Thursday 11 September 2014

Parliament Highlights - 9 Sep 2014

Parliament endorses ASPIRE report

ASPIRE ‘not about dissuading S’poreans from getting degrees’: Heng
Education Minister says it is about creating opportunities, keeping pathways open for all
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 10 Sep 2014

In the wake of misperception by some about the Government’s message in its drive to improve prospects of polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday set the record straight as he weighed in on the parliamentary debate on whether to endorse the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) report.

“As several MPs have noted, some members of the public are asking: Is the government now saying that qualifications don’t matter? Then why are we urging people to learn and upgrade? Let me be clear — ASPIRE is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves or pursuing degrees or any form of qualifications,” said Mr Heng.

Instead, ASPIRE is about creating opportunities and keeping pathways open for all, he pointed out. “It is about breakthroughs, not limits; widening opportunities, not narrowing them; addition, not subtraction; more, not less.” It is not about one kind of qualification versus another, he stressed.

On Monday, the first day of the debate, several Members of Parliament (MPs) highlighted the need for the Government to communicate its message better. They noted that there is confusion among many Singaporeans on, for example, whether a university degree is still valued.

Over two days, 23 MPs rose to speak on the motion tabled by Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah to endorse the recommendations made by the ASPIRE committee which she chaired.

The Government had accepted the proposals. Still, MPs from both sides of the political divide all expressed unanimous support for the report.

During a lengthy four-hour debate yesterday, MPs acknowledged that it takes time to shift mindsets and called for more structured programmes for internships. They also urged the enhancement of training programmes for ITE and polytechnic students as well as more collaboration with industries, among other things.

Mr Heng pointed out that the belief that qualifications are all that matter would limit Singaporeans’ potential — as does the opposite view that qualifications do not matter at all.

“Qualifications matter, but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do,” he said, citing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists as examples of occupations that require professional qualifications. “But not all qualifications matter — not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do,” he added.

Mr Heng, who is an MP for Tampines GRC, shared an example of a young resident who had gone to him for advice. She had spent money to pursue a private degree after receiving her diploma, thinking that it would help her get a better job with higher pay.

However, after graduating with a degree, she was hired by a company that did not find her degree skills relevant and paid her the salary of an entry-level diploma holder.

“She was so caught up in chasing a piece of paper and lost the chance to discover what she really cared about,” said Mr Heng, who estimated that the resident incurred an opportunity cost of S$70,000 for not working and earning a salary during the three years spent pursuing her private degree.

Singaporeans need to look beyond qualifications and recognise that attitude, deep skills, knowledge and experience matter in order to perform and excel, said Mr Heng.

He noted that existing universities here are all developing applied learning in some ways. In this regard, the universities are taking a leaf from polytechnics and ITEs, not just the other way around. “I see the integration of theoretical and applied learning running throughout our education system —not just in the poly or ITE because this sets the foundation for future learning.”

Wrapping up the debate, Ms Indranee noted that the Government and public-sector agencies employ only 4 per cent of the total workforce, in response to calls from MPs for the Public Service, the single largest employer here, to take the lead in a cultural shift in the way Singapore values its people.

Laying out moves by the Public Service Division to improve career prospects for non-graduates, she added: “I think what MPs are really saying or asking about is the signalling effect.”

She called ASPIRE a “game changer” and noted that the recommendations were drawn from what the committee had learnt from various countries — including Switzerland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand — and woven into Singapore’s context, economic structure and system.

The Government is building on the strength of the people, tripartite system, as well as the polytechnic and ITE system here. “We are doing something uniquely Singaporean,” she said. “We are doing this for one reason and one reason only — to secure a better future for Singaporeans and Singapore.”

Heng: Future of education lies in quest for skills
'Limiting beliefs' can prevent people from achieving full potential, he says
By Sandra Davie Senior, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

THE future of education is about the quest for skills, not the quest for paper qualifications.

That, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday, goes to the heart of a national report to improve the career prospects of Singapore's polytechnic and technical institute's students.

After two days of impassioned debate by MPs on the Applied Study in Polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education Review (ASPIRE) report, Mr Heng set out what he described as "limiting beliefs" that could inhibit people from achieving their full potential.

