Technology will never replace teachers: Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE – Technology has changed various industries in Singapore, including education, but it will never replace teachers here, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (May 16).

“I do not think that education, like some other industries, will be replaced by robots and computers. A teacher cannot be replaced, a principal cannot be replaced,” he said. “This is a highly personalised, values-transmission process.”

He was speaking as guest of honour at the Education Disrupt @ The Bay event on Thursday (May 16) morning, where education industry players came together to examine the possibilities that technology can bring to education.

There was an exhibition of educational tech products, and panel discussions were held on the subject.

Minister Ong pointed out how Singapore operates differently from countries like Indonesia, which may have to depend more on robotic teaching due to a lack of resources.

“Indonesia is really using technology to see how they can deliver education replacing the teacher,” he said. “But when you look at Indonesia, you can understand why they have to do that. It’s not ideal, but when you have 17,000 islands and every village has a school with limited resources, technology helps augment and overcome that problem.

“Singapore being so small and compact, we don’t have to resort to technology to overcome that kind of problem that a big country like Indonesia has. So ours will still be a very personalised model.”

As relevant as teachers will remain in the Lion City, he acknowledged how they can turn to technology to assist them, after seeing how computer systems helped teachers identify student weaknesses in certain topics.

At a panel discussion, Ms Janine Teo, chief executive of education technology not-for-profit Solve Education!, said: “For autistic kids, the routine that they are used to has to be the same, and deviation from that can cause a meltdown. Tech is one of the most consistent teachers, because the content (of a tech learning platform) might be different, but the format and the look is the same. So autistic kids would feel very comfortable with that.”

The same event also saw the launch of a new mobile payment feature on the LittleLives app, a pre-school management app used by one in three pre-schools in Singapore.

Developed with DBS Bank, the feature will allow more than 160,000 parents here to make payments for things like field trips or uniforms.

It will also save pre-school operators up to 40 hours a month on payment-related administrative tasks, since the early childhood education sector here has tended to rely on cash payments for miscellaneous items.

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