21 November 2007 - Keynote Address By RADM(NS) Ronnie Tay, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of  Singapore At The International Conference On Educational Technology (ICET) 2007, Republic Polytechnic.

Keynote Address By RADM(NS) Ronnie Tay, Chief Executive Officer, Infocomm Development Authority of  Singapore
At The International Conference On Educational Technology (ICET) 2007 on 21 November 2007, Republic Polytechnic.

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Education,
Professor Lee Sing Kong, Director, NIE,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning. I am delighted to be speaking here at this year’s International Conference on Education Technology, which IDA has been supporting since its inauguration in 2004. The theme this year, “Rethinking Pedagogies by Creating Possibilities through Digital and Interactive Media”, is most timely as the current exciting infocomm developments in Singapore, such as pervasive wireless access, have thrown up many opportunities that we can leverage on for teaching and learning. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some trends and emerging technology, and how these are shaping our youth and their learning experience. 

The Digital Age 

2. As we are all aware, technology is changing the way we work, live, play and learn. We are moving into the Digital Age where computers, the Internet and mobile phones are becoming an integral part of our lives. 

3. According to last year’s IDA Infocomm Household Usage Survey, 78 per cent of households own at least one computer and 71 per cent has access to the internet. The survey also showed that 88 per cent of households with school-going children already have home computer access. With easy access to the computer and the Internet, 52 per cent of children aged between 10 to 14 years logged onto the Web for education and learning activities. They must have been working on their assignments, although the survey also noted that 50 per cent of our students are using the Internet for instant messaging and social networking as well. 

4. With notebooks, mobile phones and associated peripherals becoming more affordable, and pervasive wireless access in public areas around the island, our students are also more mobile and connected on-the-go. As of Aug 07, there are more than 5,600 available Wireless@SG hotspots, free to more than 520,000 subscribers in Singapore. I am sure many of you here are enjoying these hotspots all around our island. 

Our Students The Digital Natives

5. Our students are often described as ‘Digital Natives’ with natural inclinations towards the use of technology. This can be seen in their preferences and their habits today. They desire instant gratification and enjoy multi-tasking, using technologies to stay connected with friends. We see our children working on their PCs with multiple windows opened, while they attempt a Math problem with their fellow classmates and do instant messaging at the same time. They seek experiences that contribute to their learning and not just knowledge disseminated in a linear fashion, from textbook to teacher and then to them. They are comfortable in learning through discovery.  They respond enthusiastically to multi-modal forms of communication that incorporate images, graphics, sound, music and text. 

6. The explosion of Web 2.0 technologies and the Internet present new and exciting opportunities for self expressions. We thus see our students expressing their views online through writing in blogs, editing photos using Flickr and even putting up videos on YouTube. They collaborate to develop new knowledge through channels like Wikipedia. They participate in online communities, such as MySpace and Facebook for social networking. Such activities are increasingly popular among students not only in Singapore but around the world too. 

7. Beyond social networking, students are playing more online games these days. They form virtual teams comprising players both known and unknown to them, and who could be of different ages and living in other countries. Through the online games, our students learn to solve problems in a competitive environment, thereby picking up important traits such as resilience. They have to multi-task, communicate and co-operate with diverse team mates, work with limited resources, and as a team strive to achieve the desired goals of the game. 

8. Such online activities enjoyed by many of our students are also new learning experiences for them. Indeed, given their exposure to the new technologies and the way that our learners are ‘wired’, we need to consider how we can use infocomm technology to engage them for more effective learning. 

Preparing for the Future: iN2015 & EdVantage 

9. To maximise the opportunities presented by these technologies in the digital environment, IDA together with other government agencies and industry charted a 10-year masterplan to develop Singapore into what we call an Intelligent Nation by 2015. As part of this masterplan, we also mapped out the Education and Learning technology roadmap, with guidance from Perm Sec (Education), in collaboration with her team and aligned with MOE's on-going efforts in its second IT Masterplan or mp2. We want to deliver a more engaging learning experience to meet the diverse needs of learners. 

10. One key programme is EdVantage where we aim to transform our students’ learning process in the following ways:

  • iACCESS – to provide pervasive and cost-effective infocomm access for learning anytime, anywhere;
  • iLEARN – to provide interactive resources for independent learning;
  • iEXPERIENCE – to empower learners through collaborative and intelligent applications that are adaptable to different learning styles.