The first is the mistaken belief that qualifications are all that matters. But "the highest qualifications will do a person no good, if there are no good jobs available in the first place", as shown in Taiwan and parts of Europe, he noted.

Also, there are a variety of jobs that require people to learn in different ways and all their lives. "Some jobs require degrees; some jobs don't." Indeed, people need a whole package of attributes to succeed at the workplace.

At the other extreme is the second equally limiting belief that qualifications no longer matter.

"Qualifications matter but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do," he pointed out.

"ASPIRE is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves, or pursuing degrees or pursuing any form of qualifications."

The third limiting belief is that if polytechnic and ITE students learn better, the value of degrees would go down. The opposite is true because everyone gains when a team does well, he said.

The report, which received broad support from the MPs, including those of the Workers' Party, recommended multiple pathways to give everyone, regardless of qualifications, opportunities to succeed in a chosen career.

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah called it a "game changer" in her wrap-up speech. It sets a new course "because once again, the winds of change are upon us. We must tack to the new wind. If we do not make the change, it will be forced upon us and not on our terms".

MPs, she added, were correct to highlight the challenges.

MPs such as Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said the Government will first need to address the thinking that a degree is the ticket to a good life. There is also the "caste system", as labour MP Heng Chee How (Whampoa) termed it, in human resource which places scholars above graduates, and graduates above diploma holders.

While stressing that employers must play their part, several MPs also highlighted the hurdles, including training cost, that firms, especially SMEs, will face.

Mr Heng Swee Keat also identified three action areas to achieve the desired outcomes. These are: integrate theoretical and applied learning; learn at every stage of your career and in every way; and respect everyone.

Summing up what ASPIRE aims to achieve, he put it thus: "It is not just about qualifications, not just about jobs, not just about economic growth… All of this is to create the conditions for Singaporeans to pursue lives of meaning, achievement and joy. Every one of us, regardless of our starting points."

ASPIRE is the 'missing piece' in Singapore's education system: Indranee
By Chitra Kumar, Channel NewsAsia, 9 Sep 2014

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) is the "missing piece" in Singapore's education system to further strengthen applied education at polytechnics and ITEs said Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah. She closed the debate on Tuesday (Sep 9) on her motion for Parliament to endorse the ASPIRE recommendations, saying that with ASPIRE, the educational components are now all aligned.

Ms Indranee was addressing some concerns raised over the last two days in Parliament that the recommendations were too narrow and should be expanded beyond polytechnics and ITEs.

She pointed out that learning is a lifelong process - from primary level to university and even into the workforce. Ms Indranee, who is the chairman of the ASPIRE Committee, said that applied learning was already introduced at the primary and secondary levels as well as in the universities. Thus, it was now time to deepen applied learning at the polytechnics and ITEs.

"So you can see that we have the education components in alignment and what we are doing now is we are bringing the whole education part into alignment with the industry as well. That is the direction in which the Government is steering us," she said.

Ms Indranee acknowledged changing mindsets will be a significant challenge and obstacle. She said that to do so, people must first be convinced of the need to re-think the whole concept of education and work, and broaden the traditional definitions of success.

She also answered numerous calls for the public sector to take the lead. She said: "For new job seekers at entry-level jobs, the educational qualifications would have to serve as a proxy because you do not know the person. You do not know their capabilities yet. And some jobs require a degree, some do not. When recruiting, the civil service would indicate what kind of qualification is required according to the job type.

"And there will be certain professional fields where professional accreditation is required, for example medical or engineering. In such cases, the applicants will have to meet the requirements." 

She also reiterated that the Public Service Division is studying the merger of the Management Executive Scheme and the Management Support Scheme. She added that there are agencies with existing integrated schemes - such as the People's Association, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

But Ms Indranee reminded the House that Government and public sector agencies employ just 4 per cent of the total workforce. Thus, it was crucial for the various industries and employers to also be on board.

Nominated Member of Parliament Rita Soh said: "As a qualified professional architect with over 25 years of experience in the building and construction industry, I can affirm that the skills-based approach of the ASPIRE recommendations have great industrial relevance. Particularly in the field of architecture, which combines the need for scientific knowledge and artistic skill, employers and industry professionals alike have noticed with frustration a steep decline in the value of craftsmanship among incoming batches of graduates."

