Building a knowledgeable and connected society
RESPONSE BY MINISTER OF STATE FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE ON 10 MAR 2014
Madam Speaker, I will now speak on the role of MCI in building a knowledgeable and connected society.
2 As Mr Arthur Fong pointed out, our libraries are very popular. On a busy day, about 79,000 people visit libraries and borrow over 100,000 items, and 300 new members join the library. Reading programmes and exhibitions in our libraries attract about 27,000 participants. Our libraries are well-used, and well-loved. We recognise that libraries remain important to Singaporeans, and we intend to continue to expand the library network.
Expanding the library network
3 I am pleased to inform Members that we will be opening two libraries this year. First, residents living in the north will be able to enjoy an expanded, newly renovated Sembawang Library on the fifth floor of Sun Plaza, which will offer a bigger space with a new look and feel. The new library will be ready in the third quarter of this year. The Sembawang library is especially well-used by young families, and its collection will strive to meet their needs even better. The new design will not only focus on the young, but will also be fitted out for inter-generational learning to promote interaction between children and their parents and grandparents.
4 Second, the much-anticipated library@orchard will open at the new Orchard Gateway development at Somerset. This is an exciting project because the library@orchard took a new co-creation approach in development. During the last budget debate, we shared with Members that NLB exhibited the service prototypes for library@orchard and obtained feedback on what features should be included. Since then, the design-thinking team from Singapore Polytechnic, NLB staff, and volunteers with design expertise have been working to conceptualise the interiors and the collection. As a result, we can look forward to the opening of a new library with an innovative design in the later half of this year. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the different groups for their hard work. This is one way we hope to continue engaging communities in building new services, and improving on them.
5 NLB will continue to work with the community to see how libraries can be even more community-powered. With the community playing a role, we will be able to bring more library services to more people, in more locations. If you recall, the library@chinatown, opened last year is entirely run by volunteers who provide 77 man-hours of voluntary service every week. The library@orchard, too, will explore how it can work with volunteers to extend library operations beyond traditional library operating hours, to better serve users along the Orchard Road belt.
Quality reading programmes for all
6 Promoting the love for reading is core to NLB’s work. NLB’s reading programmes cater for people of all ages and social backgrounds. For example, NLB has been reaching out to school-aged children through its kidsRead and Read@School programmes. Among adults, some 50 reading clubs help build on common reading interests, and the annual READ! Singapore initiative provides a wide range of activities for young and old. As Mr David Ong and Mr Vikram Nair have pointed out, seniors and the very young are important groups. This is why NLB will be introducing new reading programmes to better cover these age groups.
Programmes for Seniors
7 Seniors make up about 9% of our population and this will grow significantly in the next few years. In fact, population projections have our seniors population tripling by 2030. We need to be prepared to have more services to reach out and engage our seniors, and help them continue pursuing their learning interests.
8 Since last year, NLB has been revamping its services for seniors. For example, NLB has doubled its collection of large print books. There is also a wide collection of audio books in four major languages. A key partner in IDA’s Silver Infocomm initiatives, NLB will continue to help seniors pick up new digital skills, and they can enjoy digital services and free Internet access at our public libraries. To expand its reach, NLB has been working closely with partners such as CDCs and PA to provide services closer to our seniors. We also partner active seniors who are valuable volunteers with the library.
9 Take Mr Ho Hew Lee for example. At 72 years of age, Mr Ho belongs to our Pioneer Generation. He has been an energetic, dedicated volunteer with our libraries since 2006. Passionate about helping others, Mr Ho has helped conduct training workshops for other seniors on how to use e-Devices on loan, such as iPads and Kindles, and teaches them how to access resources from the library’s databases. He also volunteers at events to raise awareness of the library’s many reading programmes. We are thankful for passionate individuals like Mr Ho. NLB welcomes more seniors who would like to play a part in our library’s learning services.
10 NLB has been working with community groups over the past few years in loaning out books at various places, such as community centres and senior activity centres. NLB is enhancing this service through a new scheme called Read@Community to provide guidance to community partners in setting up reading corners; these corners will be open to the public.
