Friends and colleagues from SGTech and IMDA, 

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. Good afternoon.

2 I am glad to see that this festival has had such interest from all segments of our community – all people, all ages, all interests, yesterday and today.

3 The Smart Nation journey is about transforming Singapore, using technology for the transformation of our society, economy and country.  As we transform ourselves, we have to do so by putting people at the centre of what we do. That has to be the starting position, and it has to be the centre of our mission as we go forward.

4 We have to ensure that everyone has access to the tools, knowledge and opportunities to benefit from technology. So we need to strengthen our digital readiness, the readiness of our society, and our citizens to take advantage of these opportunities. This is something the government has to have as part of its mission. It also has to mobilise and engage members of the community – businesses, stakeholders, community groups and volunteers, to organise how we think about this. 

Building a Digitally Ready Society

5 To give ourselves some clarity and understanding, we launched the Digital Readiness Blueprint last year, setting out what it will take for Singaporeans and Singapore to be a digitally ready society. Coming out of that, we set up the Digital Readiness Council. We cannot just have a blueprint, we have got to make someone responsible for implementing these ideas, and making sure things happen. So we put together a council and a tripartite partnership representation from the government, industry and community to guide collective efforts to help Singaporeans seize opportunities.

6 How are we thinking about digital readiness and digital society? There are three key ideas. The first is digital access. People must have the ability to access the technology. The second is digital literacy. People must have the knowledge and skills on how to use the technology. And the third is digital participation. Our citizens must be interested. The things that are on offer must be of interest to them, that they enjoy, and want to participate in.  
7 We do not start from zero. It is not that we are just starting this today in 2019. Actually, quite a lot of this work has been going on. Today, we are already a very well-digitised nation. We have a good foundation that we are starting from, and many good initiatives from volunteers, community groups, corporate social responsibility programmes that have been going on to reach out to the vulnerable and the elderly.

8 I have a couple of examples. IMDA has for many years had the Home Access and NEU PC Plus programmes, which offer affordable broadband bundle packages, infocomm devices – computers or tablets, to low income families. Today, more than 70,000 households have benefited. This is a long running programme, and we will continue with such efforts.

9 For digital literacy, we keep doing surveys to find out what is it that our seniors are interested in going online to do, how are they doing it, and how are they enjoying it. In 2018, our usage survey showed that there was a 25 per cent increase in internet usage among seniors aged 60 and above in the past two years. This is a good thing, because our seniors have learned how to use the internet and technology to reach out to their families. We have to keep on building on these efforts to reach out to more. IMDA has its Silver Infocomm Initiatives today, promoting IT awareness and literacy to over 270,000 seniors since its launch in 2007. We have also got from IMDA a Basic Digital Skills Curriculum for seniors to pick up basic digital skills in a structured fashion. What this curriculum will do, is to allow other training providers to start thinking about how they might engage with seniors, and make these types of courses attractive and interesting.

10 But there are also risks. And if you are following the news recently, you would know that one of our concerns today – as more people go into cyberspace, participate in online activities and get their news through social media – is misinformation and fake news. As more Singaporeans do more online, we have to make sure that we have the skills, knowledge, critical thinking and common sense, on how to navigate this space, analyse and trust the information we are getting, and doing so in a safe and confident manner.

11 This is not something that we are thinking about alone here in Singapore. This threat is affecting many countries and societies. But there are some things that are special to us here in Singapore. We have had these issues for many years. We are small, diverse, multi-racial and multi-religious. And in our history, in our present, and likely in our future, there will be coordinated efforts to try to destabilise us and threaten our national security from the outside. These issues are no different when you talk about online falsehoods, and Singaporeans must have safety and confidence in their digital products.

12 We have tabled the bill, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, in Parliament. And we will talk about it again in Parliament next month. I just want to emphasise that the intent is to go after the threat of falsehoods, and not opinion, criticism, satire, parody and comedy – these are all part of normal discourse and discussion. We are going after deliberate false statements that are there, because the perpetrator wants to create harm to our society.

