This is a post pri nt version of: Lim, Sun Sun, Nekmat, Elmie, & Vadre vu, Shobha . (2011). Singapore’s experience i n fostering
youth media produc tio n –the im plic ations of state-led school and pub lic education ini tiatives. In J. Fisherkeller (Ed.) ,
Inte rnational perspectives o n youth me dia: cu ltures of production and education (Vo l. 12., pp. 84 -102). New Yor k: Pete r
Singapore’s Experience in Fostering Youth Media Production: The
Implications of State-Led School and Public Education Initiatives
Sun Sun Lim, Elmie Nekmat, and Shobha Vadrevu
With the widespread availability of information technology, young Singaporeans
enjoy exciting possibilities for the consumption and production of media. Their government
has introduced various initiatives through schools and public education campaigns to
encourage more young people to acquire media production skills. This chapter reflects on the
efficacy of these initiatives and their implications for the development of youth media
production in Singapore. Two significant media education programmes and the media
products that they have generated are assessed in detail. The chapter concludes that while
state-led media production education programmes have succeeded in heightening young
people’s awareness of and competencies for media production, these should be
complemented by private-sector-run programmes which afford young Singaporeans more
room to exercise their creativity. At the same time, the current emphasis on imparting
technical media production skills should be balanced by increased efforts to vest young
Singaporeans with the critical literacy to consume and produce media in an informed, critical
and discerning manner. Above all, however, the infusion of the existing national curriculum
with media production education would be best served by a shift in the pedagogical approach
that underscores the current education system, from one which is more hierarchical and
individually oriented to one that is more heterarchical and collaborative in nature.
From blogs to podcasts, digital animation to online games, Friendster to Facebook,
young Singaporeans have been embracing digital media, albeit with the government holding
their hands and watching for hazards as they scamper down the bustling information
superhighway. Indeed, Singapore’s avid adoption of information technology (IT) has been
largely state-driven. The government has introduced a slew of business-friendly policies to
grow local innovation and attract foreign investment in the country’s IT and media industries
while investing heavily in IT infrastructure. Singapore’s IT infrastructure is among the most
comprehensive worldwide, with household broadband Internet penetration at 99.9% (W. Tan,
2009a), and complemented by an extensive free public Wi-Fi network (Infocomm
Development Authority [IDA], 2008). Along with government investment in hardware have
come concerted efforts by the state to intensify the use of information technology in the
curriculum at all educational levels, from pre-school to university. Students at all levels are
regularly required to research, prepare and submit assignments using the Internet. Career
guidance for young people is also offered through an online portal which enables students to
take profiling tests that match professions to the students’ skills, create electronic portfolios,
track their academic achievement and acquire interview skills through online videos and
quizzes (A. Tan, 2009). Consequently, young Singaporeans are the country’s most avid
Internet users, with 90% of 7–14-year-olds and 96% of 15–24-year-olds having accessed the
Internet in the twelve months preceding the survey (IDA, 2008). The same study found that
96% of Singaporeans aged 15–24 access the Internet at least once a week, facilitated by its
ubiquity and accessibility. The three most popular activities for this age group are:
communicating via email, instant messaging and/or social networking (83%); pursuing
leisure, including online gaming, reading online newspapers and magazines, watching web
television etc. (57%); and seeking information, including general web browsing and
obtaining information on goods, services, job opportunities, health issues and so forth (51%).
Among the Singaporean population, 15–24-year-olds are most likely to have engaged in
creating online content, with 1 in 4 of them having done so, compared to 1 in 10 for the
general population. The leading online content creation activities for this age group are
creating and maintaining personal blogs (16%), sharing one’s own photos (6%), creating and
maintaining personal websites (4%) and broadcasting self-produced videos via video-sharing
sites (4%). Clearly, media production among young Singaporeans lags significantly behind
their media consumption, and the government has introduced various initiatives to encourage
more young people to acquire media production skills to align with the government’s
overarching goals to develop the media industry. These include introducing media production
skills training in schools, providing free or highly subsidised media production courses for
the general public and organising festivals, road shows and competitions which centre on
In light of the extent of this spate of initiatives, it is imperative to reflect on their
efficacy and implications for the nature of young people’s media production in Singapore. To
this end, this chapter examines the state-led culture of media production in Singapore and
concludes by making several policy recommendations. The chapter begins by explaining the
various contextual specifics of Singapore, such as the government’s role in the media sector
and the local education system, and how these affect the development of media production
among the young in Singapore. Two prominent cases of media production initiatives
undertaken in Singapore are also highlighted to illustrate the current directions of media
production among youths. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the repertoire of
capacities which today’s youths need for functioning effectively in an environment that
requires them to be both consumers and producers, and considers whether the government’s
efforts in media production education help to nurture these capacities.
