Sunday, 25 September 2016

Elected Presidency changes: It's not just about the politics

The debate about the elected presidency (EP) is driven not just by politics and the law, but by perceptions, values and notions of fairness. Policymakers and the public need to engage on these for fruitful discussions.
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

The passion in the public discussion on the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency is palpable. This is not surprising as the issues involve multiracialism and meritocracy, which are core principles that Singapore upholds as a society.

Next month, the Government will table a Bill that encompasses changes to the elected presidency. Parliament will debate the Bill during its second reading in November.

How should policymakers and the public approach the discussions in the next two months? Here are my suggestions on ways to make a positive difference in the discourse:


First, we must remember that perceptions matter. We need to recognise that issues relating to the elected presidency are complex because they are interrelated. A decision on an issue can lead to benefits and positive multiplier effects, or unintended negative consequences.

The fact (or perception) that many issues are intertwined makes it difficult to look at the issue through a single lens and to evaluate the arguments for or against a proposed change or position. Instead, we must understand that people's views on the issues are likely to be affected by human psychological processes.

Discussions on the elected presidency are not just political or legal in nature, but are social and emotional as well. After all, the presidency is an institution that is meant to symbolise the unity of the nation. When an institution (and a person) is invested with such values and aspirations, it is not surprising that debate about changes to it can become heated.

Policymakers and citizens alike must thus realise that people may be unduly influenced by what is salient at the moment, such as a sound bite in the media. They may focus on the immediate past and imminent future, such as the previous presidential election and the next, rather than longer timeframes. They may also make inferences based on what the changes mean for specific individuals and concrete cases, rather than consider more abstract issues, such as how the changes will affect the system of governance or future changes in government.

And it is human to selectively seek out information and interpret it in a way to support preconceived ideas.

So for the public and policymakers alike, it is important to discuss issues frankly and keep an open mind.

Religious competition: How to keep the good, minimise the bad

Resilience in a multi-religious society comes from trust within and between religious groups, and between religious and secular groups.
By Lily Kong, Published The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2016

Religious competition is a common feature of pluralistic societies where religious groups compete for adherents, as well as for scarce resources like funds and space, both among themselves and with secular groups. More abstractly, they compete for hegemonic status in people's personal and social lives.

The common observation is that religious competition leads to disharmony in multi-religious societies. Indeed, religious competition can degenerate into disruptive conflict and destabilising violence that implicates and affects both religious and secular groups while exacting economic cost on societies in numerous ways: lower productivity, a riskier investment climate and strains on state resources due to increased need for policing, surveillance and rehabilitation. In its most extreme form, religious competition can escalate into the uncompromising desire by one or more religious groups to consign all others to extinction. Such desires can have wide-ranging consequences that infringe on both religious and civil liberties.

Examples of religious competition, conflict and violence are, unfortunately, abundant around the world. Such disharmony can result firstly from conflicting claims to ownership, such as when different groups claim ownership of a site. Take the case of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya is believed to be the birthplace of Rama, a deified figure in the Hindu religious tradition. More specifically, Hindus believe Babri Mosque to be located on the site of an ancient temple for Rama, and that it was the Mughal patriarch Babur who built the mosque on the site. The ownership of the site remained keenly contested between Hindus and Muslims, and culminated in a Hindu mob demolishing the mosque in 1992. The incident sparked widespread communal riots throughout the country, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths.

In Singapore, the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 were triggered by the contest over "ownership" (rightful parenthood) of Maria - whether it belonged to her biological Dutch Catholic parents or the Muslim foster mother who brought her up. Properties were damaged, 18 were killed and nearly 200 injured.

Chinese chamber 'has evolved with Singapore': PM Lee

SCCCI's 110th anniversary
Organisation can use its extensive links to facilitate Singapore-Chinese business: PM Lee
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) started out as a support network for Chinese immigrants, but its role has evolved in tandem with the growth of Singapore's economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

Speaking at the chamber's 110th anniversary gala dinner at Fairmont Singapore, Mr Lee said the chamber has contributed significantly to Singapore's development over the years.
Established in 1906, the SCCCI's original purpose was to look after the interests of the Chinese business community. When Singapore was under colonial rule, chamber members raised funds to build schools and help the poor.

Many schools started by the Chinese business community are still thriving today, noted Mr Lee, who delivered his speech in Mandarin.

Since most Chinese back then considered themselves "overseas Chinese" loyal to China, the chamber also helped organise support for the Chinese government.

The SCCCI's scope has since expanded significantly, and its engagement with China has also evolved, noted Mr Lee.

