CSC Dean Ong Toon Hui: We Can Be Both High Tech And High Touch

Ms Ong Toon Hui, Dean of the Singapore Civil Service College, shares what the CSC is doing to enhance learning for civil servants and how she continues learning
CSC Dean Ong Toon Hui


Dean & Chief Executive Officer, Civil Service College, 2015 – present
Deputy Secretary (Leadership), Public Service Division (PSD), 2018 – present
Deputy Secretary (Transformation), PSD, 2017 – 2018
Deputy Secretary (Development), PSD, 2015 – 2017


Dear Young Officer,

When I took on the role of Dean, Civil Service College (CSC), I did not expect to have to lead transformation in the learning domain, much less a digital transformation. It was very uncomfortable, and still scary sometimes not having all the answers.

In an age of major disruption, the ability to learn fast and continuously is becoming a critical competence. As our environment changes and new technologies emerge, we must have a curiosity to understand what’s happening around us, figure out how these impact our work, be prepared to pick up new skills and adapt. Sometimes, it requires us to unlearn, relearn and discard outdated mental models and assumptions. This requires humility and a growth mindset.

I too have had to learn, unlearn and be prepared to make mistakes. I do my part to equip myself: read and take online courses on digital tools, speak to people who have more experience, and put what I’ve learned into practice with work projects (I led the Moments of Life project on young families). I also have a “reverse mentor” in a younger colleague who teaches me how to use various digital tools.

I am excited to be part of this transformation. At the College, my colleagues and I have been thinking hard about how to transform learning in the Public Service. How might we enable officers to learn quickly and effectively? It is no longer enough to only develop and run a course with the right content. We have to go further to enable officers to apply the learning back in the workplace. The programmes must make an impact, and help officers deal with real issues, find good solutions to problems, align interests and acquire new perspectives.

Digital learning has great potential. Public officers can learn any time, anywhere, with bite-size content provided in a timely manner. The College aims to provide every officer with access to a basic suite of online programmes. We also provide opportunities in our programmes for officers to discuss issues faced in their workplace, start applying what they learn in class and share “war stories”.

Different ways to learn

From time to time, my colleagues remind me that not everything can be digitalised. Face-to-face and social interactions are still important. I fully agree. It is not about digital versus classroom, online versus offline. We can be both high tech and high touch. We can use digital channels to push heavy, factual content to participants ahead of time so that they can read and prepare. This means classroom time can be used more productively for group discussion, dialogue and sharing. We call this blended learning.

The CSC is also experimenting with innovative ways to run face-to-face programmes. We ran a regional operations managers programme last November, for managers of front-line municipal services. For the first time, we brought together officers who serve in a locality. The officers walked around the neighbourhood to understand residents’ issues, and build both solutions and relationships. There was no fixed curriculum and the content was generated by the class. The participants brought the learning back to their workplaces and continued having conversations and developing solutions. This is a great example of learning at the team and workplace level.

The best way to learn is to start doing, reflect and adjust along the way. As the Chinese saying goes, feel the stones to cross the river.

My colleagues remind me that not everything can be digitalised. Face-to-face and social interactions are still important. I fully agree.
    Sep 24, 2018
    Ong Toon Hui
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