Singapore’s media landscape
Singapore’s media industry has grown significantly in the last ten years, spurred by
the government’s efforts to foster this sector as an engine of economic growth. From the early
1980s, the government of Singapore sought to restructure the economy through the
widespread application of IT (Rodan, 1998). Its goal was to develop the country into an IT
production hub of global repute, and, to this end, a succession of strategic plans have been
implemented including Infocomm 21, Connected Singapore and Intelligent Nation 2015
(IDA, 2009a). These plans focused on developing reliable and cutting-edge IT infrastructure
to serve industry and society, boosting innovation and entrepreneurship and nurturing a
skilled and creative workforce. Additionally, the government of Singapore recognized that in
order to encourage creativity, there was a need for less regulatory rigidity so that policies
would not “unnecessarily impede the development of new and innovative services in the new
environment” (IDA, 2009b). Hence, unlike its approach toward the print and broadcast
markets, which are closely regulated through licensing laws, indirect government ownership,
content restrictions and censorship (George, 2006), the Singapore government’s ‘light touch
approach’ toward regulating Internet content centres on industry self-regulation and public
education (Media Development Authority [MDA], 2009). This regulatory shift is aimed at
giving industry players greater flexibility to operate and innovate within Singapore’s IT and
media industries. At the same time, the government has sought to attract foreign media
companies and provide grants to local start-ups to stimulate growth in the media industry.
Various initiatives have been launched to ensure a pro-business environment through setting
out clear and consistent regulatory policies and guidelines, creating state-of-the-art
infrastructure, promoting public-private alliances and providing monetary incentives. For the
media sector per se, the MDA is forecast to spend S$250 million to promote development in
publishing, music, games, animation and interactive digital media (Marketing-interactive
2009). Given its small land area of 247 square miles, Singapore is completely bereft of
natural resources apart from its people. Hence its economy has been traditionally service
based and seeks to constantly explore avenues for diversification, with the expansion of the
interactive and digital media sector as a key growth strategy (Singapore Media Fusion, 2009).
[?AU: Latter source is not listed in your References] I have added it to the References section
Partly as a result of these efforts, a host of leading media companies such as Ubisoft,
Lucasfilm, Electronic Arts, Koei Entertainment and DigiPen have set up operations in
Singapore, contributing to a rising demand for skilled workers in the interactive and digital
media industries which are projected to create 10,000 jobs over the next six years (Tan, A.,
2009). To meet these industry needs, and to better position Singapore for future economic
growth, the government has also made efforts to establish specialist media production
training institutes. For example, the DigiPen-Ubisoft campus was set up through the
collaborative efforts of the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Ubisoft Singapore and
Singapore’s Workforce Development Agency (DigiPen Institute of Technology, 2009). Top
animation schools such as Canada’s Sheridan College have also set up campuses in
Singapore (Contact Singapore, 2007). There has also been a sharp increase in local
entrepreneurship in the interactive and digital media industries. The government nurtures
local companies through assistance programmes such as fund injections of S$40 million for
novel business initiatives and by organising strategic networking and tutelage sessions with
international media giants (Media Development Authority, 2008). In addition, the National
Research Foundation has a S$500 million fund for awarding grants to research relating to the
interactive and digital media sector (Government of Singapore, 2009a).
