Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marc Tucker on Singapore and Career & Technical Education

Singapore is an exotic destination that fascinates the West for all its successes.  Of course, it also shocks people who wonder about the truth of jail sentences for spitting and chewing gum - which is an exaggeration.  The truly admirable part of Singapore is its education system, which has far more effectively than most countries been able to produce a higher standard of living for its skilled labor.  According to Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, Singapore has much to offer to a nation and world changed by automation.

With a combination of determination, persistence and smart policy, the Singaporeans have been investing wisely in their future for half a century.  When other countries in the East saw their future in offering cheap labor to global companies, Singapore was trying to figure out how to raise the cost of their labor--and therefore the standard of living of their people--by providing higher educated and better-trained labor.  They made life difficult for their low-value added producers and made it very attractive for their high value-added producers.  They made very close partners with the world's leading high tech companies, figured out just what kind of skills they needed most and made sure that they could get those skills in Singapore.  They paid very close attention to every segment of their workforce.  They built a very high floor under the entire workforce by providing a world-class academic curriculum to all their students and creating a world-class teaching force to teach that curriculum.  They built a system of polytechnics as good as any in the world to provide very highly skilled senior technical workers for a wide range of industries.  Perhaps most impressive, they created a set of post-secondary vocational schools for the bottom quarter of their students as fine as any I have seen anywhere in the world, with facilities that rival those of many American universities.  They turned vocational education and training from a dumping ground into a sought-after alternative that attracts more and more students every year.  

Tucker notes that Singapore consists of roughly five million people - a similar range for many American states.  Thus, a more parochial approach to education, focusing on a skilled labor approach could be just the right formula for reformers looking to decrease America's rising inequality.


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