SINGAPORE: A new digital readiness programme office will be set up under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), to enable Singaporeans to have access to technology, be confident to use it and include it in various aspects of their lives.
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim announced this on Thursday (Apr 13) during his ministry's workplan seminar for the year, and said the new office will help drive a whole-of-nation strategy to build a digital society.
"We envision this team to function as the centre of an extensive network of organisations, and will study how digital readiness is developed internationally, identify existing gaps in our current efforts, and recommend a long-term strategy and manifesto to build a digital society," he said in his speech, adding that more details would be shared when plans are ready.
Dr Yaacob noted that many countries in the world, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Australia have already developed national strategies to ensure their people are ready to reap the full benefits of the available digital infrastructure.
HELPING THOSE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Besides the new programme office, the minister also laid out several initiatives to push Singapore towards being a digitally ready society.
In terms of helping those with special needs adopt technology to support their daily living, education and employment needs, MCI will enhance the Enable IT Programme by doubling the grant support to voluntary welfare organisations to S$$100,000 per project.
This will help another 3,000 beneficiaries over four years, double the number currently, Dr Yaacob said.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) will set up a library to loan these infocomm and assistive technology devices to those with special needs, so they can try them out before buying. They can also bring the device for job interviews to help potential employers better understand their needs, he added.
IMDA is also collaborating with tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft to train a pool of people with special needs to be Assistive Technology Ambassadors, to spread the use of built-in assistive technology on their devices and platforms, the minister shared.
BUILDING DIGITAL LITERACY
Dr Yaacob also noted that it was not enough for people to have access to tech, but to understand and use them.
Besides the different outreach and education programmes currently being run by different parts of MCI, he said the ministry will reach out to more segments of the population such as lower skilled and lower wage workers - those who are "most at risk of being left behind in the digital journey".
He also said they are looking at how to equip parents of today, so that they are not only able to keep up with their children’s technological knowledge, but also guide them and have meaningful conversations with them.
The Media Literacy Council will aid in these efforts by calling for proposals to empower youths to initiate ground-up projects to promote digital literacy. The council, together with partners Google, Garena, MyRepublic, Facebook and Mediacorp, will provide funding, training and incubation facilities for young Singaporeans who want to develop social innovation solutions.
"Through this, we want to encourage young Singaporeans to step forward to start their own platform, movement or enterprise, to develop solutions that tackle issues such as cyber-bullying and fake news," he said.
INTRODUCING DIGITAL MAKING TO SCHOOLS
The minister also noted that to truly reap the benefits of technology, there is a need to harness it to solve problems creatively, as well as for Singaporeans to have a curious mind and passion to tinker and create.
To that end, he announced the launch of the Digital Maker Programme to nurture a new generation of digital natives to be creators and makers, and seed an enterprising maker culture in Singaporeans.
"We want to nurture Singapore’s own generation of Steve Jobs," Dr Yaacob said.
As such, IMDA will work with the Ministry of Education to introduce digital making to schools over the next two years by providing micro:bits - a pocket-sized, codeable computer with motion detection and Bluetooth technology - to primary and secondary schools.
Citing the example of some students in Xinmin Secondary School, who used the micro:bit as a locator tool to help them find their belongings, he said students in participating schools will be encouraged to design contraptions to solve real-world problems.
Additionally, seed funding will be provided to local companies that are developing maker-centric products and with the potential to commercialise, the minister said, noting there are some promising "made-in-Singapore" products in the pipeline. Examples of these include Tinkertanker and Home-Fix, he added.