The drive to be a Smart Nation – essentially adopting and reaping the benefits of technology – has made headlines in recent months, even taking centre stage in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech in August.
Some of us fear that technology will take away our jobs. On the flip side, going digital can empower and enable us to work more efficiently and effectively.
Digital transformation can lead to many opportunities for all and the authorities are making concerted efforts to ensure no one is left behind.
Take the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month. The IMDA was formed in October last year following the restructuring of the Media Development Authority and Infocomm Development Authority.
Not many are aware of its Digital Inclusion programme aimed at building a dynamic global infocomm hub and an inclusive digital society here.
“Together, we will develop a dynamic digital economy and a cohesive digital society, where everyone is engaged and connected. We want to motivate everyone to use new technologies with confidence, and to create and use innovative products, services and content,” said IMDA chief executive Tan Kiat How.
He added that students would be better prepared for future jobs in a digital age, many of which we may not be able to imagine today. Workers would be better equipped with digital skills, and even more empowered in future workplaces. In addition, businesses can leverage digital capabilities to seize growth opportunities and new markets.
AN ENGAGED SOCIETY
Together, we will develop a dynamic digital economy and a cohesive digital society, where everyone is engaged and connected. We want to motivate everyone to use new technologies with confidence, and to create and use innovative products, services and content.
IMDA CHIEF EXECUTIVE TAN KIAT HOW
“Importantly, we must support all segments of our society to participate meaningfully in a digitally enabled society. Working with community partners, we are making assistive technology more accessible to people with disabilities. Seniors, valued members of our community, can experience joy in learning from and interacting with peers, and reap greater benefits in using technology. Our digital future is an exciting and inclusive one,” he added.
“We also want to enable our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to continually benefit from innovative digital solutions, boosting companies and workers’ efforts to deepen digital capabilities, and picking up new skills to stay relevant.”
The Sunday Times highlights some initiatives under the programme targeting four key groups – seniors, students from low-income families, low-income households and people with disabilities.
SILVER INFOCOMM INITIATIVE (SII)
Launched in November 2007, the initiative aims to bridge the digital divide with those over 50. This is important as Singapore evolves into a digital economy and a cohesive digital society.
SII promotes IT awareness and literacy among these people to empower them for a more engaged and connected lifestyle.
More than 150,000 people have benefited from the SII initiative and activities such as the Silver IT Fest, mass IT training classes, Silver Infocomm Junctions (infocomm learning hubs) and intergenerational IT bootcamps.
For instance, the Silver IT Fest is an annual event organised by the IMDA with multiple components such as hands-on training workshops, exhibition and seminars held in heartland areas to allow people to experience technology in different ways.
The first two Digital Clinics were piloted at the IMDA’s Silver IT Fest roadshow in June and at Tampines Regional Library in September this year. The third was conducted on Friday at Bedok Library.
The clinics will run across the eastern part of Singapore until September next year. They provide older people with valuable learning opportunities and one-on-one assistance in using mobile devices such as smartphones.
For example, they can learn to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots, personalise accessibility tools on their devices and adjust their phone settings and functions to best suit their needs.
They can also learn about applications and transactions relevant to their lifestyles like mobile payments, and participate in national initiatives like SGSecure.
The expansion of the Digital Clinics is in partnership with Changi Business Park Gives 2017, a community service project led by IBM. It will involve more than 400 corporate volunteers from eight firms who will participate in about 30 clinics.
And in collaboration with Apple, the IMDA organised the first Hour of Code late last month where about 500 older people learnt coding using Swift Playgrounds, a new iPad app from Apple that aims to make learning to code easy and fun. Students from Admiralty Secondary School were cyberguides at the event.
NEU PC PLUS PROGRAMME
The NEU PC programme was initiated in 1999 to equip needy households with computer ownership. This has benefited 53,000 low-income households .
It also extends the affordable access by defraying the cost of computer ownership and Internet access to students from low-income households and people with disabilities.
The enhanced NEU PC Plus Programme – which has two schemes – includes the provision of new computers bundled with three years of free broadband access, at an affordable price. Since its introduction in November 2006, the enhanced programme has benefited 33,000 low-income households with school-going children or people with disabilities.