Media production education within Singapore schools
To support the growing adoption of IT in Singapore’s rapidly modernizing economy,
the government has sought to incorporate IT training into schools, from primary to tertiary
levels. Within Singapore schools, IT use is incorporated into at least 30% of curriculum time
through its use in instruction, online learning portals and interactive educational games (Koh,
2007). The vast majority of schools from primary to pre-university levels are state-run and
come under the purview of the Ministry of Education (MOE), which promotes IT use in
schools by providing network infrastructure, hardware and curricular support. To this end, the
first phase of the IT Masterplan was launched in 1997, and the move toward educating
students as media producers was kick-started by training teachers to be IT-savvy and
equipping schools with the necessary IT infrastructure. Teachers were encouraged to actively
use ICTs as teaching and learning tools, form IT committees, and conduct extra-curricular
classes in IT. In the second phase of the Masterplan (2003–2008), the aim was to integrate IT
more deeply into lessons, increasing interactivity and engagement. In this phase, the goal was
to actively involve learners in more participatory and collaborative media environments such
as video production, virtual worlds such as Second Life,1 blogs and wikis. Teachers were
expected to become media producers themselves, so that they could guide their students in
this field. Notably, the winning entries in the teachers’ category for the 2008 Schools Digital
Media Awards, a competition that showcases the media production capabilities of its
participants, included both video and animation productions. The third phase of the
Masterplan (2009–2014) ambitiously aims to transform the learning environment, wherein
learning experiences will be mobile and spontaneous, and customised to individual students’
learning styles. Teachers will be urged to maximise their IT competencies to teach more
effectively. One example of progress in the area of teacher media production was the West
Zone Sharing of Resources Project, or WeSHARE, which was a digital repository project
developed “for teachers by teachers” in 2006, in which teachers uploaded their own media
productions to share with other teachers (Ng, 2008). So successful was this venture that it
was expanded to schools nationwide to form the Inter-cluster Sharing of Resources project, or
Clearly, teachers are key scaffolds in the Singaporean government’s bid to intensify
media production training within the education system. The student winners of the afore-
mentioned School Digital Media Awards, for example, credited their teachers and schools for
sparking their interest in and enhancing their experience with media production. Yet not all
teachers are able to engage in media production at this level, and neither are they convinced
that they need to. With the heavy emphasis on examination results in Singapore schools
(Gregory and Clarke, 2003) and the large class sizes of 30–40 students per class at primary
and secondary levels (Pong and Pallas, 2001), most teachers tend to focus on the transmission
model of teaching (Lim, 2006), reflected in the proliferation of PowerPoint presentations and
the slow uptake of other forms of media production. Hence, even if teachers have the
motivation and interest to impart media production skills to their students, they have to
overcome or seek to circumvent these limitations.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to consider the overall pedagogical approach adopted in
Singapore’s education system. While there have been discernible shifts toward participatory
learning in recent years (Tan et al., 2008), a hierarchical structure still pervades Singapore’s
education system, with teachers at the top dispensing knowledge to the students at the bottom
(Ng and Smith, 2004; Nguyen et al., 2006; Fan and Zhu, 2007). In the present digital age, in
which the proliferation of media resources greatly enhances independent learning and vests
students with potentially diverse skills and experiences (Davidson and Goldberg, 2009), a
heterarchical structure with teacher and students working together to shape the learning
process is synchronous with the resulting transformation of knowledge frameworks, whether
the instruction be in math or media production. In addition, the inculcation of media
production skills would be more effective within an environment of collaborative learning
given that media production is often a collaborative enterprise. In a top-down, authority-
centred educational setting, basic media production skills may well be imparted, but higher-
order critical thinking skills that empower students as media producers are less likely to be
Access to facilities for different types of media production is another issue. While
computing facilities are well catered for with the ratio of computers to pupils in primary
school at 6.6:1 and 5:1 for secondary and pre-university pupils respectively (MOE, 2004), not
every school is equipped with specialised media production facilities. However, in line with
the government’s interest to boost the media industry and stimulate domestic media creation,
steps have been taken in recent years to enhance resources and awareness related to media
production in schools. A case in point is Innova Junior College, which has a New Media Arts
Room, a mini-studio that is equipped with lights, video cameras, a music keyboard and even
a blue screen for special effects. The students are taught to put together portfolios of their
media productions to facilitate their applications for media courses in tertiary institutions.
Beyond helping to pique students’ interest in media production, such resource provisions give
students a hands-on experience of media production that is invaluable. For example, a team
from Shuqun Primary School which won one of the top prizes in the Schools Digital Media
Awards 2008 attributed their interest and ability in media production to their teachers’
guidance and the facilities provided by the school, which included video cameras, GPS
devices, tablet PCs and a podcasting studio. Indeed, the school’s website is peppered with
delightful student-produced videos which showcase their skills in videography and
Given the broad-based nature of the curriculum at primary and secondary levels, the
attention given to media production education is less focused than at tertiary levels, where
options for specialized media courses abound. Increasingly, however, more schools are
seeking to integrate media production education into the mainstream curriculum. For example,
Northland Primary School has a comprehensive programme that incorporates media
production into the overall curriculum of the school and sets out training stages for each level.
