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The pioneer batch of smart nation scholars will future-ready Singapore

Nine outstanding Singaporean students have been awarded the Smart Nation Scholarship. Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, awarded the scholarships at the ceremony today. Recipients form the first-ever batch of Smart Nation Scholars. The scholarship is part of a long-term initiative to build formidable technical capabilities for the government.

To grease the wheels of the Smart Nation campaign, talent is necessary. If outcomes of a vibrant economy, an inclusive society with a high quality of life, and government services which are innovative and responsive are to be realised, then Singapore needs “top talent with deep digital skills”. While talent is needed by both the private and public sector, it is the public sector which needs to transform itself to lead and deliver an ambitious campaign.

Launched in March 2018, the scholarship hopes to grow tech talents within the public service. Developing in-house technical capabilities have become urgent, given the recent spades of cyberattacks and data breaches of governments around the world. Furthermore, the stupendous boom in artificial intelligence, big data and robotics demands immediate attention from the government. Given how these emerging technologies are a double-edged sword, Dr Balakrishnan advised the scholarship recipients to think about three things when serving the public.

First, government servants must consider how to leverage on technology for improved public services. In tandem, informed legislation and sound regulatory frameworks must be drawn up to protect citizens from potential dangers associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For these bright minds, the success of Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative rests heavy on their shoulders. Dr Balakrishnan said, “[The recipients] will eventually become the future architects and technology leaders of our Smart Nation.” As part of their future roles in civil service, they will be expected to defend government systems from cyber-threats and assist the private sector in developing deep technological capabilities.

The Minister said, “It is clear that for Government to succeed in its Smart Nation ambitions, we too must be able to attract such talent into Government to grow our long-term engineering capabilities, to ensure that we have a pool of passionate innovators and problem solvers to continue to lead and drive technology change, both within the Government and across Singapore.”

Talent attraction is vital to civil service given the fierce competition from IT companies. Even in the corporate world, the thirst for tech talents cannot be satiated given the dismal dearth of individuals with the necessary skillsets. Quoting the late Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Balakrishnan said, “The most important strategic decision is about the quality of manpower.” Hence, the Smart Nation Scholarship is a timely solution to soothe the aches of a global disruption.

Unlike typical scholars, a large majority of the Smart Nation Scholarship recipients were self-taught in their technical knowledge and skills. In fact, some had picked up the knack for tech only recently. One of the selection criteria for the scholarship was to possess more than just the usual academic and leadership abilities. The deciding factor was their passion for technology to make a positive impact in society. While most of the scholars will be or are reading engineering related courses at university, one scholar, Mr Marcus Ho, will read law at the University of Cambridge.

The Minister recognised and approved of the dynamism among the recipients. He was pleased to find out that many had embarked on the road less travelled in terms of the academic careers and passions.

The scholarship is offered by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, Government Technology Agency and the Infocommunications Media Development Authority, to fresh and current university students. Candidates must have a passion for the public sector and demonstrated excellent technical know-how. Even if potential candidates have no ICT-related skills, they are invited to apply for the scholarship should they be keen in undertaking a double-degree in ICT. Upon the completion of their studies, they will serve one of the three organising agencies for a given period. Recipients of the scholarship can expect to hone their leadership and technical skills through a rigorous talent development program.

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