Singapore to champion an education model where ‘everybody can be creative’ 

By Sol Gonzalez

Design Education Advisory Committee’s Chairman Low Cheaw Hwei shares how design education is relevant across different sectors as it helps nurture a creative and resilient society. 

Low Cheaw Hwei introduced the launch of the latest report by the Design Education Advisory Committee. Image: GovInsider.

When the idea of a design education system in Singapore was first teased out in 2022, design thinking skills were seen as necessary to adapt to the rapid advancement of technology. 

“To navigate this transformative new world economy, we have to infuse design as a life skill,” says Design Education Advisory Committee (DEAC)’s Chairperson, Low Cheaw Hwei, to GovInsider. 

DEAC released its second-term report last week, tracking its progress of integrating design thinking into education and industry. GovInsider published the key takeaways from that event yesterday.   

DEAC regards the collaboration among institutes of higher learning (IHLs), industry leaders, and government officials as essential to gather perspectives across sectors and keep design relevant, Low shares.  

This collaboration is what can drive design education as a life skill.  

Cross-sector collaboration can blend education and industry to develop a generation of workers equipped with creative thinking skills prepared to face challenges of the future, says Low.  

Blending education and industry  

With the advancement of technology, both design and non-design industries require innovation in their operations.  

Low introducing the National Design Project at the report launch event last week. Image: GovInsider.

To make this a continuous process, the DEAC plans to extend design thinking to general education, says Low.  

For instance, the prototype turned proof-of-concept National Design Project designed by students at St Joseph’s Institution is an example of introducing design thinking and creative problem solving at a young age.  

The students applied design thinking to develop a community centre for seniors to stay active and overcome effects of social isolation, identifying the relevance of this problem given Singapore’s ageing population.  

Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has started implementing design thinking capabilities in schools through project-based programmes that enhance creativity in and outside of the classroom, GovInsider covered previously. 

By introducing design thinking at an early stage throughout education levels, the transition to the industry can then be seamless, Low says. 

In the process where students help industries to develop and experiment with new tools, students will be learning skillsets that prepare them to enter the workforce in the future.   

This collaboration's end goal is to drive design thinking as a critical capability applicable in all sectors.  

“It is not just wondering about design thinking, but seriously embedding creative thinkers and problem solvers in your organisation – not just that one-time workshop.” 

Getting excited about the future 

The DEAC interacted with different professional bodies to involve more stakeholders of design spaces in Singapore and ensure that the proposals of the report are relevant across sectors.  

The expectation is for stakeholders to engage with the plans and materialise the ideas – such as transforming prototypes to proof-of-concepts.  

The results of learning through design can inspire students to enhance their creative abilities and transpire this energy to their peers, creating a spillover effect that may motivate adoption of design education on a wider scale. 

“When institutions have experienced [design in practice], they understand the benefit, the takeaway, and the energy of taking something like this is far greater than something which is imposed on them,” Low says. 

He envisions design education to become a “movement” – for individuals to reap the benefits of design and induce curiosity about design thinking. 

Seeing how design thinking has been a strength of Singapore, evidenced by 50 years of problem-solving during nation-building, the country is ready to champion design education regionally and then globally, says Low. 

Artificial intelligence as an ally  

The DEAC has no bias to any form of evolving technologies, Low says, but the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is worth special attention for how it can impact design education and creativity. 

He admits of having been skeptical of AI at first. “I was a bit defensive; I think it was a natural reaction to any technology introduction.”  

From the first DEAC report launched in 2022, adoption of AI has been accelerating across industries, according to a McKinsey study. Yet, the skepticism surrounding AI and creativity prevails. 

“[AI] does not limit creativity,” Low says. He calls for an objective approach toward AI that can help users improve their performance by tackling inefficiencies that may hinder the creative process. 

For instance, designers can use AI to generate design mockups and leverage on extra time that can be allocated to refining their creations. 

“What we need to understand is [what] bits can be replaced by AI,” he notes. 

With this report's launch, Low hopes citizens and organisations, including government entities, would be more willing to adopt a design thinking approach to solve daily problems and challenges.