Education: Merging the Best of All Worlds

Speech by Tan Sri Lim
1 December 2009

Education and Human Capital Development Opportunities for Mutual Collaboration

The topic for this morning’s discussion is an area of priority development by almost every government in the world today.

They rank as important pillars for driving productivity, increasing efficiency and building economic competitiveness.

In today’s world the ability to access skilled human capital underpins all efforts to move products and services up the value chain beyond the existing systems and processes.

This is an era that looks to creativity and innovation as drivers of economic growth.

Innovation is the Ninth Pillar listed as a key factor in the Global Competitiveness Index. The Fifth Pillar is given to the state of a country’s Higher Education and Training capability.

While advanced economies rely on their ability to innovate to sustain their competitive edge, the less developed economies are expected to adopt and adapt existing technologies to stay in the game. However in the current environment of global economic crisis, the ability of advanced economies to innovate has been seriously curtailed.

New players are being pushed to the forefront.

There is opportunity for even the less developed economies to move up in the game.

However it will require innovative thinking in securing partnerships and pledging investment with some amount of risk-taking to get the formula right for new growth.

Ladies and Gentlemen, however depressed the world may seem at this moment the opportunity for creating change is strong as market forces break away with tradition and align with new movements taking place for a new world order.

Whatever shape new partnerships may assume, the building of human capital remains a top priority and at this stage crucial in building economic advantage.

Human capital is today ranked as the most vital resource. The value that is added to this resource will determine the strength and resilience needed by countries to overcome adversity and set new directions.

Therefore what we achieve at this forum will have long term benefits in building advantage for both governments and industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me pause for a moment to reflect upon the state of education as it exists today.

In many countries education has lost its relevancy in adequately preparing a young person for the challenges in life.

In many countries, especially those that are economically disadvantaged, the educational systems are outdated.

They are out of sync with the evolving global environment and its many demands. Having inherited educational systems from their colonial masters many countries are ill-equipped to manage the radical changes that technology and new trends have imposed on all facets of life.

Many do not possess the courage or the foresight to re-invent a structure that will build the human capacity they need to bridge a deepening global divide in economic competitiveness.

These are countries that are losing their best brains to the wealthiest countries in the world.

And with every new advancement these countries slip further into the divide.

In Africa, for example, there are millions of young people deprived of an education that can prepare them for jobs suited for this century.

Most are dropping out of school because the education systems are beyond them. The education systems are failing them.

Instead of setting goals many countries are setting standards.

Standards that are distancing them from the national aspirations they have set to move ahead.

Standards that are preventing the empowerment of their youths, and instead condemning them to a life of poverty and struggle.

Ladies and Gentlemen

My reference to the standard of education in these countries is to awaken industry to the reality that confronts us.

For too long the responsibility to develop human capital has been vested with Governments.

Increasingly the participation of industry in the education process is being seen as a vital factor.

Industry is a stakeholder because industry absorbs the human capital rolled out by institutions of higher education.

Many within industry have put in place training programmes for fresh graduates so they can unlearn and re-learn the ways of industry in order to be useful contributors to the future success of the industries they are employed in.

However the controls and the benchmarks set by Governments cannot keep up with the demands of the marketplace and too often, young people graduate ill-equipped to cope because their skills and knowledge have become obsolete.

Invariably the future depends on our ability to create the right kind of stimulus and environment for the development of talent and skills in the next generation of the world’s human capital.

  • To put it simply, education must empower.
  • It must unlock the hidden potential of an individual.
  • It must inspire a love for knowledge.
  • It must encourage curiosity.
  • It must challenge the mind to enquire.
  • It must evoke creative responses.
  • It must stir the spirit to plumb the depths of the unexpected and the extraordinary.

This must happen, not in the later years of a young person’s life, but through every stage of school from primary to university.

But in a world of 6.7 billion people 1 billion remains illiterate. This is a huge number of people and if we translate it to mean the unlocking of talent, skills, creativity and capability the world will be so much the richer for it.

The world’s next greatest invention or the cure for incurable diseases may come from the mindpool of people now wasting away in refugee camps, poor villages and in remote parts of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen

At this forum I hope to trigger discussions about the increased participation of industry in higher education.

Should there be greater involvement of industry in policy making?

What kind of collaborations would be mutually beneficial?

Should industry be directly involved in setting benchmarks?

There is a need to re-invent education to make it relevant to the challenges of the 21st century.

There is a need to embrace the realities and set aside conformity to pomp and tradition.

If we are able to succeed in re-inventing education the winners will be our youths.