Inside Singapore’s plans to digitalise education

By Shirley Tay

Tan Bee Teck, Chief Information Officer and Divisional Director, IT Division, Ministry of Education, discusses.

When Covid-19 struck, schools emptied, and the familiar stream of students’ chatters disappeared. Teachers had to pivot to teaching in front of a screen, and schools had to scale their digital systems overnight to accommodate a surge in users.

For Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE), it was an eye-opening experience. “We are learning a lot about what is possible, including things that were considered impossible before,” says Tan Bee Teck, its Chief Information Officer. Teachers, for instance, are now more confident and ready to use tech.

MOE is “reinventing how our education system can be different in a post-Covid world”, with digitalisation as a key enabler. Tan discusses his plans for digital transformation in the agency.

Bridging the future of learning

MOE will focus on exploring new ways to deliver “personalised and adaptive” teaching and learning experiences this year, Tan says.

The ministry will pilot the use of AI to personalise students’ learning. AI will help design learning pathways for students, and track their progress to help teachers better bridge learning gaps, Singapore’s former Minister of Education told GovInsider last year.

The technology will also automate assessments to “enhance teachers’ ability to provide effective and timely feedback”, Tan says.

MOE’s systems are progressively migrating to the Government Commercial Cloud - an opportunity to use the cloud to modernise its systems, he says.

Singapore’s national e-learning platform, the Student Learning Space, was one of MOE’s first digital initiatives on the cloud, Tan shares. This gave the agency the “flexibility to quickly ramp up or down” the platform’s infrastructure to accommodate full or partial home-based learning.

“We also leveraged cloud technologies to further secure remote learning,” he adds.

MOE will also accelerate its efforts to ensure every secondary school student has a personal learning device - a tablet, laptop, or Chromebook - by the end of this year. This will develop students’ digital literacy and enhance teaching, Tan says.

Shoring up cyber defences

As the agency undergoes digital transformation and migrates to the cloud, security is key.

Schools are operating on “a common secure infrastructure” that enables schools to use tech securely, Tan says. MOE also plans to adopt more whole-of-government standard products, where security controls are centrally managed, he adds.

Promoting security awareness and literacy are “key factors in creating a secure education system”, Tan says. To this end, the agency plans to roll out newsletters, quizzes, and mandatory courses for its staff.

MOE is also “closely watching developments in the cybersecurity landscape”, and exploring the use of AI and automation to enhance its cyber defences, he adds.

Data-driven operations

During Singapore’s circuit breaker period, MOE rolled out solutions to help schools collect data for contact tracing. This helped to limit the spread of the virus and identify students that require support, Tan says.

“The fight against Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of having ready access to high-quality data.”. It was also an opportune time for the agency to accelerate its data competency, he adds.

The agency will focus on building “a stronger cultural mindset and capabilities for data-driven approaches'' this year, he says. This will be supported by a robust data architecture that collects, organises and manages data across the entire education sector.

Even as students and teachers return to school, Covid-19 has left an indelible mark on the future of education. MOE’s efforts to personalise learning, enhance security, and use data will pave the way for innovative approaches to learning.