Smart Nation Scholarship Virtual Engagement Session 2020
Congratulatory Speech By Guest-Of-Honour Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the Smart Nation Scholarship Virtual Engagement Session
14 Aug 2020
Permanent Secretaries (MCI and SNDG),
Chief Executives of CSA, GovTech and IMDA,
Good morning. Heartiest congratulations to all our Smart Nation scholarship recipients! Today’s session is held in extraordinary times. We unfortunately cannot celebrate the award of the scholarships in person because of COVID-19. We will have to postpone the physical award ceremony to 2021. But today, let us celebrate your accomplishments virtually and we share the pride and joy of your families.
This milestone marks the next phase of your lives as you commence on your journey of higher education, and thereafter, a fulfilling career in the public service. I hope you will also appreciate the tremendous support that you have received from your parents, families and teachers to bring you to where you are today.
The pandemic has made our Smart Nation initiative even more crucial. Our jobs, lifestyles, social habits, business transactions have all been drastically disrupted. And technology and innovation have become even more essential for us to cope and adapt to this new normal.
Fortunately, Singapore’s excellent digital infrastructure and engineering capabilities have given us a head start in responding to the acute needs when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted earlier this year. But we are starting, fortunately, from a position of strength. Thirty-five years ago, the National Computer Board (NCB) started out with a more utilitarian task of driving computerisation in Singapore’s civil service. In turn, this led to many more crucial ICT initiatives including the Singapore One nationwide broadband network. The Civil Service Computerisation Programme (CSCP) was started to focus on improving public administration through the effective use of ICT to automate work and reduce paperwork. The CSCP played a foundational role in Singapore’s ICT development and set the pace for the application of ICT throughout all spheres in Singapore, even in schools.
Today, we take that for granted, but in earlier years, such systematic investment in ICT capabilities and infrastructure have enabled us over the decades to switch smoothly. Now you can talk about home-based learning and work from home, with so much less friction. This represents the investment of time, effort, infrastructure and capability over many decades. This has enabled us to develop a suite of digital tools for various uses, including the dissemination of timely and accurate information to Singaporeans in the midst of a crisis to enhance our community preparedness, and to better provide social support for families and individuals.
In addition, Singapore was also possibly the first in the world to roll out a digital contact tracing app that would reduce the time it takes to isolate and quarantine individuals who have come into close contact with a COVID-19 patient. Launched in March, the TraceTogether App, which uses Bluetooth signals to log nearby users, was developed in just two months by GovTech engineers. GovTech also made the operations of the TraceTogether App transparent to the developer community – by releasing it as an open-sourced code, called BlueTrace protocol. This gathers the collective strength of the community to improve the App – and we have continued to refine the App over the couple of months – even for other countries to use and adapt the code for their needs.
Digital inclusion is also a key priority, which is why we developed the TraceTogether Token to extend the protection provided by digital contact tracing to as many people in Singapore as possible, including those without smartphones, and would otherwise be at risk of being digitally excluded. The first batch of 10,000 TraceTogether Tokens have already been distributed to our more vulnerable seniors, and we will progressively roll it out to the wider population, especially those who would otherwise have been left behind.
Collectively, these solutions show how technology can be a force for good in real life, in trying times, illuminating the quickest and safest path out of a pandemic while mitigating its negative impact. Similarly, our continued push towards AI and machine-learning adoption will also play a decisive role in determining how we anticipate and effectively deal with the next health crisis.
This pandemic will recede at some point, but the world that emerges from this crisis will be a very different and more difficult one. COVID-19 has not changed the direction of the world, but it has accelerated pre-existing trends, including digital transformation. It has exposed the vulnerabilities in global supply chains and changed the way we work and interact with one another.
Therefore we set up the SG Digital Office under IMDA to accelerate digital adoption in our community, workforce and economy. Our goal is to help everyone participate meaningfully in our digital future, and ensure that no segment of our community is left behind in our pursuit of even further digitalisation.
The next five to ten years will determine our trajectory as a generation, and for decades beyond that. We all need to play our part so that we can continue to grow the economy and provide good jobs for our people, and keep our community together.
We not only need to be vigilant to the present, we also have to look ahead beyond the horizon and anticipate the future – both threats and opportunities. The security environment is increasingly more complex and volatile. A growing and ever-present threat is in cyberspace. Even amid the pandemic, hackers have attempted to break into the email accounts of the World Health Organization. This digital virus can be as, if not more damaging, than the physical virus. As a highly digital society, we need to be extra vigilant because we are extra vulnerable. Singapore has set aside $1 billion over the next three years to build up the Government’s cyber and data security architecture. We need cyber experts who not only possess deep technical skills, but also strong leadership capabilities to inspire and bring the best out of our people, and attract even more people to this mission.