Over the six years of their primary school education, students learn touch typing, digital art,
word processing and presentation software, Internet literacy modules, video editing and
multimedia presentation creation (Northland Primary School, 2003).
Case study: N.E.mation!
An interesting example of a media production education programme that is centred in
Singapore schools is the N.E.mation! competition. We chose to focus on this competition
because it systematically reaches out to all young Singaporeans via the national school
system, as opposed to smaller-scale competitions organised by private companies. The
competition also focuses squarely on National Education, which is a critical component of the
curriculum at all levels and thus impacts all students, rather than a media production
programme which focuses on a specific academic subject or which involves only a particular
group of students. To this end, we collected secondary information about N.E.mation! from
relevant websites and media reports.
The significance of N.E.mation! is best appreciated with a preliminary discussion of
the National Education curriculum within the context of Singapore’s entire education system.
Apart from obvious economic imperatives, the government’s control over education is also
motivated by an interest in fostering and maintaining a harmonious multi-racial society. As
Koh (2005) argues, the Singapore government’s control over education policies and
curriculum is influenced by its view of schools as effective “ideological state apparatuses” for
the creation of national identity in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society
(76). In this regard, a key component of Singapore’s school curriculum is the compulsory
National Education program. Launched in 1997, and consistent with Singapore’s concept of
Total Defence, National Education aims to develop national cohesion and confidence in the
future, and to instil in young Singaporeans a sense of belonging in the country. This is
achieved by instilling a set of core values in the Singaporean way of life and fostering a sense
of identity, pride and self-respect as Singaporeans (Wang et al., 2006). These messages are
disseminated through formal curriculum subjects such as social studies, civics and moral
education; and informal activities such as compulsory yearly participation in Total Defence
Day and National Day parade rehearsals as well as Community Involvement Programmes
(CIP) involving voluntary work around neighbourhood and community areas (see Koh, 2005;
Han, 2000). This implementation of National Education in schools has at times been viewed
as a manifestation of the government’s propaganda and control over the education system
where schools are regarded as the best arenas for socializing the young into adopting future
roles of ‘active citizens’ (Koh, 2006; Han, 2000). In short, the focus on National Education
can be seen as the government’s exertion of control over education with the aim of producing
citizenship (Ong, 2005).
More recently, the heightened exposure of students to IT has shifted the propagation
of National Education in schools from one of consuming and experiencing nationalistic
sentiments to one of participation and media production. The best example of this is the
government-organised, industry-sponsored national competition N.E.mation!, where students
work in teams to produce animation that captures their patriotic feelings for the country, as
part of Singapore’s overarching National Education programme (N.E.mation! 2008). At the
root of the N.E.mation! competition is Total Defence, a concept aimed at protecting the
Singaporean way of life by drawing on the abilities of the community to “augment [the]
defence capability” of this “young nation with a small population and a conscript of armed
forces” (Government of Singapore, 2009b). Introduced in 1984, Total Defence was based on
a projection that threats to a country might not only be military in nature, and thus
incorporated the branches of military, civil, economic, social and psychological defence. In
2006, five Total Defence animation clips were featured in the Singapore prime minister’s
National Day Rally speech, a widely watched event that is often used to announce key
national policies. The enthusiastic reception to these clips prompted Nexus, a government
agency established for the specific purpose of “[driving] a comprehensive and coordinated
nation-wide National Education effort” (Government of Singapore, 2009c), to organise the
annual N.E.mation! competition from the following year to “provide a creative platform for
students to express their personal ideas about Total Defence” (N.E.mation4!, 2009).
Against this rhetoric of defence, survival and community engagement, the N.E.mation!
competition links Total Defence and National Education, and is given much attention in
schools. It is open to students from secondary schools, junior colleges and centralized
institutions only. Students with no prior skills in animation are given the requisite training,
and the winners are rewarded with trips to notable animation studios such as Studio Ghibli in
Japan and Dreamworks in the United States.2 Significantly, only Singaporean citizens and
permanent residents may enter. At the final stage, public voting on a website where the 10
best videos are featured contribute to the marks awarded, ensuring the appeal of the
competition to the YouTube generation. The students register themselves online in teams
with a teacher in charge. Optional content development workshops help teachers and students
with story creation skills, storyboarding techniques, and ways to develop the competition
Teams build their productions around a common theme that changes yearly. In 2007,
the theme was ‘Resilience’, followed by ‘What Makes Us Singaporean’ in 2008 and ‘Why I
Care About Singapore’ in 2009. The increasing focus on developing a national identity is
unmistakable. The website for the competition provides detailed explanations about the latest
theme in a format aimed at attracting net-savvy young people. While the training in media
production skills attracts many young people to take part in the competition, the clear
emphasis is on National Education. Under the rules and regulations, participants are reminded
about the need to respect intellectual property rights, but apart from this, no other non-
technical media issues are highlighted.
