S'pore govt to spend $3.8b on ICT, including school auto-marking system

The marking system is being designed to assess open-ended responses such as those for short-answer questions and essays. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About $3.8 billion will be spent by the Government on info-communications technology (ICT) contracts this year to speed up digitalisation in the public sector.

This includes the development of a previously announced artificial intelligence-powered marking system for schoolwork and improvements to the LifeSG app that provides services to users at various stages of their lives. The app is getting a dashboard with, for example, upcoming appointments users have with public agencies.

The amount to be spent is an almost 10 per cent increase from $3.5 billion for the previous financial year that ended on March 31, said the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) on Wednesday (June 23).

GovTech said the ICT spending this year "will build on the momentum generated by past years' investments and serve to lock in the digitalisation gains brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic".

Close to 83 per cent of the Government's ICT contracts will be made available to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said the agency. Public agencies will put out more online services and projects for smaller systems so that it will be easier for SMEs with a lower financial grading to bid for them.

Some $500 million will be earmarked for speeding up the use of AI in the public sector. GovTech said AI can help the Government deliver better services, make better decisions based on data and to optimise operations to improve productivity.

This includes the Ministry of Education's (MOE) development of an AI automated-marking system, which is planned to be done first for certain English language assignments.

Announced in 2019, the marking system is being designed to assess open-ended responses such as those for short-answer questions and essays. The AI system will focus on language errors such as grammar, spelling and syntax, while the teacher marks for ideas, structure and content.

The aim is to provide all upper primary and secondary students quick and personalised feedback on their English assignments.

Analytics from the system will help students monitor their own learning, and allow teachers to better guide students in their learning.

The system would also free up teachers to focus on other things such as designing lessons.

According to previous reports, the system was planned to launch for English by next year. The aim was to expand the system to other subjects by 2030, but it will not be used in exams including the Primary School Leaving Examination.

It is, however, understood that the timelines may change in future.

Another $2.7 billion will be used on 250 projects for transforming, integrating and streamlining digital services across different sectors.

Of these, 44 per cent of the services will be developed on the cloud, to speed up delivery of services for citizens and businesses.

The Government intends to have 70 per cent of eligible systems online by March 31, 2024.

The Government's move to ramp up its digital services and infrastructure comes as satisfaction with government digital services among Singaporeans remains high, according to GovTech's Government to Citizens survey.

It showed that 85 per cent of citizens were very or extremely satisfied with them last year, similar to 2019's 86 per cent.

The latest survey was done between December last year and this February with about 1,500 people in face-to-face interviews.

Many Singaporeans were also satisfied with services introduced during the pandemic, with 97 per cent saying the Covid-19 digital solutions were delivered in a timely manner.

These services include the MaskGoWhere website that helps people find where and when they can collect their allocated masks, and the SafeEntry contact tracing check-in system.

The poll also found that 98 per cent of citizens said the digital solutions played a key role in fighting Covid-19.

Mr Kok Ping Soon, GovTech's chief executive, said the findings affirm "the Government's commitment to invest heavily in ICT and digital transformation".

"GovTech will continue to innovate to provide seamless and easy-to-use services and improve the resilience and security of our digital platforms for citizens, businesses and public officers," he added.

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