Thursday 31 August 2017

Facebook to reject ads from pages touting fake news

The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2017

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook has said pages that make a habit of linking to bogus news stories will no longer be able to advertise on the world's leading online social network.

The move is the latest shot fired by Facebook in its war against "fake news" used to deceive instead of enlighten.

"If pages repeatedly share stories marked as false, these repeat offenders will no longer be allowed to advertise on Facebook," product managers Tessa Lyons and Satwik Shukla said in a blog post.

"This update will help to reduce the distribution of false news which will keep pages that spread false news from making money."

The social network already does not allow ads that link stories determined to be false by third-party fact-checkers.

Ms Lyons and Mr Shukla said: "False news is harmful to our community. It makes the world less informed and erodes trust."

Fake news became a serious issue in last year's US election campaign, when clearly fraudulent stories circulated on social media, potentially swaying some voters.

Concerns have been raised since then about hoaxes and misinformation affecting elections in Europe this year, with investigations showing how "click farms" generate revenue from online advertising using made-up news stories.

Online article in Australian Teacher Magazine is fake news: MOE

Australian Teacher Magazine pulls out article MOE called 'fake news'
Managing editor of publication apologises 'without reservation'
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2017

Australian Teacher Magazine yesterday withdrew an article which was labelled as "fake news" by Singapore's Education Ministry (MOE), and apologised "without reservation".

The article, which was published in its August issue and was widely shared, had quoted MOE director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong as telling an international conference here in May that Singapore is "building compliant students just as the jobs that value compliance are beginning to disappear".

But MOE on Monday described the statements in the article, written by Mr Walter Barbieri, as "completely false" and " fake news". According to his Linkedin profile, Mr Barbieri is the director of eLearning at St Peter's College in Adelaide.

In the interest of "full transparency", MOE yesterday released an unedited video and the transcript of Mr Wong's 35-minute speech he delivered on the first day of the National Institute of Education's (NIE) Redesigning Pedagogy international conference.

Mr Grant Quarry, Australian Teacher Magazine's managing editor, told The Straits Times yesterday that it is investigating the matter and has been trying to contact the author for clarification.

In the interim, the report's webpage on EducationHQ, which publishes the magazine, was updated with an editor's note explaining why the article had been withdrawn.

"In the light of the evidence presented, and in the absence of alternative evidence to support the author at this stage, EducationHQ has withdrawn the story and apologises without reservation for any offence caused," said the note.

Mr Barbieri did not respond to queries from The Straits Times.

In his article, he had claimed that Mr Wong compared Singapore's stellar academic results in 2015's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) with the data on student well-being and innovation in the economy, which placed Singapore in the lowest quartile.

According to the article, Mr Wong attributed Singapore's PISA success to standardised test drilling and a culture of compliance, and said at the conference: "We've been winning the wrong race."

The online article chalked up about 3,500 shares earlier this week. The earlier print version of the article had also mistakenly attributed the quotes to Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng before it was edited and attributed to Mr Wong instead in the online article.

According to the transcript and video recording provided by MOE, Mr Wong did not refer to the PISA rankings - which Singapore students topped for reading, mathematics and science - in his speech. Instead, Mr Wong said that the literacy levels of Singapore students have "improved tremendously".

"They are now reading, writing, speaking in a very high level. They are learning their mathematics well, they're able to solve a lot of mathematical problems very competently," he added.

NIE said that this was the only speech that Mr Wong gave at the conference and that no other speakers had made comments similar to what was purported in the article, to the best of its knowledge.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

One Belt One Road: Singapore well-positioned to make gains in game-changing initiative says Shanmugam

Singpore in 'a position to benefit' from Belt and Road push
Its edge includes good governance, educated workforce, financial centre and port, says Shanmugam
The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2017

Having recognised early the benefits of China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) push, Singapore has actively supported it and is well-positioned to make gains from it, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a lecture yesterday.

Singapore's edge lies in its good governance, the rule of law, its educated workforce and its respected financial centre and port, he said.

Singapore has also been an "active proponent" of China's growth since its opening-up, and was an early supporter of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which funds Belt and Road projects.

