Speech by Second Minister for Education Dr Maliki Osman, at the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award Ceremony, at Marquee @ Science Centre Singapore

Published Date: 18 September 2021 02:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Chua Seng Chong, Chairman, Tan Kah Kee Foundation,

Mr Lim Yeow Khee, Chairman, Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award Committee

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Singapore,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1 A very good morning. I am happy to join all of you this morning at the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award ceremony to celebrate the spirit of innovation and inventiveness amongst our youth.

2 The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and innovate has always been a critical and crucial skill for humanity. Our primitive ancestors invented tools to improve the production, storage and transport of food – a vital element which allowed our species to survive and thrive. In the years that have followed, humans have experimented and innovated to bring cities closer to one another through transport, and tapped on technology to enable humans to communicate over long distances. The world became inter-connected and to a large extent, borderless. Through the ingenuity of human innovation, we have even succeeded in putting humans on the moon. And today, we are seeing the possibility of Space Tourism!

3 Here in Singapore, the generations before us have built and transformed our island-state into the global city that it is today – where we and our children can learn from the lessons of our forefathers to shape our country into a better place, where we can explore possibilities to improve our city and the world through innovation, and find solutions to emerging problems as our society evolves.

4 Today, Singapore is known as the top technological capital in the Asia Pacific region, and a strong proponent of science and technology innovations. We host a vibrant ecosystem consisting of companies and organisations which are experimenting with new ways to solve the most challenging problems in the world today. In fact, according to the Global Innovation Index undertaken by Insead, Singapore was ranked the 8th most innovative country in the world last year. In 2020 alone, there were about 13,000 applications of patents in Singapore, according to statistics released by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). This is a testament to our strong innovative spirit, and we want to continue fostering this.

5 The government is committed to supporting innovation and research. Over the years, we have invested significant resources to further our science and technology capabilities, through our Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) Fund, administered by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

6 Last year, DPM Heng Swee Keat announced that Singapore will allocate $25 billion to further our research, innovation and enterprise for the period of 2021 to 2025, under the RIE2025. This will allow us to reaffirm our commitment to basic research, expand the scope of RIE to better drive economic growth post-pandemic and address our national needs, and scale up technology translation and strengthen enterprise innovation capabilities.

7 Beyond these, we strongly recognise that interest in innovation and thirst for knowledge stems from a sense of curiosity and wonder that must be cultivated and sustained from a young age. Education plays a critical role in this regard. We must plant the seeds to foster this spirit of innovation and inventiveness in our young, especially in their formative years in school. This is where our budding inventors are provided with an environment with the necessary support – to experiment, and when encountering failures, to learn from their experiences and to continue experimenting.

8 In this regard, I am heartened that the Tan Kah Kee Foundation has been a key partner in supporting this spirit of innovativeness and inventiveness. The Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award was first mooted by Nobel Laureate Yang Chen Ning in 1986, and aims to stimulate creativity amongst our youth and to promote scientific and technological research in Singapore. In keeping with the vision of the late community leader and philanthropist Mr Tan Kah Kee, this award continues to provide an important platform to showcase the creativity, innovation and inventiveness of our youth, through hands-on making, tinkering and proto-typing.

9 I would like to commend the Tan Kah Kee Foundation and its strong partner this edition – Science Centre Singapore, for your strong efforts in organising and supporting the Awards.

10 Indeed, over the years, many of our youth have been keenly innovating and coming up with new inventions. I am pleased to note that 414 entries were submitted by young inventors in this edition of the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award! I hear from the organiser that there has been an average of about 300 entries per year over the past few years. This is a testament of the growing interest in innovation amongst our youth, even as our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. I am confident that we will continue to see more young inventors in the years to come.

11 I hear that many interesting entries were submitted for the Award this year. For example, Chan Sihui, Sandra Quek and Raeanne Tan from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) invented the 'Plasty Buddy' – an invention that allows users to apply plasters easily and reduce the risk of contamination as compared to traditional hand peeling and application. This is done by using an adhesive to peel away the paper components of a plaster from the sticky parts. In another entry, Andrew Tan from Henry Park Primary School devised the 'Stick and Slide' fastener – made from two flat pieces of soft plastic that can hold things tightly to flat surfaces, and yet be easily unfastened. While fasteners are not new, this product unfastens quietly, unlike other fasteners such as Velcro tape fasteners which produces a ripping sound. The judges were impressed by Andrew's detailed description of the construction and geometrical structure of the corrugated cardboard material.

12 These are just two examples of the many inspiring and useful projects submitted for this year's Award, which showcase our youth's strong sense of curiosity and interest to challenge norms and tackle sophisticated problems.

13 One of our judges for the Awards, Prof Wong Limsoon, started out as a humble young innovator and competed in the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award years ago. Today, he is an esteemed researcher in knowledge research discovery technologies and their application in biomedicine in NUS' School of Computing. I hope that this can inspire our budding innovators to follow in his footsteps and innovate solutions to tackle the new challenges that we may face in the years ahead.

14 I want to encourage the participants to keep your innovative spirit high. For those who have not won a prize, please do not be discouraged. You are all winners in your own right – by the simple fact that you have come up with something innovative that you never thought you were able to previously. It has been said that 'necessity is the mother of invention'. In fact, we have seen local firms produce smart solutions to practical problems, even during this COVID-19 period. For instance, robotics and automation company PBA Group created the Sunburst UV Bot, which combines the disinfection capabilities of ultraviolet-C light with an autonomous mobile robot to reduce the workload of cleaning staff, and exposure to harmful chemicals and the virus. In addition, Gill Lab Pte Ltd leveraged their expertise from a previous scuba diving mask project to invent the Gill Mask – a reusable respirator that can extend the level of a surgical mask by up to six times!

15 We have also been seeing an increase in innovations to help tackle evolving and emerging issues such as our ageing population and climate change. I am confident that our people's innovativeness can help us thrive even as we face new problems in the future.

16 In today's context, where life is comfortable for many of us, curiosity may well be the 'father of invention', as we see more and more inventions that are driven by imagination rather than necessity. So stretch your imagination to create something to better the lives of others; something that people may not even realise they need but will become indispensable once invented. There are opportunities all around you, beyond school and into the global market and future economy, if you keep your eyes and mind open. Keep inventing! I am sure your current experience tells you – there is no end point in innovation and invention! There is only a starting point which all of you had set off from.

17 In closing, allow me to congratulate all winners of this year's edition of the Young Inventors' Award, and commend all participants for taking part. Continue to keep your innovative spirit high, follow your curiosity, learn from setbacks to develop creative inventions, and make a positive difference in the world around you.

18 Thank you.

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