21 June 2011 - Keynote Address by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts at the Asia Pacific Regional Forum on Digital Inclusion for All, at Suntec Convention Centre
Keynote Address by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts at the Asia Pacific Regional Forum on Digital Inclusion for All, at Suntec Convention Centre, on Tuesday, 21 June 2011, 2.30pm
Dr Hamadoun Toure,
Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union
Ladies and gentlemen
1. I am pleased to join all of you here this afternoon to discuss issues relating to digital inclusion. I would especially like to welcome all our overseas delegates to this Forum, which is a timely and important effort by the International Telecommunication Union to bring together stakeholders and organisations to discuss the issue of availing ICT to our larger community.
2. Singapore is pleased to work with ITU to raise the awareness of global ICT issues and have collaborated with ITU on previous occasions to do so. Most recently in 2010, Singapore hosted the second ITU Workshop on the Efficient Use of the Spectrum / Orbit Resource for the Asia Pacific region where we discussed the use of space radio communication services and the relevant provisions of the Radio Regulations for member countries. The outcomes of the two-day conference laid the foundation for the World Radiocommunications Conference, which will be held in 2012. Mr Leong Keng Thai, Deputy Chief Executive of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, has also been appointed as one of the commissioners of the ITU's Broadband Commission for Digital Development and offers Singapore's perspectives on the area of digital development.
3. ICT is an enabler for economic growth and social development. ICT has enabled organisations to streamline their operations and introduce innovative new business models, as well as enabled governments to transform delivery of public services, benefitting citizens through high levels of convenience and cost savings. However, we are cognizant that there will be groups in our community who are unable to take full advantage of ICT, and this concern is not unique to Singapore.
4. I would like to share with all of you some of Singapore's efforts to try to address the issue of digital inclusion for three key groups whom we recognise are at risk of a digital divide, namely, those with disabilities, the elderly and the students from less privileged family backgrounds.
Empowering Those with Disabilities Through Infocomm
5. People with disabilities are a key group who require assistance in using ICT. They make up about 10 per cent of the world's population, or 650 million people, and of these, 40 per cent live in the Asia Pacific. Hence, efforts to empower them take on an added significance in this region. In Singapore, we have set up the Infocomm Accessibility Centre, or IAC, as a training facility to empower, enhance independence and facilitate the integration of this group of people into mainstream society. The IAC offers a structured certification path and industry-relevant infocomm training to help people with disabilities to acquire ICT knowledge and increase their opportunities for employment.
6. The IAC also houses the first-ever Assistive Technology Loan Library in Asia which provides assistive technology tools to help people with disabilities learn, interact, and overcome barriers to accessing a computer and other ICT resources. Some of these tools include alternative keyboards, pointing devices such as the mouse which has been designed for use by those with limited dexterity, as well as specialised software that will make it easier for them in the course of their learning journey.
Engaging the Elderly
7. Singapore is also preparing ourselves for an ageing population and has put in place specific initiatives to engage the elderly to ensure they are not left behind in the wake of digital progress. We have harnessed ICT as a tool to promote active ageing and to foster a more inclusive society. ICT learning hubs, also called Silver Infocomm Junctions, have been set up to offer affordable infocomm training and customised curriculum for our senior citizens, or active agers, as we call them.
8. Since 2007, nine such hubs have been set up, with plans for another four to be established by 2012. At these Junctions, our active agers pick up basic skills like using a computer, surfing the Internet and new lifestyle skills like eTransactions and Social Networking. To date, more than 40,000 active agers have benefitted from IDA's training curriculum.
9. To further encourage the use of ICT among our active agers, IDA has also been establishing Silver Infocomm Hotspots with support from community clubs, self-help groups and voluntary welfare organisations. At these hotspots, our active agers enjoy the free use of the PC and Internet facilities, and we are encouraged by the positive feedback received thus far. As of June 2011, 39 Silver Infocomm Hotspots are already in operation and we hope to increase this to a total of 100 Hotspots nationwide by 2013.
Equipping the Needy Students
10. About 96 per cent of Singapore households with school-going children have access to computers. We recognise that even with the high access numbers, we must continue to reach out to students from less privileged family backgrounds and make ICT affordable and accessible to them. IDA's NEU PC Plus programme, launched in 2006, provides students from low-income households with new computers bundled with three years of free broadband access and software for S$150.
11. To date, more than 31,000 households in Singapore have benefited from the programme. In addition to this offer, IDA has also set up the iNSPIRE fund to help applicants who cannot afford to co-pay for the PCs and/or broadband access where they can opt to do some form of community service in lieu of the payment.
Enabling the General Population
12. At a wider level, we have also put in place initiatives to help the general population learn and experience the benefits of a digital lifestyle. We have set up 27 CitizenConnect Centres islandwide to help citizens transact online with the Government. These centres help cater to residents who either do not have access to, or who require help with a computer or the Internet to perform online transactions.
13. The Singapore Government is also leveraging on mobile technologies and applications to connect with the community in a faster and more efficient way. A case in point is i-Service, an online one-touch service offered by Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council, an estate maintenance agency in Singapore. iService allows residents to share feedback, request for services and effect payment with the Town Council. Central Singapore Community Development Council also developed the Central SG mobile application which allows citizens to access information on social assistance schemes, as well as community events.
14. The issue of a digital divide is of global concern and this forum presents us with a good platform to enhance our understanding of the matter at hand, and allow us to share our experiences and perspectives in the management of this issue. More importantly, this forum will also allow us to learn more about innovative technologies and applications that can help to bridge this digital gap, as well as develop partnerships among governments, industries and community organisations to truly foster a Digital Inclusion for All.
15. In closing, I wish all of you a fruitful discussion over the next three days. Thank you.