11. The EdVantage programme also aims to build a strong and broad base of infocomm usage in the schools, and encourage peaks of excellence to emerge. To ensure pervasive nation-wide deployment of infocomm, the programme will help all schools build their capacity in technology planning, integration and implementation. In addition, we want to encourage experimentation in some schools to become test-beds for the innovative use of infocomm in teaching and learning, and to become pathfinders for the rest. 

12. The EdVantage programme builds on the past efforts from other projects such as BackPack.Net, a joint initiative between IDA & Microsoft launched in 2003. This collaboration has served as a stimulus for schools to use Tablet PCs for teaching and learning. We started out with only four pilot schools, but within 4 years, this initiative has led to the use of Tablet PCs across many schools. The BackPack.NET initiative has also catalysed the growth of independent software vendors, including many of our local companies, to deliver Tablet PC-based applications. 

13. As infocomm becomes pervasive in schools today, we are also mindful that our students from lower income households may not be able to afford computers and even the internet access. In order to ensure that they will not be deprived of the benefits of using infocomm, IDA has put in place the NeuPC Plus programme to help such students. More than 23,000 needy households with school-going children have benefited from this programme.  Together with the support of schools and industry partners, we are working towards 100 per cent computer ownership in homes with school-going children by 2015.

Potential of Interactive Digital Media (IDM) as Learning Tool

14 Today, we are beginning to see schools adopting some form of Interactive Digital Media to foster creative expression and story-telling skills among the students. This can also potentially develop their artistic talent and creative soft skills. When learners participate in and experience learning through IDM, such as online games and interactive television, there is a two-way communication that heightens the learning process in a more natural and instinctive manner.

15. At this juncture therefore, we are very pleased to be able to watch a short video clip infused with animation developed by Yu Neng Primary School, last year’s winner of the Channel News Asia Roving Digital Video competition. This clip shows how students are taking to new ways of communicating and learning. What I find most remarkable about this effort is our primary school students’ creativity and enthusiasm in developing this digital product, with some help from teachers. Let’s take a look at the clip.

16. This video shows how students today can learn to use IDM technologies imaginatively to express themselves, and some possibilities for the future. Let me elaborate further how such technologies can potentially be used to enhance learning.

17. IDM can reinforce what is being taught in class. Our students learn not just from what the teacher communicates verbally in school or from textbooks. They can also draw on digital content and online information to gain a deeper understanding of what is being taught in class. Whether stored in the student’s PC or within an information network, such content allows their learning experiences to be replicated and repeated.  Such learning tools are increasingly being exploited for use in class. For example, at Canberra Primary School, teachers use Tablet PCs to develop their students’ reading comprehension skills. They also engage their students through games and visual manipulation using Interactive White Boards. Mind-maps can be drawn easily on Tablet PCs by using Digital Inking technologies.

18. Through IDM, learning can also be reinforced by using graphics, images and sound, and not just text, thus stimulating more senses. These can be easily integrated into the lessons and brought out at the right time.  Schools are also exploring 3D Immersive technologies similar to the ones used in IMAX theatres. Such 3D modelling and animated content helps students to study concepts in subjects like Biology and Geography. Besides that, available 3D online environments, which many call virtual worlds, are being explored by some of our schools. One such virtual world is SecondLife. Set up by Linden Labs - this popular environment allows teachers to facilitate discussions with students and even helps them to reflect on interesting topics or explore perspectives from a first person’s point of view. In particular, through participation in a well designed environment, true feelings and heartfelt opinions could be generated amongst our students to allow conversations on issues, such as global warming and embryonic cloning, which cannot be easily explained on paper. 
19. Students don’t have to learn alone; they can do so through collaboration and networking and this in turn allows for learning to be contextualised. Working in a team, students can learn not only from their classmates but also from peers across geographical boundaries. They can also engage various subject matter experts and advisors.  For example, some schools are using blogs and Wikipedia for project work. By tapping on external experts, schools can even develop and work out authentic and realistic situations to be used for problem-based learning. Moreover, working in teams and collaborating with external experts will help our students prepare for the future as those are key skills required in the working world. 

