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Building an E-Inclusive Society

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong - Speech National IT Literacy Programme Official Launch, Woodlands Regional Library

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong - Speech
National IT Literacy Programme Official Launch, Woodlands Regional Library

Singapore, 23 June 2001

1 This is my first visit to the Woodlands Regional Library. It is the latest of our new-generation libraries. I am happy to learn that many residents in the surrounding areas have used it heavily since its recent opening. Our libraries are no longer mere collectors and lenders of books. They have become true gateways to a world of knowledge.

2 The average Singaporean today needs to, and wants to know more about everything. For example, music and art are no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and fortunate. At the libraries, Singaporeans can obtain such information in a convenient and inexpensive way. Our libraries are today an integral part of our national learning infrastructure.

3 Advances in technology have helped our libraries to become more efficient, and more attractive to the common users. You can see how modern technology is applied in this library, from the scanning of books for check-in and check-out purposes, to the storing and retrieval of knowledge in computers. Technology has touched every aspect of our lives, and affected the way we learn and play.

4 In the economy too, the factory of today is very different from the industrial plant of yesterday. In services sectors such as banking and finance, communications and transport, and retail and hospitality, technology is bringing about sweeping changes. What this means is that more and more jobs will require the use of computers and the Internet or what the experts call "infocomm technology and devices". So whether you are working in a high tech factory, operating the cranes at our port or taking customer orders at a caf?, you will have to master new infocomm technology to enhance job performance.

5 Nowadays, books, music CDs, electrical appliances, tickets for movies and cultural performances, and even groceries, can be purchased over the Internet. This is convenient and saves time. While previously we had to take time off work for many personal errands, we can now carry out banking transactions, access our latest CPF statements, file tax returns, and undergo skills training any time, any place, so long as there is a computer and Internet access. And we do not have to queue up! Those in the infocomm industry describe these developments as the "electronic" or "e-lifestyle".

Digital Divide or Digital Dividend?

6 Many Singaporeans are already using infocomm technology to improve their job performance and enhance their lives in other ways. However, there are also Singaporeans who seem afraid of technology, who cannot afford it or who simply do not believe that it will make their lives better. The difference in mindset and access to technology between these two groups has been termed the "digital divide". Those on the wrong side of the digital divide will be less able to take on new jobs. They will have fewer opportunities to enrich their lives through the communications, education and entertainment possibilities offered by computers and the Internet.

7 The digital divide is a real problem. However, if we can put in place the right programmes and infrastructure, we can turn this digital divide into a digital dividend.

National e-Inclusion

8 How do we do this? We must first make it a national goal to build an "e-inclusive society", where everybody is able to reap the benefits brought about by infocomm technology. In an e-inclusive society, technology is accessible and affordable to all, regardless of age, language, social background or ability.

9 To prevent the formation of a digital divide in Singapore, younger Singaporeans, who are familiar with the computer and the Internet, can coach their parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives, and show them how technology can make their lives easier. Community groups should provide support to enable their members to get on to computers. I am heartened to note that such community support has been very forthcoming. For example, we have volunteers who recycle used PCs for lower-income groups. Voluntary welfare organisations such as the Society of the Physically Disabled have specially-tailored IT training programmes.

Achieving e-Inclusion

10 There are several issues that have to be addressed in order to achieve the goal of an e-inclusive society. One of these is easy access to computers and the Internet. We have done well here. Today, Singapore is one of the most IT-connected cities in the world. Our nationwide broadband infrastructure, Singapore ONE, covers 99 percent of the island, including schools, businesses, homes, libraries and community centres and clubs. 7,000 public access points are currently available around Singapore.

11 Affordability is another important consideration. Over the past year, 2,000 needy families have benefited from the PC Re-Use Scheme. For families which do not wish to purchase a computer, a scheme initiated by NTUC and PeoplePC provides union members with PCs at a very affordable rental charge of $1 a day. Since its launch in May last year, over 4,000 people have benefited from it. The National Library Board too, has played an active part in providing affordable Internet access. For only three cents a minute, users can surf at any of the 560 broadband-enabled multimedia stations found in our libraries.

12 To increase awareness and usage of computer services or what the experts call "online transactions", the Infocomm Development Authority or IDA has been actively promoting the adoption of an e-lifestyle amongst Singaporeans. Many committees have been formed to increase online content and applications. To cater to non-English speaking Singaporeans, we have more Mandarin, Malay and Tamil websites. A recent example is ePedoman, a bi-directional English to Malay translation portal launched in March this year. It automatically translates English websites into Malay.

13 The Government will continue to work with interested organisations in the people and private sectors to assist lower-income Singaporeans to get onto the e-lifestyle. We are also building an e-government which will offer a variety of government services on the Internet. Today, Singaporeans have access to over 600 such online services via the e-Citizen portal and other public-sector websites.

National IT Literacy Programme

14 All these efforts, however, will not produce the desired results if our people do not have the right skills to take advantage of the advances in infocomm technology. Last year, at the National Day Rally, I announced the establishment of a $5 billion Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund. The Fund will support new initiatives to help Singaporeans practise lifelong learning.

15 I had also mentioned that we were working on a National IT Literacy Programme. The National IT Literacy Programme will equip Singaporeans with essential basic computing and Internet skills. This will help them to improve their employment opportunities and enhance their quality of life.

16 The Ministry of Manpower and IDA will spearhead this Programme. The target is to equip 350,000 Singaporeans with basic computer and Internet skills over the next three years. The training will be quick, easily available and affordable. The courses range from 7 to 14 hours in duration and will be fun and easy. The curriculum will consist of examples in daily life and work situations. They will be conducted in English, as well as Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, at commercial training schools and community facilities all over Singapore. The courses will be affordable because trainees will bear only 20% of the cost, which can be as little as $20. The Community Development Councils and other self-help groups will provide assistance to those from lower-income families so that no one is left out.

17 Upon completion of these literacy courses, trainees would have the basic skills to operate the computer and to surf the Internet. They will be able to search and retrieve relevant information, communicate via email and perform online transactions.

18 I am encouraged to note that we have made a good start in the pilot phase of the National IT Literacy Programme. I would like to commend the volunteers, especially the e-Ambassadors, who have mentored the trainees during the courses. We will need more of you to step forward. I would also like to commend community organisations such as CDAC, SINDA, MENDAKI, the Eurasian Association and the People's Association, as well as partner organisations including NTUC, the National Library Board and the Singapore Computer Society, which have contributed immensely to the effort. Our thanks too, to private-sector parties, including the Singapore National Employers Federation, the Singapore IT Federation, private training providers and IT equipment vendors.

19 The Government alone cannot make the National IT Literacy Programme a success. We need the active participation of every member of our society. The private sector can play a bigger role by making PCs, infocomm equipment and Internet access more affordable to individuals. Employers should enrol their workers in the National IT Literacy Programme. The development of an e-inclusive society is a national project. It is a partnership of every citizen and organisation.


20 The world of technology is often depicted as a world for the young and educated. This is not true. Our vision is to make Singapore an e-inclusive society where all Singaporeans, regardless of age, language, social or educational background, will have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits brought about by technology.

21 The National IT Literacy Programme has adopted a suitable buzz word - "BEGIN" - to rally everyone to this effort. Let us commit ourselves to begin this new learning journey and make Singapore an e-inclusive society.