Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng Acting Minister for Education (Schools), Senior Minister Of State for Transport at the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors’ Award Presentation Ceremony at Science Centre Singapore

Published Date: 07 June 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Professor Phua Kok Khoo, Chairman, Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors’ Award Committee

Distinguished guests





Ladies and gentlemen

1. A very good afternoon. I am delighted to be here with you to celebrate the spirit of innovation and inventiveness among our youths.

2. The ability to innovate is crucial for the future success of our nation. For Singapore to remain competitive, we must harness technology to do new things better and more productively. We have to figure how to move up the economic value chain by having a workforce that can generate new ideas, and develop feasible solutions that can be commercialised. This will require Singaporeans to be equipped with better skills to be able to operate in an enhanced infrastructure and to network and tap on others’ expertise to create new economic value.

3. Let me cite two examples of our home-grown companies. Singapore has the highest smartphone penetration in the world. A group of young Singaporean entrepreneurs recognized this trend back in 2012 and designed the app, Carousell, that acted as a peer-to-peer marketplace very much like eBay, except on a mobile platform. Was there a need at that point in time? Perhaps. Were they trying to solve an existing problem? Maybe. What’s certain is the creators of Carousell identified a future trend and created a product that has been ranked the no. 1 lifestyle app on the Apple app store and the no. 1 shopping app on Google Play in Singapore. The creators could not have done it without having an innovative spirit and the gung-ho attitude of risk-taking.

4. Hope Technik is another example. Calling themselves the ‘Engineering Commandos’, they are the guys who designed and built the well-known SCDF Red Rhino Light Fire Attack Vehicle suited for the Singapore urban environment. The company recruits a team of highly passionate and creative engineers and designers, and fashioned their workplace as a ‘playground’ for tinkerers and geeks, challenging themselves to ‘engineer the heck out of any problem given to them’. In 2014, they competed among the ‘big boys’ and clinched a deal to help the French Aerospace giant Airbus to develop a prototype of a SpacePlane that can jet off 100 km into space and return to earth.

5. On a national scale, Singapore has embarked on ambitious initiatives such as Smart Nation, Changi T4 terminal, Tuas next generation Port Terminal and the Deep-Tunnel Sewage System that require our people to apply their innovative mind and ability to harness technology to make those plans become reality. These are great opportunities for our young people when they join the workplace in the future. You can demonstrate what you can do and keep Singapore at the front of the pack in spite of our small size.

6. The first step to foster innovation must come in our schools. Education has a critical role. The seeds for fostering this spirit of innovation and inventiveness must be planted in our young, especially in their formative years in school where they can be given an environment, with the necessary support, to experiment, fail, and continue experimenting till they succeed. Our schools have started to do so.

7.In secondary school, during their Design & Technology lessons, students learn to design and make products to address problems that they see in real life. Students go through the design process by generating and sketching their ideas, and then developing these ideas into prototypes using suitable materials within the D&T Studios. I understand a number of the secondary school projects submitted for the Tan Kah Kee Inventors’ Award were derived from D&T projects.

8. Another platform is the Applied Learning Programme (ALP). The ALP situates learning on authentic contexts and seeks to connect academic knowledge and skills through application. ALP provides more opportunities for students to apply their learning beyond the classroom in solving real-world problems. This not only makes learning more authentic and engaging, but it can help students to better connect their learning with options available in post-secondary education and future careers. The ALP is implemented across 124 secondary schools, with 72 of them related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

9. Recently, I visited Hong Kah Secondary School and got to understand how their ALP on real world learning through electronics allowed students the opportunity to use electronics and programming language to innovatively address problems associated with an aging Singapore. One group of students applied design thinking to prototype a walking stick with embedded electronics. The walking stick for the elderly will sound an alarm to alert others if it detects the owner might have fallen when it is not upright. This is just one example students from many schools have shared with me how ALP has given them a window to apply what they have learnt to benefit society. I am sure this is something that our young inventors seated here today can relate to.

10. I am pleased that the Tan Kah Kee Foundation has been ardently supporting this spirit of innovation and inventiveness since 1986. The Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors’ Award was first mooted by Nobel Laureate Professor Yang Chen Ning when he visited Singapore 30 years ago. It has served as an endpoint to showcase and recognize the innovative efforts of our youths arising from their curricular and co-curricular activities.

11. Now 30 years since its establishment, it has provided an important platform for young people to showcase their creativity, innovation and inventiveness, in keeping with the vision of the late community leader and philanthropist Mr Tan Kah Kee.

12. I am impressed by the active participation across such a broad spectrum of young people in Singapore. 81 primary and secondary schools contributed more than 70% of the entries received this year, with the remaining entries from junior colleges, ITE colleges, the polytechnics, universities and research institutions.

13. Many of the inventions, especially those from primary and secondary school students, were based on the students’ keen observations and encounters in their daily lives.

14. An invention need not always be huge. Innovative solutions to small and simple observations of daily phenomena around us could help to make life better and even help us to save money.

15. One of our young participants, Lee Kwan Tze, from Nanyang Primary School invented “Match-A-Colour”. This contraption uses a special colour chart to help people who are colour blind to identify basic colours by matching the colours against the chart. This chart is simple and low-cost but one can see how this chart can have a huge impact in improving the day to day convenience of people who are colour blind.

16. Another project by Andy Wong and Marcus Chan from ITE College Central drives home the point that not all good inventions need to involve complex mechanisms. What was the problem they were trying to address? The team found that showering accounts for 30% of domestic water use. Water heaters take about 30sec-1min to reach the desired temperature when the water is left running. This initial flow of cold water is usually drained off or wasted. The team’s invention saves this cold water and re-uses it for showering. They invented a device that helps to save water during our shower.

17. These are just two examples of the many inspiring and useful inventions submitted for this year’s award. Added to these are also exciting projects which tackle more sophisticated and diverse problems. Perhaps some of these inventions may even be further developed into commercially viable products in future.

18. We should continue to cultivate a culture of innovation and inventiveness. If we succeed and STEM flourishes, it will contribute to the progress and success of Singapore.

19. In closing, I would like to commend the Tan Kah Kee Foundation and its partners, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Defence Science and Technology Agency, DSO National Laboratories, Science Centre Singapore and NUS for their concerted and sustained efforts in organising and supporting these awards for the past 30 years.

20. My heartiest congratulations to the winners of this year’s Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors’ Awards. I would also like to commend all the other participants for taking part. This is only the beginning of your journey of discovery and learning. Do not be discouraged by setbacks you may encounter as you go about the adventure of tinkering and trying new things. I wish you a fruitful journey as you continue to embody an inquisitive spirit and innovative mind.

21. Thank you.

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