One Belt, One Road - unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013 - seeks to enhance links between Asia, Europe and Africa by building roads, railway and other infrastructure in a network of projects covering more than 60 countries.

Describing it as a "game changer" that is bold, innovative and ambitious, Mr Shanmugam said: "If connectivity improves, people travel, investment flows increase; we will benefit if we are ready and smart."

He cited figures that showed Singapore is already benefiting: 30 per cent of China's Belt and Road investments in all countries are in Singapore. In return, Singapore's investments in China account for 85 per cent of total Belt and Road investments there by all countries.

Mr Shanmugam's speech, at an Asia Competitiveness Institute forum, was the latest in a series of remarks by Singapore's leaders in support of China's bid to recreate the Silk Road.

The Republic was one of three South-east Asian countries whose heads of government did not attend the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May, causing some to raise questions about bilateral ties.

But observers say relations are on an even keel, with a June announcement that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be visiting Singapore.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Shanmugam also placed the Belt and Road Initiative in the context of shifting geopolitics. China, said the former foreign minister, was likely to continue its rise as a superpower, despite domestic problems like corruption and an ageing population. And while the United States has not gone into actual decline, the relative positions of the two countries will change.

One Belt, One Road, a result of China's rise, may well accelerate that rise, he said, noting that China is already the largest trading nation in the world. China is also able to translate plans into reality, given its resources, its ability to muster the nation's will towards a clear goal, and its great leap forward in technology and science, he added.

Political battles over statues

Much ado about statues
Recent events a reminder of how statues reflect people's memory
By Ho Ai Li, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2017

A statue is not just a statue.

Recent controversies, from Charlottesville to Sydney and Seoul, have underlined how these monuments are often proxies in the battle over what people remember.

"Any form of commemoration is necessarily controversial," said Dr Kevin Tan, a legal expert and president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore. There will be winners and losers, with some in and others out.

"Statues are even more problematic," he told The Straits Times, "because they are usually larger than life, physically personify the person being commemorated and act as natural magnets for opposition."

Certainly, statues of Confederate generals in parks and university campuses across the United States have attracted controversy as symbols of racism.

The Confederacy was made up of 11 southern states that broke away from the US in the 1860s to preserve a way of life that included slavery. Many of these statues have since been moved, but plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee triggered a fatal clash between white supremacist groups and their opponents earlier this month.

Asia, too, has its statue battles.

In South Korea, these have been used as weapons against the downplaying of Japanese war crimes. One comfort woman sculpture was put up in Seoul opposite the Japanese embassy in 2011; another was installed opposite the Japanese consulate in port city Busan last December, so angering Tokyo that it recalled its ambassador.

The issue of comfort women - mainly Koreans forced or recruited to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II - still festers. Many Koreans are unhappy with the agreement their country signed with Japan in 2015 to settle the issue. Victim groups, in particular, say Japan's apology did not go far enough.

In the lead-up to South Korea's National Liberation Day on Aug 15, comfort women statues were installed on five public buses in Seoul, where they will remain until the end of next month.

In Asia, statues have also been deployed by countries against a common former wartime enemy.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Presidential Election 2017: Nomination Day on Sep 13, Polling on Sep 23

PE 2017 Writ issued: Nomination Day on Sep 13, Polling on Sep 23
Elections committee to check if candidates meet criteria, and inform them by Sep 12
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2017

Singaporeans will vote for their eighth president on Sep 23, if more than one person qualifies to run for the position.

The winning candidate will be the second Malay president in Singapore's history, and the first to be chosen in a presidential election reserved for candidates of a specific community.

But whether the nation's 2.5 million eligible voters get to cast their vote at all hinges on the Presidential Elections Committee.

It screens all presidential hopefuls to see whether they meet the required criteria and will inform them of its decision by Sep 12.

If only one candidate qualifies, he or she will be declared the president on Nomination Day, Sep 13. Otherwise, a contest is on the cards.

The contenders will be nominated at People's Association headquarters at 9, King George's Avenue.

These details were given by the Elections Department (ELD) yesterday when it announced that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had issued the Writ of Election.