Its members now include more than 4,000 companies and over 150 trade associations.

The chamber supports activities such as River Hongbao and the Speak Mandarin campaign.

It has also built extensive links between business communities in Singapore and China, said Mr Lee.

"The SCCCI can bring the diverse groups together, gather resources and information from a wide range of sources and through different channels help local businesses do business in China."

The chamber has also been a key partner in restructuring the Singapore economy, he added.

Singapore among top countries in health and living standards: Lancet

Singapore in top ranks of Global Burden of Disease Study 2015
The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

Singapore was a top scorer on global health-related indicators, alongside Iceland and Sweden, in a report published this week in the Lancet medical journal.

The report looks at countries' performance in 33 health-related indicators that are part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

It seeks to establish a basis for monitoring global progress towards these UN goals and is not meant as an international ranking or index. Nonetheless, Singapore emerged near the top out of 188 countries, scoring 85 out of a possible 100 along with Iceland and Sweden.

The Lancet report draws upon data from the Global Burden Of Diseases, Injuries And Risk Factors Study, an effort by more than 1,870 collaborators from 124 countries and three territories.

Singapore scored a perfect 100 - indicating the highest level of safety - on indicators such as deaths related to natural disasters, stunted growth in children, malaria and household air pollution.

Among all countries, Singapore was the best performer in the number of potential years of life lost through illness, disability or early death - the disability-adjusted life-year rate - because of occupational causes, per 100,000 people.

But Singapore fared poorly in indicators such as the incidence of hepatitis B and air quality as measured by levels of PM2.5 particles, scoring significantly lower than most other countries in the top 20.

Free healthcare education portal:

Quick clips on common ailments - at a click
150 ten-minute clips produced by specialists, medical faculty; another 150 in the works
By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

Finding trustworthy information online about common medical conditions is tough, but a new portal created by medical professionals here aims to change that.

Called LearningIn10, the portal features around 150 videos on 15 topics such as paediatrics, infectious diseases, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynaecology.

The videos, now available to the public, run for 10 minutes and feature mainly slides and a voice-over explanation by a medical specialist or a faculty member from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre.

The portal was officially launched yesterday at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress 2016, held at the Singapore General Hospital campus.

"Initially, we used these videos for teaching medical students and trainees... but our students gave us feedback that the videos enhanced the teaching, so we thought we could open them up to the whole world," said Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, one of the Duke-NUS faculty members behind the portal.

"The videos are peer-reviewed, which is important, because for medical knowledge, sometimes accuracy is an issue - a lot of knowledge is available, but not all of it is accurate," he noted.

The videos will be updated as and when the medical information becomes outdated, he said.

He hopes the portal will eventually have around 1,000 videos. Another 150 or so videos are being developed currently.

Business graduate Evepreet Kaur, 23, said: "I would use the portal to feed my curiosity about certain topics, but not heavily as many of the videos are highly technical."

She added: "For the general public, it would probably be more useful to have an annex to explain the terms better."

At the same event, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong reiterated the need to tackle the "intensified care needs" of Singapore's rapidly ageing population through research and education.

Private school graduates find it harder to land jobs: Poll

Full-time job rate and starting pay lower than those of public university grads, survey finds
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

Even as more than 70,000 Singaporeans pursue degrees and diplomas through the private education sector, a broad-based survey released yesterday showed that many of them lagged far behind their peers from public universities in the job market.

Not only do private school graduates find it harder to land jobs but, on average, they also command noticeably lower starting salaries.

This prompted Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), to remind Singaporeans that one should not pursue a degree simply because it is the default pathway - as there are other options available.

In fact, the first employment survey of private school graduates painted a sobering picture of their prospects.

The Council for Private Education (CPE), which regulates the private education industry, surveyed 4,200 students who graduated with degrees from nine private schools in 2014.

Only 58 per cent of the fresh graduates who had no prior working experience found full-time jobs within six months of completing their studies. Another 21 per cent managed to find only part-time or contract work.

The median starting salary of those with full-time jobs was $2,700 a month.

This compares poorly with the 83 per cent full-time job rate and $3,200 median gross monthly salary of the graduates from three public universities - the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) - for the same period.

If those in part-time work were included, then the job rate for NUS, NTU and SMU graduates goes up to 89 per cent.

CPE said it is looking into conducting a similar survey yearly to provide more "granular data" to help students make more informed decisions before enrolling in private schools.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Hillgrove Secondary students get chance to see their experiment conducted aboard International Space Station

When dreams take wing
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tsukuba, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2016

Hillgrove Secondary student Wang Hao Ming, 17, is fascinated with space and, two years ago, he forked out $800 for a telescope.

