Singapore wants to be future-ready – and the first step is data skills.

In line with this national agenda, the country has a focus on a very important group: the next generation, who will one day enter a workforce that places great value on data analytics.

Tableau recently teamed up with the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore to host a data stories competition which invited youths to delve deep into social and cultural issues, and find insights through the use of data.

Data analytics 101

Over 200 students, teachers and lecturers, joined workshops to build up data skill sets in the lead up to the finals held last month. This year, over 130 students participated in the challenge, and Tableau received more than 40% increase in entries compared to last year, shares JY Pook, Senior Vice President of Asia Pacific at ‎Tableau.

Growing up in the digital age, young people today “are exposed to more data than my generation,” Pook notes. Collaborations such as this one with IMDA help in two ways: more students will be exposed to data and Tableau’s visual analytics platform, which will help to “equip them with the relevant skill sets for the new economy”, he adds.

The social side of data

The shortlisted entries were as diverse as they come, exploring trends in malaria, the impact of gender on sports, and how countries can reduce light pollution.

The champion in the secondary and junior college category was a team from Pioneer Junior College, which attempted to answer this question using visual analytics: Can money buy a better education?

The team sought to discover if Singapore’s high-quality education system was related to the country’s status as first-world, with high living standards and GDP. They compared data on government expenditure, teacher-to-student ratio, teacher qualifications and the quality of students’ exam results in their analysis.

Their data story revealed that the answer is not so simple. An increase in GDP over the last few decades corresponded with an increase in spending on education and on the number of ‘A’ level passes in a year.

However, there are other factors to consider, such as a lack of sleep in students. It is therefore not possible to conclude that the education system has improved, the team argued, and that “other aspects of education ought to be considered to paint a bigger picture and determine the quality of education as a whole”.

Data for a cause

The winner in the Institute of Higher Learning category, on the other hand, attempted to answer this question: How friendly are buildings in Singapore towards the elderly and less mobile?

The participant from the National University of Singapore looked at the accessibility of buildings, and whether they were equipped with features such as wheelchair ramps and elevators with Braille buttons.

These buildings were plotted based on the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore’s friendliness level of buildings on a scale of one to five. Buildings at level one have the most basic accessibility features, while the ones at level five show exemplary use of universal design.

The data story compared friendliness levels across train stations, education institutes, hotels, museums, and libraries, among others.

Insights revealed that newer metro stations built between 2007-2017 tended to be more friendly, while libraries are the most friendly buildings of all. These findings could improve future building design, for example.

Delving deep

Crucially, the competition prompted participants to seek out why certain things are the way they are – and along the way, gain insights that may surprise them. Having the capability to analyse data allows them to understand problems “not just at the cursory level, but go deeper, to explore the issues even further”.

“This is the way of them contributing, telling their stories with data,” Pook says. “We can have a generation of ‘This is my own view’.”

Youths today were molded by the ready availability of technology as they grew up. They have at their fingertips vast troves of knowledge and information, and the means to harness them to deeply understand issues that affect their lives.

The way forward is to empower them with analytics skills, creating a generation of curious and critical thinkers with the tools to navigate a complex and nuanced world.

Check out the full competition results to find out more about the annual competition and see the winning entries from each category.