To take on a rapidly changing future, Singapore must prepare its people to continually “rethink and relearn” or risk going the way of the BlackBerry smartphone, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Thursday (25 February) at the Middle East Institute’s annual conference.
In a pre-recorded speech, Mr Wong extolled the ability “to rethink, to unlearn things that we may already know because the knowledge is outdated, and to relearn”.
He went on to say that agility and “nimbleness of mind” is crucial, as well as “humility to listen to opens and stay open to new ideas, and then continually update our thinking as circumstances change“.
Mr Wong further stressed that “sometimes the more successful we are, the more difficult it is to change”.
Using the BlackBerry as an example, Mr Wong noted that the company accounted for about half the US smartphone’s market at its peak before being rendered obsolete with the introduction of the iPhone by Apple.
Though it presented major innovation in its time with a keyboard and a “very useable interface”, the company’s refusal to change led to its obsolescence.
Mr Wong said, “The founder of Blackberry didn’t want to change, stuck to its original model and failed to adapt, and we all know what has happened to Blackberry today”.
The minister went on to emphasise the importance of preparing the youth of Singapore to be adaptable to changes in the future.
Noting the immediate economic and societal disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Wong said the global pandemic underscores the importance of education in “preparing our students to face a rapidly changing future”.
He went on to say that it is crucial to prepare students with the ability to “think laterally”, noting that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is encouraging institutes of higher learning in Singapore to make interdisciplinary learning “an integral part of their teaching”.
He added that more has to be done to help individuals to fulfil their potential. This is especially so for people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are disproportionally impacted by the effects of the pandemic.
He also described the Government’s handling of the virus and how it had to overhaul the nation’s contact tracing system, TraceTogether.
These instances, he said, shows the importance of staying nimble and flexible, to continually update the way of thinking with new knowledge and information.
Netizens highlight irony in Mr Wong’s speech
Responding to Mr Wong’s emphasis on the importance of flexibility and ability to adapt, netizens on the Mothership.sg Facebook page slammed the government for not living up to its own advice.
One person pointed out the irony of Mr Wong’s statement with regards to the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that they “don’t see any innovation” from the Government.
Another person zeroed in on Mr Wong’s comment about having the humility to listen to others, tying that to the Government’s stance on masks early in the pandemic when it went against experts who were recommending masks for everyone.
A different person who commented on humility talked about several other occasions when the Government appeared to have not listened to others.
One netizen quipped that Mr Wong’s comment on helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds to meet their full potential probably does not apply to transgender students in light of previous events.