PM Lee later stressed in a Facebook post the significance of the reserved election, saying it is important in a multiracial country for every citizen to "know someone of his community can... and does become president from time to time, and thus represent all Singaporeans".

In the event of a contest, Polling Day, which is Sep 23, will be a public holiday. The Returning Officer will be Mr Ng Wai Choong, chief executive of the Energy Market Authority.

Three people have stepped forward to potentially join the contest: marine services firm chairman Farid Khan, 61; former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, 63; and property company chief executive Salleh Marican, 67.

Mr Farid and Mr Salleh handed in their forms last week, although neither qualify to run automatically.

Monday 28 August 2017

President Tony Tan reflects on his presidency; Singapore's seventh president leaves office on 31 Aug 2017

It's been hard work but... very rewarding: Dr Tony Tan on his six years at the Istana
As end of his presidency nears, Dr Tan stresses the need to further strengthen social bonds
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor and Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 27 Aug 2017

President Tony Tan Keng Yam leaves office this Thursday as the head of state who preceded the biggest change to the elected presidency in its 26 years.

The move to entrench multiracialism in the highest office in the land, by ensuring members of the country's main races occupy it periodically, is a change he fully supports.

He believes it will stand the nation in good stead and further fortify the social fabric at a time when the terror threat to Singapore is at its highest.

Citing the spate of recent terror attacks and disrupted terror plots around the world, he says: "Singapore is a target for terrorists."

In a measured voice, he adds: "One of these days, an incident will happen. And when that happens, it's very important to ensure we do not allow it to destroy our cohesion, or to have tensions between the various communities.

"In that respect, reserving this next election for the Malays is appropriate - unfortunately, because of these circumstances around the world which Singapore is caught up in," he says.

For Dr Tan, 77, the need for Singapore to continue reinforcing multiracialism is never-ending.

It is a key reason he cited for supporting the reserved election when the Constitutional Commission proposed the mechanism last year.

"Since the elected presidency was instituted, the presidents, including myself, have all been non-Malays," he adds in an interview at the Istana's Yusof Room, where a bust of the first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970, is displayed.

"It's good to make sure from time to time, people of different ethnic groups have the opportunity to become president so that it reflects our multiracial society," he says.

Sunday 27 August 2017

Jurong Lake District to create more than 100,000 jobs, 20,000 homes

New homes, jobs, lifestyle in Jurong Lake District
Draft masterplan envisions 100,000 jobs and 20,000 new homes, and car-lite zones
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2017

Now known more for its industrial estates and HDB homes, the Jurong Lake District is gearing up for its reincarnation as Singapore's second Central Business District - a development the Government hopes can kick-start the country's next phase of economic transformation.

While the financial heart of the country is in the CBD south of the Singapore River, its ambition is for Jurong to become a second nucleus, anchored by sectors such as maritime services, energy and IT.

They could yield some 100,000 new jobs, due to the district's proximity to the upcoming High Speed Rail (HSR) terminus and Tuas mega-port, based on a draft masterplan the Urban Redevelopment Authority made public yesterday.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said: "It can be the catalyst for Singapore's next phase of economic transformation, in the same way that Jurong Industrial Estate kick-started our manufacturing sector more than 50 years ago."

There are also plans to build 20,000 new homes. It is not clear yet what the mix between public and private homes will be.

The planners want to introduce new ways of living and getting around. For instance, the district will be as car-lite as possible, with public transport-only zones, limited parking and a logistics hub outside it to minimise the number of delivery trucks in the area.

There will also be a district-wide cooling system to pipe cool air directly into homes to save energy. There will also be 16ha of new parks.

In total, the district will span 360ha, about one-fifth the size of the current CBD. The masterplan could be finalised as early as 2019.

But as the plans are expected to materialise only from 2040, some flexibility is worked in: The district will be divided into grids, allowing land parcels of varying sizes to be sold. Most of the area will be zoned "white", an arrangement allowing uses from residential to business. The Government is looking to start land sales in the next few years.

