WhyItMatters

A step closer to a Smart Nation

With Singapore on its quest to become a Smart Nation, the news that 19 schools will offer computing as a new O-level subject to Secondary 3 students next year is welcome.

Already, there is a shortage of home-grown IT professionals and the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) noted that, in 2014, when there were 150,000 IT professionals working here, 15,000 vacancies could not be filled.

By next year, another 15,000 professionals will be needed in such fields as cyber security, data analytics and application development.

While a new subject for 15-year-olds will not meet this shortage immediately, it will widen the pool of digitally literate individuals. Exposed to programming early enough, they may be drawn to pursue computing in higher education and, eventually, as a career. Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said last year that the Smart Nation push makes coding a necessary skill in future. The new computing syllabus gets them started early. It focuses on hands-on skills, with students expected to code a program for the O levels.

In contrast, the existing computer studies curriculum, which will be phased out next year, places more emphasis on theory than practice.

Some may bemoan the fact that only 19 schools - out of over 160 here - will offer the new subject, but it is still early days yet. The low number could be due to manpower issues as some schools may not have teachers equipped to teach the subject.

But there are also other opportunities for the young to dabble in programming. A total of 117 schools - 83 primary schools and 34 secondary schools - are now on the Code for Fun initiative, a tie-up between the IDA and Education Ministry to enable students to learn programming basics.

Fifty schools have also taken part in activities organised by the Robotics and Maker Academy, a collaboration between the IDA and Singapore Polytechnic which introduces the nuts and bolts of programming robots to young children. Taken together, these efforts will help build the deep skills needed for Singapore to transit to a Smart Nation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'A step closer to a Smart Nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe