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Bridging the Digital Divide

Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Development, IDA Singapore - Speech CIAPR Forum, Shanghai International Convention Centre

Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Development, IDA Singapore - Speech
CIAPR Forum, Shanghai International Convention Centre

China, 24 May 2001

1. Good morning Mr. Han, Mr He, ladies and gentlemen.


2. The advent of the Internet and user-friendly infocomm appliances has had a phenomenal impact on developed nations and societies over the past few years. While much attention has focused on the business and technology aspects, one area we need to also pay attention to is the social impact.

3. As we move towards a knowledge-based economy, the development of an Information Society is clearly an irreversible global trend. However, it inevitably brings about the risk of a so-called "digital divide" - the gap between those who are Internet savvy and those who are not.

4. It is therefore important as a nation, that in our quest to promote the use of PCs and the Internet, we have to focus on the need for ubiquitous adoption - that PCs and the Internet are made easily accessible and affordable to all Singaporeans, and not just a small privileged group.

Infocomm 21

5. Bringing people online is one of the key thrusts under the Infocomm 21 Masterplan. The vision is to develop Singapore into a leading infocomm-savvy society with a pervasive e-lifestyle. Every Singaporean, regardless of social standing, income level, age group, ability or ethnic group will have an opportunity to benefit from the New Economy and enjoy a rewarding e-lifestyle.

6. We envision Singapore to be among the top FIVE infocomm-savvy societies in the world by 2005, and to have 70% of school-going and adult residents to make use of infocomm technology in their daily lives by 2002.

7. A total of $25 million has been set aside to support the 3-year culture promotion initiative and IDA will undertake several programmes in phases to target low-income households, different ethnic groups and the late adopters of infocomm technology. The aim of this initiative is to raise the people's awareness about how infocomm technology can enhance their quality of life.

Barrier in bridging divide

8. Generally, there are three potential digital fault-lines - mindset, income level and language.

9. Facing a fear of technology or a perception against infocomm can affect the level of receptiveness to the adoption of e-lifestyle. Therefore, one of our key thrusts to implement our plans is to have a sustained calendar of activities associated with selected government campaigns, aimed at our entire spectrum of target groups to change their mindsets towards infocomm adoption.

10. Access and affordability to infocomm technology is another fault-line that we have to be mindful about. The low-income and IT illiterate groups within our community are not a market waiting to be tapped. These are groups which need to be assisted. Having access to the tools of technology can help to bridge the digital divide.

11. Singapore being a multicultural society, faces the existence of different languages such as Chinese, Malay and Tamil. This makes us more mindful of the language barrier as the majority of content on the Internet is in English, thus making the adoption of infocomm more difficult.

12. In view of these fault-lines, our programmes will endeavour to narrow and bridge the digital divide.

IT Literacy

13. From this chart, you can observe that almost 45% of our population is IT literate. However, despite the presence of high PC and Internet penetration, 55% of the population remains IT illiterate. This segment is made up of home-makers and senior citizens.

IT Experience Spectrum

14. To correct this phenomenon, programmes are designed to move people through various stages, beginning from simple tasks like searching for information on the Internet to the more complicated tasks of online shopping, and eventually, even volunteering to help the less literate and to create e-communities. This programme works towards enabling every citizen, whether young, abled or disabled, professional or domestic, to have an opportunity to become adept at using Infocomm Technology to live the e-lifestyle.

eCelebrations Singapore

15. With this aim in mind, eCelebrations Singapore was launched in March 2000. This campaign comprises of a month-long public outreach programme, held in March every year, to change mindset and get everyone online. 61 partners are featured from the private and government sectors and the community. A total of 95 events ranging from thematic fairs, competitions, training workshops to community programmes, will be targeted at helping Singaporeans learn more about infocomm technology and to get connected to reap the benefits of an e-lifestyle.

IT Coach

16 Bringing infocomm to the community is what IT Coach, a travelling resource centre seeks to achieve. Equipped with computers and accessories, it offers a 30-minute introduction of Singapore ONE services, electronic commerce and video-conferencing. It has reached out to more than 56,000 participants from some 38 organisations. An example of an expedition was mobilising through industrial sites to introduce online-tax-filing to the employers on site. Cyber guides and tax officers on board would guide the employees through their experiential in filling their taxes online.

One Learning Place

18. Launched in 1999, One Learning Place is an initiative to promote mass awareness and widespread adoption of Singapore ONE. One Learning Place is a one-stop mass training centre and caters to training in the broadband network, Singapore ONE and Internet, as well as information literacy skills to students and adults. Participants get to develop a spectrum of IT skills from the basics of operating a PC to more advanced skills of creating own multimedia web sites and doing video conferencing. Courses are conducted in English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and even, sign language. More than 15,000 people were trained in the first year of its launch.

IT Literacy Training

19. The National IT Literacy programme was announced by the Prime Minister in August 2000 to ensure that all Singaporeans, whatever their age or background, can have training in basic IT and Internet literacy. Singaporeans learn basic IT skills and experiene how to shop, bank, trade and apply for essential government services before attempting the real thing. Provision will be through a wide range of agencies, community organisations and vendors.

Improve Access and Public Access

20. Improving access for infocomm services for all Singaporeans involves affordability, availability of supporting physical infrastructure, and awareness and training programmes. It is important to note that not everyone in Singapore is infocomm-literate, and not everyone has easy access to PCs or other means of going onto the Internet. Therefore, it is important that we ensure easy access for the have-nots.

