Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education (1961)



The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education laid the foundation for the development of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Singapore.1

The nine-man commission was formed on 6 January 1961 to inquire into the state of TVET in Singapore, as well as draw up a scheme for coordinating and systematising TVET to meet the needs of industrialisation.2 The commission was chaired by the principal of Queenstown Secondary Technical School, Chan Chieu Kiat, who had previously led a team to study the TVET system in Israel.

The commission tabled its findings on 25 October 1961. A key outcome of the report was the establishment of the Singapore Vocational Institute (SVI) in 1963, the first vocational institute dedicated to teaching craft subjects in Singapore.4

In-service training

The commission found that the existing forms of in-service training were inadequate as workers hardly received any instruction and acquired their skills mainly through observation and on-the-job practice.5 The prevalence of such an empirical approach was a major drawback in trades that drew heavily on scientific principles, such as engineering and construction.6 Moreover, the senior craftsman had picked up his knowledge in the same way, and was usually not interested in training others unless the learner was a family member.

Overall, the duration and content of in-service training, as well as promotion to skilled status tended to be arbitrary, and as a result, the levels of competence varied widely across occupations.8

The commission noted that apprenticeship schemes had not been very popular, particularly in the fishing, building, electrical and mechanical engineering industries.9 Only large companies engaged apprentices and even then, only for their own needs.10

As the commission considered apprenticeship to be the most effective means of producing skilled craftsmen, it urged the public sector to take the lead by participating actively in apprenticeship schemes, as well as recruiting apprentices in excess of manpower requirements.11 In addition, the commission felt that for apprenticeships to be effective, more attention had to be paid to the training of supervisory personnel.12

Reorganising technical education in schools

In terms of the education system, the commission felt that secondary education was almost entirely academic in nature and that diversification was necessary to produce skilled manpower for the industries.13 The report highlighted that the two technical secondary schools, Queenstown and Tanjong Katong, did not train students in a particular craft or trade, but merely added some technical subjects, such as woodwork and metalwork, to an academic curriculum.14

The commission noted the high level of education wastage where more than half of primary school leavers were unable to move up to secondary schools.15 To cater to those who had an aptitude for technical and vocational training, the commission proposed changes to incorporate non-academic options into the education system, suggesting four categories of secondary schools: academic, commercial, technical and vocational. Notably, it proposed for 65 percent of each cohort to be channelled to the vocational stream, 7 percent to technical, 8 percent to commercial, and only 20 percent to the academic course. This distribution reflected the commission’s expectations of a significant demand for operatives and semi-skilled workers from the industries.16

The commission recommended that Balestier Junior Trade School be converted into a vocational institute that specialised in craft subjects, whereas the other five vocational and trade schools, namely St Joseph’s Trade School, Malay Craft School, Maris Stella Vocational School, Singapore Girls’ Vocational High School and Geylang Craft Centre, should operate as secondary vocational schools.17 The secondary vocational schools would then offer a two-year course leading to more advanced training at the vocational institute.18

Outcomes
Balestier Junior Trade School was reorganised and transformed into the Singapore Vocational Institute (SVI), which took over the craft courses provided by Singapore Polytechnic.19 The commission had envisioned a new role for Singapore Polytechnic as a college of advanced technology, and the transfer of craft courses to SVI was intended to free up facilities and resources for the expansion of full-time enrolment in more in-depth and specialised courses at the polytechnic.20 SVI provided training in craft subjects such as carpentry, plumbing, as well as servicing of radios and televisions.21

The revised school structure proposed by the commission was implemented to some extent; by 1968 there were four types of secondary schools: academic, multi-purpose, technical and vocational.22

Academic schools focused on arts and science subjects, with some providing commercial training as well. Multi-purpose schools offered both academic and technical subjects. The curriculum in technical schools were by and large the same as that of academic schools, with the exception of some technical subjects and the allocation of 20 percent of curriculum time for technical drawing and workshop practice. Students in academic, multi-purpose and technical schools pursued a four-year course leading to a school certificate examination. Primary school leavers who did not qualify for these three types of secondary schools were channelled to vocational schools for two years followed by another two years of craft training in the vocational institute.23

Although the education system still had an academic bias, the report marked the initial steps towards creating a place for technical education in the school system.



Author
Janice Loo



References
1. Technical Education Department. (1973). Technical education and industrial training in Singapore: A brief review of the achievements of the Technical Education Department 1968-1973. Singapore: The Department, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 373.24670959 SIN); Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
2. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. v. Retrieved from BookSG.
3. Govt. sets up commission to survey all facilities. (1961, January 19) The Straits Times, p. 4; Members of the commission. (1961, October 28). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
4 Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
5. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 3. Retrieved from BookSG.
6. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 3. Retrieved from BookSG.
7. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 3. Retrieved from BookSG.
8. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 3. Retrieved from BookSG.
9. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 3. Retrieved from BookSG.
10. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 4. Retrieved from BookSG.
11. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 4. Retrieved from BookSG.
12. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 6. Retrieved from BookSG.
13. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 13. Retrieved from BookSG.
14. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 13. Retrieved from BookSG.; Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
15. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 38. Retrieved from BookSG.
16. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 39. Retrieved from BookSG.
17. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, p. 15. Retrieved from BookSG.; Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
18. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, pp. 39, 41. Retrieved from BookSG.
19. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, pp. 15, 23. Retrieved from BookSG; Change in craft courses. (1963, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore. (1961). Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Vocational and Technical Education in Singapore. Singapore, pp. 27–28, 30. Retrieved from BookSG.
21. Institute offers trade courses. (1964, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Technical Education Department. (1973). Technical education and industrial training in Singapore: A brief review of the achievements of the Technnical Education Department 1968-1973. Singapore: The Department, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 373.24670959 SIN); Varaprasad, N. (2016). 50 years of technical education in Singapore: How to build a world class TVET system. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 373.24609595 FIF)
23. Technical Education Department. (1973). Technical education and industrial training in Singapore: A brief review of the achievements of the Technnical Education Department 1968-1973. Singapore: The Department, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RSING 373.24670959 SIN)



The information in this article is valid as at March 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Politics and Government>>Education
Vocational education--Singapore
Vocational schools
Education
Technical education--Singapore
Education and state--Singapore
Education policies and system