Authorities in Singapore have announced plans to start developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools for use in schools as part of their FutureSchools@Singapore project. The tools are intended to engage learners in evolving discussions on specific school subjects – in particular science and English literature, to begin with. Instructors will be able to access data collected through learners’ interactions with the AI tools to assess their learning needs. This is an interesting demonstration of how educators in Singapore are increasing their future-orientations.
Singapore gained international attention in the late 90s when they launched their first 5-year Master Plan for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education. Since then two more Master Plans have been launched, each with a duration of 5 years, like the first. The initial Master Plan was focused on addressing infrastructure needs to ensure that schools were adequately equipped to make proper use of ICTs. Later Master Plans were intended to build on the earlier plans.
At some point, there was a realization that there was a bit of glitch in the Master Plan process. Firstly, there were inadequate provisions in the plans to keep the infrastructure up-to-date such that the infrastructure improvements brought about in the first Master Plan were quickly outdated. Secondly, the top-down approach in implementing the Master Plans gave instructors little flexibility or incentive to experiment with technology to determine best practices. Thirdly, the Master Plans were not oriented toward fostering 21st century skills, such as creativity, innovation, and personal knowledge development.
Many of these concerns were addressed specifically with the 3rd Master Plan launched in 2009 (and currently in progress). There was, however, also a perceived need to increase Singapore’s future-orientation in regards to education. Thus, the FutureSchools@Singapore program was launched in the mid 2000s to specifically address the future needs of education, both in terms of educational practice and learners’ skills acquisition.
I was somewhat skeptical when FutureSchools@Singapore was first launched. At the time, several “future schools” projects had ended in what were really “contemporary schools” (i.e. an influx of the technologies that were current at the time) which became quickly outdated (if they ever really were up-to-date). I suspected that the FutureSchools@Singapore program would result in something similar. However, I think that this current development, along with several others focused on pedagogical and other issues, demonstrate that Singaporean educators are really taking significant steps toward increasing their future orientations in regards to education with admirable results, as Singaporean students’ achievements on international comparative assessments have demonstrated.
I think, overall, that Singaporeans are demonstrating that FutureSchools@Singapore is something worthwhile to follow to get a realistic sense of what education can look like in the near and longer-term future.