Public Access

21. Basic public infrastructure will be enhanced by the provision of free broadband access to the Singapore ONE clubs at community centres. Presently, there are Internet access points in selected community centres/clubs and libraries, located island-wide. 530 PCs can be found in libraries, 1000 PCs in Commercial Training Centres, 500 PCs in Self-Help Groups, 166 PCs in Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) Training Centres, 6 000 PCs in LAN Centres, 680 PCs in NTUC, 128 PCs in One Learning Place and 270 PCs in Community Clubs. These clubs and libraries offer Internet access at a nominal fee to enable non-PC owners/non-Internet subscribers to surf the Web, search for information, communicate online and participate in Web-based activities.

22. IDA is also ready to support in the setting up of resource centres in different locales by collaborating with other agencies such as the Volunteer Welfare Organisations, to help train residents in IT skills and get them connected to the Internet.

23. Besides improving public access, another major achievement in helping to overcome the Digital Divide is the PC Reuse Scheme.

PC Reuse Scheme

24. Starting with 30,000 low-income households. The PC Re-use Scheme involves garnering used PCs from the government departments, private sectors and members of the public. The PCs will be refurbished and distributed to the needy families as well as non-profit organisations such as halfway houses and voluntary welfare centres. Partnering with self-help groups and grassroots organisations, IDA aims to offer a used PC bundled with free Internet access and basic training to each of these homes. Free broadband access will also be made available at community centres and clubs.

25. The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), Chinese Assistance Development Council, Yayasan Mendaki, Singapore Scouts Association, Enable2000 and IT Services Co-operative are providing their premises as collection centres for used PCs. To date, more than 1,300 refurbished PCs have been donated. Going forward, our target is to refurbish and upgrade 2,500 PCs and deploy them by 2002 to reach these households.

26. $13 million has been set aside for these efforts.

Bridging the Language Barrier

27. Society is varied so a one-size-fits-all that is typical of a centralised approach is likely to not meet the needs of different groups in society. Targeted programmes tailored to the needs of a specific group are likely to work better. As such, there is a need to assist and provide adequate opportunities for and assist individuals and communities, such as the Malay/Muslim and Tamil communities in Singapore, to scale the language barrier and cross over the divide.

28. Malay and Tamil Internet Steering Committees are formed to facilitate the development of local multilingual content and to promote the Internet usage among the local Malay and Tamil communities to assist them to become net-savvy. ePedoman, a state-of-the-art English/Malay bi-directional search and directory portal that is built with automatic real-time translation is a good example of some of the efforts. This allows the target users to browse web sites, which are originally created in English, in their native language - Malay. The MISC is also currently working on several initiatives including IT Training programmes, development and aggregation of local multilingual content and e-commerce adoption programmes for business and consumers.

29. Through the efforts of the MISC and TISC, every non-English literate citizen will be able to access the Internet and not be alienated due to the language barrier. IDA has committed $2 million with hopes to bridge the language barrier by accelerating the development of compelling local content in Tamil and Malay.

Empowering the Disabled

30. The key challenge that we face in developing an Infocomm-savvy society is to ensure that no individual is left behind in this endeavour. The Internet can improve our quality of life, and we want everyone to be able to share that benefit. That is why was established to provide computer access infrastructure in Special Education (SPED) schools, and to set up a trust fund for students with special needs.

31. is a collaboration between and among Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the National Council of Social Services (NCSS), and 18 private organisations. aims to help students harness infocomm technology in their learning. translates into "dot-comming our Special Education Schools".

32. To date, has raised a total of $1.8 million in cash and kind to bring technology to the disabled. Out of this $1.8 million, a cash amount of $900,000 would be set aside in a Trust Fund for needy, disabled students to purchase PCs and assistive equipment for educational purposes. On top of that, over $900,000 worth of hardware and software will be donated to SPED schools


33. To ensure that we have 'catalysts' in the community to help as well as sustain our efforts to promote the adoption of e-lifestyle, IDA will provide for the training of 2,500 "e-ambassadors.

34. The e-Ambassador Programme aims to recruit 2,500 volunteers amongst early adopters of infocomm technology and for these volunteers to guide late adopters in their use of infocomm services and applications at the One Learning Place, Singapore ONE clubs and public library.

35. Under a formal training and qualification programme, this special group of people will act as counsellors to their peers to motivate the non-infocomm savvy users among them to embrace an e-lifestyle. This is a peer-led approach leveraging on the individual's enthusiasm to coach and recruit family members and/or friends within the same social circle to embrace infocomm technology. Upon completion of training, volunteers would have to contribute to SIX hours of community IT work.

36. eAmbassadors are recruited from community groups such as People Association's Youth Movement and the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet.

Partnership Strategy

37. We have always believed in embarking on strategic partnerships in our dot-com people initiatives. It is an approach that works. Industry and community involvement in the planning and implementation, as well as the creation of specific programmes, is crucial to this collaboration. We have established partnerships with FIVE key groups :

38. Industry and unions have committed to sponsorships such as SingTel Magix who sponsored the broadband access for One Learning Place.

39. Community groups and local government have set up portals such as CommonTown to help the online community.

40. Institutions and Civic Organisations such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council have contributed substantial time, energy and resources through voluntary and community participation to refurbish and deploy PCs.

41. Volunteer Welfare groups participated in the recruitment of eAmbassador volunteers, and the co-ordination of training and deployment of these volunteers.

42. IDA also worked with the various media such as television and newspapers to proliferate the e-lifestyle message.

A Better E-lifestyle

43. The Infocomm21 Masterplan aims to develop Singapore into one of the top five Information Societies in the world. We want all Singaporeans to reap the full benefits of infocomm in their daily lives.

Equal Opportunity for All

44. To be successful, we must acknowledge and address the diversity in society along the various digital fault-lines. This requires a broad-based people sector driven movement, with active participation from all the 3Ps - the public, private and people sectors.

45. IDA will commit energies and resources to support this movement, by working with the infocomm industry and various volunteer and grassroots organisations to bridge the Digital Divide.

46. Thank you.