The 45-year old Teo Chee Hean also chairs Singapore 21 - a consultative effort, he says, to "draw up a vision of the 'heartware' [people] of Singapore in the 21st century".
Under him, transforming his ministry and revamping the culture of the island’s education system, the focus has shifted away from the parrot-style regurgitation of data in a series of intensive examinations expected of Singapore’s children to a broader approach, for which projects, dialog and IT skills are key.
In a speech he made in 1997 about opening new frontiers in education with information technology, Teo said: "Information technology has made it possible for us to connect and work with more people and in more locations around the world. Our world has shrunk; and so must our minds expand to learn to take in all that is now within our reach."
With this in mind, the Education Ministry has become the largest donor of used PCs to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore's PC Reuse Scheme under which used PCs are refurbished by partners like self-help groups for the benefit of needy families. The Ministry plans to donate 2,000 PCs to the scheme in 2001, and up to 10,000 over the next five years. These PCs will enable more Singaporeans to have access to IT at home, completing efforts to promote the use of IT in schools.
A Cluster Science and Technology Center was launched at Nanyang Junior College. Serving 18 schools in the vicinity, the Cluster Center is a prototype of the high-quality learning environment of the future where teachers and students are partners in learning, tapping on state-of-the-art laboratory and research equipment as well as having industry mentors at hand to guide the young innovators. The research and innovation center aims to develop students’ passion for science and research, as well as promote critical and creative thinking through collaborative project work among students, teachers and industry professionals.
The government has committed S$2 billion (US$1.1 billion) from 1997 to 2002 to implement this programme. This includes funds for computers, full networking of the schools, physical renovation, software and courseware, and teacher training.
"Our world has shrunk; and so must our minds expand to learn to take in all that is now within our reach."
Subsequently, another S$600 million (US$332.8 million) a year will be provided to maintain and replace hardware, develop new software, and provide continuous training of teachers.
Results from these initiatives can be seen in Singapore’s varsities and polytechnics, that have recently introduced new technology courses, improving the IT infrastructure and empowering their students to reflect the fast changing technology landscape.
The island-state has definitely started to teach and learn differently. – Ken Wong, ZDNet Asia