His schoolmate, Justin Chua, 14, meanwhile, is passionate about aviation - in primary school, he had collected styrofoam model planes.

They came close to living out their dreams last week when they were among four Hillgrove students invited to visit the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

There, the Singapore students donned astronaut jumpsuits while participating in a mock field exercise, and were also given a rare look at the agency's mission control room.

But the highlight of their trip to the Tsukuba Space Centre, about 70km north-east of Tokyo, was witnessing Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi conduct an experiment they had designed. Testing the impact of a microgravity environment on the flight of paper planes, the experiment was beamed live from the International Space Station (ISS) under the Try Zero-G for Asia programme.

It is the first time a Singapore proposal has been selected for the programme, which began in 2011.

The programme invites students and youth from the Asia-Pacific to submit proposals, some of which will be conducted by a Japanese astronaut on the ISS, where Japan has a space experiment module called Kibo, or "hope" in Japanese.

There were more than 120 entries this year, and five were chosen.

Mr Onishi, 40, who was launched to the ISS in July, said: "Space is a unique environment. Using this uniqueness, we can do many varieties of experiments on board the station."

One such experiment is the Flying Paper Plane proposed by the Hillgrove team, which also includes Ethan Tan and Caleb Goh, both 14.

Man rides electric scooter at 70kmh, overtakes bus in Mandai

Clip of e-scooter user overtaking bus sparks safety concerns
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

A video of a man on an electric scooter overtaking a bus in Mandai Road has sparked safety concerns over the use of such personal mobility devices.

The minute-long clip shows the e-scooter user wearing a helmet and riding on the left-most lane of the three-lane road. At one point, he veered past a bus, nipping in ahead of a taxi, before cutting back close in front of the bus.

The incident was recorded on a phone camera in a car following the e-scooter, and uploaded on citizen journalism site Stomp on Thursday.

The car passenger who took the video said the incident happened on Thursday at about 8am.

"I think it is too dangerous for him to ride his e-scooter in this way and all the vehicles had to slow down for him," said the man, who did not want to be named.

According to what was said in the video, the e-scooter was travelling at at least 60kmh. The passenger started taking the video after the e-scooter user overtook another vehicle travelling at 50kmh, he said.

Mr Denis Koh, chairman of Big Wheel Scooters Singapore, a community of scooter enthusiasts, said the e-scooter rider tested all limits in doing what he did.

"He wobbled while overtaking. The wheels are not as big as a motorbike's or bicycle's, so it's difficult and dangerous to make such manoeuvres at that speed," he said.

He added that a standard e-scooter would be able to travel at about 30kmh, and the one in question was likely to have been modified illegally. The rider was also breaking the law by using it on the road.

"The Land Transport Authority will investigate the use of such personal mobility devices on the road," said a spokesman.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Take more balanced view on death penalty, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urges world leaders

By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2016

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has called on world leaders to take a more balanced assessment of the death penalty, as he explained Singapore’s approach to capital punishment.

Speaking at a meeting taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Wednesday (Sept 21), he pushed back against calls for all countries to abolish the death penalty.

This debate is a heated, painful and emotional one but I just ask members... to respectfully reflect on the views expressed, the diversity of the circumstances and the impact on the ground. And to give to each state its sovereign right to choose the most appropriate judicial approach so that we can adopt a more balanced perspective on this complex issue,” he said.

At the opening of the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon had urged all countries to cease capital punishment. “The world reached a major turning point in 2007 when the general assembly called for a worldwide moratorium,'' he said.

"Since then the movement against capital punishment has been growing... I am gravely concerned that some countries are suddenly resuming executions. Others are considering reintroducing the death penalty. We have to keep up the fight for the right to life,” he added.

Singapore has often been among the minority of dissenting voices on the issue of the death penalty at the UN. Wednesday's event was billed as a forum to focus on the impact of the death penalty on the families of murder victims, children of the condemned, prison personnel who oversee executions and others. Speakers on the panel had placards on the table saying #EndExecutions.

At a similar event in 2014, then Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had dismissed the portrayal of the issue as one of “taking lives versus not taking lives”.

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that point in his speech: “I think our starting shared position has to be that all human life is sacred... The immediate question that confronts all of us, whether within or without this room is whether the death penalty, within the proper context, and in strictly limited circumstances plays any role in protecting the sanctity of life.”

