The 21st Century Population Trends
Like most North Americans, Japanese and North
Europeans retirees, the post-war baby boomers in
Singapore retiring from the workforce in 20-30
years are of relatively good health and mentally
active. Though a greying population in a first-world
economically advanced country is a boon in that
financial resources are available for lifelong learning
for intellectual, utilitarian or spiritual needs, it is a
bane for those seeking new employment as most jobs
have become knowledge and information intensive.
Why Lifelong Learning?
Characterised by rapid globalisation and the rise of
the knowledge-intensive economy, the 21st century is
an era where unprecedented changes in the political,
social and economical arenas are happening at a
breakneck speed. These, coupled with technological
advancement in biotech and materials science, make
the 21st century an extremely challenging time to live
Amidst the overwhelming concerns and issues,
lifelong learning, though not a modern phenomenon,
holds the key to survival in the 21st century. Generally,
the economic rationale for lifelong learning comes
from two principal sources. First, the rise of the
knowledge-intensive economy means that the level
of skills demanded by employers is constantly being
raised. Thus, employees need to constantly acquire
new skills and update their knowledge. Failure to do
so could render one obsolete or 'handicapped' in the
Second, technological developments demand
continuous renewal and updating of skills as job
descriptions evolve and diversify rapidly under shifting
market conditions. The 'iron rice bowl' of yore (i.e.
a job for life) is gone for good. In today's corporate
world, cost-cutting measures such as retrenchments
are common even in industries once thought sheltered
and stable. For some people, this may mean two to four
career changes in their 40-50 years of working life.
Thus, employees of the 21st century must be prepared
to move from one employer to the next throughout their
working lives/careers by keeping themselves abreast of
the skills and requirements of their field or industry.
Education Beyond the University
Given all these characteristics of the 21st century
landscape, education beyond the university and
lifelong learning are essential to ensure individual success as well as the nation's future prosperity. In a knowledge-intensive
economy, school is never out and one never stops learning.
Without a lifetime of education, training and retraining, Singaporeans
will not be able to understand our world in the 21st century, much
less catch up with the demands of the new economy. Table 1 shows
how the learning needs of an adult change as he/she goes through
different stages of life.
Table 1. 21st century careers and roles in a lifetime
Intellectual and utilitarian
Utilitarian, recreational and
spiritual needs dominate
The Third Age
Recreational and spiritual needs
The NUS Extension has been playing a unique role in lifelong
learning since its inception in 1966. Modeled after its counterparts
in top US universities (e.g. Harvard Extension, UCLA Extension,
MIT Professional Institute), NUS Extension provides a channel for
continuous learning to help individuals succeed in the 21st century
environment where lifelong learning is imperative.
NUS Extension provides a wide range of quality programmes and
courses in science and technology, business management, language,
culture and history. These are professional certificate and diploma
programmes, short courses and online courses. In addition to
teaching resources from the NUS community, the Extension sources
for professional courses from its partner university extensions in the
U.S. and renowned training institutions (e.g. American Management
Association). NUS Extension also offers some of the best language
and culture programmes in Mandarin, English and Bahasa Indonesia
for executives entering the huge markets of China, India and
Indonesia. Not only do course participants acquire professional
knowledge and management expertise, they will also be equipped
with the 'cultural DNA' to excel in these markets.
To help prepare and equip Singapore's work force, the Extension
is currently focusing on professional education/management
development courses for adults in stages 1 and 2 of their lives. In
addition, the Extension offers high quality lifelong learning courses
for mature adults across all three life stages. By year 2007/8, the
Extension's projected annual enrolment of 10,000 for both categories
of courses and programmes.
As a lifelong learning institution, the challenge for NUS Extension
is to continue to structure our education and lifelong learning
programmes to meet the needs of our economy, and also offer
mature adults opportunities to learn and re-learn to live fulfilling
and purposeful lives.