Teach students computer coding, urges PM Lee

Singapore schools should teach students tech skills such as computer programming, so they can learn to create the technology of the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Fleshing out the social and cultural aspects of how Singapore can become a technology-enhanced "smart nation", PM Lee noted that this transformation requires the right education as well as a "can-do spirit of experimenting and risk-taking".

Such creative energy is what sets apart tech hubs like Silicon Valley and the headquarters of Chinese Internet giant Tencent in Shenzhen, he said in a speech at at the launch of the Smart Nation vision yesterday.

Singapore needs the same passion and excitement towards innovation, even in government agencies like the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), he added.

While the infocomm regulator "can't quite be like a Silicon Valley company", it must "push the envelope" in using technology to find new approaches to existing problems.

The Government is also keen on building up its in-house tech capabilities and is conducting an ongoing review of how the public sector manages the careers of its engineers and technology workers, PM Lee said.

He also noted the "lively" start-up scene here, with more young people writing apps and building high-tech products, and an increasing number of top students choosing to study computer science and information systems.

"We must get our children in schools exposed to IT, exposed to programming," Mr Lee said, adding that in some countries, all children are required to learn the basics of coding.

Talented students should also be able to pursue their tech interests through various paths, whether by forming a start-up, joining a tech company or working with the Government to make Singapore a smart nation, he added.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who heads the Government's new Smart Nation Programme Office, echoed PM Lee's comments that education and attitudes here have to change for Singapore to capitalise on the tech revolution.

From learning the three "R"s - reading, writing and arithmetic - people must now learn the "ABCs: an Aesthetic sense of beauty and design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively", he said on Facebook last evening.

Singaporeans also need to overcome their fear of failure and be prepared to experiment, while the country will have to place more emphasis on online security and privacy, he added.

Tech bosses here welcomed PM Lee's remarks, saying workers with a foundation of programming literacy can be more productive at the workplace.

"Even if you don't use programming in your everyday work, if you can write a simple programme to automate tasks or organise information, that's useful in a lot of ways," said Tan Sian Yue, 40, founder of home-grown game developer Ratloop Asia.

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