The PC-Bundle Scheme is applicable to students and people with disabilities whose gross monthly household income do not exceed $3,400 or per capita income does not exceed $900. The scheme offers a new computer (desktop or laptop) bundled with three-year free broadband access and software at an affordable price through a two-tier subsidy.
The iNSPIRE Fund Scheme, introduced in November 2007, helps NEU PC Plus applicants who cannot afford the co-payment to earn a computer by doing some form of community service. The fund has benefited more than 2,700 students.
“In this day and age, with a world of information at our fingertips, students should have access to computers that will help them pursue the future they desire,” said NEU PC Plus beneficiary Ong Li Ting, 20.
The lead agencies appointed by the IMDA to support the programme in application processing are the Association of Muslim Professionals, Chinese Development Assistance Council, Institute of Technical Education, Singapore Indian Development Association, SPD (formerly Society for the Physically Disabled), the Eurasian Association and Yayasan Mendaki.
HOME ACCESS (HA) PROGRAMME
Launched in September 2014, the HA programme aims to make Internet connectivity more accessible and affordable to the low-income group and needy households.
Eligible households get home Internet access and telephone services with a broadband package and basic computing equipment, such as a tablet.
About 8,000 low-income households (without school-age children) have benefited.
Given the demand and need, the enhanced HA 2.0 will benefit another 16,000 low-income families.
Eligible households can qualify for HA via two ways:
• Pre-qualification – households with at least one member who is an existing beneficiary of selected government assistance schemes will be pre-qualified and invited to sign up with an appointed supplier directly. In partnership with POSB, NTUC FairPrice Foundation and NetLink Trust, the first 900 pre-qualified households signed up will enjoy the bundle package for free.
• Direct application – other households can submit an application form and supporting documents through agencies for approval.
The programme also encourages usage through partnerships with community groups, schools and industry players.
For example, partnering community groups and industry players run workshops and talks to impart skills and tips on using devices and the Internet.
ENABLE IT PROGRAMME
Introduced in 2014, this scheme aims to build an inclusive society by raising awareness and adoption of infocomm and assistive technologies to enable people with disabilities with enhanced skill sets to conduct their daily activities, education, employment and social interaction with others.
The IMDA said it will continue to work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, SG Enable, voluntary welfare organisations and corporations like Apple, Microsoft and Singtel to build capabilities and raise awareness of infocomm and assistive technologies.
One initiative is to set up a library to provide trial-and-loan services of infocomm and assistive technology devices to people with disabilities, voluntary welfare organisations and special education schools. The service will let borrowers determine if the devices are suitable before buying them.
Some mainstream devices such as tablets and mobile devices have in-built applications and localised content that voluntary welfare organisations can readily adopt.
That will help equip people with disabilities with the relevant tech skills, and encourage them to adopt these solutions to enhance their daily living skills.
Another strategy is to provide infrastructure via broadband access with the Wireless@SG network.
The IMDA provides voluntary welfare organisations and special schools with Wireless@SG so they can use the Internet to create more content for their beneficiaries to work with at their premises.
There are also efforts to help people with disabilities be more ready for work.
The IMDA will explore collaborations with public and private sector organisations to identify potential candidates for emplacement at technology companies.
Training sessions will be conducted for existing employees to help them adapt to working with those with disabilities, who will also get help to strengthen the soft skills they might need in areas such as interviews, workplace relationships and stress.
The IMDA will also collaborate with the Ministry of Education, special needs schools and corporations to help students with special needs at these schools.
It hopes to use technology to address their communication needs, logical thinking, spatial awareness and perceptual skills.
Another aspect of the Enable IT Programme involves the IMDA working with voluntary welfare organisations and special schools to curate content and organise workshops to help people with disabilities and their caregivers to acquire the skill sets needed to thrive in this disruptive environment.
These lessons could range from life skills modules such as grocery shopping, road safety, fire safety, taking public transport and exercising, to modules on cyber security and cyber bullying.
The IMDA will also collaborate with tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft to train a group of people with disabilities to be ambassadors. They will be trained with tech skills and tools to help those with physical, vision, hearing and intellectual (autism) disabilities.