SINGAPORE: To develop its economy and to become a modern and technologically advanced society, Singapore will need to grow its talent and capabilities in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made this point as he officiated the opening of Singapore University of Technology and Design's new East Coast campus on Friday (May 8). He noted there is a generational change, where students who have grown up in a more developed economy take science and technology more for granted and pursue interests in other areas. These are "unlike students growing up in a poor environment who see science and technology as a way up out of poverty and have a compulsion to master it and to get ahead", he said.
"Even in my Cabinet, most of the older generation of ministers had engineering or science degrees. Other than a few lawyers and of course ESM Goh who was an economist. But today, many of the young ministers studied economics and social sciences so the fashion has shifted, partly in need and also because of preferences," Mr Lee noted.
The SUTD East Coast campus. (Photo: Calvin Oh)
He said Singapore needs more than engineers to be a rounded and complete society but "the hard sciences in the pursuit of higher satisfactions in life" must not be neglected. "I'm glad that the trend is showing some signs of reversing and that STEM courses and jobs are getting attractive again," the Prime Minister said.
Mr Lee said STEM was important in taking Singapore from Third World to First. He said in the early days of industrialization, there was much emphasis on STEM education to produce people with hard skills to become engineers and technicians. And as the economy developed, STEM education continued to be important - equipping Singaporeans with the problem solving skills and ability to work across many sectors be it in management, finance or government.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and actor Jackie Chan meet a guzheng player, while Education Minister Heng Swee Keat takes a photo. (Photo: Calvin Oh)
And in the next 50 years, Mr Lee said strong STEM capabilities are needed and the Smart Nation Programme is one initiative to drive this. Mr Lee said there will be many opportunities for STEM graduates to make their mark and shape how Singaporeans live, work and play.
Greener homes are being built while public transport networks are being expanded with Singapore embarking on complex projects like the High Speed Rail link to Kuala Lumpur. Mr Lee said all these require expertise and skills in engineering, technology and design.
An exhibition at SUTD's East Coast campus. (Photo: Calvin Oh)
Mr Lee said he is glad that the trend is reversing and STEM courses and jobs are becoming attractive again. And so SUTD must ride the wave and champion science and technology, he said.
He also mentioned his Sudoku code he posted on Facebook, saying it is his way of doing his bit to advance science and technology. "There was a purpose to it - to generate buzz and to send young people a clear message - tech is cool," he said to cheers from the audience.
Action star Jackie Chan was also at the opening ceremony. He had donated antique structures from the Ming and Qing dynasty which have been woven into the campus modern academic buildings and hostel.
SUTD's move to its permanent campus comes after a five-year wait. Built at a cost of S$470 million, the campus has nine academic and residential blocks to cater to 1,400 students. Over 90 per cent of SUTD's curriculum is designed and developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Antique structures donated to SUTD by Jackie Chan (Photo: Calvin Oh)
Prime Minister Lee takes a photo of a sculpture of his late father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. (Photo: Calvin Oh)