To ensure the success of this review, Ms Indranee reminded members that this was only the beginning - what is needed now is for everyone else to start making the necessary concrete changes in their own areas, including teachers, parents and employers.

Qualifications must be right for the job one wants: Heng
The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

EDUCATION Minister Heng Swee Keat made plain yesterday that recommendations by the ASPIRE committee to improve ITE and polytechnic vocational education were not meant to dissuade Singaporeans from upgrading themselves - or from pursuing degrees or any other qualifications.

The goal is to create opportunities for all, and not to create more competition for some, he said. But he stressed that qualifications sought ought to be of the right kind for the job a person wants.

Likewise, employers and the industry should also make it known to those looking to enter the workforce just what it is that they are looking for in employees.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, when he joined the debate on the ASPIRE committee's report, he acknowledged that qualifications were a proxy measure for some competencies and attributes, "but cannot represent the full package of attributes each of us brings to the table".

He noted that several MPs said members of the public had - in the light of the committee's report - asked if the Government was now saying qualifications do not matter, and, if so, why it was urging people to upgrade.

The ASPIRE committee's recommendations, he said, were about "keeping pathways open for all, not blocking pathways for some".

"Qualifications matter but they must be the right qualifications and of the right standard for what we want to do. We want our doctor, our nurse, our pharmacist, our physiotherapist to each have the right qualification for the job they do," he said.

"The right qualification signifies that you have the right skills, the right combination of knowledge, application and experience.

"But not all qualifications matter. Not if they do not help us build the right skills for what we want to do," he said. "And this can happen when we seek qualifications as a paper chase rather than as a quest for skills."

He cited the case of a resident at his Meet-the-People Session recently. The diploma holder went directly to do a private degree programme, believing she could get a better job and earn a better pay.

"But after spending tens of thousands of dollars on the programme, she got a job that paid her at a fresh diploma holder's level - about $2,000 - because the company did not find her degree skills relevant. She lost three years of salary had she gone on to work. So (an) opportunity cost of over $70,000 plus the cost of doing this programme," he said.

"What's worse, she realised after all this, that this line of work does not suit her strengths and interest. She was so caught up in chasing the piece of paper and lost the chance to discover what she really cared about."

Her story moved him because her family is not well off, and the experience was a cost for them.

"I feel strongly that we must provide better career and education guidance to our young people. And our captains of industry must come out and explain what they are looking for."

Provide good training, bosses urged
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

BOSSES will have to do their part and provide good internships and training if Singapore's push to improve the career prospects of non-degree holders is to succeed, said MPs yesterday.

Mr Heng Chee How (Whampoa) told Parliament: "The best intentions will come to naught if companies are not doing their best to retain and upgrade talent, skills and experience."

His remarks echoed those of Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC), who called for workplace practices to be in line with the recommendations of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) panel, which were endorsed by the House yesterday.

One area of concern centred on small businesses grappling with the short-term challenges of hosting and training interns or providing apprenticeships.

Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) called for internships to be proper learning experiences rather than "just another excursion in... a study programme".

But small firms may not have enough staff to supervise and mentor interns or the budget to compensate them, said Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) and Nominated MP Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He said smaller firms already fear being edged out by larger ones in hiring: "The pool of young people is like a cake... Large and multinational corporations have big appetites and strong appeal. Very quickly, this cake would be entirely eaten up by them."

Mr Chua urged smaller firms to participate in the process of improving technical education as it will help them attract polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates.

MPs suggested the Government help these firms take on students by giving them training grants or tax incentives. Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah replied that such schemes are already in place.

The labour movement supports ASPIRE's recommendation to more closely link what polytechnics and the ITE teach with what industries need, said Mr Heng.

He and fellow Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called on companies to work with unions on continual training.

Bosses could enrol their workers for courses at the Devan Nair Institute of Employment and Employability run by NTUC - a suggestion backed by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

Place-and-train schemes to take in poly, ITE grads
WDA, Manpower Ministry to help drive support for skills upgrading
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

THE Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will offer, from 2016, place-and-train programmes to polytechnic graduates in the biologics and logistics sectors, and to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates in the marine and offshore engineering and pastry and baking sectors.

This is an extension of the place-and-train programme WDA now offers to mid-career professionals looking to switch to other professions, such as radiography and physiotherapy.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor elaborated on the expanded role of the WDA in Parliament yesterday.

