MOE asked 64yo man for O-Level results when he is vocationally trained for the job

By July 20, 2017Current

TL;DR – Someone didn’t get the memo.

Earlier this year, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said that skills would be sought after by employers in the new economy, and not paper qualifications. He urged the public not to be “overly fixated” with the university cohort participation rate.

It sounded liberating. It suggested that there are different pathways to success.

But reality doesn’t quite match the picture Minister Ong painted. Employers still care about paper qualifications. A prime example is the very ministry that Minister Ong heads – the Ministry of Education (MOE).

A 64 year-old man, Mr Richard Lim, was looking to conduct learning journeys for MOE, and MOE asked for his O-Level results.

If MOE really asked for Mr Lim’s O Level results to assess whether he’s qualified to conduct learning journeys, then it’s really disturbing. Here are three reasons why.

1. Say what you will, exam results still matter

MOE’s action completely contradicts what Minister Ong said. Never mind that Mr Lim has been vocationally trained for the tours and been conducting them for schools for at least three years. Apparently, his O-Level results still matter. It signals that to MOE, as an employer, paper qualifications are important.

Mr Lim was spot on when he said,

“So much for all that talk by MOE Ministers about how important skills and vocational training will be for future work and jobs. They should really talk to their bureaucrats first and convince them that there is more to learning than ‘O’ levels.”

It’s ironic that the very ministry that Minister Ong heads has acted in a way that completely contradicts what he said. So can you blame Singaporeans if we don’t believe what Minister Ong said? Can you blame Singaporeans for still being fixated with academic results? Can you blame Singaporeans for still seeing a university degree as a key, if not sole, path to success?

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2. Even if the exam results are ancient and irrelevant

Mr Lim is 64. He would have taken his O-Levels over four decades ago. Surely O-Levels then were drastically different from O-Levels today. How will MOE use those O-Level results to assess Mr Lim’s suitability to conduct learning journeys?

What’s more, Mr Lim’s highest academic qualifications go far beyond his O-Levels. He has a university degree. Anyone in his position and age would probably have thrown away or misplaced his O-Level certificate. Isn’t it unreasonable then to ask someone like Mr Lim for something as ancient, as irrelevant, and as trivial as his O-Level certificate?

We crawled the comments on Mr Lim’s post and they unveiled that not only does he have a university degree, he’s also a straight-A student, top of his SJI cohort for his A-Levels, and he won the President Scholar award and the SAF Scholar award.

Anyway, the university degree and the awards are beside the point. For a job like this, aren’t vocational training and actual experience matter a great deal more?

Further, Mr Lim’s comment about how this runs against the whole narrative of keeping the elderly active and working is well worth reading.

“Even as a formality, MOE or any other Ministry shouldn’t ask for ‘O’ or ‘A’ level qualifications from a senior citizen for any skills or vocational job. His or her experience and performance on the job should suffice. How else can you enable the elderly to keep active and working. Surely not by putting unnecessary obstacles in the way.”

3. Suggests that bureaucrats just blindly follow procedures

If MOE really did ask Mr Lim for his O-Level results, it suggests that MOE’s officers are blindly following procedures. Perhaps they don’t understand the context and the intent of those procedures. Or if they did, they have no choice but to follow those procedures, even if they don’t make sense. Perhaps there were boxes to check, and cells to input. They aren’t empowered to change archaic, irrelevant practices.

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Either way, it doesn’t bode well for Singapore. Given the pace of disruption of the economy, we need to be able to rapidly transform and shift our mindsets quickly. However, if our government officials are stuck in the same old same old, and we don’t have the systems in place to be agile and change quickly, then we will inevitably be caught wrong-footed.

Ministers should look at their own Ministries

In addition to giving speeches and making public exhortations, Minister Ong and his Cabinet colleagues should really look at their own Ministries. Change the mindset of civil servants.

Start with your own house first. Get them to practise what the  Ministers preach.

Otherwise, all these speeches that Ministers make will be nothing but empty words.

Skills over Degrees;
Potential over Pedigree.


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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • low hian tiong says:

    this is typical of right hand do not know what left hand is doing. Its really veri irritating that minister says sonething but subordinates practice another. Needless to say that the system is a big sham. Philip Yeo is absolutely correct – too many Eunuchs surrounding the Emperor waiting to utter rubbish just to please him – and more ridiculous that he is touted to be potential next PM!!!!!! oh GOD BLESS LITTLE RED DOT!!!!!!

  • Eryk Lee says:

    I’m simp disgusted. PSLE results? Never ask? Not important ah?

  • Jerry says:

    Dear Ong Ye Kung,

    Your prediction on skills over certificates will probably go the way of the dodo bird just as it was predicted for employment up till 65 years of age and beyond.

    Are we to live our lives in constant fables/ fairy tales? These were fine for us as children but adolescence set us up with dreams, adulthood opened up the world ofreality to all our eyes.

    May I humbly suggest that you and your gang take a good look at the bottom rung of our citizens.

    1. LOOK AND PLEASE SEE what is happening.

    2. APPRECIATE AND FEEL what Singaporeans are going through, physically, financially, mentally and more importantly as a family nucleus.

    Due to the present situation we as Singaporeans are going through, tareas of discomfort, lack of caring and concern for one another and the emergence of the ‘What’s in it for me’. syndrom

    We have morphed into a strange science fiction species which is frightening.

    So please stop fantasising, get to the brass tacts (root of the problem) if you can remember how to get there. (take bus number 41 of the Singapore Traction Bus Company) and get back in time and smell the bougunvillas.

    It actually smelled better in the past.

    There are merits in both progress and regress. If we only know how to appreciate and apply it to the present day generation and hopefully for the future of Singapore

  • Michelle Lim says:

    I read the article. I don’t think it is wrong of the officer to ask for the cert for verification purpose. But the article does not say whether MOE rejected him because he said he has lost it, despite his skills and experience. If that happens, then I would agree that MOE is archaic and goes against the emphasis on skills.

    Having said that, I agree that change to focus on skills should start from MOE and the civil service. With the civil service’s and government long-standing obsession with scholars (and all ministers and top civil servants are scholars), as a Singaporean, I don’t see change coming from them. The government should start giving important ministerial posts to non-scholars and putting non-scholars in leadership. Then the change in mindset may trickle down..

  • Mo says:

    O level result very important to PAP. Remember LKY said Mr Mah BS ‘O’ level result better than opposition Mr Chiam See Tong. But people voted Mr Chiam.

  • Jonathan says:

    i have been told that i missed 1 grade (C5) from my O Levels English taken 31yrs ago doesn’t meet the mark for entry into university and my 6 WSQ and private diplomas wasn’t taken into consideration.. being a curriculum designer for the SAF & NTU doesn’t adds up to my application.. even WSQ themselves disown me when I applied for another diploma programme for cross industry.. I do agree that there are a lot of us “late-bloomers” trying to move but the employers just gives no chance at all..

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