Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the Design Education Summit 2021

Published Date: 04 February 2021 09:15 AM

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Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1.I’m very happy to join you for the 2nd edition of the Design Education Summit. It’s very good to see our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), like SUTD, partner with the DesignSingapore Council to organise this event. I hope that the summit will be fruitful and will allow educators and industry experts to learn from and to inspire one another.

2.All of you have gathered here today with a common vision and goal – to better prepare our students for a world that has been disrupted by COVID-19. We see some glimpses of this post-COVID world even today, like the accelerated pace of digital penetration in our lives. Arrangements such as working from home, shopping for groceries online, and conducting virtual conferences like this, have become the norm. Against this backdrop, we need to prepare our young to be adaptable, nimble and innovative problem-solvers. And in this respect, design as a discipline and way of thinking, has much to offer.

The Role of Design in Post-COVID Singapore

3.Design is not just a job; its a way of thinking. Today, we see the fingerprints of design in every sector – from banking to manufacturing and IT. Businesses are building in-house design teams, which are tasked to solve the companies’ most frustrating problems with a lens that puts the user at the centre.

4.Let me share a few stories of how design has transformed businesses.

5.DBS has a user experience and design team. The team researches and studies consumer banking journeys, and constantly looks for ways to improve and innovate their user experience. So for example, the bank noticed a surge in log-ins near the end of the month, and their design team pinned it down to people who were simply logging in to check that their salaries have been deposited. So the team added a new “Peek Balance” function to the bank app, where you check your bank balances simply by holding and swiping.

6.This new function alone was used six million times a month in 2019. So you can imagine the convenience it has brought to their consumers, and the time saved collectively. It is not a surprise, that in the short span of 5 years, this user experience and design team in DBS has grown from 2 people, to 60. It’s indicative of the value that design as a function brings to the business.

7.Mandai Park Holdings, which operates the Singapore Zoo, has a Strategy and Innovation department which adopts Design Thinking as a framework and a tool for their work. They studied their visitor experience, and they found out that most children and parents visit the zoo once a year, and have limited opportunities to interact with the animals. To extend the zoo experience to homes, they came up with the idea of “My Animal Buddy” last year. Through this free-to-subscribe programme, children get to “befriend” a zoo bunny, sea lion or even an orang utan. They get to learn all about their animal buddy, its quirks, likes and dislikes, through videos and live chats with the zookeepers.

8.There are many other real-world corporate examples where design thinking has made a difference. Companies everywhere are recognising the need to reinvent their businesses, and to develop more innovative products. They see the need to engage customers more meaningfully, and design better experiences for them. Design thinking is a key enabler to achieve this. That’s why demand for people with design skillsets has grown, and will continue to do so in the coming years.

The Role of Design in Schools

9.To develop a workforce adept at design thinking, we must start young. That is why our students are exposed to creative thinking as well as design principles and processes to help them think of novel solutions to address complex problems.

10.For example, a group of students in Princess Elizabeth Primary wanted to improve the lives of patients from St. Luke’s Hospital. As part of the school’s Applied Learning Programme in Innovation and Enterprise, they spoke to patients who underwent physiotherapy. They realised that the patients did not like physiotherapy and were very unmotivated, even though it was important for their well-being. So the students came up with a simple but ingenious solution — turning physiotherapy exercises into simple, tactile games. It turned out to be very popular with the patients. Just like that, a group of young students contributed to their community through exercising design thinking.

11.And again, there are many more of such stories to be shared. DesignSingapore Council has started an initiative to do just this, and you can read about these stories on their website. With over 80 entries from 11 countries, some from as far as South America and Europe, I’m sure there’s something you can be inspired to try out in your classrooms or workplaces.

12.This summit is not the only collaboration between DesignSingapore Council and SUTD. Both parties have recently completed a study on ‘Understanding the Nurturing of Critical and Inventive Thinking in General Education’, with contributions from 49 participating schools and 31 global experts in education. The study explores ways to develop creative and inventive skillsets amongst our young, and I look forward to reviewing their proposals and seeing how they can be incorporated into our education system.

13.As our students progress to Institutions of Higher Learning, we want them to continue to exercise that design-thinking and problem-solving muscle, at a higher-level. We now have a Design Education Advisory Committee (DEAC) bringing together business leaders from both design and non-design sectors, and academics from all 14 publicly-funded IHLs. This committee will look at possible ways to enhance design education at the IHLs, such as through more tie-ups between institutions and industry, and enhancing creative capabilities for the industry and economy.

14.Tie-ups between industry partners and IHLs also provide students with valuable opportunities to apply what they learn, and to contribute to addressing society’s needs.

15.For example, at Singapore Polytechnic, they offer an elective module called the Transdisciplinary Innovation Project. Students get to work with companies and Government organisations to tackle real-world issues. For example, how do you motivate patients who have poor appetite to eat well? How do you ensure safe distancing in open spaces with high human traffic?

16.Students who choose to take this module need not have a design background — they can be studying engineering or business, or health sciences. These students learn to couple the design-led creative thinking process with their domain expertise, to think out of the box and come up with something innovative. That’s the key message we want to get across: design thinking is not just for those who are specially trained in the field. Everyone can benefit from incorporating these skillsets into their work.

Conclusion

17.The Design Education Summit is one of the ways to facilitate a robust exchange of ideas, and to learn from each other’s experiences. I hope this platform is just the start of deeper conversations and richer collaborations to come.

18.Over the past year, many of us have had to step out of our comfort zones, and find new ways to cope with change. That spirit of adaptation and innovation is something we must continue to uphold – to continually generate new ideas, as well as new and better ways of doing things. So I encourage all of you to be active participants in this process, to imagine and create a future that’s full of possibilities not just for ourselves, but the generations to come.

19.On that note, I wish you all a fruitful and enjoyable Summit. Thank you very much.

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