President Halimah Yacob was the guest-of-honour for Girls Brigade Friendship Day 2018.
By Peishan Lin
A foosball game with a motion sensor and electronic score counter, a cardboard basketball arcade booth with moving baskets, a toy vehicle with a handheld controller – all programmed using the micro:bit pocket-sized mini computer.
These are just some of the creative projects built by the girls from The Girls’ Brigade Singapore (GBS), and unveiled at GB Friendship Day 2018 on 14 July.
A micro:bit-powered foosball game, anyone?
A senior citizen testing her reflexes on an arcade game.
First held in 2011, the annual GB Friendship Day focuses on community service and outreach, encouraging the girls to serve and befriend the elderly, needy, and those with special needs. This year’s GB Friendship Day is the inaugural iteration of the event to feature technologically enabled booths
The girls’ projects, including the aforementioned light-hearted games incorporating micro:bits, are the result of the pilot phase of Digital Serve (D-Serve), GBS’s new initiative to impart digital skills to its members. Primary and secondary school GB girls will be trained in micro:bit coding, cloud computing, design thinking and in fundamental concepts in AI and machine learning.
“With so much emphasis on cloud and digital skills in the 21st century economy, we felt that it’s inevitable,” said Mrs Sally Chew, the immediate past president of GB, whose term ended in April this year and who spearheaded GB’s move towards digital readiness. “It’s beyond (GB’s objective of) holistic development. We call it the relevancy of our programme – relevant to making our girls employable, because yesterday’s skills are no good for tomorrow.”
Cultivating tomorrow’s digital workforce
With its official announcement at GB Friendship Day 2018, D-Serve is set to be rolled out to all 3,600 members of Girls’ Brigade Singapore (GBS).
The curriculum was developed with the help of TP and AWS Educate, and through facilitation by IMDA. GIT will subsequently provide their trainers and expertise as D-serve is introduced to more schools. For all parties involved, D-serve is the culmination of shared objectives: to cultivate innovators of the future and a workforce for the digital economy.
“The collaboration with The Girl’s Brigade to provide the girls new ways of acquiring digital skills aligns with our goal to develop computational thinking and making as a national capability,” said Ms Koh Li-Nah, Senior Director, Digital Readiness Cluster. “We believe that there is a wellspring of curiosity and creativity in children and are heartened that The Girls’ Brigade is placing specific focus on equipping their members with the knowledge and skills for the digital society.”
A team showing their solution, which taps on the Amazon Alexa smart speaker, to President Halimah Yacob.
Tech the equaliser
The fact that D-serve is geared specifically towards the digital readiness of young girls was also emphasised by both GBS and AWS. Mrs Chew described digital literacy as an equaliser between young boys and girls.
“When you think about technology, it’s always boys – geeks. But what is there to say that girls can’t be as good, if not better than boys in technology? It could be (just because of) a lack of awareness, exposure and opportunities. What we’re doing is making those available to girls, and to help girls understand technology is not that daunting,” explained Mr Vincent Quah, Regional Head of Education for Asia Pacific and Japan, AWS.
Mr Quah added that AWS Educate simply “wants to make sure that everybody has that opportunity to learn” and that there is a big skill gap in the present workforce. “If we don’t do anything about it, we will be inhibiting our own growth,” he said.
He also pointed out how technological disruptions like Airbnb and Deliveroo have become the new normal, and each and every young student must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to innovate for them – and Singapore – to stay ahead in future.
Curriculum of the digital age
TP has provided lesson plans, training for staff and students alike in coding IMDA-sponsored micro:bits and design thinking, and assistance in setting up and advising maker spaces. The polytechnic’s lessons have already been taught to primary school students as young as 10, during curriculum time as well as at GB camps.
Many projects showcased at GB Friendship Day 2018 were developed under the mentorship of TP’s staff as well. A 3D-printed music box and bedside lamp, programmed with coding taught by TP, were presented as gifts to GB Patron, President Halimah Yacob, who was the guest of honour at the GB Friendship Day.
AWS Educate has started operating in only three secondary schools thus far, and this number is set to increase. It has provided an 8-hour instructor-led series of workshops, which teach cloud computing skills and AI and machine learning concepts and facilitate designing digital solutions. It also provides unrestricted access to the most advanced AWS technology available at corporate levels.
Both AWS and TP will be assisting in proficiency assessments as D-serve is rolled out to all GBS companies.
President Halimah Yacob testing a game programmed with the micro:bit device.
Baby steps towards a brighter future
Haydee Ng, Grace Chee and Alicia Lee, all aged 13 – who have coded a handheld controller for a toy vehicle – expressed excitement about coding, claiming it was easy to learn, and fun to create with.
This is a sentiment echoed by many of the girls at the booths – an indicator of D-serve’s effectiveness in inspiring the girls’ passion for and confidence in innovation. Some teams of girls as young as 10 have produced their first tech creations, such as a game of electronic bingo – a small screen flashes letters, programmed to appear at random, while players cross out those that appear on their bingo sheets.
Though these projects may be skewed towards recreation, hints of the girls’ potential for wider impact are already apparent.
For instance, a team of girls from Springfield Secondary School, under the guidance of AWS Educate’s pilot programme, developed a simple voice-enabled AI programme with the elderly in mind. The programme is capable of taking notes and providing reminders and directions.
These young girls may start small for now, but they promise bigger and better innovations for the future!