Thursday, 31 July 2014

Debunking myths 
in revitalising 
Chinese languages

By Luke Lu, Published TODAY, 30 Jul 2014

In the past few weeks, there have been various calls (including a letter to Today’s Voices and an editorial in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao) for Chinese languages other than Mandarin to be given a more prominent space in the public sphere in Singapore.
 The Prime Minister’s Office also weighed in on the issue by responding to Zaobao’s editorial.

Calls to revitalise Chinese languages are not new and have, indeed, surfaced on occasion since the shift towards English and Mandarin became obvious to the public. However, the debate has often involved assumptions and gross simplifications that seem to perpetuate popular myths regarding language in practice and identity.


A common view is that the average person has a limited mind that is incapable of learning and handling more than two languages. It is true that adult learners do find it more difficult to acquire new languages and attain a high level of proficiency in them.

It is this view that seems to be translated into our education policy, under which only students who do well enough in school are allowed to learn a third language.

However, one’s ability to acquire multiple languages is particularly contingent on one’s social environment, exposure to and constant use of these languages; and less so a matter of IQ and academic proclivity.

There is no evidence to suggest exposure to more than two languages leads to a confounding of one’s linguistic abilities. In the same vein, it is not true that the use of Chinese languages — or what most Singaporeans would call dialects — in the home environment will necessarily impede one’s learning of Mandarin.

How then do we account for the situation in a society such as Hong Kong, where students face difficulties acquiring English and Mandarin? For one, Hong Kong’s sociolinguistic milieu is hardly comparable with Singapore’s. Hong Kong has had a stable population of 90 per cent ethnic Chinese, who have been almost homogeneously Cantonese-speaking throughout its history.

Students get involved in keeping estates clean

By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

GET a free canned drink for every 1kg of rubbish collected in a trash bag.

Students at Woodgrove Secondary School plan to implement this idea to curb the littering problem at nearby Housing Board flats. It received the most votes in a poll which was part of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement in Schools, launched yesterday by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"Through the movement, students can learn to take ownership of our community spaces and our Singapore," he said. "(They) can become role models and advocates of a clean Singapore to their classmates, family members and people in the community."

The movement is an updated version of the Use Your Hands campaign started in 1976.

After cleaning a school toilet with a few Woodgrove Secondary students and viewing an exhibition of their cleanliness-related projects, Mr Heng said activities in the latest movement would be mainly "student-initiated". "In that way, the values that underpin these activities can be more deeply internalised... So it's not just a set of activities that they have to do, but because they want to do them."

While some activities may be organised by schools, the movement also encourages students to propose ideas for keeping clean the places they frequent - such as the school campus and local neighbourhoods.

The movement will be part of the character and citizenship education curriculum, and will involve all primary, secondary and pre-tertiary schools.

CPF study to quiz 25,000 on health, retirement needs

Govt's aim is to improve policies and services related to ageing
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

SOME 25,000 Singapore residents aged 45 to 85 would soon be invited to take part in an unusual government study of retirement and health needs.

The group of Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) will take part in what is believed to be the largest study of its kind here.

And it is a longitudinal study: A participant will be polled once every two years over 10 years, "to study changes in his employment and health status", said the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board, which is leading the study.

The Government hopes to "improve ageing-related policies and services", said the CPF Board in a booklet on the study, which also involves the Finance, Health and Manpower ministries and the Housing Board.

The study's launch comes after much recent discussion about whether CPF funds are enough for people's retirement needs, prompted in part by blogger Roy Ngerng's May 15 post, which alleged that the Government "misappropriated" CPF savings.

But The Straits Times understands that the authorities had been considering having such a study from as early as last year.

Incidentally, a DBS Bank survey released earlier this month found that middle-income Singaporeans could risk underestimating their retirement needs.

The poll of 800 people aged 18 to 59 found that the "emerging affluent" were starting to save for retirement too late and could run out of funds in later years.

As for the CPF study, it will cover four main areas: family; health conditions; household expenses; and employment, income and personal savings.

Marriages down, divorces up in 2013

6% drop in marriages; divorce numbers 2nd-highest on record
By Priscilla Goy And Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

THE number of marriages fell last year as divorces hit the second highest annual figure on record.

Department of Statistics figures released yesterday showed 26,254 couples tied the knot, a 6 per cent drop from 2012 when marriages hit a 50-year high.

However, there were 7,525 divorces and annulments. Only in 2011 has there been a higher total - 7,604 - before 2012 saw the first drop in seven years, to 7,237.

The top reasons among non-Muslims for getting divorced were unreasonable behaviour, and having been living apart or separated for three years or more.