11 This scheme will be trialled first with groups catering to seniors. As Mr Arthur Fong said, there are some groups that may find it difficult to travel to a library, and this applies to some seniors. Through this new scheme, community groups can come forward and work with NLB to set up their own reading corners, close to the people they serve. NLB will provide the expertise to setting up a conducive learning space and select the right books to meet the community’s needs, while the community can take on the management and operations of the reading corners. Some early adopters are the Senior Activity Centres in Taman Jurong and Bukit Batok East. NLB welcomes more groups to take up this scheme.
Programmes for the young
12 Now let me speak on what we are doing for the young. It is important to set a good foundation to learning for our young, but it can be challenging for parents to figure out the reading level of a young child and how to help him or her develop a love for reading.
13 So this year, NLB has embarked on an initiative called Early READ. In partnership with the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), NLB will be introducing a comprehensive reading framework and toolkit for teachers and parents to start reading to their children as early as possible. To reach children not enrolled in pre-schools, NLB is working extensively with community groups and welfare organisations, such as Singapore Children’s Society, Mendaki, SINDA, CDAC and the Eurasian Association to distribute a Starter Kit to these families. Free reading workshops will be organised to better equip parents through the use of simple but effective pre-reading practices.
14 NLB will also be setting up an Early Literacy Library at Jurong Library in April. The first of its kind for our libraries, this specialised library corner will feature over 60,000 books and audio-visual items in the 4 official languages which cater to children aged six and below. The collection for children aged 3 and below is carefully chosen to support the five literacy practices of playing, talking, singing, reading and writing. Parents and educators can also work closely with librarians specialised in children’s books and learning needs.
15 I also wish to thank member Mr Arthur Fong, for showing such strong support for the collection of the NLB. Indeed the collections of our libraries are very carefully curated and as a supporter of the mother tongue languages myself, I’m very often amazed by the extent which our libraries go to ensure that we maintain and celebrate our literary heritage in all four official languages.
16 Mr Arthur Fong has asked what more can be done by the libraries to celebrate our nation’s heritage as we mark our 50 years of independence. Indeed, the National Library Board is a prime mover of the Singapore Memory Project. I would like encourage all Members to participate in the Singapore Memory Project to share, to create and also to record collective memories of all our communities in Singapore.
Strengthening government communications
17 Now, please allow me to address the comments on government communications. I would like to thank Mr Seng Han Thong for highlighting the need for good public communications. Given the increasing complexity of issues, and with new issues emerging all the time, it is all the more important that we engage citizens and reach out to different segments of society. We need to pay particular attention to groups such as the vulnerable and elderly; for instance, when communicating the Pioneer Generation Package. Such efforts to customise communications will continue and we will continue to pay special attention to all major policies and events, some of which he has made in his speech. That said, I agree with Mr Seng also, that we have to regularly enhance our capabilities and conscientiously assess the effectiveness of public communications.
18 I would also like to thank Associate Professor Eugene Tan for raising the need for better outreach to address Singaporeans’ concerns over hot-button issues. Last year, we announced that REACH will be ramping up the frequency of face-to-face dialogues to better understand the challenges and concerns of specific groups. Over the last year, REACH has more than doubled the number of consultation sessions with Singaporeans, in particular youths and PMETs. This year, we have explored new ways of outreach to those in the heartlands. We have adopted an open concept booth where people can leave feedback and obtain information. These booths, called Listening Points, are set up in accessible locations such as malls and transport nodes. Dialogues and outreach efforts help REACH and other Government agencies gather valuable feedback on policies. Our agencies will continue to work with community organisations and VWOs to reach more widely through different platforms, including social media.
19 Ms Penny Low spoke of the importance of broadcast channels. Indeed, we can harness free-to-air channels and content development capabilities to do more to communicate important policies to the people. We have been producing interstitials, or short video clips, in the four official languages to explain policies like new BTO packages for singles, the Pioneer Generation package, as well as healthcare financing schemes like the 3Ms (MediSave, MediShield and MediFund). These are featured on MediaCorp channels, YouTube, and also shared on various social media platforms to maximise reach. Videos are an effective means of communication and we will continue to leverage a wide range of platforms, such as TV, to extend reach.
20 This year, my Ministry will be revamping the Gov.sg website to provide citizens with an easy, one-stop access to news and information on all Government policies, services and related matters. Public agencies are also intensifying efforts to conduct public engagement prior to policy formulation. This is an area we can and will do more in.
