Update on January 15: Added a statement from IDA about its plans.
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), a government agency in charge of the country’s internet industry, is planning to progressively introduce software programming classes into public schools, giving students an opportunity to write code in a classroom setting. The news was first reported on Good Morning Singapore in mandarin yesterday.
Given the rapidly changing nature of the technology industry, the agency hopes to roll out these classes quickly in the next few months with the ultimate aim of keeping the Singapore economy at the top.
“Infocomm technology is getting to be more pervasive, and we all recognize that it’s going to be a strategic catalyst for [Singapore’s] competitive advantage,” said James Kang, assistant chief executive of the government chief information office at IDA.
To be sure, topics like programming and 3D printing are already available in some schools as extra-curricular activities with IDA’s help, so it’s unclear how these classes will differ from previous initiatives.
The agency has told Tech in Asia it is currently in exploratory talks with the Ministry of Education about how to introduce programming to students, so it does not know if the topic will become part of the curriculum or remain an extra-curricular activity.
According to the Straits Times, about 1,500 students have been taught “advanced computing concepts” through IDA’s school programs. At Radin Mas Primary School, Nan Chiau High, and Greenview Secondary School, students are taught to use 3D design software and 3D printers to create prototypes.
Meanwhile, Hwa Chong Institution and Dunman High have introduced programming to teenagers, with Dunman exposing students to Python, a popular language for creating web apps as well as statistical and scientific research.
These schools all belong to the middle-to-upper tier in Singapore’s public education system – lauded as among the world’s best in math and science – with Hwa Chong in particular representing an elite school. As technical skills increasingly become a pathway to sustainable careers, it is hoped that IDA can equalize the field by giving students from less prestigious schools more opportunities to pick up programming.
Private classes are available
Private education providers have proliferated in Singapore, offering a variety of workshops ranging from 3D printing to hardware tinkering to app creation – which has unfortunately been touted as the next great internet marketing scheme.
According to private IT education vendor Kore Infotech, more parents are recognizing the value of technical competency in the modern economy, and they want their kids to build a foundation at an early age. For the company, this has resulted in an increase in sign-ups for classes at a 30 percent annual rate in the past two years.
“[Parents want their kids] exposed to this, so it makes it easier for them to make a career choice earlier. We also see many polytechnic and university students coming in because they found it challenging when they directly face programming in college first,” said one of the trainers in an interview with Good Morning Singapore.
The company began offering its classes for kids two years ago, using a specialized program called Simple that allows children to create programs using an easy-to-understand coding language. It plans to promote its courses to schools in the near future.
Tech literacy and hacking – not the harmful kind - are increasingly being recognized as important skillsets not just in Singapore, but other parts of the world. In the United States, both Silicon Valley heavyweights and the federal government have backed an intiative called Hour of Code, which promotes computer science and STEM education in the country.
A major impetus for the push in both countries is a shortage of technical talent – the lifeblood of the tech startup scene – that are product creators instead of just system maintainers. Tight immigration policies in both nations are also resulting in an inward look to nurture talent at the grassroots.
In Singapore, the challenge doesn’t lie just in developing technical know-how. It’s even more difficult to convince young people that the engineering path is one worth pursuing, rather than one to fall back on when opportunities for more prestigious careers in law, finance, or medicine appear out of reach.
(Editing by Josh Horwitz, photo credit: Stephen Chin)