Speeches/Interviews

January 18, 2017

Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister For Education (Higher Education And Skills) @ The Grand Ceremony Nobel Forum Of The 9th International Science Youth Forum, Cheng Yi Auditorium, Hwa Chong Institution

Professor Bertil Andersson, President, Nanyang Technological University (NTU),

Professor Phua Kok Khoo, Director, Institute of Advanced Studies, NTU,

Mr Lee Sen Choon, Chairman, Board of Directors, Hwa Chong Institution (HCI),

Mr Desmond Ong, Chairman, Board of Governors, HCI,

Dr Hon Chiew Weng, Principal, HCI,

Delegates and teacher chaperones,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

1. It gives me great pleasure to join you today at the Nobel Forum of the 9th International Science Youth Forum (ISYF).

2. This year’s theme for the ISYF is “Innovation for a Better Life”. The theme captures two prerequisites of impactful entrepreneurship. One is “innovation”, which is the introduction of a new idea, method or device. Another is the act of translation. Turning innovation into an enterprise that delivers improvements in quality of life, thereby achieving a “better life” for the people that it serves.

3. The two concepts are distinct, but one cannot do without the other. Innovation without enterprise means that it remains an idea that makes no impact. Enterprise without innovation can mean just another muffin shop around the corner.

Momentous Shifts in Economic and Education Strategies

4. Encouraging innovation and enterprise, and celebrating the successes and failures of doing so, are key thrusts under what the Committee on the Future Economy is looking at. Singapore is going through an economic review process, and it is done by the Committee on the Future Economy.

5. Our economic strategy of attracting Multinational Corporations (MNCs) to invest in Singapore remains important, but the Singapore economy now needs a new set of wings to embark on the next phase of growth. That is, to tap on the collective talent, enterprising zest and sense of adventure of Singaporeans, to create new jobs and enterprises, by harnessing the latest technology, leveraging our existing deep capabilities, and tapping the vast markets around us.

6. Beyond attracting MNCs, we develop our own start-ups and enterprises. Instead of bringing jobs into Singapore, we need to create our own jobs. From being a local workforce anchored on the shores of Singapore, our Singapore workforce now needs to be comfortable operating across the world, just like the executives of MNCs do. From aspiring to secure a scholarship and a stable career, Singaporeans must now hold in highest regard, role models who took the uncertain path of entrepreneurship and do well and make an impact.

7. These will inevitably lead to a fundamental shift in education and mind sets. Chasing after academic grades cannot be a pre-occupation. Instead, the key objectives of formal education must be first, grounding the child in values, second, discovering his strengths and interests, something that will make him devote his whole life to hone a craft, and third, equipping him with a starter kit of foundational knowledge and skills.

8. Hence, in anticipation of these major shifts in economic needs and educational focus, Singapore’s education system has been evolving. Steps have been taken to de-emphasise the importance of grades, and curriculum have become more holistic to cover values and outdoors education among other aspects. Various pathways have opened up at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Polytechnics and Universities to cater to different aptitudes and interests of students, so as to develop their potential to the fullest. Supporting lifelong learning is taking centre stage in the form of a programme called SkillsFuture, and is now a core function in MOE.

9. Significant investment have been made in research over the past few years. Campuses of Institutes of Higher Learning are no longer just places for conducting classes, but also serve as centres for research and incubators for start-ups. Studying, working, teaching, creating new knowledge and translating them into enterprises, are no longer distinct but intertwined activities which are necessary for continual improvements at different stages of life and societal development.

10. Innovation and enterprise also need the support of external agencies beyond MOE. Last year, A*STAR launched A*StartCentral, a centralised facility housing offices and life science laboratories to provide a platform for entrepreneurs, scientists and investors to come together and to work together.

Incubation of Ideas and Entrepreneurial Spirit

11. We are embarking on this shift in economic strategy from a strong foundation. Recently, the newspaper TODAY carried an article featuring an interview with British industrialist and innovation guru, James Dyson. You would be familiar with the Dyson company, which invented bladeless fans and the supersonic hairdryer. The headline was, ‘S’pore lacks an innovative culture? British inventor doesn’t think so’, and it goes on to quote Mr Dyson as saying that Singapore had proactively put in place an innovative culture and groomed engineering talent precisely because it knows it needs to adapt quickly to a global economy that prioritises such skills.

12. Indeed, we must keep pressing on in this direction. Today, the scientific research community of Singapore incubates ideas, as well as inventors’ entrepreneurial spirit.

13. Recently, local scientists and researchers joined international efforts to find a vaccine and cure for Zika virus. Shortly after the outbreak in Singapore, a staff in Duke-NUS showed me the fully mapped genome of the virus. I do not know if we were the first country to map the genome, but I am certain that we are researching on the virus in Singapore’s context and it is a unique context. This was driven by an awareness of differing climates in Singapore with a stable year-round humidity and temperature level, unlike other affected countries like Brazil; and genetic differences between Asians and Latin Americans.

14. Singapore’s research will provide a different understanding of the Zika virus in Southeast Asia. And this understanding will be critical in our fight against the virus and to improve our public health. This is an example of innovation in the making.

15. Sometimes problems may not be as obvious as the Zika virus which pushes us to research and find immediate solutions. The “spark” for innovation sometimes lies in the most unexpected of places, and can happen anytime and anywhere. Some time ago, NTU staff had requested for the school atrium to be made cooler to make it more comfortable for users. In response, a team from the Energy Research Institute and NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering invented a nano coating that allows light to pass through glass, acrylic and other materials, but blocks out heat.

16. The wonderful thing about this nano coating is that it can do more than keep NTU staff and students cool. If adopted by agricultural and aquaculture industries, it will increase the survival rates of plants and fish that need light to survive and gain nutrients, but are under threat from rising global temperatures. This nano coating is currently in its trial phase at a local farm. So this is an example of successful innovation, whose translation into impactful enterprise awaits.

17. In 2014, NTU-incubated start-up Nucleus Dynamics launched a remote wound-monitoring and measurement solution – eMediCare.sg. The Version 1 of this solution targets organisations with large patient numbers but limited clinical resources and was recently launched in October 2016. eMediCare.sg offers a two-way interface between patients and medical professionals, where patients can snap a photo of their wound on the app which will allow medical professionals to make an assessment using 3D scanning and reconstruction technology. This reduces the cost of treatment including the need for prolonged hospitalisation. Nucleus Dynamics has started on product enhancement for a second version of eMediCare.sg, and has plans to expand and tap into the markets of the United States, United Kingdom and regional countries.

International Science Youth Forum (ISYF)

18. What I have said so far explains why MOE places strong emphasis on training our young minds in creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. We hope the investments we have made from general to higher education will inculcate you with an entrepreneurial spirit to prepare you to become the next generation of pioneers charting success for Singapore, in an uncertain and fast changing world.

19. Events such as the ISYF introduces you to the world of science, innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship. Many enriching activities have been lined up for the ISYF through the collaboration between our schools and government agencies. I urge you to learn from the distinguished scientists and researchers, and from your fellow peers; and enjoy the hands-on experience at the Hwa Chong Science Research Centre.

20. As you interact with our scientific and research luminaries here, I hope that you will be inspired by their stories of innovation and resilience. Remember that the spark for innovation is found in unexpected places. And whatever your ambitions may be, we must remain rooted in our core value to do good for society to make innovation truly bear fruit, and create a better life for people around us.

21. I wish all of you an enriching and inspiring experience at this Forum. Thank you.