14 Oct 2016
Professor Aline Wong, Chancellor, SIM University;
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, SIM University;
Ladies and gentlemen.
A good morning to all. Let me first congratulate all the graduands on this special day, a significant milestone in your life. You should be really happy that you have made it through your academic pursuit especially if you had to juggle with your work, your studies, and also for some of you, your family duties. And therefore I salute you for your perseverance and determination.
You should be proud that you are graduating from the School of Science and Technology which partners renowned institutions and companies to offer unique and industry relevant programmes in the fields of science, technology and engineering. Many programmes offered by SST fill niches not occupied by other higher learning institutions, including fields such as Human Factors in Safety. The programmes I believe have provided you with a profession-centric education that linked you with experienced industry practitioners, and I am sure you all have benefited from this experience, and you will find this experience and the knowledge that you gained will carry you through your career ahead.
I am also very happy for you because as the CEO of our Science Centre with the mission of promoting interest in science and technology so as to help Singapore continually develop the relevant human resources, you are contributing towards our science and technology manpower pool. So your contributions to our society will be very much appreciated.
As you all know, we celebrated SG50 last year, and SG51 was just not too long ago. It is remarkable how Singapore has transformed from a third world country to a first world nation within 50 years of nation building. We all know very well that we live on a very small island with limited resources and we have to relentlessly compete in the knowledge and innovation based economy globally.
My hypothesis is that without Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, which we abbreviate it as STEM, as an engine to propel us we probably will not see SG100. I also believe that we could celebrate SG50 with pride largely because as a nation we have wisely invested in and made good use of STEM solutions to differentiate us from the region, reaching a status even the most developed countries look at us with envy.
STEM together do give us the power to create. Through STEM we create solutions for our survival; we create an economy that is highly competitive in the world. Take for example our NeWater, the Gardens by the Bay, the Floating Platform, and the whole transformation of the Singapore River and the Marina Bay district – all these largely are products of STEM innovation.
Many of our people may not know that without STEM we cannot develop as a financial hub because many brains behind the complex banking systems are of engineers and scientists. Even in our legal system, we cannot do without STEM innovations — from advance forensics to digital infocom technology, they are all needed to make us successful.
There is a general shortage of STEM professionals especially engineers. In recent years, the universities have seen the reluctance in students to study engineering. Even if they study engineering, many of the top graduates end up working in banking or other jobs which offer higher salary than the engineers get. The bumper crop of engineers graduated in the 1970s and 1980s have retired or are approaching the tail end of their careers. There is a hollowing out of professional engineers which need replacement.
This challenge faced by our public sectors as well as private sectors needs concerted solutions to turn the tide around. It is a good sign that the government has recently revised upwards the starting salary of engineering graduates and hopefully, all of you have returned to your workforce with upward salary review for you. In the schools, STEM Applied Learning Programmes are introduced to secondary schools to inspire and encourage students to embark on a STEM journey and hopefully many will end up becoming engineers. These Applied Learning Programmes are an initiative that the Science Centre works closely with the Ministry of Education. And to complete the ecosystem, industrial partners are also putting up efforts to project positive and impactful roles of engineers.
Importantly, the general public, especially parents and students, need to have the awareness that civilisations throughout history have evolved with STEM related innovations and solutions, from tool making to agriculture to industrialisation, and now digital disruption. Singapore as a first world country has a strong STEM base and needs its strong foundation to survive into the future. I hope you are convinced of this and you will also encourage your children, if your children are in schools, who have the aptitude, to embrace STEM, master STEM and acquire the power to create solutions for our economy, and also for themselves. This is especially in years to come, we do not know what kinds of jobs are facing them so may they acquire the power of STEM to create possibilities for themselves.
I see every child as a born scientist and engineer. And that is why I have the conviction to take up the calling to go to the Science Centre. And I think if you look at it, you will agree with me all babies are born with what I call the three IN-things — they have the natural instinct to INquire, to INvestigate and to INnovate. They always play with things, they always ask questions, and they will change the tools that are supposed to be for feeding into things that they play with and so forth.
So, children naturally demonstrate these IN-things in their growing up years and we should enhance in our young generation such innate quality. Some of our children will establish STEM careers when they grow up. Some may not become scientists or engineers or technologists or mathematicians. But a scientifically literate person is a person who will look at issues with an analytical and logical mind. They will be able to make informed decisions in their life, especially when the global village is going to be very STEM-related and STEM-driven — from transportation, to communication, to robotics, to biomedical applications, to food security, to sustainability, to climate change and the list just goes on.
Without STEM we will not realise our dream of becoming a SMART nation. So that is my conviction and that is why I am happy to see so many of you graduating from the School of Science and Technology. You will help Singapore grow and remain globally competitive as you apply all that you have learned from SST in your respective career path and in the days and years ahead.
So I will just close my speech to you by once again, saluting you for your perseverance especially those who have come back to juggle with work, studies and family. Today is a very special day for you and I sincerely wish you the very best and congratulations to you and your family once again!
Thank you very much.