Among Muslims, infidelity was the biggest issue leading to a break-up, followed by financial problems and desertion.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan of the National University of Singapore believes the divorce numbers are not worrying and that the health of marriages here is "decent". She said: "The recent number of divorces has not deviated significantly from 2011." She added that the figure is still considered low compared with those in other developed countries.

However, she said it is important to keep in mind young children who are growing up with step-parents or who come from single families.

"Given that the divorce rates had been sustained, we must be culturally and socially sensitive to children so that they are not made to feel stigmatised," said Professor Straughan.

These children, if made to feel that they are not normal, are likely to run into problems "fitting into their reconstituted families" and become cut off from an important form of social support, she added.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Singapore at the Commonwealth Games 2014

Give due credit to foreign-born S'pore athletes

I HOPE the hard-earned victories of our national shuttlers and paddlers have vindicated the decision of our national sports associations to bring foreign-born sports talent into our national teams ("Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze" and "S'pore glue on crown holds"; yesterday).

Of course, we would love to have local-born athletes mount the victory podium. But the reality is that athletes like paddler Isabelle Li and shuttlers Vanessa Neo and Derek Wong, who are willing and able to train almost full-time, are hard to come by.

Sports training is tough and the hours are long. Careers can be short-lived and there is no guarantee of success.

Our society focuses on academic pursuits and the corporate rat race. This, plus the many other distractions in life, serves to discourage young Singaporeans from taking up careers in sports.

It was tough enough for them to uproot themselves from their comfort zones in their native countries to make their new homes here. They then went on to earn their stripes as Singaporeans by training hard daily and then fighting their guts out at competitions for our nation.

This was amply demonstrated by the courageous and spirited performance of Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari in their epic 29-27 win in the second game of Singapore's deciding women's doubles match against their Indian rivals for the Commonwealth Games mixed team bronze.

At that moment when match point was won and all the Singapore players and officials dashed onto the court to huddle together in an unbridled display of pride and joy, it did not matter where the shuttlers were born - they were all Singaporeans.

Edwin Pang
ST Forum, 30 Jul 2014

Germany seizes economic lifeline immigrants offer

By Anthony Faiola, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

AN UNEMPLOYED architect back in Barcelona, Mr Jordi Colombi weighed his options and decided to start a new life. Armed with two suitcases and a Spanish-omelette recipe to feed his homesickness, he arrived two months ago in the land of opportunity.


In the United States, the immigration debate is toxic and paralysed. Political parties raging against foreigners are surging at the polls in Britain and France.

But in Germany, the government is rolling out a red carpet by simplifying immigration procedures, funding free language classes, even opening "welcome centres" for newcomers seeking a piece of the German dream.

In the rankings of the globe's most prosperous countries, this economic powerhouse of 82 million has now leapfrogged Canada, Britain, Italy and Spain to become the largest destination for immigrants after the US, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Because of a low birth rate, the population is shrinking, raising the pivotal question of who will keep the massive German economy humming in the years ahead.

Yet even as insular nations facing similar plight, such as Japan, continue to resist importing workers, Germany is counting on immigrants such as Mr Colombi.

In a nation which former chancellor Helmut Kohl once famously declared "is not an immigrant country", the 36-year-old Spaniard is part of what is fast becoming a global experiment in the immigration debate.

S'pore's no utopia but still a good place to live in

By Peter A. Coclanis, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

IN RECENT months, Singapore's government, for a variety of reasons, has expanded and extended its social welfare activities and made moves to redress problems arising from growing income inequality.

It has, for example, increased health subsidies for the elderly. Through the National Wages Council it has also recommended significant wage increases for the poorest-paid members of the labour force.

Such actions have surprised some critics, who have long believed that the Government was committed, first and foremost, to limiting its role and responsibilities in such realms to ensure that Singapore would not succumb to some of the problems associated with over-extended welfare states in the West.

Even before the recent moves, of course, Singapore was well known for having created a social order and, indeed, a society that ranked at or near the top of international league tables regarding material and social well-being, as measured by such criteria as income and living standards, health care, education, global competitiveness, transparency, lack of corruption and global competitiveness. In so doing, Singapore also created a social order and a society that fare pretty well even when employing moral calculus much favoured by Western liberals.

In A Theory Of Justice (1971), his master work on morality and political philosophy, the late Harvard professor John Rawls famously employed the time-honoured "veil of ignorance" thought experiment to evaluate the morality of political and social policy.

Through this experiment, Professor Rawls attempted to establish a moral basis for a fair "social contract". He started from a hypothetical "original position", in which a group of individuals is tasked with developing principles and structures around which to organise a society.

