Digital Education in Singapore

Singapore is recognized globally for its high-performing education system that has pioneered new education models and inspired other initiatives worldwide. According to IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2013, Singapore was ranked among top 5 in the world for its educational system and educationists credit this success partially to technology, as the city-state has indeed astutely integrated designed digital tools such as digital libraries and e-learning in its education landscape. Written by Rebecca Zay, Project Mnager at swissnex Singapore

ICT in the Education System

In Singapore, a three step “Masterplan” initiative has been started in 1997 to implement the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in its education system. The vision of the “Masterplan” is that education should continually anticipate the needs of the future and prepare students to meet those needs.

The aim of the first stage (1997-2002) was to build strong foundations for schools to harness ICT, particularly in the provision of infrastructure and in equipping teachers with a basic level of ICT integration competency, which achieved a widespread acceptance for its use in education.

The second step (2003-2008) built on this foundation strived for an effective and pervasive use of ICT in education by, for example, strengthening its integration into the curriculum, establishing baseline standards for students, and seeding its innovative use among schools.

The last stage (2009-2014), still in application, has the objective to enrich and transform the learning environments of the students and equip them with the critical competencies and dispositions to succeed in a knowledge economy.

“One of the advantages of ICT is that it can expand access to education. Through ICT, students can access online course materials anytime and anywhere, learning at their own pace.” said Dr. Pak Tee Ng, Associate Dean in Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE).

Digital Libraries

University libraries are going through a period of change in order to survive in the Digital Age. Today, libraries need to provide access to the information online since students are more willing to use new technologies to study rather than using the traditional way.

For example, the National University of Singapore Libraries (NUS Librairies) have experienced a drop of 30% of book loans from 2010 to 2013.

With the digital age “the mode of delivering information may have changed” said Hashimah Bte Johari, associate university librarian of NUS. Libraries have not only to provide physical access information but also online data. Therefore, since 2010, NUS Libraries have expanded their digital collection; the number of e-books has been increased by 60% and e-journals from major publishers by 200%.

The number of downloads are increasing significantly since 2010 which balance with the declining quantity of loans.

MOOCs

Today, students can learn and study online thanks to the web and all the information that it provides. The e-learning became a global initiative from universities. Today’s trend is MOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses that allow students to access online classes from top universities around the world, mostly for free.

Singapore has recently shown interest in this new service provided by universities. The National University of Singapore (NUS) was the first university in Singapore to offer online courses. Since January 2014, students from anywhere are able to take classes from NUS online courses through Coursera, the leading online course platform. In 2014, 55 000 people have signed up with Coursera in Singapore, compared to 15 000 last year. NUS Provost and Deputy President (Academic Affairs) Prof. Tan Eng Chye said: “More students can now have access to, and benefit from, NUS educational offerings”. The three first courses that NUS launched are niche domains, in philosophy, physics and classical music. Indeed the courses were chosen based on the fact they were previously not provided on the Coursera course list.  NUS seems therefore to consciously choose the online courses subjects as part of a strong marketing strategy.

Indeed, for Singapore universities MOOCs are part of the promotional mix. Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the second largest university in Singapore aims at engaging a wider international audience, thus showcasing its high quality of education. It can promote and highlight top-rated professors who cannot only ignite students’ passion for learning, but also influence their university choice. So far, NTU is offering 3 classes in economy, forensic science and engineering.

Even if MOOCs provide interactive forums that help build a community for students and professors, students are unable to engage face-to-face discussions with classmates and their professors, who, in turn, may not shape their curricula according to feedbacks and debates.

Universities seem therefore to be willing to use MOOCs moderately and integrate them within traditional classes rather than offering a majority of MOOCs courses. Indeed, research shows that a combination of e-learning and traditional courses to support the students works best.

Furthermore, although, MOOCs can offer great opportunities, the Committee on University Education Pathways (CUEP) in Singapore considers online learning more as a tool for continuing education for adults, rather than an integrated tool in new learning models.

As a latest development, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) is launching a pilot training program in Data Sciences and Analytics, based on Johns Hopkins University’s Data Science Specialization. The Data Sciences and Analytics Training will start in August 2014 with an enrolment of 200 participants. The next step for Singapore will be reviewing the success of this pilot program to explore more ways to utilize MOOCs for training programs in other fields.

Indeed, Singapore is eager to become the world’s first Smart Nation by using technology to improve transport, healthcare and other public services to enhance the quality of life for citizens. Therefore, data sciences and analytics professionals are required to leverage exponential data growth for productivity, competitiveness and growth. Since the data science is growing massively through the years while the number of data analytics professionals worldwide is and will continue to decrease, according to McKinsey forecasts, the Singapore Government sees open online education as a great potential to empower citizens with career skills in this high-demand industry.

Digital tools are with no doubt a huge support for education and learning, a good marketing tool for the delivering institutions and an enabler of continuous education. Singapore’s goal is to ensure that these new technologies are used wisely in classrooms in combination with traditional tools to genuinely enhance learning, as well as in specific fields such as productivity optimization.

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