The Internet as a Learning Tool: Planning Perspectives (the Singapore Experience)

Jeremy Tan <>
National Computer Board, Singapore

Sam Wong <>
Ministry of Education, Singapore


In 1991, Singapore came online through her first Internet service provider (ISP), Technet Unit. This unit was part of the National University of Singapore, with funding by the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB). Internet access was then limited to R&D.

In 1993, Internet access was extended to the educational sector in Singapore. This landmark decision paved the way for schools to come online. The Ministry of Education (MOE), together with the National Computer Board (NCB), Technet Unit, and NSTB, began the Internet Schools Project with the objective of introducing the vast resources of the Internet to the schools. A total of six schools took part in this project. The project was carried out from July 1993 to February 1994. It was a mentorship-based project with seasoned Internet users from various bodies assigned to the schools to teach and provide technical support in using the Internet. Lessons learned from the project contributed to the implementation of Internet for MOE's officers and schools. In May 1994, MOE's corporate network was linked to the Internet, making every PC Internet-enabled. In June 1994, this connectivity was extended to cover all junior colleges.

A second ISP, Singnet, began operation in July 1994. This is the first commercial ISP and is presently operated by Singapore Telecoms. As more Singaporeans demanded Internet access, the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) decided to further open the market and allow for more ISPs. A total of three licenses were awarded.

In October 1995, Technet Unit ceased operation. It was bought by a consortium comprised of Sembawang Media, Singapore Technologies-Computer Systems and Services, and Singapore International Media. Technet Unit was renamed Pacific Internet and became Singapore's second commercial ISP.

In March 1996, the third ISP entered the arena. Cyberway, a joint venture between Singapore Technologies and Singapore Press Holdings, aims to make themselves "the preferred and most successful Internet access service provider in Singapore."

The Singapore government has also expressed full support for the Internet. The Ministry of Information and the Arts, Technet Unit, and NCB launched the Singapore Infomap, a World Wide Web service acting as a directory of resources based in Singapore. This service was made available on the Internet in March 1995.

Immediately following the launch of the Singapore Infomap, NCB launched the official government Web server, GRIN, which stands for Government Resources on the Internet. The objective of this service was to enhance the power of the Internet in providing better public services.

IT 2000 and Internet for education

The vision of the IT 2000 plan is that Singapore will be an "intelligent island" with an advanced nationwide information infrastructure in the 21st century. This vision will bring about new national competitive advantages and enhancements in the quality of life of the people of Singapore.

In order for Singaporeans to cope with and derive new capabilities in the information-driven world, it was imperative that MOE strategically plan for the prevalence of information technology (IT) in our mainstream education. The effectiveness of IT in boosting pupils' learning, pupils' readiness for workforce skills, teachers' productivity and cost effectiveness are some of the prime concerns being addressed.

The key to the development of these new capabilities is the global network, the Internet. The vast amount of resources available almost instantly from all over the world via the Internet will enrich the curriculum content and the instructional approaches of teachers. This mode of learning will also evolve to one that is independent and engaged through an interactive and generative multimedia environment. The motivation to learn will drive students to excel in the higher-order thinking skills that are required by workers in the global information era of the 21st century.


While our present didactic approach to teaching has the strength of providing students with a good grounding in the basics, it was recognized that there should be greater emphasis on open-ended inquiry and higher-order thinking and process skills. This has entailed refocusing our educational paradigm from facts to concepts and skills. As such, our underlying philosophy and theme in using the Internet is to complement and enhance the traditional dimensions of instruction and learning.

Pedagogical premises in the IT master plan

The IT master plan is based on the following assumptions:

Classroom learning model

The following goals form the basis for setting the learning model that is relevant to pupil needs in the information era:

Current initiatives

Student's and Teacher's Workbench (STW)

In January 1996, the pilot project, titled Student's and Teacher's Workbench, was implemented in six secondary schools. STW is a strategic project between MOE and NCB aimed at using IT to enhance teaching and learning. It is targeted to equip students with relevant skills for tomorrow's workplace and provide the impetus for the growth of the local courseware development industry. The pilot covers the sciences for all secondary one students in six schools. A total of 2,400 students are currently involved in this pilot. The pilot was originally targeted to end in December 1996, but it has been extended to December 1997 to allow a more detailed study of the impact of the pilot as the students move into secondary two.

