Address by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Minister for Education (Schools), at the Science Centre Singapore 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner

Published Date: 28 November 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. I am delighted to join all of you tonight to celebrate this significant milestone in the history of the Science Centre.

History of the Science Centre

2. I have enjoyed every visit to the Science Centre, no matter how old or young I am. I am thankful that close to 40 years ago, Dr Toh Chin Chye opened the Science Centre on 10 December 1977. However, the concept of the Science Centre predates 1977, all the way back to 1969. Back in 1969, our country was not as affluent as we are today. But why the Science Centre back in those early days when we have so many other pressing needs? I think our pioneers saw the importance of promoting science education for Singaporeans and Singapore to keep pace in a rapidly changing world. The Science Centre was meant to provide informal education in science and technology to the public, contributing to the popularisation of science that would encourage the young to take up careers in science and technology, and ensure greater public awareness of the social and technological changes that lay ahead.

3. When I talk about the young, I am actually referring to people like you and me. I was a young kid then and I benefited much from the Science Centre, just like many generations of Singaporeans. Now, as we reflect on the past 40 years of our Science Centre’s history, I am sure you will agree that it has more than adequately fulfilled its mission. There are three aspects that I would like to commend the Science Centre for having done well in – facilitating the informal learning of science; complementing formal learning in schools with unique learning opportunities; and engaging the community and industry in popularising science.

4. Today, the Science Centre and its variety of attractions including KidsSTOP, the Omni-Theatre, Butterflies Up-Close and Snow City are not only popular destinations for many Singaporeans but also for our friends from abroad.

A Centre that Forges a Passion for STEM through the Informal Learning of Science

5. This variety of exhibits comes from research. Studies have shown that the learning of science is a rich and complex process that builds over a lifetime, and through a variety of settings and experiences. The botanical gardens, the zoo, or the Science Centre are places where people can relax, and enjoy themselves, but also satisfy their intellectual curiosity and enhance their understanding of the natural and man-made world. Such environments also provide opportunities for deeper and broader engagement with scientific concepts, and help reinforce formal learning in school. Fittingly, one of the Science Centre’s areas of focus since its early days has been to sow the passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or “STEM” for short, amongst our youth.

6. The Science Centre has played this role well in the last four decades, providing visitors like me with the opportunity to appreciate timeless concepts of scientific knowledge, and learn about recent trends and innovations in science. I am a fan of Science Centre and I believe many of you have your own childhood experiences. When I was young, I did not have an iPad and did not have the ability to conceptualise and visualise things the way kids today can. I can only read my textbook, try to understand deeper with the encyclopaedia, and then I will daydream. I will dream about aeroplanes, engines and how they work, but it is at the Science Centre that I got my first glimpse of how things actually come together in the physical world, and it was an eye opener. This was me when I was in Hua Yi Primary School. Going to secondary school, I was intrigued by the miracle of life – how can a woman get pregnant – was baffling for a fourteen-year-old. How can a woman conceive and carry a baby for nine months in that small space? You can read all the books during biology classes but having the videos and explanations at the Science Centre made a difference and I had not forgotten the miracle of life during my journey to the Science Centre.

7. I am sure you have your own stories to tell but the mission of the Science Centre is to inspire youths like you and me to remain constant and I hope Science Centre will continue on this important journey and find new ways to constantly renew itself, like what it usually does. For example, in 2014, the Science Centre started KidsSTOP, Singapore’s first children’s science centre. It served to fuel the imagination and curiosity of children from a young age, to help them ‘Imagine, Experience, Discover and Dream’ the marvels of science through play.

A Centre that Complements Formal Learning

8. The Centre also works closely with the Ministry of Education to provide a wide variety of engaging and interactive experiences that complement the learning in school. One example is in the Applied Learning Programmes (ALPs) that we have set up. Science Centre set up the STEM Inc. unit in 2014 to partner 70 schools to help us with this effort. Through these ALPs, teachers and students have been provided with customised science curricula, unique learning opportunities and exposure to the applied sciences.

