Singapore : Overemphasis on credentials could hobble country's success: Heng

SINGAPORE — An overemphasis on “credentialism”, or one’s academic results and material achievements, is a “narrow way of judging success” that could affect how well a country fares, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday (Oct 29).Harking back to his time in charge of the Education portfolio, where he pushed the message of “every school a good school”, Mr Heng said there was a range of qualities, including values and skills, to determine who would be the best fit for a job.

“When I was in MOE (Ministry of Education), I studied many education systems around the world, I made quite a number of visits ... to see what people have done right, and what people have done wrong — and I won’t name countries — but I noticed that the ones that had too much emphasis on credentialism, whereby a person is just judged on paper qualifications, ended up not being able to use the full talents of their people,” he said.

Countries that take such a narrow definition of success end up less successful “as a country”, he added, because they get “fixated on the holy criteria for success”.Mr Heng made these comments at a dialogue that rounded up his ministerial community visit to the Moulmein-Cairnhill ward in Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency. It was his first ministerial community visit since he became Finance Minister in 2015, after four years in charge of the Education portfolio.Stress created by the paper chase in Singapore’s education system has been something the Government has been trying to address in recent years, including through changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system announced last year.

Mr Heng, who was responding to a presentation made by a group of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) students who highlighted the need for holistic education to develop all-rounded leaders, identified two groups of people who will be key in changing the definition of success: Parents and employers.

“Unless employers value other qualities, you find that everybody will just go for cookie-cutter, and say, ‘How many As do you have?’, and they will be hiring people along the same basis. So all those of you who are bosses of your own firms, or in HR (human resources), I hope that you become part of the change agent, and look at how we can make full use of the strengths of individuals,” he said, addressing 180 residents who took part in the dialogue.

Mr Heng also commented on another presentation made by a group of residents, who asked how elitism can be removed from workplaces. They suggested that one way might be to narrow income gaps, citing that in other countries, income disparity between top earners and low earners is much less.But Mr Heng cautioned that income disparity is “something we need to be careful about”. If it is not managed delicately, people can easily choose to pack up and go to another country if they find a cap on their salaries.

He noted that the issue is not overlooked by the Government, with income redistribution done through targeted social policies, and a progressive tax system.During the dialogue, the cost of healthcare was a concern raised by residents.Mr Heng said technological advances have led to healthcare costs increasing, but at the same time, patients are benefitting.

“I’m a great beneficiary of that. I had a stroke, but I recovered. Thanks to very good first aid I had, thanks for a very good medical team I had at that time. So I regard myself as being very lucky,” he said. “In fact I was at a recent overseas meeting, and one of the ministers from another country said, ‘Oh, you’re very lucky you had a stroke while you’re in Singapore. You all have such a high quality of medical care’, and I said, ‘Indeed you’re right, we’re very lucky’.”

Mr Heng, who suffered a stroke in May last year and progressively returned to work just three months later, also echoed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s call during his National Day Rally for Singaporeans to eat healthier and to exercise more.

Speaking to reporters after the dialogue, Mr Heng spoke on the progress on economic restructuring.
Noting that more than one-third of the Industry Transformation Maps in the pipeline have been launched, he said: “It is an improvement over what we were doing in the past, where the focus was just on productivity and skills. By integrating the different elements, we are addressing the issues more holistically.

“The results are promising, the ones I’ve seen in the early stages have been encouraging. I do think that if we persist in these efforts, we will continue to make good progress.”

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