Learning, education, adaptation and application have been key drivers of progress in Singapore’s journey from independence to a modern city-state. In supporting and furthering Singapore’s success, the Public Service has strived to become ever more attuned, aligned and able in meeting the needs of a rapidly developing nation. Over the decades, the Civil Service College (CSC) and its predecessors have prepared generations of civil servants to serve with excellence, integrity and a strong ethos for the public good, even as the demands of nation-building grow ever more sophisticated and complex. In the process, our agencies of learning have become agencies for change: tasked not only with keeping our public officers abreast of the latest technologies and techniques of sound public administration, but also shifting deep-seated mindsets—towards more citizen-centred, whole-of-government thinking, for instance. In the two decades since its formation as a statutory board, CSC has been an important platform for advancing the Public Service: beyond doing good work today, to making the work of tomorrow possible.
But what should we learn to be ready for the future? As the COVID-19 crisis has taught us, an interconnected world is also one increasingly beset by rapid and often bewildering change, in which there is far less certainty about what is to be done. While a firm foundation of core technical competencies will always be needed, we must also master meta-skills that will stand us in good stead in fluid circumstances. We must learn how to learn, relearn, and unlearn as the situation requires; get comfortable with ambiguity and differences; find strength in partnering with colleagues, partners, and fellow Singaporeans. The future of learning lies not in knowing more, but in seeking to know. This calls for fundamentally different ways of looking at learning,and at ourselves.
Profound changes in the socio-economic landscape—including disruptive technologies and work-life patterns (as we have seen in the pandemic), as well as in the way we relate to one another both within and outside work—are prompting a rethink of what, how and when we learn, and even who the learner is. Now that we are passing the culture shock of going digital, the practical experience gained in working with these new approaches should deepen and inform our learning strategies. These and other forthcoming technologies will bring new opportunities to enhance capabilities, enrich learning and empower our people. The success of future leadership could depend on the degree to which leaders can catalyse effective learning in their teams and organisations, by providing the conditions and impetus for it to take place, even during—or better yet, ahead of—unsettling times.
There is growing awareness that learning does not happen in silos—that it is a social, embodied and holistic process rather than an individual and purely cognitive procedure. This has led to renewed interest in designing environments and experiences better suited to learning. An important aspect of this appreciation for how and where learning occurs is the movement towards workplace learning, by which theoretical knowledge and applied wisdom can co-develop, iterate, and lead to practical benefits and new insights, for learners as well as their organisations. It is in engaging with the complexities of real-world needs and challenges that learning finds its purpose and hones its meaning—when we approach the process with curiosity, discipline, openness, and an instinct for the greater good.
May you find inspiration, and something to learn, in this issue of ETHOS!
Dr Alvin Pang