Hate speech: Boundaries must be drawn says Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam

Shanmugam: Society as a whole has to condemn such rhetoric
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2017

Sensible boundaries need to be drawn to prevent hate speech and protect social institutions and people from the harm it can cause, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

In a Facebook post where he cited the recent unrest in the American city of Charlottesville, Mr Shanmugam made the point that societies cannot just look to "debate and discussion" to build and maintain social harmony in the battle against hate speech.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug 12 to protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

They paraded in the streets yelling Nazi slogans, and clashed with counter-protesters. The protests turned deadly when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd near a downtown mall, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

"Charlottesville reminds us that when hate speech is allowed to be routinely uttered and its symbols are paraded openly, it pollutes the discourse and normalises extremist behaviour," said Mr Shanmugam.

Calling hate speech a "precursor to violence", he highlighted the importance of society coming together to condemn such rhetoric, instead of accepting it as part of free speech.

"If society prohibits open expressions of hate, then racists may still only be paying lip service to societal norms. But they have no choice. They have to accept that certain behaviour has no place in the public sphere, and that creates a different dynamic in society," he said.

His post comes as the Government looks at policies to tackle acts that denigrate other races or religions, preach intolerance, or sow religious discord. He first spoke about these changes last year.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Passion Made Possible: Singapore's new international brand by STB and EDB

Singapore's new tagline: Passion Made Possible
Wooing tourists and firms with new tagline
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

Surprising, unique, yours, and now a place where passion meets possibilities. Singapore's national brand received its latest makeover yesterday with the unveiling of the tagline: Passion Made Possible.

The latest incarnation of the tagline broke new ground on two fronts: It is the first time the tagline contains no explicit mention of Singapore, and also the first time the brand will be used to target tourists as well as woo businesses.

The unified brand was a joint effort by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Economic Development Board (EDB), and will also be used by other agencies under the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Speaking at the launch, STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said it "captures the idea of the determination to pursue something truly worthwhile, and possibilities made real is the promise of Singapore".

The tagline is accompanied by a logo of the letters SG inside a circle, drawing on the SG50 logo's popularity. "We are calling it the SG Mark, and this can be applied to visuals or text to immediately connote the Singapore stamp of quality and trust, which underpins our spirit of passion made possible," said Mr Yeo.

A key feature of the new campaign is an emphasis on storytelling. Instead of talking about the different things a tourist can do in Singapore, STB will use local personalities and share stories about their passions - be it food, shopping, culture or business. For example, it released a 41/2-minute-long video of wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai talking about his love for nature as he walks through Pulau Ubin and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Noting that Singapore's iconic attractions and efficiency are already well known, Mr Yeo said: "We will build on this by telling stories of Passion Made Possible to develop an even more positive affinity towards Singapore."

Passion Made Possible was launched yesterday at Infinite Studios, near Ayer Rajah, by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran. On the global front, it will launch today in Japan and later in 14 other cities.

Mr Iswaran said this campaign was relevant to start-ups, big businesses or tourists: "Passion Made Possible, really, is about people who believe that they have something valuable and different to offer."

The revamp comes on the back of stiffer competition for tourism dollars from other countries, but also at a time when the tourism sector here is growing. The number of visitors rose by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million last year, while tourism receipts grew by 13 per cent to $24.6 billion.

This is Singapore's fifth such campaign since the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board kicked off with Surprising Singapore in 1977. That was followed by New Asia Singapore in 1995, Uniquely Singapore in 2004, and 2010's YourSingapore.

To come up with the new brand, STB and EDB surveyed close to 4,500 respondents in Singapore and 10 other countries on what the Republic stands for.

36 buildings may have combustible cladding that do not meet fire safety rules; Stricter rules and factory checks for cladding on buildings by the first half of 2019

But they are safe for occupancy, says SCDF, which is getting owners to replace the panels
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2017

A total of 36 buildings here, including an industrial complex in Toh Guan Road where a lethal fire broke out in May, are using external cladding that may not adhere to safety standards in the Fire Code.

Of these, 15 were confirmed to be using combustible cladding that allows flames to spread quicker than they are supposed to. They include the new Our Tampines Hub, parts of Singapore Polytechnic, and luxury condominiums The Peak @ Cairnhill I and II.

Checks are ongoing for the rest.

It prompted the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to announce yesterday that it will review the fire safety regulations and certification process for the use of composite panels in buildings.