She outlined how the agency and the Manpower Ministry will support a new tripartite committee set up to drive industry support for career progression based on skills.

The WDA will match poly and ITE graduates in those sectors with suitable employers, said Dr Khor.

Under the place-and-train programmes, participants undergo structured on-the-job training while studying to further their qualifications.

WDA will develop an online portal to provide education and life-long career guidance to Singaporeans. It will be tailored to the different needs of people in various age groups, said Dr Khor.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam said the WDA has offered many upgrading programmes for lower-skilled Singaporean workers. But they may not receive a higher wage or a larger job scope after completing the course.

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said the private security industry has seen various measures since 2005 aiming to improve the skill competencies of security officers. But it "remains a low-wage industry" despite rising standards and job scope.

Employers hesitated to send staff for training as it may mean extra cost to hire covering officers, and those who have completed training may want higher pay.

In response, Dr Khor said a 2012 WDA study found that workers who went for skills upgrading under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications system received higher wages compared to workers of a similar profile who did not undergo training.

"The returns from training were even more significant for low-wage workers," said Dr Khor.

But the cultural change in society's attitudes towards paper qualifications will not take place overnight, and is not the Government's job alone, she said.

"Students, workers, parents, employers, unions, education and training institutions, and society at large all have important parts to play."

Success is tied to workers' skills and autonomy
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

TWO MPs who keep close tabs on labour trends sounded an important warning yesterday: Do not take a wealth of good jobs for granted.

Nominated MP Randolph Tan, a labour economist, said that after half a century of sustained job growth, with steady resumption of employment growth after each downturn, Singaporeans risk "believing - falsely - that we are specially endowed with recovery abilities denied to other countries all too familiar with widespread joblessness".

What does that have to do with the ASPIRE report and its bid to enhance opportunities for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates?

The report places the emphasis on skills and performance, rather than paper qualifications. And yesterday, Senior Minister of State Heng Chee How made explicit the link between these very skills and jobs, specifically the creation of good jobs that pay well and enable those who do them to enjoy a good standard of living.

This is how Mr Heng, who is also a National Trades Union Congress leader, put it: "Good jobs must be created in Singapore, and Singaporeans must have the attitudes and competencies needed to take on those good jobs.

"Indeed, the two are inter-linked. If companies find that Singaporeans do not have the competencies needed for the better jobs, they will have less reason to create or bring those better jobs into Singapore."

That may sound like common sense but the challenge lies in staying abreast of shifting demand for competencies and finding ways to equip current and future workers with them.

Dr Tan said what he sees in the ASPIRE report is "a warning against leaving our students unprepared for the rigours of the workplace that is set to become more and more competitive".

Cutting through the confusion over whether degrees are now less important than they used to be, he added: "Being fully prepared for the workplace is the key, and the reality is that given the right vocational training, some of our students will likely enjoy an equally - if not more - rewarding career over their university-trained counterparts.

"On the other hand, students who rush headlong and unprepared into a university degree without taking time to decide on what is most suited to their aptitude and inclination may not achieve their full potential, and may actually fall behind their vocationally trained counterparts."

In other words, there is no definitive answer on whether a degree or diploma will yield better dividends in future. It all depends on the individual, his inclinations and aptitude.

That may prove an uncomfortable truth for those parents and students used to having a path marked out for them to follow. But the spirit of the ASPIRE report is that each person must choose his own path, taking into account his passions, strengths and, yes, even his limitations.

Two other MPs fleshed out why such an approach flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Opposition MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) said parents must stop trying to be the directors of their children's lives and switch instead to being cheerleaders who support them in charting their own course of development.

Nominated MP Kuik Shiao- Yin, who has taught youth, said society must protect their freedom to pursue whatever path of knowledge is meaningful to them.

"When we rob our youth of their ability to choose what they want to study based on our own adult assumptions that it is 'too hard for them to score' or 'will bring down our school ranking' or 'will not earn you enough money in life', we teach them early on that no matter what people say, our society accepts only one pathway to success. And you have no choice but to take it to its bitter end. Trying to convince them otherwise later down the road at ITE and poly stage becomes extremely difficult," she said.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat urged Singaporeans not to remain locked in old ways of thinking and old fears of losing out to others, because to do so would be to limit their own potential to thrive.

