SINGAPORE: By 2024, all Secondary 1 students will own a school-prescribed personal learning device under a new national digital literacy programme, announced Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (Mar 4).
This could be a tablet, laptop or Chromebook, he said. The Ministry of Education (MOE) “will make sure” that the device is affordable, and does not intend for it to be a high-end device since it is used for learning and education.
“We need to teach students to use software and devices productively to learn, for work and for daily living, across different contexts,” said Mr Ong, adding that MOE will use a bulk tender to lower the price of the devices to "a few hundred dollars".
By 2028, all secondary school students will be equipped with a device, he noted.
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Students can pay for the device through their Edusave accounts, and Mr Ong said the ministry expects that most students will have enough in their account to pay for the device.
In anticipation of the initiative, MOE is providing a one-off Edusave top-up of S$200 in 2020 to all Singaporean students in primary schools and secondary schools, costing a total of S$75 million, said Mr Ong.
According to MOE, this is on top of the annual Edusave contribution of S$290 for secondary students and S$230 for primary students.
For students from lower-income households, MOE will extend further subsidies to "ensure that they pay zero dollars", said Mr Ong.
“This is to ensure that no student is denied the opportunity to benefit from the programme,” said the ministry in a press release.
Students will use the device in tandem with the Singapore Student Learning Space and other education technologies to personalise and enhance their learning, MOE said.
Noting that “almost the whole” curriculum is on the Student Learning Space, Mr Ong said: “The idea is not to make students learn completely online and then don’t have to go to school. The quality and outcomes of e-learning will never be the same as a physical learning environment with teachers, with friends, CCAs and a social setting.
"Neither are we using SLS to make the classroom high tech and futuristic. What we want to do is to use SLS to enhance the classroom experience. Let the technology fade into the background. Let the interaction, the discussion and the thinking come to the fore. Flip the classroom, give students more voice, make learning become collaborative. Then students are more likely to internalise the lessons, and achieve better education outcomes. "
In 2019, MOE conducted a pilot study with eight secondary schools on using the devices to enhance teaching and learning.
"We learned many things from this pilot project. Number one, teachers cannot teach the traditional way using e-learning. They need new pedagogies – e-pedagogies," said Mr Ong.
He also said that there has to be controlled access so that the device is used for education and learning. According to Mr Ong, the pilot schools effectively addressed this through device usage control.
"It can access educationally meaningful sites on the Internet, but online games and Korean dramas are out. It will also monitor students’ use of the device," he said.
"Some students are naturally disappointed with the limited functionality of their devices, but it is the necessary thing to do. This is consistent with a common school practice where no mobile phone usage is allowed during school hours."
COMPUTING AND CYBER WELLNESS
The Education Minister also announced several other changes in the classroom as part of the national digital literacy programme.
As part of changes to the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum, there will be a greater emphasis on cyber wellness education in schools, said Mr Ong.
“We will devote more time, and develop more materials to teach this subject, so that students will learn to critically evaluate what they read online, be able to tell genuine news from falsehoods, and not rely on social media ‘likes’ for validation," he said, noting that 11 secondary schools are piloting the new curriculum.
"They need to be able to say no to bad influences, protect themselves from cyberbullies and predators."
About 50 per cent more time will be spent discussing cyber wellness issues during CCE lessons for primary and secondary levels, said MOE.
MOE also announced in July last year that the Code for Fun programme will be expanded to all primary schools from this year. It will be offered as a 10-hour enrichment programme at the upper primary level.
More schools will also offer Computing as an O-Level and A-Level subject, announced Mr Ong. Thirty secondary schools will offer O-Level Computing, up from 22, and 10 junior colleges will offer A-Level Computing, up from eight.
However, he ruled out making coding compulsory in schools.
Describing the idea as “too simplistic”, the Education Minister added: "Not everyone will grow up to be a coder. Many of us, we just need to learn to use technology and software and be comfortable with using them. Further, the programming languages will become outdated by the time the students graduate."
A revised lower secondary science syllabus will be rolled out in 2021, MOE also announced in a press release. It will help students develop a better understanding of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements.
Institutes of Higher Learning are setting baseline digital competency requirements for all their students, said Mr Ong. They are also upgrading their curriculum for sectors that require more advanced digital skills such as cybersecurity, finance, manufacturing and logistics, he added.
According to MOE, all polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students will be taught AI-related topics. Those in sectors poised for AI adoption, such as the finance, manufacturing, logistics and cybersecurity sectors, will be equipped with higher proficiency in AI competencies.
Mr Ong noted that the autonomous universities have trained about 1,000 information and communications technology (ICT) graduates per year in the last three years. Now, they take in 2,800 ICT students per year.
"But the (universities) know the industry is hungry for more talent, and have been working very hard to expand the capacity ... We will find ways to ramp up the capacity further if need be."
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In introducing these digital literacy measures, Mr Ong stressed that technology presents children with “influences, choices and decisions previous generations never had to contend with”.
“In an online world, you can be anonymous, and there are no policemen, no editors. No verifiers. A child can choose to be nasty and then get away with it," said Mr Ong.
And with devices, children can use them for good or bad purposes, he added.
“How do we ensure that our young make the right choices, and survive well in the online world? I think digital world problems require analogue world solutions. It goes back to our values, morals, and humanity.”