Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Nobel Prize Series Singapore Conference Opening Ceremony at Nanyang Technological University on 5 November 2015

Mr Koh Boon Hwee

Chairman and Members of NTU Board of Trustees

Professor Bertil Andersson

NTU President

Dr Lars Heikensten

Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

Good afternoon.

It gives me great pleasure to join all of you at the launch of the inaugural Nobel Prize Series Conference in Singapore.

Education: Bedrock of Singapore’s Success

This conference provides a timely platform for us to reflect on how education has been the bedrock of Singapore's success in the last 50 years, and will continue to be in the future. As a small island with no natural resources, Singapore has always focussed our efforts in developing our only resource – our people.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, our students learnt basic skills to increase their employability in labour-intensive jobs. In the late 1970s, unemployment was no longer a problem, but school drop-out rates remained high. Improvements were made to increase the efficiency of our system through a standardised national curriculum. Since the late 1990s, there has been a shift in the education system towards nurturing a broader range of skills in students and to better prepare them for the knowledge-based economy.

Our investments in Education have provided Singaporeans with the skills and capabilities to succeed and prosper, and to support Singapore’s economic development. Building on the strong foundation established over the last few decades, the next phase of our journey as a learning nation would involve the continuous development of our people throughout their lives.

Under the SkillsFuture movement recently launched by the Government, our education system will continue to evolve so that Singaporeans can learn, upgrade skills and deepen competencies throughout their lives by tapping on a range of modular and bite-sized learning options on offer.  This will not only enhance our economic competitiveness, but also provide opportunities for Singaporeans to pursue their aspirations in life and achieve their full potential.

Future Challenges and Opportunities for Education

The theme of this conference “The Future of Learning” is a timely reminder that we have to continue building on the education system to serve the needs of our people for the next fifty years. Technology is changing the ways we create, acquire and impart knowledge. Online learning has been described as a disruptive innovation in the world of education. The availability of high-quality digital content has the potential to transform the traditional classroom experience.

In Singapore, our universities are experimenting with online courses and embracing the use of technology as an enabler in the classroom. The Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in NTU uses interactive 3-D images to help students visualise the human anatomy. Our institutions such as Duke-NUS Medical School and NTU also introduced innovative classrooms to promote team-based learning and improve student learning outcomes.

Technology will play an even more prominent role in our lives and create new ways of working and living.  According to a study by the MIT, machines and computers can perform complex and “intelligent” tasks that were once considered uniquely human. Advances in technology have enabled innovations such as autonomous vehicles, and hardware and software that diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors.

Our education system must evolve to equip our students with the knowledge and competencies to leverage technology in this “Second Machine Age”.  We also need to continue nurturing a core group of dedicated people highly skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to develop new products that change the world for the better.

Alongside technology, the challenges facing the world now and into the future are becoming more complex and inter-connected. Issues such as energy, water and food security; ageing populations, infectious disease outbreaks; and climate change reinforce one another and affect different parts of the world in many different ways. Innovative solutions using multi-disciplinary approaches to solve these global problems are needed and this would require a workforce that is enterprising, creative and collaborative.

Our educational system must enable our young people to develop these critical skills and competencies to thrive in the workforce of the future. Modern technology and scientific innovation will transform societies on a bigger scale than ever before. Apart from technical knowledge and skills, the education system must prepare students to tackle social and ethical issues that arise as technological advances enable humankind to do more.

How will we teach the future generation to make the right decisions in the face of moral dilemmas? What is their responsibility towards the different communities?

Even as we tinker with the education system, we must not forget that educational institutions must continue to instil in our students the values which will put them and the communities they serve in a better position than before.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am confident that at this gathering of great minds, we will enjoy a frank exchange on how governments, education institutions, employers and the wider community can work together to create better education systems and learning environments for future generations.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate NTU and the Nobel Foundation for organising this event. I wish you a meaningful and fruitful conference.

Thank you.