Singapore minister for education Ong Ye Kung says Dangal was his favourite film of 2016 as it depicted resilience, courage, and, above all, fatherly love. In an interview with Amandeep Shukla and Rajeev Jayaswal, he says Singapore and India have similar cultural ethos and, the potential for greater synergy in the field of education and skill development. Edited excerpts:
Q. India is facing the problem of unemployment. The Prime Minister recently constituted a cabinet committee on skill development. How can Singapore help India on this front?
It shows that under this government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, skill development and addressing unemployment are top priority. And rightfully so. It is for governments to help the people improve their skills and careers, feed their families, help them stand on their feet.
In 2016, PM Modi was in Singapore and I was his minister in attendance. He asked to visit the ITE [Institute of Technical Education]… At the end of the visit, he said we could have something like that. I think he was referring to more ITIs [Industrial Training Institutes], more skill centres. But India is 200 times of Singapore in scale. So, I would think, other than having the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship, and having NSDC [National Skill Development Corporation], he now wants a cabinet committee driving the progress. And Singapore can cooperate on a win-win basis.
Also Read| Can work closely with India on skill development: Singapore minister
Q. How can we synergise with the Singapore model?
We learn from all over the world. We adopt best practices from all over the world. And on cooperation, the good thing is we are not starting from zero. We have good collaborations, particularly with ITE Education Services (ITEES). It started with the world class skill centre in Delhi, then in Rajasthan with the Centre of Excellence for Tourism Training, which was funded by the Singapore government and the state government. There is another one in Assam – North East Skills Centre. Now it (Singapore’s ITEES) is talking to more state governments like Madhya Pradesh. It is also involved in setting up a project in Amaravati. And it has another project in Odisha, which I think, is progressing quite well.
Q. What was the focus of your discussions with skill development minister Mahendra Nath Pandey?
We went through the projects and initiatives that we have worked on. Through this process… we have learnt how things work in India and India also has a sense of how Singapore can help. Hopefully, with experience, we can strengthen our cooperation.
Q. You also met external affairs minister S Jaishankar…
It needs no reminder that we are very small, our resources are limited. Jaishankar said that notwithstanding being small, you can be a catalyst. I think he is right. We learn from everywhere in the world, we synergise, we try in our context. If it works for us, that is a reference point for other countries.
Q. You have nurtured some world-class institutions, like National University of Singapore (NUS). India also wants to set up 20-30 world class institutions. What are your suggestions?
NUS is an academic and research institution. We have other universities, such as the Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore Institute of Technology, which are more applied in nature. So we have the whole range from academic to skills. My sense is that for India, focus must be on skills. Because that is what will get you a job, get you a career.
Q. Even skills are changing a lot in the digital world. So, how to cope with that?
The way skills are manifested and applied, can change your job quite significantly. But if you think about it, just doing your job well, that is always relevant. For instance, good journalists know how to reach out to people, have an eye for a story, and can write in a captivating way. What has changed? Distribution. People don’t read through the papers, they read online. But even behind that, the same good old journalism skills are needed. Today, you get information and news but there is no journalistic skill behind that. This is where you get a lot of nonsense. You’ll find 80% of the good old skills are relevant. You only need that 20% to adjust to technology.
Q. You have spoken about your liking of Hindi movies, how often do you watch them?
I don’t watch many Hindi movies. But Three Idiots was wonderful. I have also watched Sholay. That was a classic… After you watch Dangal, you think about your family, children, your life.