Sunday 30 September 2018

SG Bonus: $700 million to be paid out to 2.8 million Singaporeans by December 2018

One-off payout of up to $300 per adult comes amid overall budget surplus being markedly higher than forecast
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2018

Adult Singaporeans who are eligible for a one-off SG Bonus of up to $300 will be informed of their payout amount in a letter from Tuesday.

The Government will disburse $700 million to the 2.8 million eligible Singaporeans by December, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said in a statement yesterday.

Citizens can use their SingPass to view their SG Bonus benefit on the SG Bonus website, which will be accessible from Tuesday, October 2.

Those who have registered their mobile numbers with SingPass will also receive SMS notifications.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in this year's Budget speech that the bonus comes with an expected overall Budget surplus of $9.6 billion, or 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product, for the 2017 financial year.

The surplus was markedly higher than the $1.9 billion forecast a year ago, mainly because of exceptional statutory board contributions of $4.6 billion.

The SG Bonus will be given on top of the Goods and Services Tax Voucher scheme, and service and conservancy charges rebate for eligible Singaporeans.

This reflects the Government's longstanding commitment to share the fruits of the country's development with Singaporeans, said MOF.

Those who are 21 years old and above on Dec 31 will receive up to $300, depending on their income.

Those with an assessable income of $28,000 and below for the 2017 year of assessment will get $300; $200 goes to people earning $28,001 to $100,000; and $100 for those earning more than $100,000 or who own more than one property.

Most Singaporeans will automatically get their SG Bonus if they have previously signed up for other payout schemes, such as the growth dividends and GST Voucher.

Singaporeans who have not signed up will be informed of how to do so in their letters.

They will have until March 31 next year to sign up online, or through a hard-copy form available at community clubs and Central Provident Fund Board service centres.

Those who sign up by Nov 7 will receive their SG Bonus by December.

Singaporeans will also have the option of receiving the payout via PayNow. This will allow them to receive the money in their bank accounts using their NRIC or mobile number without having to disclose their bank account details.

The Government will be using PayNow as the payment mode for citizens who register their NRIC on PayNow by Nov 7. They will receive their SG Bonus by Nov 30 instead of December.

Those who choose not to register their NRIC on PayNow will receive their SG Bonus via direct bank crediting or cheques.

MOF said it has received some feedback from Singaporeans who want to donate their SG Bonus to needy citizens. They will now be able to do so via the SG Bonus website or the SG Cares mobile application.

Fewer exams for students from 2019 as Ministry of Education announces sweeping changes to reduce emphasis on grades

Schools to cut mid-year exams for several levels; Primary 1 and 2 pupils will not be graded
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2018

Mid-year examinations for Primary 3 and 5 pupils, as well as for Secondary 1 and 3 students, will be scrapped over the next three years.

As part of the Ministry of Education's (MOE) latest set of efforts to move away from a narrow focus on grades and help children discover the joy of learning, the first two years of primary school will also be test-free from next year.

And to stress the message that learning is not a competition, report books will no longer include the class and level rankings at both primary and secondary levels.

Even aggregate scores, used for post O-level postings, will not be reflected at the lower secondary level to avoid preoccupation with grades.

These changes were described by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung as another step towards improving the balance between the joy of learning and education standards.

"We are at a strong position of rigour and can afford to unwind a bit without undermining the performance outcomes," he said at a press conference yesterday, pointing to how Singapore students already rate highly in international rankings.

The latest changes will also give teachers more space to explore new ways of making learning enjoyable and lasting. He said: "On the ground, teachers are on a high-speed train... rushing, assessments and preparing the students for exams... I think it is time to take a pause."

MOE said cutting the mid-year examinations will provide students with more time to adjust during "key transition" years, when they have to study new subjects and deal with higher content rigour. It will also free up about three weeks of curriculum time every two years.

In a speech to school heads earlier this week when he briefed them on the changes, Mr Ong urged educators to use the time well.

For instance, a pupil can be spoon-fed the formula on how to calculate area. "It can be done in a short time," he said. "But in an inquiry approach, we will ask children, how do you find out the area of the field, and have them discuss and brainstorm."