Forty shortlisted teams are each assigned an animation coach to mentor them in their
production. At this stage, attendance at workshops becomes compulsory, presumably to
ensure that the standard of competition is high (although no reason is given on the website).
Ten finalists are then chosen to receive further training. Teachers are not permitted to get
involved in the production stage, though they are expected to guide their students in
developing the theme into a story. Evidently, the National Education part of the competition
fits in with curricular strategies, and hence requires teacher input. The media production part,
however, is dissociated from the mainstream curriculum, and teachers do not have a hand in
it. Instead, external coaches act as mentors to provide technical advice.
Response to the competition has been fairly enthusiastic. According to a Ministry of
Defence website, 560 entries were received in 2008. While there is no compulsion to take
part, participation adds credit to the portfolios of both teachers and students. Students may
need the credit in their applications for entrance to certain courses, while teachers find that
their performance reviews are enhanced by involvement in such events. In addition, each
school has a National Education committee which is responsible for ensuring that National
Education aims are met in various ways both intra- and extra-curricular, and participation in
N.E.mation! helps to fulfil this responsibility to some extent.
The results of the students’ efforts are often creative and witty, with impressively high
production values. Various entries utilise innovative animation techniques and reflect a
certain youthful vigour. For example, one entry entitled “Feel in the Blank” capitalises on the
artistic skills of the team members, who fill in a blank sheet of paper with freehand sketches
of what they think makes them Singaporean, shaping the icons and institutions, as they are
mentioned in the voiceover, into a map of Singapore. The team used a camera to capture the
action and linked up the frames for their completed animation sequence. Another team,
whose entry is entitled “The Singapore Symphony”, used a collage effect with their
animation and set it to music that incorporated sounds commonly heard in Singapore, from
those of construction sites to outdoor food courts.
However, given the goals and boundaries of this competition, the winning entries
have a somewhat didactic tone that extols the virtues of being Singaporean, while glossing
over and even ignoring the realities on the ground. Of the three winning entries, one entitled
“Our Home” used Lego blocks to create various structures, animating the building process to
show how housing has improved over the years in Singapore. The message is that the close-
knit ties among neighbours that characterised the traditional “kampong” houses of pre-
independence Singapore have been sustained with the government-built apartment buildings
that mushroomed after independence in 1965. Yet the reality of the situation is that many
people living in such apartment blocks do not actually know their neighbours well, and
campaigns have been conducted to encourage Singaporeans to be more neighbourly (Ministry
of National Development, 2009).
In another winning entry entitled “Within Us Seeds of Love”, local symbols that
resonate with viewers were cleverly woven into the animation. The students used the bright
crimson seeds of the indigenous saga tree to create various vignettes depicting how
Singaporeans are united in the love they show one another. Again, the reality is very different
from the idea expressed in the production: “four million hearts connected as one”. In multi-
ethnic Singapore, race is a sensitive issue and is delicately dealt with in the mainstream media
and in public discussions. Children are taught in primary school about how damaging racial
riots can be to the stability of the country, and much of the National Education syllabus
centres on the need to maintain “racial harmony”. While there are few outward signs of racial
discord in the country, the sort of blank unity expressed in the video is at best hopeful and at
worse naïve. The fact that this is a winning entry clearly points to the focus on putting across
an ideological message through the media used. This objective is underscored by the
subsequent production of a teacher’s resource package that includes the videos as part of
lesson plans to teach National Education messages (Government of Singapore, 2009d). The
focus is very much on national education, rather than media production per se. There were
more creative entries in terms of media production skills than those that were awarded prizes,
but the message of national education was not as explicitly framed. The teachers’ resource
package is a planned outcome of the competition. Thus videos that explicitly convey policy-
friendly messages are privileged over those that are more technically superior with less
explicit national education messages.
