Competition gets primary school pupils to use design thinking to solve real-world issues

The inaugural National Thinkers Challenge hopes to introduce primary schoolers to emerging technologies. PHOTO: SINGAPORE HOKKIEN HUAY KUAN

SINGAPORE - To boost Singapore's Smart Nation capabilities, the inaugural National Thinkers Challenge (NTC) hopes to introduce to primary school pupils the concepts of design thinking, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies.

Organised by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, the competition this year drew 232 upper primary pupils from 37 schools.

Participants have to solve real-world problems using design thinking, a process that emphasises constant innovation and improvement, and AI.

The theme is tackling Singapore's food waste.

In 2020, Singapore generated around 665 tonnes of food waste, equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day. Last year, the amount of food waste rose by 23 per cent to 817 tonnes, the highest in the last five years.

The children attended a one-day virtual boot camp during the March school holidays to learn about design thinking and AI.

For the first phase of the competition, teams had to submit a written proposal describing the problem statement, current solutions and their proposed solution using AI.

Commenting on the quality of the submissions on Monday (May 9), Mr Jimmy Teo, the vice-chairman of the association's education committee, said: "We (the judges) are all impressed with the (pupils') knowledge about the topics and are highly encouraged by how deeply they thought about their proposals."

He added: "We want students to look not just within the school canteens. It can be looking across the whole Singapore from an end-to-end perspective, from the supermarket to refrigerators in households."

Ten out of 52 teams have been shortlisted for the finals. They are from Boon Lay Garden Primary School, Dazhong Primary School, Edgefield Primary School, Fernvale Primary School, Haig Girls' School, North View Primary School, St Andrew's Junior School, Temasek Primary School, Woodgrove Primary School and Yumin Primary School.

Teams in the finals will be given $500 to develop a model or prototype based on their ideas.

They will also attend a three-day boot camp during the June holidays to learn additional modules on design thinking, AI and technology, as well as presentation skills.

The 10 teams will present their final prototypes in November.

Mrs Ong-Loh Jia Miin, Nan Chiau Primary School's principal, said: "(Future competition topics) will touch on the hot-button issues of that time. We want to make sure that they are current because we want to encourage pupils to embark on authentic problem solving."

Future topics may include water conservation, energy saving and ageing society, said Mrs Ong-Loh, who worked with the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan secretariat team to administer the competition.

The organising committee said it will keep a lookout for other emerging technologies and training programmes for primary school pupils to incorporate in the competition.

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