Remarks by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Singapore-India Joint Hackathon Prize Distribution Ceremony at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras

Published Date: 30 September 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

His Excellency Prime Minister Narendra Modi,

His Excellency Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal, Minister for Human Resource Development,

Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthy, Director of IIT Madras,

Colleagues, Friends,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. It is a real honour to be here. This is my second trip to India this year – I was here in June and back here again today. I have to admit it has been quite a few years since I came to Tamil Nadu, so it is wonderful to be back here again today.

2. Many Ministers travel back and forth between Singapore and India. Our relationship is so multi-faceted that if I talk about it, it would be a long speech. So, let me just highlight a few things that mean a lot to us.

3. First, our economic linkages. We make a living together in this world. From an economic perspective, 8,000 Indian companies are in Singapore. Hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals and workers are in Singapore currently, building and running systems – literally building Singapore for us; we appreciate it. Although Singapore is so small, we remain India’s top foreign investor. Many Singaporeans work in India and some of our biggest companies have been in Tamil Nadu for many years. These include PSA, Ascott and Ascendas-Singbridge, which runs an industrial park.

4. Our relationship with India continues to be close. We have a free trade agreement – a comprehensive economic agreement that we signed some years ago, which we reviewed and upgraded in June last year. This is a signal that in order to progress together, both our people and governments have to work together and open ourselves to the world. This is key in ensuring progress, prosperity and hope for our young.

5. Fintech is another exciting area. Since Prime Minister Modi visited Singapore last year, we have started a joint working group. The group has met a few times, and is working on several exciting projects. We are starting to link our Fintech starts-ups and SMEs together. We are also working on the internationalisation of the “Indian Stack”, which is essentially the technology behind the Aadhar Programme.

6. As for me, I am most excited about linking our payment systems – Singapore’s NETS and India’s National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI). Prime Minister Modi mentioned this in his Independence speech earlier this year. We hope that by sometime next year, RuPay cardholders visiting Singapore from India will be able to make payment using NETS terminals.

7. Similarly, NETS cardholders visiting India should be able to make payment at many terminals. We can strengthen the relationship between our countries by linking our payment systems in such a seamless way.

8. Another significant area of our co-operation, and which I am personally involved in, is skills training. Prime Minister Modi also visited our Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Singapore last year, as part of his efforts to push for Skill India. Singapore will continue to work with India to develop skills training.

9. We have worked with various Indian authorities and bodies to set up training institutes. One of the institutes is the World Class Skills Centre in New Delhi, which is already up and running. I visited it earlier this year. Another institute is the Centre of Excellence in Tourism Training in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

10. A few more will be coming up. These include:

  • The Northeast Skills Centre for Hospitality in Assam, Guwahati, which I believe will start in a few months’ time;

  • An institute situated in Bhubaneswar will be quite special. For the first time, ITE will send a team to work alongside the Indian team in running the institute; and

  • An institute situated in Bhopal. It is supported by the Asian Development Bank, which has brought both countries together to work on this.

11. Education is another exciting area of collaboration. I seized the chance to visit Tamil Nadu because the language spoken here is one of our mother tongue languages. Many of our specialists teaching the Tamil language have graduated and received their PhDs from institutions in Tamil Nadu.

12. This afternoon, I am going to take the opportunity to visit Mamallapuram. As a 7th century port, it was established at a time when the outwardly open Tang Dynasty ruled China. It coincided with the Kalabhra Dynasty in Tamil Nadu. At that time, trade routes between India and China passed through the ports of Mamallapuram, Southeast Asia, Sumatra where the Srivijaya Empire reigned, Java of the Mataram Kingdom, and other port cities like Palembang.

13. Trade between India and China, through Southeast Asia, brought prosperity to all of us for hundreds of years. I am glad that Prime Minister Modi will be meeting President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram. It is a wise and far-sighted endeavour to revive this. Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia hope for a positive India-China relationship.

14. Now let me talk about the hackathon. Thank you to Prime Minister Modi for raising this wonderful idea, which my Prime Minister accepted straight away. I was tasked to get it going and I tapped on Professor Subra Suresh. This year’s hackathon is our second instalment and incorporated a change in format. Last year’s format had Team Singapore competing against Team India. It was a good hackathon but I thought we could do better. This year, we combined teams comprising students from both countries, who worked side by side. And speaking to our Singaporean students just now, I think they really relished the experience.

15. Today, university is not just about attending lectures and learning knowledge. Through experiences such as these, our students get to do something hands-on; they get to create something – a prototype, an idea.

16. The hackathon is also a platform for our students to participate in cross-cultural projects. For our Singaporean students, they get to work with students from other countries and cultures. It is important for our students to know the world as they grow up. They must know that there are different cultures in the world, and we must appreciate that. This project gave them that opportunity and I think we can do even better next year.

17. I have two small ideas that our organisers could consider. Firstly, we can consider inviting other universities from Southeast Asia to participate in this hackathon in future. This could help strengthen cooperation and enhance understanding amongst the participating countries.

18. Secondly, we could also include students trained in hands-on skills, from Singapore’s polytechnics and India’s technical colleges. We need to demonstrate to our young people that different types of knowledge and skills are crucial in making sure that an idea succeeds.

19. We know young people are idealistic and full of energy – and this is a good thing. If their idealism and energy are not harnessed adequately, it may be directed at less meaningful pursuits. It is the job of governments, as well as global and regional communities to make sure that there is a system that can channel their idealism and energy positively. I feel that a hackathon like this will allow our young people to feel a strong sense of fulfilment as their ideas will be used to improve areas such as healthcare, clean energy and education. We will continue to work together to fulfil their hopes, and harness their idealism and energy in meaningful ways.

20. Thank you.

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