 20. Students can also learn through games. My kids love to play computer games and I have yet to come across a child who does not. Games are really not new in education. Some commercially available games are already being used by teachers but they are generally not fully integrated with the curriculum and not in the multi-modal forms that our students enjoy. In online games, students actively take on central roles when given a specific task to do. Even without any specific objective, they can set up their own targets and solve problems effectively in a competitive environment.

21. This can be taken a step further where we could even integrate the physical environment with the game. One interesting example is Savannah, a project by the UK-based Futurelab. Through a cycle of experience and reflection, students in this project work in teams to 'become' animals and experience animals' behaviour in their natural environment. Using GPS-enabled PDAs, they take on the role of ‘lions' outside in a field, interacting in a virtual savannah and exploring the opportunities and risks triggered by different hotspots. When they are back in their classrooms, the students then research and reflect on their outdoor game-play by accessing resources as well as applications that tracked their outdoor activities. The project demonstrates that mobile technology games can generate high degrees of engagement and enthusiasm in children, who consistently rate the experience above both traditional school activities and computer games. The combination of play and planning within the game enables children to explore knowledge through experience, reflections, research and discussion. 

22. IDA piloted a similar project with MOE, Hewlett-Packard and Tao Nan School to develop a similar learning experience at the Singapore Zoo. Tapping on Futurelab researchers and NIE Learning Sciences Lab staff, the project focused on how teachers could design and develop interactive lesson plans for field studies, as well as how they could engage primary students further with the aid of interactive mobile technology. Played during Zoo Camp earlier in June this year, the project structured a game to teach students about natural habitats. Using GPS-enabled PDAs, groups of students took on the role of Herbivores, Carnivores, or Omnivores, and visited at least 3 wireless hotspots in the Zoo, performing tasks triggered in each hotspot. One of the interesting findings was that there was effective and creative use of technology among the Primary 5 participating students, who replaced note-taking with the taking of photos and videos instead. They also found the PDAs to be easy and convenient to use, allowing them to perform a task multiple times. You can hear more about this project later today, as it will be presented during this conference. 

23. Learning is also no longer constrained by physical boundaries. Working closely with NParks and MOE, IDA developed a wireless learning trail at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Sungei Buloh is a popular learning destination among schools, with about 25,000 students visiting the wetland reserve annually. Hence, it is a good venue to implement such a wireless learning trail, where students access information via an Ultra-Mobile PC to deepen their understanding of the mangrove environment. At logical points along the trail, using 2D barcode technology, students can access interesting information about the highlights in the trail. The content was co-created by students from Kranji Secondary School, together with NParks and MOE. They recorded the narration in school under the supervision of their teachers. Some of the text, pictures and recordings were taken by the students on-site. They also provided their own versions or re-creations of the stories/information provided by NParks and MOE.  Students learn through such information presented at relevant and convenient points throughout the field trips, making their experience more authentic even without the presence of guides. We aim to develop more such collaborative applications and content to further enrich the Sungei Buloh trail, and next year, we hope to make available more trails at heritage-rich places, like Chinatown. 

24. New technologies can also bring many immense benefits for teachers. Besides preparing lessons with the convenience of digital content, teachers can also make use of applications that allow them to do quick polling of students’ progress in class, analyse their performance and even provide feedback to parents. Some of these are highlighted at the Classroom of the Future or COTF showcase at NIE, now into its second edition. Comprising a café, laboratory, MRT, home and classroom, the COTF demonstrates not just how learning can take place outside the traditional classroom, but also how technologies help to bring the world to our students. 

IDA: Partnering MOE for Use of Technology in Schools

25. IDA collaborates closely with industry to explore new technologies and keep educators informed of the latest developments. We also set general directions with industry specialists to help guide innovation for the Education and Learning Sector, grounded in technology research and international experience. As Singapore’s infocomm industry developer, we also provide industry linkages and contacts as well as facilitate discussions between industry and schools. Through such efforts, we hope to continue to support the development of new products and services as well as more strategic industry collaboration with schools. 