Under STW, the Internet has been identified as a major educational resource. Internet access was made available to students on a mass basis. This is another landmark decision as Internet access was then primarily provided for teachers only. With this networked resource made available to students, a whole new approach toward information handling and learning complements was generated. As such, a total approach to training that covered both technical and pedagogical aspects was designed and carried out.

Accelerated IT for Primary Schools

At the same time, MOE and NCB initiated another project, named Accelerated IT for Primary Schools. This project was also aimed at enhancing the use of IT as a learning and teaching tool in primary education through the use of multimedia PCs and educational CD-ROMs. The present configuration is basically standalone multimedia PC. Network implementation is planned; and when that is completed, the computers will also be linked to the Internet. With this linkup, the pool of educational resources will be greatly enhanced.

Collaborative projects

In the current economic situation in Singapore, it is important that her citizens learn to work in groups both within and outside our physical borders. Student collaborative projects are seen as a good way to prepare our students for tomorrow's challenges. Hence, NCB has also initiated some collaborative projects with schools. From a technology point of view, NCB also wanted to study the feasibility of various collaborative tools and their impact on students' activities. These tools include applications that support voice and video communication. These projects have also helped to formulate guidelines to assist schools and teachers in integrating such projects into the curriculum.

Being a very small country, Singapore is not constrained by physical boundaries. Hence, collaboration with overseas schools will be more meaningful. Our telecommunication infrastructure is prevalent, thus making local collaboration through the Internet irrelevant. A number of lessons were learned in our overseas collaboration.

Using tools like CU-SeeMe and Internet Phone require that the parties be online at the same time. However, this is not always possible. In the case of the United States, the time difference is at least 12 hours. Hence, when our students are at school, their counterparts in the United States are still in bed. Collaborating with Australia was a little easier, as we shared similar time zones. Alternatively, collaboration with schools with vast time differences can still be carried out using e-mail.

For student collaboration to take place, teachers must first be involved in the collaborative process themselves. This important component, which is often overlooked, is being addressed by looking into ways to help teachers collaborate among themselves. Trials are being carried out between two schools. The collaboration between Crescent Girls School (Singapore) and Peter Lalor Secondary College (Australia) involves the pairing up of teachers who teach the same subjects at similar levels. The basis of pairing activity is twofold: to give teachers a purpose for using the Internet, and to identify the common elements of a subject. The spillover effect is that the teachers will want to involve their students in similar exchanges through collaborative projects.

Internet awareness seminar

In March 1996, an Internet awareness seminar was held for all principals. The aim of this seminar was to highlight the potential of using the Internet as a learning tool. Principals were made aware of the critical issues when linking the school to the Internet through sharing sessions and discussion panels conducted by pioneer Internet implementers from the schools. Such inputs are vital to the formulation of an overall school technology plan with Internet as a major component. As a follow-up, workshops for schools are being planned by NCB and MOE for teachers.

Critical issues in planning


In recent years, new and emerging technologies have quickly outgrown the capabilities of existing hardware. This has posed a challenge to schools who have older systems. Some of these technologies include Shockwave from Macromedia, Java from Sun Microsystems, Internet Phone by VocalTech, and Enhanced CU-SeeMe from Whitepine. Many of these technologies require faster processing power, better accelerator cards, and more memory. Schools that wish to take advantage of the benefits that these new technologies provide must be prepared to upgrade existing infrastructure.

However, it is important not to embrace every new development as it may not be relevant in the school context. MOE and NCB are considering how they can undertake initiatives to study developments and identify relevant technologies.

To meet the needs of the many students in the school environment, it is important to get the best connectivity the school can afford. Dialup connection via Point-to-Point Protocol is fine for a small user base but not for masses. Leased line connectivity was seen as the only way to connect a large user base in Singapore. However, in recent months, Singapore has seen the price of Integrated Services Digital Networks fall, making this a worthwhile alternative to leased lines.