9. One such case is the Design and Engineering ALP at Greenview Secondary School. There, Secondary One students design and build solar cars, while Secondary Two students build eco-friendly gadgets and toys that use alternative energy sources. Students further hone their skills through workshops and competitions, such as the Bright Ideas Challenge, an initiative by Shell, co-organised by the Science Centre and the Ministry of Education. Greenview Secondary School emerged Champion this year, and these students went to London, where they had the rare chance to visit popular STEM facilities such as Fab Lab London and Imperial College London.

10. We hope that such programmes, both informal and formal, will continue to help lay a strong foundation for our young to develop innovative zest and drive, and that extra factor to go beyond the classroom and explore new ways of doing things without being constrained by the classroom. Most importantly, to continue with scientific discovery when they finish their school.

A Centre that Partners Community and Industry

11. In this aspect, industries and the community have an important part to play. All of you and your wealth of knowledge have important parts to play in the content and programming of the Science Centre, and I would like to thank you for your efforts. These local and international partnerships have enabled the Science Centre to tap into cutting-edge innovation, and reach out to a wide swathe of Singaporeans. Earlier this year, I attended the 20th edition of the Sony Creative Science Awards, which is one example of a long-term collaboration between the Science Centre and our industry partners. I strongly hope that as we move into the next decade of the Science Centre’s development, more companies will come forward to collaborate with the Centre to provide opportunities to develop and inspire the next generation in STEM.

12. Apart from industry and companies, the Science Centre also benefits from the valuable contribution of volunteers from community associations and others. Volunteers range from the young student volunteers to our more senior folks. The collaboration with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) for example, is a meaningful one that has been sustained for the last eight years. Not only do you pass the knowledge, more importantly, I know that the seniors at RSVP passed down important values as well. Last year, our seniors clocked in almost 1,800 hours of volunteer service at the Science Centre. It is heartening to see different segments of the population coming together engaged in the pursuit of science, and this I think would bear very good hope to inspire future generations of scientists among us.

A Centre for the Future

13. As it has done over the past forty years, the Science Centre will continue to play a key role in promoting STEM for current and future generations of Singaporeans. As society becomes more technologically-advanced, it is important that we pay attention to helping the less tech-savvy amongst us overcome their fears of technology, and to become confident users.

14. In all these, the Science Centre can play an important role in educating all members of the public – helping us understand and appreciate the benefits of STEM-powered solutions, to have the know-how to be assured and savvy users of the technology, and to demystify the science behind such technologies. For instance, the recently-opened “Dialogue With Time” exhibition showcases technology for ageing populations, to help visitors better understand how innovations such as robotics, and home assistive and mobility devices, can help seniors and caregivers improve the quality of life. I have a short example from my visit to one primary school recently. This young kid has a fascination for science and in one of the learning programmes outside of the classroom, he designed a remote control which could turn on the lights and fans in his home. When I asked him why a remote control after all the coding lessons, especially when boys usually make cars or robots, he said he was doing this for his grandmother who is not mobile. He hoped to improve the life of his grandmother. Knowledge and values – the best combination of aggregating our young. So, the Science Centre, I charge you not only to STEM, but to inculcate in our young that extra bit of joy of learning, entrepreneurial dare and with the values system you want to give back to the society.

15. Looking ahead, as I charged you with this mission, I hope the good news of you having a new home in the Jurong Lake Gardens will come true soon enough. I know many of you know the long gestation history of the new Science Centre but we are making progress. We are in our advanced stages of planning and hopefully there will be good news for you to launch your second spaceship that has landed in 1977. Refreshing the spaceship will allow the new generations of Singaporeans to discover the wonders of STEM and kindle a lifelong passion of learning and enquiry, as the first Science Centre had inspired in us.

Continually Inspiring the Young and the Young at Heart

16. With that piece of news, let me close by commending the Science Centre Singapore for inspiring the young and the young at heart with many such relevant and interesting exhibitions and programmes, and for constantly re-inventing itself through the years to showcase the many possibilities of STEM.

17. I would also like to thank everyone present this evening for your invaluable support of the Science Centre and its important work. It is your generous and enthusiastic partnerships that have enabled, and will continue to enable the Science Centre to remain relevant and up-to-date for decades to come.

18. Once again, congratulations on the 40 years of achievements and I look forward to another 40 years of inspiring work by the Science Centre.

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