“A study has found that Singaporean tertiary students overestimate their level of proficiency in digital literacy skills, including word processing and spreadsheets” (Tertiary Students in Singapore Not as Tech-Savvy as They Think: Study, Ildyko Ang).
Especially against the “Smart Nation” narrative, and the reliance on information and communications technology to prepare young Singaporeans for productivity gains or the jobs of tomorrow, the poor performance and complacency of tertiary students – who “overestimate their level of proficiency in digital literacy skills, including work processing and spreadsheets” (TODAY, Jul. 21) – is cause for concern. This study conducted by the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) Asia, moreover, found that the average competency standard of the 373 Singaporean respondents was relatively low: They scored just 55 per cent, compared to the global passing standard mark of 75 per cent.
Two immediate policy strategies could follow. While there is no clarity over whether the sample is representative of the tertiary education landscape – or perhaps, even of the youth population in Singapore – modified or adapted components of the ICDL tests could be shared, for individuals to determine their own levels of proficiency, or for schools to do the same for their students. Or, alternatively, if there are shortcomings in these tests, the Ministry of Education (MOE), for instance, could devise other assessment tools or mechanisms, so as to get a better sense of the tech-savviness of young Singaporeans. The main intent, in other words, is to first expand the scope of the diagnosis, to benchmark levels of digital proficiency (even across age-groups, types of schools, and usage frequencies, further controlling for demographics and socio-economic indicators).
Second, with a more representative and extensive diagnosis in place, more appropriate policy recommendations can be devised. It may be convenient to look to the MOE for solutions, yet – as the report alluded to, that “students cannot completely rely on obtaining such skills from their universities” – young Singaporeans must diversify the way they acquire skills and knowledge. Through internships or work stints, they will be challenged to apply classroom lessons in the workplace, and to plug gaps from their colleagues or via project management. Independently too, learning how to troubleshoot effectively (on the Internet) and to consistently update know-how will prove useful not just for digital literacy, but also for general endeavours, in the future.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.