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Speech by Mr Heng Chee How at the ASCILITE International Conference 2019

Guest-Of-Honour Address By Mr Heng Chee How, Deputy Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), And Senior Minister Of State, Ministry Of Defence, At The ASCILITE International Conference 2019 On 3 Dec 2019, 9.05am, At Singapore University Of Social Sciences (SUSS), 
Performing Arts Theatre (Block D)

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS),

Professor Dominique Parrish, President of ASCILITE.

Distinguished Speakers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning to everyone. To our international guests, an especially warm welcome to Singapore. 

2. Let me begin by congratulating ASCILITE on your 36th anniversary. The Society has evolved to stay at the cutting edge of thinking and innovation in EdTech, as can be seen from the papers being discussed at this conference. 

3. Singapore is honoured that outside of Australia and New Zealand, the Society has chosen Singapore to hold this year’s conference for a second run. 

4. Your domain continues to see rapid change and development, not only in technological dimensions but also in the interplay between the access to, use of technology and a changing context of who needs education and how best to achieve the desired societal outcomes in learning, employability, social mobility and social cohesion.  I would like to take the opportunity this morning to share some perspectives on these aspects with you.  

5. Like many other countries, Singapore has always emphasised the importance of a good pre-employment education for our young. Unlike many countries, we have so little by way of natural endowments.  Our place in the world and our living standards will ultimately hinge on our wits, our ability to be of value to others.  Consequently, our education system has changed with the times, pedagogy and technology have to continue to equip our young with the knowledge and skills to meet emerging needs and to venture confidently beyond current confines. 

6. At the same time, the need to enable effective learning beyond the traditional school years had become evident.  In a world that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), a good start is not good enough.  To stay on track, to adapt and grow economically and professionally, to thrive in a very-connected, technology-enriched social milieu, we must embrace Continuing Education and Training (CET) lifelong. 

7. How do we put these notions into operating to get the outcomes we want?  In the case of the Singapore workforce, the tripartite partners (Government, Employers, Unions) have built a strong consensus on the need to gear up and to sustain the momentum.  Beyond generous Government-funded subsidies for worker training, specific mechanisms such as bipartite Company Training Committees, which are company-level platforms where union and management jointly and seriously deliberate, decide and implement worker training and upgrading plans to match and accelerate enterprise transformation. In this process, Edtech will have a key role in helping to spur effective adult learning to stay relevant and employable.   

8. For instance, worker training is no longer just delivered through full-time, large-class-size physical gathering where learners receive information from a sequence of teachers. 

9. Many student-workers of today are working full-time – tired after a day of work, or busy with various roles and not having much contiguous time to spare. She will expect to access learning from a place and time of her convenience, not that of a learning provider while maintaining quality. 

10. He or she is possibly already knowledgeable and experienced in a certain field and a fast learner. Alternatively, he or she may find it hard to understand new concepts and information. In this age of big data and AI, how can EdTech help to optimise learning for each individual so that the overall attainment for a workforce is also maximised?

11. And while there are so many obvious advantages to be tapped through the pervasive use of technology - to inform and update, to understand each learner’s progress and learning gaps, to customise learning, to optimise cost-effective educational outcomes – the very nature of this enablement will also create legitimate concerns about cybersecurity and data protection.  Unlawful access and theft of personal information is one aspect. There will also be ethical considerations over how personal learning information should be safeguarded from being abused to unfairly affect the interests of workers. 

12. These are exciting times.  EdTech can and must aspire to be a key that helps unlock the promise of a better future for all, by bringing hope where there is fear, enablement where there is confusion and access where there are barriers.  ASCILITE’s continued success will make a real difference to our societies now and into the future.  

13. I wish you a fruitful conference.  Thank you.

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