To Prof Rawls, the best way to ensure fairness and justness in the society so established is for those involved to proceed behind a "veil of ignorance", that is, a situation wherein "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like".

With this veil in place, Prof Rawls believed, people would behave more rationally, impartially, empathetically and morally.

Singapore's competitiveness at risk

High wage costs and a strong currency are putting the economy at risk, while productivity gains have not materialised.
By Augustine H.H. Tan, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

SINGAPORE'S disappointing second-quarter growth of 2.1 per cent compared with the same period last year has raised concerns about the impact of economic restructuring. When compared with the last quarter, growth even dipped 0.8 per cent.

At the same time, productivity performance has been dismal.

After rising by 2.2 per cent in 2011, productivity dropped by 1.4 per cent in 2012 and another 0.2 per cent last year.

Government officials repeatedly emphasise that the productivity drive will take time to bear fruit. But the short-term effect of rising pay without productivity increases can only mean higher costs and prices. And this will have an impact on the cost of living and the viability of firms, encouraging some firms to leave the country.

The situation is reminiscent of that in the early 1980s, when wages were artificially raised in the hope that firms would be motivated to look for ways to increase productivity. During that period, Singapore also had an over-valued exchange rate because the Singapore dollar was closely tied to the overvalued US currency.

Recognising how the strong US dollar was damaging industry in Detroit, then President Ronald Reagan belatedly pressured Germany and Japan to revalue their currencies substantially at the Plaza Accord of September 1985. But that was too late to prevent the serious recession we experienced in 1985 and 1986.

According to the Bank of International Settlements, the real effective exchange rate of the Singapore dollar is higher today than it was in the 1980s.

An over-valued currency penalises the tradable sector and favours non-tradable ones.

It is therefore no surprise that asset markets here, especially real estate, reached bubble conditions.

Deep and strong ties with China

By Teo Chee Hean, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

N EXT year, Singapore and China will celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. Our ties are deep and our cooperation is broad.

Last year, Singapore became China's top source of foreign investment with a total investment of US$7.33 billion (S$9.1 billion). China became Singapore's largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to US$73.1 billion. These figures are testament to the strength of our economic ties, and demonstrate Singapore's support for China's development and confidence in China's future.

Our bilateral engagement took off from the days of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping. Since then, generations of Singapore and Chinese leaders have built strong friendships. When Mr Deng visited Singapore in 1978, China was in the early stages of reform and opening up; industrialisation and economic development were major priorities.

In Singapore, Mr Deng saw a society that focused its energies on tackling these developmental challenges and found our experiences to be a useful reference for China. Singapore was most willing to share our experiences, as we wanted China to succeed.

Thus, by the time formal diplomatic relations were established in 1990, relations were already very strong. Chinese officials were making frequent visits to Singapore to exchange notes with their Singapore counterparts. Realising that mutual learning would be best achieved through direct, hands-on cooperation, Mr Lee proposed that our two governments undertake a joint project of unprecedented scale and ambition - the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP).

In the two decades since, the SIP has become a tremendous success. Today, it serves as a useful model of urban and industrial development that has been replicated in other cities across China, such as Nantong (Jiangsu), Suqian (Jiangsu), Chuzhou (Anhui) and Korgas (Xinjiang).

Better care for the dying in NUH’s emergency ward

NUH doctor says the hospital’s emergency department is seeing more terminally ill patients, for whom aggressive interventions may not be the way to go.
By Neo Chai Chin, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jul 2014

Providing better quality of life and comfort to dying patients and their families within the fast-paced setting of a hospital’s emergency department might seem like a paradox, but that is what an emergency physician at the National University Hospital (NUH) has set out to do.

Emergency departments are traditionally focused on life-saving and aggressive resuscitative care. But with the ageing population here, the department is seeing more terminally ill patients, for whom aggressive life-saving interventions may not be the way to go, said Dr Rakhee Yash Pal, who is spearheading NUH’s palliative care efforts at its emergency department, believed to be a first for public hospitals here.

Of the 133,000 attendances last year at its emergency department, 414 died there. Fifty-five per cent of the deaths were of patients aged 65 and above, up from about 50 per cent in 2011.

The NUH has a palliative care team that can be deployed to various units in the hospital, but some emergency patients have only hours to live. The earlier the goals of care and treatment options for patients are determined, the more comfortable they will be, said Dr Yash Pal. For instance, a patient may wish to not die with tubes in him.

As part of its new palliative care initiatives, an emergency team member will set out to contact family members or check a patient’s records while the rest of the team is stabilising a patient with high risk of death. Previously, speaking to the family would come only after stabilising the patient.