselves to university academic education as the only way to develop to our full potential.”

“I believe most of us agree that we do not want a society that defines success as simply having a degree. Our society needs to evolve, such that all occupations, crafts and trades – whether the skills are acquired through a degree education or not – are respected and recognised,” he commented.