The Singapore government plans to teach 350,000 of its least IT-savvy citizens basic computer and Internet skills over the next three years, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced in a speech on Saturday.
The National IT Literacy Program aims to make Singapore an "e-inclusive" society, where everyone has the skills to work in industries which require technical knowledge. Such a society will have turned the digital divide -- the gap between those with access to technology and the ability to use it, and those without -- into a digital dividend, Goh says.
"Those on the wrong side of the digital divide will be less able to take on new jobs," Goh says, in a transcript of his speech. "They will have fewer opportunities to enrich their lives through the communications, education and entertainment possibilities offered by computers and the Internet."
As an economy, Singapore is heavily reliant on high-tech industries, with more than 50% of its manufactured exports being electronics-related products. In recent years, its status as a high-tech manufacturing center has been challenged by other lower-cost countries in the region, forcing Singapore to rely on a highly-educated workforce to be able to move to advanced manufacturing processes such as wafer fabrication plants.
"More and more jobs will require the use of computers and the Internet or what the experts call infocomm technology and devices," Goh says. "So whether you are working in a high-tech factory, operating the cranes at our port or taking customer orders at a café, you will have to master new infocomm technology to enhance job performance."
Courses in IT literacy will be offered to all at low cost, supported by a $S5 billion ($US2.75 billion) fund announced last year to promote lifelong learning among the city-state's 3.5 million citizens, Goh says.
"We must make it a national goal to build an e-inclusive society, where everybody is able to reap the benefits brought about by infocomm technology," Goh says. "In an e-inclusive society, technology is accessible and affordable to all, regardless of age, language, social background or ability."