Public education in media production
Supplementing the efforts within the education system to foster media production
skills are an extensive range of media education campaigns and programmes that are open to
the public and targeted primarily at the young. Again, the government plays a steering role
but with considerable support from the private sector. Government agencies such as the
Infocomm Development Authority, the Media Development Authority, the National Heritage
Board and the National Library Board have taken the lead by organising workshops, courses,
road shows, exhibitions and competitions relating to different aspects of technology use and
media production, while roping in relevant corporate partners. Given the strong economic
imperative for raising awareness and skills relating to media production, state funding for
such public education efforts is generous, and corporate support is forthcoming. For example,
Media Fiesta 2009 was a month-long public education event featuring more than 40 activities
on which the Media Development Authority spent ‘millions of dollars’ and enlisted the
participation of multiple industry players (Yeo, 2009). Geared toward stimulating the local
media industry, Media Fiesta comprised events to impart skills in and foster knowledge of
new media platforms, but notably also had talks explaining the career options which the
media production industry could offer to both fresh graduates and mid-career individuals
seeking to explore alternative fields. Indeed, job opportunities in the media industry are
expected to grow from 10,000 to 50,000 within the next six years (W. Tan, 2009b).
Efforts are also made to tailor public education programmes to particular segments of
the population. For example, in 2009, the Infocomm Development Authority organised a
Silver Blog Contest to encourage blogging among Internet users aged 60 and above, and
“The ‘Loving Moments with My Kids’ New Media Challenge” saw parents compete to
chronicle memorable life events through creating Facebook or Twitter pages and status
updates, personal blogs or family videos shared via YouTube. To avoid preaching to the
converted, such competitions are typically supplemented with free workshops where the
relevant media production skills are taught to members of the public. Besides these targeted
events, the bulk of public education programmes are usually open to the general public but
appear to be designed to appeal to the young. Foreign and local media companies have
organised a repertoire of media production programs which are targeted at students from
primary to tertiary levels including talks in schools, content development projects, content
creation competitions and internships. These programmes straddle different sectors of the
industry, with companies such as Ubisoft and Electronic Arts steering programmes in digital
games, Lucasfilm in movies and Animagine in animation. Through these initiatives, the
private sector helps to enhance young people’s understanding and knowledge of media
production across a diverse range of media platforms. The involvement of these media
companies infuses the programmes with a ‘hip’ factor and affords young people insights into
the media production industry as a potential career choice.
Case study: Media Fiesta
To better understand government-run initiatives to drive public education in media
production, the most extensive, well-funded and high-profile programme to date, Media
Fiesta, will be discussed in greater detail. We collected secondary information about Media
Fiesta from the websites of its organising agency, the Media Development Authority, as well
as those of corporate partners, and newspaper and television news reports about the event.
Launched in February 2009, Media Fiesta was a month-long public education event
which sought to promote interest in both consuming and producing local media content
across all media platforms and to enlighten the public on career opportunities in the local
media industry. Although the fiesta was targeted at the general public, there was a discernible
emphasis on young people, judging by the types of programmes offered and the media skills
that it aimed to foster.
Activities were organised for five media genres—animation, games, publishing, film,
broadcast and interactive and digital media (Media Development Authority, 2009). The
animation programme comprised three workshops providing training in the principles of
animation, claymation and manga art, and an open house at CreativeBITS, a homegrown
media education company which offers training in interactive, animation, video, graphic and
web design. The game programme was dominated by the four-day Funan Inter-School e-
Gaming Challenge, which saw teams from secondary schools and tertiary institutions pit their
skills in games such as DOTA and Halo 3. While not directly fostering media production
skills, heightening interest in gaming also serves to further another economic goal: to nurture
the local gaming community and raise its professional standing, thereby further generating
player interest and stimulating innovation in the local game design industry for potential
economic payoffs should domestically produced games attract a worldwide following
(ChannelNewsAsia 2009). The Singapore government thus hopes to make the consumption-
media production cycle as virtuous and as profitable as possible. In this regard the Singapore
government is seeking to replicate the South Korean experience in which its domestic gaming
industry has been successfully internationalised: Korean online games are distributed and
played throughout Asia, Europe and North America (Chung, 2009). Another gaming event in
Media Fiesta was the Mission DarkStar Game Design Competition that challenged
participants to design educational games through which players could learn about
Singapore’s heritage and history. The winning teams, most of which comprised polytechnic
or technical institute students, produced games of diverse genres, artistic styles and narrative
structures that integrated notable individuals, historical milestones, famous landmarks and
popular legends into the gameplay. For example, in Back in Time, an adventure role-playing
game designed by three students from Temasek Polytechnic, players have to counter the
threat of a vengeful terrorist seeking to change Singapore’s history by solving tasks while
travelling through different time periods in the country’s development (Mission DarkStar
The interactive and digital media programme was the most extensive, comprising 14
activities. Apart from exhibitions showcasing locally produced content, there were workshops