26. Over the past year, IDA has continued to work with MOE to introduce and disseminate information on new technologies to our schools. Besides co-organising the Curriculum Forum for Principals in May 2007, IDA also supported two Infocomm Seminars for Superintendents and Principals. IDA also worked with MOE to meet with experts from the State-of-Play conference; this was organised by a group of top international law schools as well as our Nanyang Technological University, held in Singapore this past August. These experts from various disciplines came to Singapore to discuss the future of cyberspace and the impact of these new immersive, social online environments on education, law, politics and society. They met with schools to deepen their understanding of the potential role of Virtual Worlds in Education, as well as to provide useful perspectives on the issues and impact on teaching and learning. They felt that Virtual Worlds are relevant to learning as they allow students to experience the consequences of the decisions they made through well-designed theme-based or project-based scenarios, allowing room for mistakes and students to reflect, assess and make better decisions. 

FutureSchools: Transforming Educational Experience

27. IDA is also working with MOE in the FutureSchools@Singapore project that you would have heard about. This iN2015 project is in line with the MOE’s mp2 vision to harness infocomm effectively for engaged learning, and is aligned with the National Research Foundation’s research agenda in building Singapore as an Interactive Digital Media or IDM capital. 

28. The FutureSchools will be a group of schools that will push for innovative transformation of the education experience in Singapore. They will lead the way in developing possible models for the seamless and pervasive integration of ICT with the curriculum for engaged learning in schools. These schools will leverage on state-of-the art technologies and innovative school designs to bring about innovative curriculum, pedagogies and assessment programmes for engaged learning and efficient administration. By partnering with industry, these schools will not be “technology” schools that focus primarily on technology use for its own sake, nor will they be schools that train students mainly for careers in technology.  Instead, the programme emphasises the use of Infocomm to enable whole school transformation, where there are large scale experimentations at every cohort level involving administration and teaching/learning practices. 

29. In the coming months, we will be working with the industry to develop, test and deploy new school-wide products and services in the Future Schools. Set in a one-to-one computing environment, these new innovative applications will meet a diverse range of needs. New forms of content like videos and interactive textbooks will be used to suit different students’ learning styles. There will be significant progress in the area of game-based learning, where such learning content can be customised and easily replicated for other schools in the future. An augmented reality learning environment with multi-users interaction will also be weaved into their curriculum. These schools will also enjoy new forms of communications in the area of video conferencing and 3D virtual learning environments, where teachers and students will get to interact with one another using avatars and new forms of 3D content. Artificial Intelligence related technologies will also be used in adaptive learning and testing, where they support the learning process as the student progress. Finally, the next generation ePortfolio will enable students to capture and share their academic achievements and other areas of developments. 

Exciting Initiatives Ahead for Schools

31. In the near future, we intend to tap on our work with the FutureSchools and develop further other key areas such as Games for Learning and Learning Trails. In addition, we want to develop a network of digital learning resources to meet the growing demands of the sector. By working closely with schools and MOE, we hope to provide a Learning Digital Exchange. Teachers and students can access relevant educational content that are provided by schools, MOE, NIE and even different commercial providers such as publishers, broadcasters and learning management systems. This network of content will also be linked to public resources from libraries and other archives. As an IT advisor, IDA will work out a plan on technology development for schools to guide their innovations.  While these projects will typically be of a smaller scale, we will identify industry partners to help the schools, similar to what we are doing in FutureSchools. IDA is committed to supporting schools in their testing, prototyping, development and piloting of new areas. In fact, IDA recently called a Request for Information to gather inputs on how we can best develop an industry implementation framework for Virtual Worlds in Singapore.  As educators, you can offer your comments or suggestions on how virtual worlds could play a role in the area of education.  This presents a unique opportunity for you to shape the use of Virtual Worlds in education.  I encourage all of you to respond to our RFI that is published on the Gebiz portal. The closing date will be 15 January 2008. 


31. Given that our children live and learn in the Digital Age today, we need to work on imparting knowledge to our students as well as helping them to learn better through using Infocomm technology.  By exposing them to the new emerging digital environment, we are preparing them to join the future workforce and contribute in a world which will see even greater usage and pervasiveness of technologies. 

32. I hope that you will find this year’s ICET event interactive and fun.  May the next two days bring new and interesting experiences for each of you. Thank you.

Last updated on: 13 Mar 2023