Assoc. Prof. Yaacob Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Communications & Information Technology -Speech Grand Finale of NTU-JC Challenge 2001, Nanyang Technological University  

Assoc. Prof. Yaacob Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Communications & Information Technology -Speech
Grand Finale of NTU-JC Challenge 2001, Nanyang Technological University
Singapore, 17 February 2001

Dr Cham Tao Soon,
President of NTU,
Principals, Teachers, Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you this morning for the Grand Finale of the NTU-JC Challenge 2001. This competition is designed to promote creative learning and thinking in science and technology among the junior college students. This year's focus is on WAP Technology. Apart from providing students with the necessary knowledge on this new technology, a business planning workshop was organised to expose students to the intricacies and demands of technoprenuership. This is indeed an excellent opportunity for our students to understand that the path from invention to the marketplace is never straight nor smooth. Many a technopreneur will tell you that apart from having a good product and a good team, you need to do a lot of business planning and research, and to have a good dose of luck.

Every inventor probably believes that his product will sell not merely because of its price but because it addresses a need. Underlying every new product or invention is a response to either a particular problem or a desire to improve upon things. Finding a cure to the Aids epidemic is a response to a pressing global problem. Inventing a washing machine which uses less water and soap stems from a desire to cut down on waste. Society will embrace new technologies or a new product if they meet a real or perceived need. When the automobile was invented not many took to it until they saw what it could do to ease their lives and business tasks. The Internet was used by academics long before it became a fashionable part of cafes worldwide. The advent of browsers and other related inventions and the rapidly declining telecommunications costs made the Internet and World Wide Web part of people's lives.

A good deal of creativity not only goes into responding to the need, but in defining or seeing a need. But what exactly is creativity? American psychologist Howard Gardner defined the exemplary creator as "a strong-minded individual who often retains child-like characteristics such as self-centredness." Creativity begins with a child-like curiousity about things around us. I am constantly reminded of this by my two young children. In response to crows feeding on my cats' food, my 3 year old daughter suggested that I put up a sign which said "No Crows Allowed". On reminding her that crows cannot read, she suggested that I teach them how to read. Such is the mind of a child limited only by her imagination.

Creativity requires a mind that is prepared to abandon assumptions and to think outside the box. It is a willingness to inquire, reflect, and investigate. Someone once said that "everyone saw the apple falling, but it was Newton who asked the question why?" But Newton did not find the answer by sitting under the apple tree. He persevered, reflected, and pondered and finally came up with the answer that changed physics and the world.

For creativity to thrive and learning to take place, there must be an environment and a system which promotes experimentation and does not penalise failures. There must be a willingness to accept diversity and not to reward conformity. In this era of globalization and rapid change, openness and open systems lead to greater competition, growth, and creativity. Nicholas Negroponte, the author of the book Being Digital and the widely accepted guru of IT, once observed that "In an open system, we compete with our imagination, not with the lock and key". By giving students all the information and know-how, the test becomes not what you know but what you do with what you know. An open system leaves everything to the imagination. Hence I am confident that contests such as Challenge 2001 play an important role in signaling to our young that what they are able to achieve is limited only by their imagination.

This year's competition also helps our students to gain a better understanding of WAP and wireless technology. Wireless technology is important because it has the potential to become the Internet access of choice in the leading nations of the world, in some cases becoming more important than PCs. In Finland 67% of the population own cellphones compared to only 39% owning PCs. Likewise, in Sweden, 53% have cellphones and 42% have PCs TowerGroup, 6 Sep 00. Mobile phone penetration in Singapore experienced a 50% increase over the last year to reach 75% IDA's monthly Telecom Statistics. in December 2000. Our PC penetration is also impressive - in 1999, 59% of households had PCs 1999 IT Household Survey.

With the telecommunications revolution and Internet, the world has gotten closer and this has led to a phenomenon sometimes described as "the death of distance". With the surge in wireless communications and the advent of new services such as 3G, we now have "the conquest of location". You can be anywhere in the world and still be everywhere in the world. These are new technologies which will impact the way we work, interact, live and learn. Whether these technologies add value to the quality of people's lives or not, depends very much on how the developers and technopreneurs create new and exciting services. I do hope that during this competition you have had the opportunity to look beyond the physics and into the exciting future that these new technologies promise. If you are excited by it, then this competition would have succeeded.

Challenge 2001 is the second in a series of annual events aimed at promoting science and technology among A-level students. The support shown to this competition by the Ministry of Education, the organisers Nanyang Technological University, and sponsors Lycos Asia and Pod, reflects and all round commitment towards the objective.

Let me conclude by congratulating all the Challenge participants from 15 JCs and 2 Institutes for their efforts. My congratulations also to the winners of the Best Technical Innovation, Best Presentation and Best Business Proposition awards.

Thank you.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023