COVID-19 has strengthened our sense of common purpose. It has brought us closer together as one society and one people. We must continue to ride on the wave of this accelerated digital transformation, think ahead and help Singapore thrive in a post-COVID world. How will we do this? We need to groom creative and imaginative talent who are dedicated and committed to Singapore, and to Singaporeans. We need you to drive Singapore’s digital transformation. Our Smart Nation agencies – CSA, GovTech, and IMDA – are working hard to invest in nurturing top-tier technology and engineering talent, both within the public service and in the broader ecosystem.
The Smart Nation Scholarship is one of our key, longer-term initiatives. This is the third year we are offering the Smart Nation scholarship, to develop and nurture technology talents and leaders within the public service. Upon graduation, scholarship recipients will join CSA, GovTech, or IMDA’s talent programmes, where you will forge your respective career pathways, and apply technology for public good.
We received more than 700 Smart Nation scholarship applications this year, from students with strong academic qualifications, technical skills, and diverse backgrounds. The high number of applications signals a strong interest from the younger generation to co-create Singapore’s digital future.
This year, we have awarded the Smart Nation Scholarship to 15 recipients. All of you have been carefully selected, not only on the basis of your academic results and technical skills, but on your strong motivation to make a difference in the lives of fellow citizens using technology.
As Smart Nation scholars, you represent the next cohort of Singapore’s technology architects and leaders. We have high expectations of you to develop not just deep technical expertise in your respective chosen ICT domains, but also to uphold the public service ethos as you serve our nation and our people. The core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence, provide a compass for your standards of behaviour as public servants, and inform the way you think about your day-to-day work, including policy analysis and design, service delivery, and public engagement. Centred on these core values, you will have a wonderful opportunity to play a key role in taking the public service forward alongside and through the Singapore Smart Nation journey.
Kevin, Joshua, Victor, James, Yufeng – you will start your careers with GovTech after your studies.Digital transformation within the public sector is at the heart of what GovTech does. In creating the country’s platform and apps, GovTech plays a crucial role in making the Smart Nation vision a reality. Together, you will harness the best info-communications technologies to make a difference in the everyday lives of citizens, businesses and communities. I look forward to the next wave of innovative Smart Nation projects that you will co-create with our stakeholders.
Nicholas, Michelle, Enelton and Wei Hao - you will start your careers at IMDA after completing your degrees. You can look forward to playing a critical role in shaping Singapore’s infocomm media (ICM) landscape by uniting tech and innovation to chart our Digital Economy journey. Being at the forefront of Singapore’s national digitalisation movement, you will also be helping our citizens integrate technology into our lives and driving digital transformation for our SMEs and enterprises. This is meaningful work, and I am sure you will find it deeply satisfying.
Yoon Yik, Jovan, Christopher and Rouvin, you will start your careers at the CSA when you graduate. Aldric and Jun Wen, who are already in university, have taken up mid-term scholarships. As cyber threats continue to grow in scale and sophistication, you will be entrusted with the task of keeping Singapore’s cyberspace safe and secure. Singapore’s growing connectivity –our millions of smartphones and ultimately billions of Internet-of-Things devices – will leave us susceptible to attacks. We need the talented cybersecurity professionals to safeguard our cyber architecture and landscape and to enable us, and to imbue confidence in our Smart Nation.
All of you can all look forward to a challenging and meaningful career in the public service. There will be many exciting opportunities to contribute, learn, and develop your careers.
Our Smart Nation is ultimately about the continuous process of transformation and renewal of our nation, to enable us to thrive in a rapidly-disrupted world. Our success depends on a whole-of-nation and whole-of-society effort to enhance our digital services, to re-engineer Government, to disrupt society where necessary, and the ability to bring everyone onboard this vision. In that way, we will co-create the future together.
Your journey as Smart Nation scholarship recipients has just begun. You will play a leading role in Singapore’s Information and Communications Technology ecosystem and you will accelerate Singapore’s Smart Nation transformation. Please use the next few years to acquire the skills at the cutting edge of rapidly-evolving digital technologies, seek new learning opportunities and build wide networks. Do have fun and enjoy the process while doing so!
Once again, congratulations to all of you. I wish you great success in your endeavours and look forward to your contributions to our nation in the years ahead.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister-in-Charge Of The Smart Nation Initiative