offering instruction in claymation, podcast, film and animated feature production, along with
competitions to test participants’ skills in using digital media tools and platforms. Again,
National Education was a part of the agenda via the N.E.wAuthor Competition, which
challenged contestants from schools of all educational levels to develop an interactive digital
book. The competition sought to “engage the interest of the technologically savvy young
students and [connect] this interest more closely to the promotion of National Education
through the use of new IDM (Interactive Digital Media) application tools and platform [sic]”
(N.E.wAuthor, 2009). The competition seems to enjoy considerable support, with the 2008
competition attracting over 1,400 students from 64 schools. For the 2009 competition, the
winning entries had such titles as ‘Singapore’s story from the eyes of a mouse’ and ‘Rising
above our challenges’. The social policy agenda was also at the forefront in the National
Schools Podcast Competition where the winning podcasts focused on issues such as drug
abuse, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, environmental awareness and online safety (National
Schools Podcast Competition ’09, 2009). Media production events that are government
organised tend to produce creations that, albeit creative, are somewhat preachy. One
competition that seemed to run against this grain was HP Lightropolis, where Hewlett
Packard offered an interactive online tool for contestants to create designs using light, with
the winning creations displayed on LED screens which line the exit of ION Orchard,
Singapore’s newest mall (Pandey, 2009).
Overall, Media Fiesta’s events seemed to focus more on the dissemination of
technical skills than on inculcating any form of critical literacy. Some exceptions included “A
Day with the Board of Film Censors”, which sought to explain to students the different
categories in Singapore’s film classification scheme, classification criteria and the social role
of classification and censorship (Chee, 2009) and the FREEDOM Challenge: National T-
Shirt Design Competition, which aimed to promote the use of open-source alternatives for
media in Singapore—both of which are promising nods to a growing recognition of the need
for fostering critical literacy, and should be further developed in future iterations of the
Conclusion and reflections
While the advent and accessibility of information technologies such as the Internet
and mobile phones provide exciting possibilities for Singaporean youths in the consumption
and production of media, it also creates the need for ‘newer’ forms of literacy. In this regard,
media literacy, the ability to ‘decode, evaluate, analyze and produce messages’ in a variety of
forms (Aufderheide, 1993, 1) is being increasingly challenged. One key challenge in this new
media climate is the proliferation of multimodal representations in today’s media landscape.
With the widespread availability and deployment of different media, modalities and materials,
each with its own logic and affordances, users are faced with the complex processes by which
meanings can be ‘consumed’ and ‘produced’ in the world today (Kress and van Leeuwen,
2001; O’Halloran, 2004). Besides multimodal media literacy, various other literacy
frameworks have also been proposed to encapsulate the expanse of knowledge and skills
required for users to consume and produce media. These include information literacy
(Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000; Town, 2000), visual literacy
(International Visual Literacy Association, 2006; Kress, 2003), e-literacy (Martin, 2000),
digital literacy (Martin, 2006; Eshet, 2002), and multiliteracies (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000;
Leu et al., 2004), to name a few. Indeed, in an environment such as Singapore’s, where media
production is so actively encouraged, young Singaporeans need to possess a diverse array of
literacies to maximise benefits of media engagement in both receptive and expressive modes
Cognisant of this significant shift in today’s media landscape, Bruns (2007) proposed
the ‘produsage’ framework where instead of the focus on literacies, the capacities to harness
the various literacies are the crucial foci. In produsing, where “participants are users as well
as producers of information and knowledge”, the traditional form of media production has
evolved with four new characteristics: (i) a broader-based, distributed generation of content
by a wide community of participants, (ii) fluid switches of produsers between roles as leaders,
participants and users of content, (iii) generation of information not as products in a
traditional sense, but always unfinished, and continually under development, and (iv) location
within a framework of permissive regimes of engagement which are based more on merit
than ownership, frequently employing copyright systems which acknowledge authorship and
prohibit unauthorized commercial use (Bruns, 2007, 3). Bruns (2008) goes on to argue that
pedagogical approaches to media education must respond to the growing emergence of
produsage by equipping individuals with (i) creative, (ii) collaborative, (iii) critical, (iv)
combinatory and (v) communication capacities. The creative capacity refers to the ability to
co-produce creations with others in flexible roles and to appreciate that the shared product
enters the creativity cycle where it will be used and re-produced by others. The collaborative
capacity involves the appreciation for fluid and multi-nodal collaborative partnerships and the
ability to identify individuals and opportunities for collaboration. The critical capacity
comprises the aptitude for identifying beneficial collaborators and for benchmarking one’s
creative abilities against others’, as well as the ability to offer and receive constructive
feedback while engaging in collaborative produsage. In both receptive and expressive modes,
produsers should also be able to critically assess the relative value of alternative perspectives
on a particular issue. The combinatory capacity encompasses the skill to disaggregate
collaborative projects into their constituent components and to combine and re-combine them
in a fluid and cooperative manner with partners. Finally, the capacity for communication is
the ability to critically and creatively align one’s produsage skills with those of collaborators
and to effectively convey one’s opinions and ideas during the creative partnership. Bruns’s
C5C framework offers a useful vanguard for assessing the efficacy of media education in a
highly mediatised environment where platforms and opportunities for produsage abound.