The trigger was the Toh Guan fire, which killed a woman.

Preliminary police investigations found that another 40 buildings were using the same composite panels from American brand Alubond.

It was found that local distributor Chip Soon Aluminium had mixed up panels of differing safety standards at its warehouse. This means that buildings could be using external wall panels with less stringent flame-spread standards.

Of the 40, five have passed SCDF checks carried out over the past two weeks, 14 have failed, while 21 have yet to be tested.

A police report has been lodged by the SCDF, said the Ministry of Home Affairs and SCDF yesterday. "Action will be taken if there is evidence of criminal culpability," said the SCDF.

Despite the cladding concerns, the 40 buildings are safe for occupancy, it added.

It said it conducted fire safety assessments and deemed them safe for occupancy due to provisions such as sprinklers and fire alarms. It also considered factors such as the proximity of the cladding to possible ignition sources and the proportion of external walls with cladding.

The SCDF said it was working closely with the building owners to replace the composite panels on their buildings within two months.

It will be updating the list of affected buildings on its website.

Building owners and developers contacted yesterday said they will remove the panels as soon as possible, with some saying the exercise will be carried out today.

Friday 25 August 2017

50 MOE kindergartens to open by 2023

16 more Ministry of Education (MOE)  kindergartens to open in next three years
MOE aims to have 50 by 2023; full-day pre-school places will be upped by 40,000
By Priscilla Goy and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2017

Sixteen new kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) will open in the next three years as part of a wide-ranging effort to offer affordable, high-quality pre-school education to more children.

By 2023, MOE hopes to have 50 such kindergartens located in primary schools and providing 14,000 places - enough to cater to a fifth of all Singaporeans and permanent residents aged five and six.

Over the next five years, full-day pre-school places will also be ramped up by another 40,000, part of which will come from new "early years centres" that take in children aged up to four and are run by government-funded pre-school operators.

To ensure a steady pipeline of quality educators, the National Institute of Early Childhood Development will take in its first batch of students in 2019. It is expected to provide 60 per cent of all trainee pre-school teachers in the next few years.

These details were revealed by MOE yesterday, expanding on initiatives announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Sunday's National Day Rally, in which he said he wants every child to go to a good pre-school.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng stressed that these moves were not an attempt to nationalise the early childhood sector. He pointed out that the 50 kindergartens MOE aims to have are still a minority compared with the 450 or so kindergartens already running.

Instead, the MOE kindergartens will serve as the "engine" driving higher teaching standards, and better pedagogies and curricula in a bid to "uplift the (early childhood) landscape".

He said pre-school education has moved on from rote learning methods in his time, "when we learn mathematics is one plus one equals two and we recite the timetables". The focus now is on getting young children to learn through exploration and play, and "allow them to expand their natural curiosity and develop that creativity".

"We want to ensure that every child in Singapore will have access to equal opportunity and social mobility - that every child has a strong start regardless of family background so that they can have a solid foundation in the first steps towards our education journey," said Mr Ng. He highlighted how subsidised monthly fees at MOE kindergartens are as low as $1.50 for households with an income of less than $2,500.

‘I’m old, but I won’t give up on her’ - a love story

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series, The Lives They Live.
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2017

Mr Loh Yew Kim, 77, is devoted to his wife of nearly 40 years.

Rain or shine, he has faithfully visited her seven days a week in the past year since his ailing wife was admitted to the Ren Ci Nursing Home.

He spends the entire day with Madam Ng Gun Yok, 78, and will bring her favourite food and attend to her every need.

Mr Loh is such a constant presence at the home that other residents will get him to help them buy food and other things.

He said: "If I don't see my wife for one day, I would feel very uneasy. She's the person closest to me. No one else is more important."

Mr Loh's daily visits used to involve a tedious journey via public transport from his Ang Mo Kio flat to the nursing home in Jalan Tan Tock Seng, near Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

He suffers from osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, in both knees and is bow-legged. Walking is painful and he has to stop frequently to catch his breath.

To get to the nursing home from Novena MRT station, he had to walk up and down slopes - which made the journey even more tiring for him.

