SINGAPORE - Singapore will be putting a pocket-sized, codeable computer in the palms of up to 100,000 school-going children and adults to instill passion for technology to better prepare for a digital future.
The pocket-size device, called the micro:bit, contains a programmable array of LED lights, sensors, a Bluetooth chip and a meter that measures magnetic fields.
Children can write codes to turn the micro:bit into a locator tool, for instance, by detecting the presence of another micro:bit tagged to their belongings.
It is already in use in schools in Britain to help teach coding and inspire interest in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
Announcing the plan on Thursday (April 13), Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "Who knows, one day we may be nurturing Singapore's own generation of Steve Jobs."
To achieve this, Singaporeans need a curious mind and passion to tinker and create things, said Dr Yaacob, pointing to the use of their hands.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to roll out micro:bit as part of its new Digital Maker Programme to interested primary and secondary schools over the next two years. Microsoft Singapore will provide training for the MOE teachers.
The initiative complements existing IMDA-spearheaded enrichment initiatives such as Code@SG's Code for Fun, introduced in June 2015 in MOE schools to infuse computational and logical thinking in children. It is part of a larger, multi-pronged strategy by the Government to plug the technology manpower gap here.
Here are some things you can do with the micro:bit:
• Step-counter - an in-built motion sensor detects and logs the number of steps taken.
• Air guitar - an in-built switch can be extended by adding a copper tape, which generates a musical note when touched. An attached speaker plays back the note.
• Basketball arcade game - an in-built infrared sensor detects objects that pass through a basketball hoop, and logs the score.
• Roving robot - an in-built infrared sensor detects obstacles and can be programmed to navigate a maze by following every left wall.
• Wristband for the visually-impaired - add an ultrasonic distance sensor and a vibration motor to the micro:bit, and one can program the device to give heptic feedback when the wristband wearer is about to bump into obstacles.
• Heat activated fan - a temperature sensor senses heat and activates a USB-connected fan.
• Auto watering system for plants - add a soil moisture sensor to the micro:bit to activate a connected water pump to draw water from a reservoir or container.
Since then, 128 primary and secondary schools have rolled out the scheme, and 56,000 students - some as young as seven years old - have signed up.
The Digital Maker Programme will also be rolled out to the community via the People's Association, the Science Centre Singapore and self-help groups.
In IMDA's early trials at Tanjong Pagar and Toa Payoh East community centres, residents there had used the micro:bit to create an automated water system for the community garden.
Dr Yaacob said seed funding will be provided to Singapore companies that develop products like the micro:bit.
Speaking at his ministry's annual workplan seminar titled "Preparing Our Hearts, Heads and Hands for the Digital Future", he also pointed to the importance of nurturing a digital society by including the less privileged and people with disabilities.
"We need to expand our hearts and ensure that every Singaporean, especially the less privileged and people with disabilities, are part of our digital journey," he said.
Pointing to the head, he added that digital literacy must be raised to differentiate fake news from facts, and combat cyber-attacks and online scams. His ministry is working with Singapore's Media Literacy Council to call for ideas from young Singaporeans on ways to promote digital literacy in the community.