Commentary: After O-Levels, the choice of subjects isn’t always straightforward

Another surprising observation is the low take-up of computing in this age of digitalisation. Despite the subject being offered at A-Level for over 30 years, still less than 4 per cent of students are enrolled in computing in the A-Levels and the IB programme today.

With even primary school students learning to code, it is puzzling that pre-university students are not doing more to equip themselves with digital skills beyond web browsing and office applications. The low take-up might in part be due to undergraduate computing programmes not requiring any computing background.

Still, in today’s world, the logic and techniques of programming apply much more broadly in the workplace. So much that programming is a compulsory subject across a broad swathe of university programmes, even business.

For those students lucky enough to know where their strengths and interests lie, the choice of A-Level subjects is more straightforward. But for the many teenagers (and their parents) who are still exploring, our advice is to carefully deliberate the trade-offs between pursing passion and preparing for future career pathways.

Although there is flexibility in the future, at university and in the labour market, getting the appropriate pre-university foundation will help.

Ivan Png is Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, and Distinguished Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Kelvin Seah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at NUS. The authors thank the Ministry of Education (MOE), the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), and NUS for providing access to data. The opinions expressed are the authors’ and do not represent those of NUS, MOE or IBO.

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