Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for Education Speech - Launch Of BackPack.NET, River Valley High School
Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for Education
Speech - Launch of BackPack.NET, River Valley High School
Singapore, 25 October 2003
Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore
Mr Andy Zupsic, Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore
Miss Ek Soo Ben, Principal, River Valley High School
Colleagues from MOE
Teachers and Students
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to join you today for the launch of BackPack.NET, a collaborative initiative by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), Microsoft Singapore and our schools. Today's launch marks a felicitous convergence of three key thrusts in education in Singapore: the use of information technology for engaged learning, the deepening of school-business collaboration and, most broadly, the nurturing of a culture of innovation and enterprise across the education system.
A Convergence of Ongoing Initiatives
2. The first of these thrusts, the use of IT for engaged learning, entered a new phase last year with the launch of the second Masterplan for IT in Education, or mp2. Our first IT Masterplan, which began in 1997, set in place a broad and scaleable IT infrastructure in every school. We also trained every teacher in our schools with the skills to integrate IT into their lessons. Both our vision for IT in education and the results that we have achieved to date have earned us international recognition.
3. mp2 builds on the first Masterplan. We will embed technology more deeply into learning, and customise learning to suit the needs and interests of pupils. This will not happen through centralised direction. Schools have to work out for themselves how best to integrate IT in learning, and experiment to see what works best.
4. But schools will want to tap on external expertise and resources, especially in the field of IT. Schools will better equip our young for the changing realities of society and the future workplace if they develop partnerships with enterprises and community organisations. We will expand opportunities for schools to do so.
5. At our recent MOE Work Plan Seminar, we identified our key focus for the coming years as the fostering of a culture of innovation and enterprise throughout the education system. To prepare students for a future of relentless change, schools themselves must keep looking for ways to improve and stay relevant. School themselves have to be models of innovative practice. We must remain open to new ideas and approaches, and at times create new approaches or pedagogical methods.
6. In addition to new ways of learning in the classroom and school, we should connect students to the world outside. We can use IT to help provide these external connections, and open up new vistas for our students to explore and test their ideas in.
Collaborating for the Future
7. Microsoft, the industry partner in today's collaborative venture, has always been at the forefront of research and development into technologies that support businesses and educational institutions. I am glad to see that Microsoft, working with NIE and IDA, has set up a "Classroom of the Future". It will serve as a reference site to demonstrate Singapore's role as a leading platform for the development and test bedding of info-communications technologies for education.
8. What the school or classroom of the future will look like is still very much anybody's guess. What we can say is that it is unlikely to settle on any one model. More probable, a variety of models will emerge, responding to different needs and learning aptitudes and leveraging on different technologies and resources.
9. Online learning is one channel that offers considerable scope for development. River Valley High(RV) has taken steps in this direction with the development of its e-portal for learning. In fact, its students and teachers were so comfortable with using technology that during the period of school closure due to the SARS threat earlier this year, RV continued to deliver lessons online. I understand that almost all its 1,600 students were involved in learning through the e-portal. They also kept in touch with their teachers through the school's virtual forum.
The Potential of BackPack.NET
10. In coming together with IDA and Microsoft to work on BackPack.NET, River Valley High will be among the first schools in the world to experiment with the use of tablet PCs. With BackPack.NET, students are equipped with tablet PCs and 'Digital Ink' technology. They can express their thoughts and ideas using natural handwriting in a digital environment while simultaneously being connected with their peers. There may be real benefit in this. For example, learning in areas such as Chinese Language and art has the potential to be better undertaken through the Tablet PC and 'Digital Ink', than through the PC. (For Chinese or any written orthography based on symbolic representation, it is important to capture the nuances of pressure and strokes. In chemistry and mathematics too, molecular structures and complex formulae may be more easily depicted, manipulated and understood on Tablet PC than on the PC.)
11. I understand from the Principal that the River Valley High's teachers and students view this pilot project with a fair bit of excitement. In one of their brainstorming and planning exercises about integrating this new technology in their teaching, the teachers have thrown up suggestions to use the tablet PCs in a diverse range of learning experiences, from field trips and community service projects, to physical fitness tests, Chinese projects and even music composition for the school's Arts Niche Programme. The possibilities are many. All it takes is imagination and creativity.
12. As tablet PC technology is still relatively new in the market, BackPack.NET will bring researchers, industry developers and schools together to spark innovation in software applications for the Tablet PC. This collaborative approach is essential for any emerging technology in education.
13. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and commend River Valley High School for taking up this new challenge. In piloting the use of tablet PCs in teaching and learning, I hope that teachers and students will consider how we can change the culture of the classroom to support and motivate independent learning and thinking among our students, and to make full use of the resources that are now at our fingertips.
14. Finally, I would like to thank IDA and Microsoft for your partnership and commitment to preparing our young for the future. I look forward to seeing BackPack.NET in action. We have to try all such ways to mobilise the talents, aspirations and strengths of both teachers and students, and open up new learning possibilities to excite our young in learning.