In order to future-proof NUS students and enable them to stay relevant in a world increasingly moulded by digital technology and automation, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye is boldly rethinking the University’s approach to teaching.
“Things are moving very fast in the external environment and we cannot afford to keep still,” said Prof Tan. “The fourth industrial revolution is crucial. My colleagues know this and they understand that we must change with the times because of it.”
Prof Tan said that his first priority is to introduce set skills — statistics and programming — across the entire curriculum, applicable to students from every faculty. Explaining the benefit of developing students’ awareness of computational thinking, Prof Tan said, “They may not have to do programming [when they graduate] but I think in this new world where technology is really disrupting our everyday life, it is good for a university student to have some understanding.”
Experiential training is also on the cards. In 2017, Prof Tan, then NUS Provost, introduced a programme where students in data science, business and information security courses spent up to 18 months on part-time internships. Prof Tan is targeting to implement this approach for the rest of the undergraduate population to give them an opportunity to grapple with problems in the real world and also to bring these issues back to the University to solve.
In the past two years, Prof Tan also initiated a “roots and wings” teaching methodology, where life skills such as concentration, perseverance and engaging with others, were woven into subjects where applicable. Such soft skills will help to ensure that Singapore stays ahead of its Asian competitors in the future, he explained.
Prof Tan stressed that equipping graduates with future-proof skills would benefit Singaporeans. “Students today will graduate at 22 and most likely work until they are 70,” he said. “We cannot train them up in just one trade any more. My key challenge is how do I prepare my students to be adaptable? How do I train them to have a strong sense of perseverance? With soft skills.”