To what extent, then, does media production education in Singapore’s schools and
public education initiatives develop these five capacities? Overall, it would appear that the
government has succeeded in heightening awareness of media production through different
genres of activities that help to inculcate diverse media skills and require varied collaborative
modes, thus broadly fostering the five aforementioned capacities. The considerable financial
and resource provisions also aid in raising the level of sophistication of the skills being
imparted. Commendably, the government has also been able to obtain the support of
corporate partners, and such industry involvement lends their media production education
programmes greater depth, thus enhancing the learning experience for participants.
However, the government could perhaps go a little further in pushing the boundaries
of its media production education initiatives. In a media environment where opportunities for
produsage are more prevalent and intense, young people would benefit from a more active
nurturing of each of the five capacities. The creative capacity in particular can be cultivated
in more innovative ways. Notwithstanding the benefits of competitions such as N.E.mation!
and N.E.wAuthor, the participants’ autonomy and creativity in such media production
ventures is circumscribed by clearly defined rationales which must be acceptable to
government and society. Admittedly, Singapore is a young, syncretic nation that needs to
actively engage in nation building (Hill and Lien, 1995). However, while competitions and
activities such as N.E.mation! have their place and value, they should be balanced with
activities where young Singaporeans can enjoy and exercise more creative freedom, in the
process furthering the government’s interest in developing a skilled and creative workforce
for the country’s burgeoning media industry. In this regard, the government may wish to
occasionally retreat from the forefront and let industry players and civic organisations play a
more prominent role in organising media production competitions which offer more of a
blank canvas for media produsers to flex their creative skills. A good example is the HP
Lightropolis contest held during Media Fiesta 2009.
In this way, young Singaporeans’ critical capacity can also be enhanced. Of the five
capacities, it would appear that the critical capacity is the least developed. Given the strong
economic motivations for promoting media production and developing a skilled workforce, it
is perhaps unsurprising that media production education in schools and public education
programmes tend to emphasise the inculcation of technological skills and industry experience
rather than ‘softer’ aspects of critical media production and usage. This is potentially
inadequate for the inculcation of media literacy that requires a certain level of critical
appraisal in media consumption and production. Hence, media education production
programmes should not be dominated by activities that transmit technical skills but pay equal
emphasis to both technical competencies and critical literacy. Indeed, this is a pedagogical
issue that is pertinent not only to media education. While developing young people’s critical,
informed, and discerning sensibilities about anything is at issue, in the contemporary media
environment, developing these sensibilities about media consumption and production are
both vital and necessary so that young Singaporeans will possess the skills to consume and
produce media in an informed, critical and discerning manner, enabling them to recognise
media biases, assess information credibility, impression management in the online world,
understand media effects, and so forth. However, such efforts need to proceed in tandem with
overarching institutional changes in the educational system where the top-down, transmission
mode of instruction is gradually transformed into a more level, participatory style of learning.
With these broad shifts and a more active nurturing of creative and critical capacities, young
Singaporeans will be better placed to derive maximum benefits from media production and
1 Second Life is “a free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create
using free voice and text chat” (from secondlife.com).
2 Dreamworks is an animation film studio that has produced animated movies that are
technically renowned and commercially successful. Studio Ghibli is a similar studio in Japan.
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Schools Digital Media Awards
Shuqun Primary School