A one-way journey took about 1½ hours by bus, MRT and on foot. To make his journey easier, Touch Community Services (TCS) helped him apply for a subsidy from the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund to buy a motorised scooter earlier this year. He paid only $150 for the device, which cost $1,500, and it has cut his travelling time by half.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Can Singapore catch up in race to go cashless?; Banks in Singapore to use NETS QR code for cashless payments

By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2017

In high-tech Singapore, where cashless payment options abound, consumers prefer to fish for physical notes and jiggle coins to pay for goods and services.

Last year, six out of 10 consumer transactions were made in cash here - a huge spanner in the works for Singapore's Smart Nation drive.

In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong contrasted Singaporeans' highly connected lifestyle and digital literacy with their unwillingness to go digital when it comes to payment. As such, Singapore lags behind other cities on this front.

Recognising that Singapore has too many different payment schemes and systems that act as impediments, confusing people, he made a call to the industry to "simplify and integrate".

Singapore has to play catch-up with places like China, where everyone in major Chinese cities is scanning a QR code and paying with digital wallets WeChat Pay and Alipay. These digital wallets, linked to the Chinese people's bank accounts, are even accepted at roadside stalls and in taxis. Waiters at restaurants can be tipped in the same cashless way.

Cash may be considered king, but there is a cost to handling it - from the time taken to count it, to storing it securely, and then banking it. Think of the hawker who has to ensure he has cash for change, and needs to take time to count out change for each customer, holding up customers waiting for their food.

Over in India, the government has laid the groundwork for a cashless society following its announcement late last year to demonetise the nation's high-value currency notes. It pushed a national digital funds transfer system, called Bharat Interface for Money, and a biometric identification system, dubbed Aadhaar, to secure transactions. Its goal is to ensure that all Indians, even the rural poor, have access to financial services through digital banking.


In many ways, Singapore is a victim of its own success.

Major banks here - DBS Bank, POSB, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank - combined have about 2,000 ATMs islandwide. This means an ATM is within a 500m radius from most people's homes, making cash easily available.

Singapore also lacks the push factors present in China and India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's drive to promote a cashless society stems from a political will to eliminate the flow of undeclared "black money" and fake currencies. Electronic money transfers are more traceable and taxable.

Concerns over counterfeit money and the fear of being robbed - not a problem with digital payment systems - drove China's cashless revolution.

In contrast, people in Singapore feel safer with their cash. Also, some had a bad experience with wrong electronic transfer charges and vowed to stay away - at least from its use in certain apps.

Said account manager Kelly Kin, 29, after once having been wrongfully charged by a local ride-hailing app: "I have gone back to using cash in the app ever since."

Wednesday 23 August 2017

'Invisibility' makes managing money hard for youth

Financial literacy experts say as society goes cashless, the young lose sight of value of money
By Serene Luo, Deputy Schools Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

University education for British citizens used to be free - until the late 1990s when policies changed and students instead took loans to pay for tuition fees.

By 2013, students would graduate with some £45,000 (S$80,000) of debt, as they would have borrowed roughly £9,000 for tuition and £6,000 for room and board each year.

On top of that, said Mrs Marilyn Holness and Dr Nicky Reid, students were being handed cheques as part of their loans every few months - to pay for their rent and bills - but they had not been taught to manage their finances and often found themselves struggling to buy food before their next cheque was to arrive.

The two were behind the Money Doctors national support service for students in Britain, which at its peak reached 200,000 students in more than 100 universities there, teaching them life skills in managing their personal finances.

Both of them are at the University of Roehampton: Mrs Holness is director of student engagement, and Dr Reid is an educational developer at the learning and teaching department.

They were recently in Singapore to conduct workshops for parents and children as part of the RHB Financial Literacy Programme by RHB Bank.

The "invisibility of money to young people" is one main factor exacerbating the problems that young people have with money, they said.

Said Dr Reid: "For Marilyn and me, our parents worked and brought home pay packets - money in little brown envelopes. Money was spoken about in the household. As a child, you knew things had to be paid for (out of this packet). We knew money was finite.

"But now, kids sit in a trolley in the supermarket, and you take whatever you want and pay with a piece of plastic."