Despite all that has been mentioned, it is important to keep the above in perspective. The use of technology must be driven by educational and curriculum requirements and not just for the sake of technology itself.

Government policies that affect the schools

In 1995, NCB issued guidelines to the civil service on connectivity to the Internet. While the government fully embraces the Internet, it is also cautious that existing government systems cannot be compromised. As such, ministries are advised that any connection to the Internet must be from a standalone infrastructure. This may be a standalone network or just individual computers. Thus, schools in Singapore must also take the security of existing networks seriously. As such, having two separate networks is not inconceivable. The administrative network may have to be kept separate from the teaching/learning network that is connected to the Internet.

Presently, the Internet is regulated by TAS. In March 1996, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) announced that it will propose in Parliament that regulation of the Internet be brought under them. The SBA regulation that is expected to be passed within two months contains many points that have implications for schools.

Schools must use filtering tools that prevent students from accessing objectionable material. The cost implied is twofold: financial and administrative. School administrators must allow for additional costs when allocating funds for Internet infrastructure. To make the filtering function relevant, the school system must be able to identify undesirable content and update the list of sites with undesirable content.

While it is acknowledged that such measures are not foolproof, they are deemed necessary to prevent undesirable material from being accessed through the school.

Curriculum integration

Over the last five years, MOE and schools have already undertaken several IT initiatives with substantial effort and money committed. As such, the integration of Internet into the curriculum is a coordinated effort to complement the existing initiatives. This is to ensure minimal duplication and wastage.

The integration of Internet into the curriculum is based on the following outcomes:

The Internet is not considered a separate curriculum. Instead, it becomes an appropriate part of every curriculum at every level of instruction. To support such desirable learning outcomes, we considered use of the Internet across curricula: At what level, for which subject areas, and to what degree should Internet be infused into each subject? Internet infused courseware that is both pedagogically sound and captivating is being developed. MOE is considering possible collaboration with the industry to produce courseware that is of appropriate configuration, with prescriptions from teachers.

Internet integration into the classroom

From the standpoint of education reform, the virtue of the Internet does not lie in the technology's use per se, but in the instructional context within which it is used. Hence, adequate teacher training in the integration of curriculum with the Internet is not the primary concern. More importantly, the focus is on time and opportunities for teachers to design activities, to try them out, and to gain feedback on the strengths and weaknesses. Teachers must observe one another and learn from exemplary users of the Internet for classroom teaching.

This mission of integrating the use of the Internet into classroom teaching has restructured the teachers' contextual instructions in the following ways:

Internet hub

The benefits of the Internet can be further maximized by setting up a central Internet hub. It will house a wide collection of digitized resources that are produced by commercial Internet service/content providers, MOE, or teachers, as well as provide the facility for collaborative work among teachers. These will allow teaching and learning resources developed locally to be shared by our counterparts in the region as well as provide content relevant to our local needs. The setting up of this hub is presently being studied by MOE and NCB.

Staff development

Previously, Internet training for teachers tended to be project-based and insufficient. The benefits of the Internet in teaching and learning can be optimized only if teachers are given adequate Internet training that is both relevant and appropriate in bringing out the desired outcomes. Hence, the pre- and in-service training aim to motivate teachers to be involved in the implementation of the Internet and equip them with a range of skills so that they can confidently integrate the Internet into the teaching and learning processes. Some teachers will also be trained as Internet specialists for schools. A total and comprehensive approach to train teachers to be competent in the use of Internet is being adopted.

Over the next two years, MOE has also committed a total of $7 million to train a total of 22,000 teachers in various IT programs. This training includes the use of the Internet, MS Office Suite, and the various other language font sets such as Chinese and Tamil. This training is compulsory and has been customized to meet the administration and teaching requirements of the teacher.


With the various initiatives and planning strategies in place, Singapore is on her way to realizing its IT 2000 vision as laid down in the IT master plan. As such, the Internet will be a major enhancement in our mainstream education. However, it is envisaged that the adoption of the Internet as a learning tool will require a shift in the educational paradigm that will empower the Internet as a relevant learning and teaching tool. For this to happen, there must be a total approach involving both technology and pedagogy moving in tandem.