"We limit ourselves if we believe that qualifications are all that matter to get a good job, or, the opposite, that qualifications don't matter at all," he said.

"We limit ourselves if we think that some people improving their qualifications increases competition for others.

"If we limit ourselves this way, we block our individual ability to reach our aspirations, and our collective potential to build an inclusive, fair society of opportunities for all."

Now that Parliament has endorsed the ASPIRE report, the work of helping Singaporeans make good choices for the future cannot start soon enough.

When ERP rates rise, traffic speed goes up too
Speeds rise an average of 7% per dollar increase, says Josephine Teo
By Christopher Tan Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

MORE than three-quarters of Singapore's 74 electronic road pricing (ERP) gantries have not had their rates changed in the last three years, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

Of those that saw changes, only eight showed a discernible upward trend in rates, she added.

But it reduced congestion: Speeds rose an average of 7 per cent per dollar increase, she noted of the eight gantries.

"As for the majority of the gantries which did not need a rate change... a balance has been achieved, with the ERP rate sustaining a traffic speed in the optimal range," she said.

Mrs Teo gave these figures when replying to Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who had asked for proof that the ERP system was effective.

She said: "The effectiveness of ERP... is not evidenced by the number of gantries that see rate changes, but from the changes in traffic speeds that result from each rate change."

Mr Baey also asked if rate revisions - which are made quarterly - had made it too daunting for motorists to remember the prevailing charges on the road.

Mrs Teo said rates are changed only when average speeds fall outside the "optimal range". The optimal range for expressways is 45kmh to 65kmh, and for arterial roads, 20kmh to 30kmh.

But she acknowledged that rate changes may elude motorists.

"Speaking as a motorist myself, I have to confess that it is probably true of many motorists that even when rate changes are announced in advance through the media, we don't always pay attention," she said.

"Very often, we pay attention when our in-vehicle unit goes beep and we look at the number and it looks different from the last time we were on the road."

It is then that drivers decide whether to change their travelling patterns. Some may still feel the time saved is worth the higher rates, she said.

"But each time there is a rate change, we do notice that there are certain drivers who have changed their travelling pattern."

Mrs Teo said the satellite-based ERP system, which the Land Transport Authority is working on, will be a "fairer" system.

Likely to be in place by 2020, the system offers "the flexibility of charging drivers according to the distance they travel".

"This is an inherently fairer system as those who contribute more to congestion will pay more," Mrs Teo said.

"The incentive for these drivers to change their time, route or mode of travel would thus be stronger."

Policy of matching Malaysia's tolls 'fair'
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

THERE is no guarantee that motorists will see lower costs when driving to Malaysia if Singapore does not have a policy of matching Malaysia's toll charges, according to Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo.

Singapore's policy of matching the tolls that Malaysia imposes for use of the Causeway and Second Link is a "longstanding" one.

"It reflects the shared nature of the two crossings, and ensures a fair distribution of total revenues from the crossings," she said.

Without such a policy, "lower toll charges by one side may simply be offset by higher tolls" levied by the other side.

So, "there is no assurance that toll charges forgone by one side will be translated into lower total charges which benefit motorists", she said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Singh also asked whether a study has been done to assess the impact of higher tolls on Singapore businesses in Johor's Iskandar region.

Mrs Teo said the Government has limited information on the cost structures and market conditions of Singapore businesses in the Iskandar zone, but added: "Clearly, there will be some impact on their costs."

She reiterated that Singapore would "in due course" match Malaysia's latest toll revision that kicked in on Aug 1.

Drivers of cars entering Johor from Singapore through the Causeway are now charged RM9.70, up from RM2.90 before August. Drivers of cars travelling from Johor to Singapore previously paid no tolls, but now must pay a charge of RM6.80.

If Malaysia reduces or removes the toll charges, Singapore will follow suit, Mrs Teo said, adding: "This would be welcomed by both Singapore and Malaysian businesses on both sides of the Causeway."

In her reply to Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), Mrs Teo said Singapore's entry permit charges for foreign vehicles were meant to "equalise the cost of owning and using a foreign-registered vehicle in Singapore, with that of a Singapore-registered vehicle".

