SINGAPORE (Feb 12): Siti Sarah, 27, is a history teacher in a local school on Mondays to Fridays. On a recent Saturday, however, she was a student again. In a classroom with about 15 other people, with a colourful, illustrated workbook in front of her, she recited simple Thai phrases aloud to her teacher. And, at one point, she and her classmates grooved to Maa Thammai, a catchy pop song performed by Thai heartthrob Bird Thongchai.

Sarah is enrolled in a basic Thai language course at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Language Studies. The 30-hour course, spread out over 10 lessons, is priced at $642. But Sarah offsets $250 of the cost with her SkillsFuture Credit. Introduced in the 2015 Budget, SkillsFuture is designed as a “national movement” to promote skills upgrading. It will raise government funding of continual education and training to an average of over $1 billion a year from 2015 to 2020, compared with $600 million a year in the prior five-year period. One prominent aspect of the initiative is SkillsFuture Credit. Under this scheme, all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive an opening credit of $500 from January 2016, which they can spend on a whole gamut of approved courses, from coding to coffee appreciation. The credit does not expire and the government has committed to providing periodic top-ups.

Yet, many Singaporeans are using their SkillsFuture Credit for courses unrelated to their immediate career plans. For instance, Sarah says she is learning Thai to reconnect with her roots. Her grandfather was Thai, and she still has relatives in Phuket, whom she visits occasionally. “They also speak English, but it’s good if I learn their language. This will help us understand each other better,” she tells The Edge Singapore, adding that it was also because of her interest in languages. “My friend recommended me this course — he has studied all the way to Thai Level Six. I don’t know if I can make it that far, but I do hope to make it to the higher levels.”

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