24 November 2007 - Media Statement By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth And Sports, And Second Minister For Information, Communications And The Arts As The Guest-Of-Honour at The Official Opening Of The Silver Infocomm Junction.
Media Statement By Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister For Community Development, Youth And Sports, And Second Minister For Information, Communications And The Arts As The Guest-Of-Honour at The Official Opening Of The Silver Infocomm Junction, Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme (Singapore) on 24 November 2007.
1. As you all know, IT is very important to our lives. It transforms the economy and social interactions. It also creates new hobbies and ways of working, entertaining and educating. There is no doubt that it is revolutionary.
2. But there are some groups in our society who are at risk of being left behind. There are three groups: people who are older, people who are disabled, as well as families who are less well-off. Let me go through these three groups in sequence.
Engaging the Seniors
3. First, let’s start with the seniors because after all that’s why we are here today. What we have launched today is the ‘Silver Infocomm Junction’. This is the first of eight which we intend to establish. The purpose is to inform, entertain and educate senior citizens so that they can understand the technology, learn how to use it and realise that, with proper training and exposure, it is user-friendly.
4. The first thing is that we need not have young people teaching the old ones. The best way to teach is when they see role models - other senior citizens able to use, teach and exploit the technology. So I am very glad that RSVP has chosen to establish the Silver Infocomm Junction here in its office. That speaks louder than any campaign or speech that anyone of us can make.
5. The next point I said was that only 25 per cent of senior citizens are currently using the Internet, which is way too low. So I have said, over the next two years, with the roll out of these eight centres which hopefully you will get a cascading effect - one person teaching two or three and each of them becoming an ambassador. We can then quickly upscale the number of senior citizens who know how to use this technology.
6. An equally important part (that’s why I spent some time checking) was that we developed a multi-lingual facility. As you can see in the applications, it is possible to blog in Mandarin, Tamil, Malay and in fact, in virtually any language that it is provided for in the software. Because many people have said that ‘I am not so good in English so the Internet is not for me’. We want to show you that it is not the case. So whatever language you are comfortable in, RSVP and the other centres will teach you how to use that language and get on the information highway.
7. The third point then is to show you that there are others like you who are on that space. Whether you interact through games like Second Life, emails or video-conferencing, there are others out there who want to stay in touch. So please use this technology.
8. A combination of role models, multi-lingual facility, and social and game aspects being taught and disseminated will (I believe) increase the utilisation rate of infocomm by senior citizens.
9. IDA will continue to support community organisations as they roll out these education programmes. I believe we have budgeted initially about S$2.5 million, but if need be, we will upscale the assistance and funding provided for this programme. We target to have eight centres focused at senior citizens (we call them ‘Silver Infocomm Junctions’) over the next three years which will be put in different places.
Empowering the Disabled
10. The next group I want to touch on briefly is for the disabled. We know for many of the disabled, because of physical disability, vision, hearing or speech, it is hard for them to gain full access to education, jobs and social interactions. It is the same thing - the risk of being left behind and being isolated.
11. We also have established the concept of ‘Infocomm Accessibility Centre’ which will make infocomm technology available to the disabled. For some time now, we have the Enable Fund which provides subsidies for people who are disabled to buy assistive technology equipment. But it goes beyond equipment. We need to focus on education, access and customising / tailoring the technologies and equipment available, because each disabled person will have slightly different needs and opportunities.
12. In the case of the disabled, the focus is especially on employment prospects. This means to make sure that they have enough infocomm skills to help them compensate or overcome their disabilities as well as to seek jobs. This is another area which we will invest in.
Equipping the Needy
13. The third area is families who are less well-to-do. Currently, we look at the statistics - 88 per cent of all households with children in Singapore have Internet access. 88 per cent is not bad but that is not good enough. In this day and age, we need to target 100 per cent of all households with children to have a computer with Internet access.
14. One of the programmes which has been running for a few years is called ‘NEU PC’. Last year, we made it ‘NEU PC Plus’. Basically in this scheme, it will cost S$285 to get a computer as well as three years of broadband access to the Internet for needy families. S$285 is a good deal if you think about the equipment and connection cost. But I also do appreciate the fact that S$285 may also be a hurdle for some families.
15. The latest scheme which we are now rolling out to supplement the ‘NEU PC Plus’ is called ‘iNSPIRE Fund’. We will tell these children that it is still not going to be free because if it is free, you won’t appreciate it. But if you perform significant community service, do something useful for others or work with VWOs and homes, we will give you credits. You can exchange the credits for the S$285 voucher which will then give you a computer and Internet access.
16. The point I am trying to make for the elderly, disabled and less well-off families is that infocomm technology is essential. We are in the day and age that we don’t have the luxury of saying ‘I don’t need it’, it is essential. But on the part of the government, IDA, community organisations like RSVP and all the other organisations out there, we are making a commitment in ensuring that in Singapore there will be no digital divide. Nobody will be left behind because of the lack of opportunities to use infocomm technology. So that’s the commitment we are making. We are investing in this area. We are working with community partners and we will ensure that this is done.
17. It’s easy to set targets. But what I am saying is what’s far more important is to get everyone to appreciate that this is a worthwhile investment. Not just in terms of money, but in terms of time, efforts and collaboration in getting things organised. Having just spending a few minutes here at RSVP, it is clear that there is enthusiasm. There are people who are passionate about this and we will all benefit as one society / community without digital divide.