Added Mrs Holness: "Also, with ATMs, (as a child) you see people put a card in the wall and out comes money like magic."

They named things such as contactless card payments, or features like Apple Pay on the iPhone, as adding to that invisibility of money.

Singapore, for instance, wants to be a Smart Nation where technology has widespread use, including e-payments and banking transactions.

The downside is that "you don't make a tangible link when you tap that it (money) is coming out of your account", Dr Reid said.

This can lead to the inability to understand what money is worth and, eventually, bad financial habits.

Added Mrs Holness: "Even if you don't change your behaviour, be aware of it. Challenging attitudes towards money is the first step to changing behaviour. If you are not aware of it, you can't change."

For instance, property agent David Ng, 45, said his eldest son, 13, thought of car-hailing services like Grab as "cheap" and that "he could just keep pressing the button (on his cellphone to book a car)".

Monday 21 August 2017

National Day Rally 2017

Building up preschools, Fighting diabetes and Making Singapore a Smart Nation

Pre-school sector to ramp up quality, offer more places
At National Day Rally, PM Lee also focuses on fighting diabetes and creating smart nation
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Singapore will double its annual spending on pre-schools in the next five years, to add 40,000 new places for children and improve the quality of pre-school education.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday announced three initiatives to build up the pre-school sector so that every child - regardless of family background - can have the best possible start in life.

Besides increasing the number of childcare places for children aged up to four, the Government will roll out more kindergartens and set up a new centralised training institute for pre-school teachers.

"Today, every child goes to a good school. We want every child to go to a good pre-school," said Mr Lee.

"If we get this right, we will foster social mobility and sustain a fair and just society."

At his 14th National Day Rally, Mr Lee focused on building for the future, highlighting three issues that he said are important for the nation's prosperity and the well-being of its citizens in the long term.

Unlike past rallies where he spoke of Singapore's future, its economy or geopolitical issues, Mr Lee homed in this year on improving pre-school education, fighting diabetes and creating a smart nation that offers opportunities for all.

He noted that the economy is expected to grow by about 2.5 per cent this year, and, most encouragingly, productivity went up by 1 per cent last year after years of almost zero growth.

But he moved beyond immediate priorities like creating jobs to discuss longer-term issues.

He said the Government had moved decisively to transform the pre-school sector five years ago, by creating nearly 50,000 childcare and kindergarten places, increasing pre-school subsidies and raising education standards.

Anchor operators will build more childcare centres in new Housing Board developments to address a shortage of places in young towns.

To improve the quality of education, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will increase the number of its own kindergartens from 15 now to 50 in the next five years, Mr Lee said. This greater scale will allow MOE to influence and raise the quality of the whole sector, he added.

In addition, a National Institute for Early Childhood Development will be set up to consolidate existing training programmes for teachers and develop new curricula.

The Government will also work with employers to ensure salaries for pre-school teachers rise in tandem with their career progression.

Annual spending on pre-schools, which was $360 million in 2012, has more than doubled to $840 million this year. It will double further to $1.7 billion in 2022, he said.

But pouring resources into the sector will mean little unless young parents do their part, he added, as he encouraged them to have more babies.

ESM Goh Chok Tong calls for 'stronger, more inclusive' leadership team

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stating that he will step down by 70, the new generation of leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team, the Emeritus Senior Minister says.
Channel NewsAsia, 19 Aug 2017

Singapore's new generation of leaders will have to build a "stronger and more inclusive millennial generation team", said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).

Speaking at a National Day Dinner for his constituency, Marine Parade, Mr Goh said the robustness of the country's leadership pipeline is one of the determinants of how a "small boat like Singapore" will fare in a turbulent climate of internal and external challenges. Other factors, he said, include the resilience of its politics as well as the cohesiveness of its multi-racialism and social equity.

Mr Goh noted that 65-year-old Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will step down by the age of 70.

"The fourth generation (4G) leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify the captain amongst them," he said in the speech.

"They must try their utmost to bring in potential office-holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve," he said.

Beyond technical competence, Mr Goh also said Singaporeans will want to know what "the leaders stand for, what kind of Singapore they want to build and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later".

