Mixed reactions from netizens over Education Minister’s move to equip all secondary school students with a personal laptop or tablet by 2021

All secondary school students will be equipped with a personal laptop or tablet for learning by next year, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (17 June).

Mr Shanmugaratnam highlighted that this “acceleration plan” by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung – which is being brought forward seven years ahead of its original target – is among the many efforts in keeping social mobility alive and to ensure every individual in Singapore can strive for excellence no matter their starting point.

Prior to this, the Education Minister had first announced on 4 March that every secondary school student will be equipped with a personal learning device by 2028.

During the fifth Ministerial broadcast, Mr Shanmugaratnam, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, highlighted the importance of social mobility, saying that “good schools” are critical to keep social mobility alive.

In order to equalise the opportunities for the young children, he stated that the Government is “investing a lot more” by expanding the KidStart programme to help lower-income families and their children in the earliest years, which are vital to their development.

The Government has also upgraded the preschool profession and set up the National Institute of Early Childhood Development to raise the standards of early childhood education.

“So whichever preschool your child goes to, he or she will have a good start,” Mr Shanmugaratnam noted.

Besides preschool, he mentioned that schools have been making sure every student who needs extra support will receive it.

“During the recent circuit-breaker, our teachers made great effort to help students from poorer homes and those at risk, to ensure they did not fall behind,” Mr Shanmugaratnam said.

He added that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been allocating extra resources to schools to cater for students from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them “even more support in the coming years”. This includes hiring more teachers, allied educators, student welfare officers, and teacher-counsellors.

Mr Shanmugaratnam went on to explain that these extra resources will strengthen the school teams that support students who are doing less well in primary schools, as well as the Ministry’s UPLIFT (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce) programme which sees the community collaborating with schools to support students from disadvantaged families.

In addition, the extra resources will also help students to go as far as they can via the Full Subject-Based Banding system in secondary schools.

“When you add up all we are doing, starting from the earliest years of childhood, we are making a determined effort to keep Singapore a place where every individual can do well, regardless of their starting points,” he remarked.

Social mobility is what Singapore has been about, and how we have transformed our society, says Minister Tharman

Mr Shanmugaratnam also reminded Singaporeans that they must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort.

“Social mobility is what Singapore has been about, and how we have transformed our society since the 1960s.

“Generations of children from humble backgrounds have moved up in life, through education, and by working hard in their jobs and businesses. Even today, Singaporeans who grow up in lower income families have a better chance of moving up the income ladder than those in most other advanced countries,” he asserted.

Noting that there is “nothing natural or pre-ordained” about social mobility, Mr Shanmugaratnam pointed out that every successful country has in fact found that it gets more difficult to sustain the social mobility with time.

He reasoned that parents, who themselves had higher education or who have become better off, are investing more in their children and moving them further ahead from the rest.

“It therefore requires relentless government effort, quality interventions in schools, and dedicated networks of community support to keep social mobility alive,” Mr Shanmugaratnam remarked.

Following his national address, netizens were quick to express their thoughts over this matter on the Facebook pages of The Straits Times and Mothership.sg.

Many of them felt that students nowadays are lucky to have the privilege of using laptops and tablets for learning. They hope that the students will learn to appreciate what they have and make it worthwhile for their studies.

One of them said that kids should understand the value of money and treasure what has been given, adding that “whatever things that give out are pay by using tax payer money”.

As this initiative is granted for all secondary schools, a few netizens noted that the Government should provide an opt-out option for those who may not need it or already have one.

“No point giving students a laptop they are not going to use. Resources can be channelled elsewhere,” one netizen wrote.

A couple of netizens noted that the electronic devices are useful for research and presentation, but quite possibly another form of distraction unless things are digitalised in the near future. One of them hinted that extensive research has shown that students still “learn best with pen and paper”.

A handful of them expressed concerns that the children who get the devices might misuse it. One of them mentioned that it would be better if the children were “cultivated to have self-discipline and eager-to-learn mentality” from the start.

To prevent the children misuse the device, someone suggested that the device be “customized” to only allow access to approved sites while blocking game sites and restrict download of any irrelevant app.

Although the initiative is welcomed by many, some pointed out that the device would not be useful for those whose households have no access to the Internet.

Meanwhile, one netizen opined that the Government should also offer a learning device to the “middle-aged and seniors” to enable them to “keep learning and stay competitive”.

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