13 We have to recognise that this space was previously completely unregulated. The rest of our media space, there is some regulation. But in truth, what has happened over time, is that we have had responsible journalists and publishing companies, and an informed public that knows how to read newspapers, magazines, books and understand these information. And we will have to take that same approach to the online space. We will need some laws, and that is the Bill that we have tabled in Parliament. But we also have to do much more than just pass laws. Legislation is not going to be sufficient. We need to build up our own common sense and immunity against fake news. Because a well-informed, discerning and critically-thinking public is our first and most important line of defence against online falsehoods.

14 We have, again, some things that have been going on for some time. The National Library Board has a number of programmes, one of them in particular is the Source. Understand. Research. Evaluate (S.U.R.E.) programme. It seeks to teach students, working adults and the general public how to discern false information. Our Media Literacy Council also has been around for some time. And now it is turning its attention to this space, with a News and Media Literacies Toolkit, together with Common Sense Education, to complement Government’s efforts. We need to pull all these various efforts in public education together into a media and information literacy framework, spelling out outcomes and guidelines. We are looking to launch this in the later part of the year.

15 Another example, which we have been working on, is the recent launch of Digital Defence as our sixth pillar of Total Defence. Total Defence has been around for some time, and that is why we already have five pillars. The schools and people who are teaching this in the public understand how this fits together with our national security and education framework. So we do not start from zero. We are adding one more pillar – Digital Defence – how can individuals use those ideals of national defence and education to be secure, alert and responsible online. For example, check the information you receive before you forward it. And if you think it is not true, then perhaps ask someone and just keep vigilant, watching out for the signs of falsehoods and phishing. It is about us having the judgement ourselves, and not about the law telling us what to do. 

Launch of the Digital Participation Pledge

16 The Government cannot succeed in building a Digital Society alone. It is a whole-of-nation effort. That is why for our Digital Readiness Council, we brought together the private sector and the people sector, together with the public sector.

17 At my Committee of Supply debate speech last month, I launched the Digital Participation Pledge. It is voluntary online pledge. The idea is to encourage organisations to commit to promote digital participation and inclusion, and pledge their participation to digital readiness.

18 To date, we have over 400 organisations from a wide range of industries. Because it is not just the infocomm industry alone. A lot of other industries and sectors now reach out to more of their customers through digital means. So they have to start thinking about digital readiness. 

SG Tech’s commitment towards the Digital Readiness Movement

19 For SGTech in particular, more than 100 of its members have participated in this pledge. They are a very important partner in rallying the ground and getting the momentum going.

20 One of its members, Accenture, has launched Tech-X, a Corporate Social Responsibility Programme, increasing digital access for the young and old, and importantly, involving volunteers from the company. So it is not just about the company’s products or ideas being digitally ready. It is about getting staff to also volunteer and participate. In this case, for Accenture and Tech-X, they curate and deliver courses in devices, software programming and coding to 300 beneficiaries.

21 SGTech members are also doing similar things, leveraging on their network and capabilities to bridge the digital divide. For example, starting next month, Ezsofe will be organising a series of coding workshops for children from low-income households. Crimsonlogic will invest in programmes such as IT camps to acquaint youths with technology. Facebook has also come on board, launching “We Think Digital”, an online interactive education portal to help people think critically and share thoughtfully online. The programme hopes to benefit a million people in the Asia Pacific region over the course of the year.

22 So thank you very much to SGTech and all of your collaborators and partners for your efforts. I hope that everybody can have the opportunity to benefit from these programmes offered by SGTech members. And I hope more of our trade associations, organisations and companies can follow SGTech’s lead, join the national effort on digital readiness and come onboard for the Digital Participation Pledge. 


23 But I return to where I started. Even as I ask the companies, organisations and trade associations to show their commitment to invest and develop programmes, it comes back to us as individuals. We must ourselves put our own personal responsibility into this, taking ownership of educating and updating ourselves, and staying informed of both the opportunities and risks of going online.

24 We have to do this. Becoming a Smart Nation is essential to the kind of future that Singapore needs to reinvent and transform itself into. And as we do so, the way we make sure we remain safe, confident and united as one people, in the digital world, is to participate in digital readiness efforts as a society.

25 Thank you very much.

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