NorthLight School influenced Singapore's education system: PM Lee

More NorthLight students making it to tertiary institutions
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2016

More students from NorthLight School - a specialised school that takes in those who failed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) - are furthering their studies at tertiary institutions.

Currently, about 45 per cent of students move on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), up from about 30 per cent in its initial years.

Today, more than 1,400 students have completed their education at NorthLight. Fourteen have done well enough to jump from the ITE to polytechnics and, so far, three have graduated with diplomas.

Others have gone to hospitality institutes such as Shatec and private institutions like Kaplan Singapore.

But when NorthLight started in 2007, many thought it would fail.

The school's founding principal, Mrs Chua Yen Ching, said many did not think its students would be able to progress to tertiary institutions.

"Some of the students may have a difficult past, so we cannot change the starting of the story," she said. "But we tell the students and their parents that we can work together to change the ending of the story."

The school has since proven its critics wrong.

NorthLight's current principal Martin Tan, who took over in 2011, said: "A model like this works for those who appear to be struggling in their early years of education."

He said teachers at the school do more than just teach and would make countless home visits, take students to the doctor, buy food for students who are hungry and even provide counselling.

Some former teachers have since brought NorthLight's best practices, such as its hands-on approach to teaching, to their current schools.

In 2009, the Ministry of Education (MOE), inspired by NorthLight's progress, started Assumption Pathway School, which also takes in those who fail the PSLE.

In data released by MOE last year, before these two specialised schools were set up, about 60 per cent of pupils who had failed the PSLE would drop out of school. With the two schools, this has been lowered to about 10 to 15 per cent.

Yesterday, NorthLight was lauded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said its success is a result of the effort put in by many different individuals, including passionate educators who volunteered to teach at the school.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

1st primary school for those who are deaf opens in 2018

From next year, Beatty Secondary replaces current 2 schools for sign-language students
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2016

A primary school designated for deaf children who use sign language will open in 2018.

Currently these pupils attend Lighthouse School, a special education establishment.

The new primary school will be in a central location and further details will be revealed later, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday as it announced the development.

It will be the first primary school designated to accept pupils who are deaf, although there are already four that cater for them at secondary level.

Outram and St Anthony's Canossian Secondary both cater to students who learn via the oral approach, which focuses on the spoken language, lip reading, and voice training.

Balestier Hill and Boon Lay secondaries cater to students who use sign language.

From next year, the latter two schools, which have fewer than 15 such students, will be replaced by Beatty Secondary in Toa Payoh as a result of falling student numbers.

In a statement yesterday, the MOE said that designated schools have teachers trained to support these students using methods such as sign interpretation, social-emotional support and assistive technology devices.

It added: "With a small number of these students (using sign language), locating them in a single designated secondary school will provide them with a greater sense of community, with more opportunities for mutual communication through signing, social interactions and peer support.

"This will also allow better pooling and strengthening of specialised resources within one location."

10,000 trained to spot and help those with dementia

They include front-line staff, as part of efforts to raise awareness in society
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2016

When a home owner found an elderly stranger trying to enter her Woodlands flat with a key, she called a local grassroots leader.

"She asked me what to do," said 51-year-old consultant James Lim. "I suspected it could be a senior with dementia so I told her to stay calm and not to do anything while I went over.

"I spoke to him in Hokkien to put him at ease and told the crowd of neighbours who were milling around to give him some personal space so that he would not get more disorientated or agitated."

Although the man could not recall who he was or where he lived, police later managed to contact his daughter. It turned out that the elderly man had mistaken that flat to be his on the same floor, but a few blocks away.

Mr Lim is one of more than 10,000 people in Singapore who have been trained to spot those with dementia, interact with them and refer them to aid agencies, if needed. They include front-line staff from transport companies, banks, retailers and public organisations, as well as school students and mosque and church members.

As people around the world mark World Alzheimer's Day today, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) and the Lien Foundation are also spearheading local efforts to raise awareness of dementia in the community. Since last year, they have been encouraging workers from organisations and members of the public to sign up and be trained as a "dementia friend".

Their Forget Us Not initiative started by training 2,000 people in Yishun. The area was chosen to test out the concept of a dementia-friendly community because it has a significant number of elderly residents as well as a geriatric centre at KTPH to support them.

One in 10 people aged 60 and above in Singapore has dementia and the condition strikes half of those aged 85 and beyond, according to findings from a large-scale study released by the Institute of Mental Health last year.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said last year that tackling dementia needs to go beyond having the "hardware" - such as infrastructure - to fostering stronger community support and creating dementia- friendly communities.