Problem-solving and IT skills are always relevant

Hands-on learning in computing will not result in overspecialisation, as it gives students tools and techniques for problem solving and prepares them for higher-level work ("Students should not overspecialise" by Mr Kwan Jin Yao, and "Ensure we can ride the wave of productivity" by Mr Ng Chee Siang; both published on Wednesday).

While there will always be uncertainty in job opportunities and unemployment concerns, computer science is applied in numerous industries (from finance to transportation).

Its problem-solving characteristic makes it relevant for pursuing careers during decades of smart-city transformation.

Preparing students for this transformation involves schooling them in a hands-on multidisciplinary approach to problem solving.

At the tertiary level, computer science as a subject borrows concepts from various disciplines, among them engineering, linguistics, management science, mathematics, economics, neuroscience, philosophy and psychology.

Successful research areas incorporate artificial intelligence applications in automated reasoning, computer vision, knowledge representation, machine learning, natural language processing and robotics.

All this results in commercial products and services such as big data analytics, driverless cars and smartphone personal assistants.

Hands-on learning involves developing solutions from online and offline knowledge sources when there is no suitable course or training programme in workplaces and schools.

Besides collaboration across different fields to crowd-source innovative ideas, learning problem-solving and information technology skills is essential for riding the wave of productivity.

Imagine the disruptive potential of a driverless car and virtual (and very intelligent) personal assistant for the future taxi and private tuition industries respectively in Singapore. A more tangible example is a driverless road cleaner.

Employees and entrepreneurs who invest in skills for an automated environment to replace obsolete ones would be more prepared during periods of low economic growth or rising unemployment.

Tng Cheong Sing (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Problem-solving and IT skills are always relevant'. Print Edition | Subscribe