This may take more time, but pupils are "more likely to remember and enjoy the lesson", he said.

Mr Ong said that moves over the last few years, from not naming the top Primary School Leaving Examination scorers to the reform of the PSLE scoring system which kicks in in 2021, are all part of a new phase in Singapore's education system, which he termed "Learn for Life".

"Learn for Life is a value, an attitude and a skill that our students need to possess, and it is fundamental in ensuring that education remains an uplifting force in society."

Some parents were concerned over the changes, especially how it will be harder to gauge their children's performance against their peers' as report books will no longer show rankings and mean scores.

"It is important we know where our children stand," said Madam Grace Chua, 37. The business development manager has a son in Primary 3 and a daughter turning two.

For the shift to succeed, Mr Ong said, MOE needs to "bring the most important stakeholder - parents - on board" and convince them that the changes do not compromise on academic standards.

Schools also need to engage parents differently, he added.

Instead of telling parents that their children have to get their homework done or comparing results with those of their classmates, the question that matters, said Mr Ong, is: "What makes your child's eyes light up?"

Saturday 29 September 2018

Singapore's fertility rate down to 1.16 in 2017; Total population at 5.64 million as of June 2018

Singapore's fertility rate down as number of singles goes up
Both genders see rising share of singles, but rate of increase for women far exceeds men's
By Rachel Au-Yong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2018

Fewer Singaporean women tied the knot last year compared with a decade ago, a shift experts say is the biggest cause for the country's low fertility rate.

The biggest proportion of women staying single is in the prime childbearing years of 25 to 29, according to the annual Population in Brief 2018 report released yesterday.

The uptrend coincides with Singapore's total fertility rate plunging to a seven-year low of 1.16 last year, down from 1.20 in 2016. For the population to replace itself without immigration, women need to have an average of 2.1 babies.

"Singleness rate is the most important reason fertility rate in Singapore is low because among those who get married, only 10 per cent do not have any children," said Professor Jean Yeung, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research.

But overall, Singapore's total population for the 12-month period ending in June this year rose to 5.64 million, a 0.5 per cent expansion that is an improvement on the previous period's 0.1 per cent, which was the lowest rate in a decade.

The increase, after taking into account factors such as death and immigration, is largely from 32,356 Singaporean births and 22,076 new citizens. But what made experts sit up is the growing share of singles across genders, with the rate of increase for women far exceeding that for men.

It is especially noticeable among women aged between 25 and 29, with the proportion rising from 60.9 per cent in 2007 to 68.1 per cent last year - a jump of 7.2 percentage points.

More older women remained unmarried as well: Those between 30 and 34 years went up 3.9 percentage points to 32.8 per cent, while those aged 40 to 44 climbed by 3.8 percentage points to 18.1 per cent.

Even among men, a bigger proportion in the 25 to 29 age group stayed single: Rising from 77.5 per cent a decade ago to 80.7 per cent last year.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Survey gauges Singaporeans' response after a terror attack

Most Singaporeans don't expect abuse against a community after terror attack: Institute of Policy Studies report, Community Relations Amidst the Threat of Terror
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2018

Picture the scenario: A foreign extremist organisation, made up of members of one religious group, has launched a terror attack in Singapore. Chaos ensues, and there is a heightened level of suspicion.

Would Singaporeans whose religion is implicated in the attack worry about a backlash against them by people of other religions?

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) report showed that four in five Muslims and non-Muslims feel there would be either no abuse, or very few and isolated incidents of verbal abuse.

One-third of Singaporeans would even be proactive in expressing solidarity with those whose religion was implicated.

Released yesterday, the study also found that after an attack, younger respondents were less likely to be suspicious of strangers of the same religion as the overseas extremist organisation that carried out the terror attack.

The IPS report follows a survey of just over 2,000 Singaporean respondents conducted last year.

The study aims to understand how Singaporeans would react following a terror attack in the country perpetrated by organisations that use religious labels, namely Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu groups.

Respondents were told to imagine that news reports had emerged of a bomb explosion at an MRT station platform, with four hypothetical scenarios - that it was carried out by either an extremist Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim overseas organisation.

