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Singapore's MPs Delve into AI's Future and Support for ITE Students in Budget 2024 Debate

Written by: Aayudh Sen

In a comprehensive discussion during the Budget 2024 debate on Tuesday, Singaporean Members of Parliament (MPs) focused on the nation's strategic plans for artificial intelligence (AI) and the introduction of new initiatives to assist students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). The debate, which engaged 27 MPs and Nominated MPs over an eight-hour session, is part of a three-day parliamentary discourse set to conclude on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, in his Budget speech on February 16, outlined a series of measures stemming from the Forward SG initiative, aiming to enhance support for ITE graduates and uplift lower-income families. Notably, the Budget includes a substantial investment exceeding S$1 billion (US$740 million) over the next five years to advance AI computing, talent, and industry development, alongside an upgrade to the national broadband network to facilitate AI and immersive media technologies.

MPs emphasized the transformative impact of AI on the workforce and economy, highlighting the technology's potential to perform tasks traditionally reserved for humans, such as entry-level coding. This shift prompts a reevaluation of the skills deemed essential for the future economy, with a growing emphasis on uniquely human abilities like originality, critical thinking, and empathy.

The discussions also addressed the importance of integrating AI education across all levels, suggesting that AI booster courses might be necessary for both workers and educators to ensure that the workforce remains competitive and adaptable.

Concerns were raised about the adoption of AI technologies by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with MPs advocating for strong incentives to encourage these businesses to embrace AI advancements.

In addition to AI-related topics, the debate covered measures to support ITE students in furthering their education. The newly announced ITE Progression Award will provide financial incentives to ITE graduates under 30 pursuing diploma programs, including a S$5,000 top-up for post-secondary education accounts and a subsequent S$10,000 addition to their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary Accounts upon obtaining their diplomas.

MPs praised the initiative for its potential to enhance social mobility and reduce inequality, urging the government to monitor its effectiveness and consider increasing the quantum for ITE graduates in the future.

The discussion also touched on the role of older workers in the workforce, with MPs advocating for the elimination of age discrimination and the promotion of lifelong learning. The upcoming anti-discrimination framework and the Level-Up Programme, which offers a S$4,000 SkillsFuture credit top-up to Singaporeans aged 40 and above, were highlighted as steps towards maximizing the potential and well-being of the nation's aging population.

As the Budget 2024 debate progresses, the focus remains on ensuring that Singapore's transition towards an AI-enabled society is inclusive and beneficial for all citizens, from young students to the elderly workforce.

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