21 We welcome suggestions to improve communications and deepen engagement, especially when consulting on difficult issues. Effective communications must occur at every level of the civil service. Associate Professor Eugene Tan has suggested that senior civil servants take a more prominent role in explaining and attending to concerns of the public. We agree that they can, and they have been doing so on appropriate occasions. Heads of statutory boards brief the media regularly. For instance, IDA’s Managing Director Jacqueline Poh spoke on cyber threats and ways to tackle them in the wake of cyber-attacks on Government websites. Senior civil servants have also engaged the public for their views on policies. For example, CEO of URA Ng Lang, URA Chief Planner Lim Eng Hwee and other members of senior URA management met with Members of Parliament, community leaders and stakeholders to seek their feedback on the URA Draft Master Plan 2013.
22 MCI and the Civil Service College conduct media and public engagement training to prepare our public officers for such efforts.
National Translation Committee
23 Let me now address Mr Baey Yam Keng, Mr Seng Han Thong and Mr Low Thia Khiang’s concerns regarding the need for better translation. Improving the quality of translation is part of our efforts to enhance government communications.
24 We recognize the Government can and should do more to establish consistency in translation standards across the public service. But we cannot do this alone. We need the partnership of our community stakeholders across the private, public and people sectors. That is why we will set up the National Translation Committee (NTC) to oversee short-term and long-term plans to enhance Whole-of-Government translation capabilities. It will engage community stakeholders who care deeply about translation, and signal the Government’s commitment to communicate effectively with all Singaporeans, including those who are not proficient in English.
25 I will chair this committee, which will include members from the media, academia, the translation industry, as well as Government representatives. There will also be resource panels providing expert advice on specific translation problems, one each for Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
26 The National Translation Committee will help improve the quality of translation in the following ways:
27 First, the committee will help draw up best practices to help public agencies procure or produce quality translation. This includes addressing potential pitfalls, such as cheap-sourcing without sufficient regard for quality, and failing to vet translated material before public release. I believe that best-sourcing practices, once established, will not only help our agencies procure quality services at fair rates, but also signal professional respect for skilful translators who understand the local context and are able to meet the public sector’s requirements for accuracy and speed.
28 Second, we want to create a collaboration platform among the public, private and people sectors to promote and raise translation standards. There are already informal networks of the like-minded who care deeply about our official languages and who support good translation. They include not only people who work with the languages such as teachers, media professionals and writers – but also members of the public. They are able to offer not only views on whether translating a term in a particular way is technically correct, but also rich insights into the more delicate aspects of linguistic convention, nuances and local flavour. We would like to reach out to such groups and tap on their collective wisdom and vigilance to grow community ownership on the issue of translation.
29 Third, nurturing the next generation of translation talent for Singapore. Here, I would like to pay tribute to Mr Lee Seng Giap, an acclaimed veteran translator and interpreter, and here in this photo you can see him in the interpreter’s booth serving this House. One of the early pioneers of the local translation scene, Mr Lee helped build up translation and interpretation standards for the public service. He also headed the then-Ministry of Culture’s Translation Service from 1969 to 1980, and in his 29 years as a civil servant, has helped to groom many outstanding translators. After his retirement in the 1990s, Mr Lee continued to share his expertise through lecturing in translation and interpretation at Nanyang Technological University. I had the good fortune of having being taught by him when I took a post-graduate diploma in translation and interpretation some years ago. We need more of such translators in the public service.
30 We will look into collaborating with Civil Service College and educational institutions to provide more training for our current in-house translators and also to offer translation scholarships to young talent. These are still ideas we are exploring, and I will bring them to the NTC.
- 我认为翻译对于一个使用多种语言的社会有着重大的意义，推动翻译事业确实是长远的工作。至于刚才成议员提到有没有 “力” 的问题，我认为新加坡是具备把翻译搞好的能力的，只是没有完全发挥出来。
31 To conclude, MCI will continue to provide greater access to quality resources and strengthen the bonds of community through our libraries, to enhance Government communications and our translation capabilities.
 Department of Statistics
 Our Demographic Challenges and What these Mean to Us