The cost difference between the two has widened in recent years, she noted, hence the need to revise the fees. The new rates took effect on Aug 1.

But the increase is the first in 20 years, she said. "In fact, it was reduced in 2004... because COE prices had gone down during that period."

As foreign-registered cars and motorcycles continue to enjoy around 125 fee-free days a year, on top of daily fee-free hours, only one in 10 foreign cars that enter Singapore will be affected by the increase, she said.

On reports that Malaysia will introduce a similar fee, Mrs Teo said Singapore has not been "officially informed by the Malaysian government".

"We are concerned whether it is directed towards Singapore vehicles," she said. "We have contacted the Malaysian government to seek details, and are awaiting their reply before deciding on our response."

Perks for parents to move to new towns 'too costly'
By Rachel Au-YongThe Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has appeared to rule out giving cash incentives to encourage parents in mature estates to join their children in new towns.

He said yesterday he had asked participants at his ministry's recently concluded Housing Conversations how big a carrot it would take for them to move. "The figure is something I can't afford. It's six digits," he said, to the general surprise of MPs.

In July, Mr Khaw seemed to entertain the idea of financial incentives. He told participants that if parents were prepared to leave their comfortable surroundings in a mature estate, "we should try to facilitate and perhaps even reward them for moving out because that opens up opportunities for children of parents in mature estates who want to stay on."

Yesterday, he appeared to have changed tack when asked about the idea by Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC).

"We will try within our capabilities and financial limits, but if some parents can change their attitude and be prepared to try out the new towns, they may discover better new towns - maybe in Yishun," Mr Khaw said.

Still, there are other options, even for those in mature estates.

"Helping extended families live together or close by for mutual care and support has been a longstanding priority for this Government," he said, pointing to the Married Child Priority Scheme, which gives applicants living with or near their parents more chances at the ballot box, and the multi-generatonal 3Gen flats.

Another is the possibility of more new flats in older towns.

He told Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC): "Within the next 12 months ... there are several Build-to-Order launch possibilities in several mature estates. Whether it will be in the member's ward, I do not know."

The Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) and resale flats are also options for those hoping to move into mature towns to be near their parents. SERS involves redeveloping old estates. Affected owners get compensation and rehousing benefits. These old estates are often low-rise and the new blocks will have more units than before.

But people in older estates may not be keen to move out. Mr Khaw said: "I know many parents are very reluctant because ... they are used to the hawker or a particular wet market stallholder and they find it very difficult to move to a new place. But we will try."

Window grilles not 'essential' for all, will not be provided by HDB: Maliki
Channel NewsAsia, 9 Sep 2014

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will not provide window grilles as a standard feature in its flats – whether sold or rental – as they are not considered essential by all households, Minister of State for National Development Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman said in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 9).

Dr Maliki was responding to questions from MP Baey Yam Keng and Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat on whether HDB would consider making window grilles a standard safety feature for rental flats. Mr Baey also asked if HDB would look into reducing the cost of installing window grilles for rental tenants who need them.

Dr Maliki said rental tenants who require window grilles may install their own. If they are unable to afford to do so and have safety concerns due to a medical condition or because of young children at home, HDB will help to install the grilles on a case-by-case basis, he added.

Challenges in infant care sector debated
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad SallehThe Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

A SPIRITED exchange took place in Parliament yesterday over early childhood care, with Ms Lee Bee Wah lamenting the lack of space in childcare centres in her ward.

"I have gone round to check all the childcare centres in Nee Soon South," she said of the ward in Nee Soon GRC. "They are all filled up. There's no vacancy."

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had told her, in response to one of her earlier questions, that the Government has added more than 320 infant care places in 25 childcare centres between August last year and July this year.

But she pointed out that each week, residents would ask her for help to get a place at childcare centres.

"It looks like there's an acute shortage... I just wonder, is this unique (to) Nee Soon South or is it a nationwide problem?"

Mr Chan acknowledged that the early childhood sector is indeed a challenge.But places are not the main problem, he said.

The challenge is the sector's manpower shortage, for which Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested recruiting stay-at-home mums.

Mr Chan was open to the idea, saying the Government is prepared to be more flexible to attract people into the sector.

Meanwhile, his ministry is taking steps to address the high attrition rate, he said. It is working with the Education Ministry to ensure those who want to do early childhood courses are passionate and ready for the work involved.