Sunday 20 August 2017

Jokes about politics: The good, the bad and the ugly

Humour can reduce stress and build bonds, as well as spread lies and breed cynicism
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2017

This essay is about the psychology of sociopolitical humour. First, let me assure you that writing or reading about humour does not kill the fun, although you may not laugh out loud. By humour, I mean a joke or a funny communication with a social purpose clear to the audience - to provoke laughter and provide amusement.

Humour can be communicated in written, oral or visual formats. Sociopolitical humour often combines the various formats, as is the case in a cartoon, a video clip or an Internet meme. A popular Internet meme is a photograph with the original image deliberately altered to inject humour.

In Facebook posts and chats on mobile applications like WhatsApp, friends freely share jokes that are sociopolitical in nature, often not knowing who created the humorous item or initiated its transmission in cyberspace. Marketing professionals examine how humour can influence consumer behaviour. In advertising, humour is a serious business. In contrast, politicians, political analysts and social scientists have not given humour the attention it deserves, especially with regard to the sharing of sociopolitical humour in social media.

Sociopolitical jokes can influence us in ways beyond having a good laugh.


Political figures are often the butt of jokes in sociopolitical humour, with such humour most common in times of elections and political scandals or sagas.

Sociopolitical jokes circulated on social media are frequently irreverent and sometimes reflect ignorance. But those that centre on issues that are emotive, unpleasant or confusing are often wildly popular. That is because the humour provides comic relief that temporarily defuses the tense feeling evoked by these issues, be it angst, anxiety or ambivalence.

Research has shown that humour is sometimes associated with subsequent decrease in stress, and this occurs through two pathways.

The first pathway is neuro-physiological. When we laugh and enjoy humour, our nervous system relaxes and our brain releases hormones known as endorphins. This biochemical mechanism helps to regulate emotions and relieve pain, increasing physical and emotional well-being.

The other pathway is socio-psychological. Joking brings people closer together, forges better relationships and increases social support from each other. It also helps us reappraise a stressful situation by seeing things from new perspectives.

Saturday 19 August 2017

Para paddler Jason Chee fights on despite losing right eye; Jason wins individual table tennis gold at 2017 ASEAN Para Games

He suffers fresh setback after 2012 accident, but is back training for ASEAN Para Games 2017
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2017

For the second time in his life, the world as Mr Jason Chee saw it darkened around him this April.

This time, as far as his right eye is concerned, it is a darkness that is forever. He has lost the eye that helped him win multiple medals for table tennis at the ASEAN Para Games (APG).

A naval ship accident in 2012 that robbed him of both his legs, his left arm and three fingers on his right hand, did not manage to stop him.

Now he is practising again for next month's APG, intoning a simple mantra. "Once a fighter, always a fighter. I'm a fighter," he said. "I still have one eye. I can be happy day by day."

The latest storm broke when the navy serviceman felt a sudden partial "blackout" in his vision one morning when he reported for work at Changi Naval Base almost four months ago.

The 34-year-old was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma (a cancer of the eye) after a tumour 1.5cm in circumference was found in his right eye. Given that the disease had not spread, doctors advised that removing his eye would be the best way to arrest the cancer.

Within a fortnight, he found himself wheeled into the operating theatre once again, about to lose yet another vital and irreplaceable part of his body.

Despite being a self-proclaimed optimist, Mr Chee said he, too, questioned the latest hand he had been dealt. He told The Straits Times yesterday: "I tried to find treatment to save my eye, but there was no way. I was quite down, and wondered why this would happen to me."

It was even harder for his elderly father, a 75-year-old retiree and a former vegetable seller, to accept the latest misfortune to befall his only child.

Yet Mr Chee has the toughness of one who has been in the navy for 13 years, and the resilience of an athlete who became a successful national para-table tennis player following his accident.

He also had a mother who spent her lifetime teaching him to face adversity head-on, before she died in 2011 of kidney failure at age 65.

A day before he checked himself into the hospital for surgery - coincidentally it was Vesak Day - the Buddhist did what his mother would have done: He went to the temple and prayed.

Mr Chee, who won a team gold at the 2015 edition of APG on home soil, said: "I can't prevent this from happening to me but I can control how I respond to it."