Ms Lee persisted. She urged the Government to look at offering incentives or simpler training to attract people into the sector.

"If you were to recruit some of those housewives who have experience caring for babies, if you ask them to go and study, they will say, 'Ai tak ceh ah?' (Hokkien for 'Need to study, ah?') Then they wouldn't want to come forward," she said.

But the sector is not looking for people with academic qualifications, Mr Chan said.

What it wants are people with the right skill sets who can assure parents their children will be taken care of. "At the same time, they must have the heart to want to care for the children."

Civil servants need to be aware of pro-family leave benefits: DPM Teo
By Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 9 Sep 2014

Public service officers use their pro-family leave benefits on a needs basis, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 9).

According to Mr Teo, 72 per cent of officers used the six-day childcare leave, 48 per cent used the two-day extended childcare leave and 78 per cent used paternity leave. MP Seah Kian Peng questioned why not more have taken up the pro-family leave benefits.

The Deputy Prime Minister said rather than focusing on the rate of utilisation of specific leave types, it is important to ensure that pro-family leave benefits are made known to officers. This way, they can make use of the benefits when they need to do so.

Mr Seah then suggested a top-down approach may be needed so that civil servants are encouraged to utilise the pro-family leave benefits.

Pensioners who are pioneers 'will be better off than before'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad SallehThe Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

GOVERNMENT pensioners who qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package will continue to receive all the post-retirement benefits of their respective pension schemes.

This is on top of benefits under the Pioneer Generation Package, such as outpatient and MediShield Life premium subsidies.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean gave the assurance yesterday in his reply to Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who asked about the impact of the Pioneer Generation Package on low-income pensioners.

Mr Teo said the package honours the elderly by taking care of their health-care needs, so pensioners will not be worse off.

All Singaporeans who meet the Pioneer Generation criteria will be eligible for life-long Medisave top-ups of $200 to $800 a year, for instance. They will also get enhanced Community Health Assist Scheme subsidies at participating GPs and dental clinics.

"This will reduce their out-of- pocket expenses under their existing medical benefit schemes as pensioners," he said.

Also, pensioners with moderate to severe functional disabilities will receive $100 a month under the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme.

MediShield Life is compulsory for all Singaporeans, so pensioners will be enrolled too and get benefits beyond the post-retirement perks they already receive. Pensioners will receive a letter from the Public Service Division next month, with details on how they are being enrolled.

This will ensure that pensioners who are pioneers "will be better off than before", he said.

Plans to let more people watch NDP 2015
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2014

THE organising committee for next year's National Day Parade is exploring ways to let more Singaporeans watch the celebrations of the country's 50th year of independence.

These include increasing the seating capacity at the popular Padang venue, or creating satellite areas throughout the Marina Bay area for people to watch the preview and actual parade live.

The committee has been looking around Marina Bay, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament yesterday.

He, however, did not provide concrete details, noting instead that there were "possibilities", like the Marina Promenade.

But there may be logistical problems in providing more space for people to watch the show at the Padang which, he noted, "is right in the middle of town".

But there are potential sites in the area, he said, adding that the advent of large LED screens with good resolution makes it possible for more people to watch the show live.

Dr Ng disclosed the plan when replying to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked if the Government would consider holding two previews, instead of the usual one.

Said Mr Liang: "We are seeing more Singaporeans taking part in the celebration with great pride. And NDP being the pinnacle of celebration, I think obviously most Singaporeans want to be part of it."

Dr Ng agreed it would be ideal if more Singaporeans had the chance to watch next year's parade.

But an extra preview may be too taxing for the participants, who would need some rest before the actual show.

There are four shows for the public before the actual parade: three National Education shows for school students, and the NDP preview held the week before National Day on Aug 9.

The committee prefers to keep the three shows for the students, Dr Ng said.

"Many of us would agree (they) are useful, and we don't want to rob from (students) to give to others."

He also said the organising committee will work with the People's Association on activities to celebrate National Day in the heartland, bringing the cheer closer to homes.

"They are quite cognisant that this is NDP 2015, our golden jubilee, and they want to put up a good show and include as many Singaporeans as possible, either at the Padang or the fringe areas," Dr Ng said.

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