The study found that Singaporeans would display stronger negative reactions if it had been carried out by a foreign Muslim group than if a Buddhist, Christian or Hindu group had been behind it.

The study found that most Singaporeans feel it would take two to three years for the country to recover from an attack.

Asked how long it would take for most Singaporeans to feel united as one people, Muslim respondents indicated 3.62 years on average, the longest among the four religions.

"The findings suggest that Muslims may be more conscious of the potential backlash and suspicions that would inevitably arise within Singapore as a result of a terror attack," the researchers said.

Monday 24 September 2018

HDB upgrading programmes: Staying in good shape

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiling the latest HDB upgrading initiatives last month, Insight looks at the various programmes from the early days until now.
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 23 Sep 2018

On July 11, 1989, a seemingly innocuous question from Dr S. Vasoo in Parliament yielded a response that took many in the House by surprise.

The Tiong Bahru GRC MP had asked what improvement works might be undertaken in his constituency, which had some of the oldest HDB flats at the time.

But instead of a parochial scheme to address just one ward, then Minister for National Development S. Dhanabalan announced an upgrading programme he described as heralding a "quantum change in the quality and character of public housing".

Before that, MPs had frequently raised as a concern the state of ageing flats, many of which were approaching 20 to 30 years old, with only piecemeal solutions being adopted to fix problems such as cracks in walls or lift breakdowns.

Mr Dhanabalan's announcement marked the start of the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP), an ambitious scheme to improve the interiors of flats, their exteriors and entire estates.

And, rather than have the HDB dictate what works should be done, town councils would seek the views of residents to determine what upgrades they wanted.

The MUP proved to be the first of several upgrading programmes announced over the past 29 years.

The latest was announced last month by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech, and is an expansion of a scheme already in place, the Home Improvement Programme (HIP). HIP is the main upgrading scheme now, and Mr Lee said it will be expanded to include 230,000 homes built between 1987 and 1997.

He also unveiled HIP II, a second round of upgrading for these flats when they are around 60 to 70 years old, which will start in about 10 years; and the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS), which lets residents in selected older estates vote on whether they want to go en bloc as their flats near the end of their 99-year lease.

The schemes, ranging from MUP, which was completed in 2012, to HIP II, will have seen billions of dollars spent on upgrading Housing Board estates, with the work ranging from details such as grab bars for the elderly installed inside bathrooms to substantial infrastructure changes such as increasing the size of a flat and having lifts on every floor. The works were heavily subsided, with the Government fully funding some essential components too.

The inaugural MUP spruce-up kicked in in 1992, and since then, flats around 30 years old have been given a new lease on life, with the focus on fixing maintenance issues as the blocks inevitably age over time, and provision of additional amenities.

A total of 680,000 flats will have benefited from the major upgrading programmes - MUP and its successor, the HIP - and hundreds of thousands more from other estate renewal schemes.

Clearly, the maintenance of ageing HDB flats has long been a key government policy. Insight looks at how the upgrading programmes are a necessity to ensure the physical integrity of the country's public housing, and are also an important building block in terms of shoring up political support as part of the social contract between the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and voters.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Open Electricity Market: All households, firms to get choice of power retailer from 1 November 2018

They can pick from 12 more retailers as energy market is liberalised in phases from November
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2018

From November, the energy market will be steadily liberalised across the island, culminating in 1.4 million more Singapore households and businesses being able to choose their electricity supply from 12 more retailers.

The Open Electricity Market, which will cover the entire country by May next year, could see consumers save around 20 per cent or even more on their electricity bills.

The launch of the open market was announced yesterday by the Energy Market Authority (EMA), with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing saying that the rest of Singapore is now ready for liberalisation after a positive pilot in Jurong which kicked off in April.

"We have done this carefully and progressively, and have collated our experiences to make sure that when we roll out the market to the rest of the country, we will face the least problems," he said.

The open market will be rolled out progressively in four phases over six months. Areas with postal codes which begin with 58 to 78 will join the open market on Nov 1. These include parts of Clementi, Bukit Batok and Upper Thomson.

Areas with postal codes starting with 53 to 57, 79 and 80, and 82 and 83, will be next on Jan 1; followed by 34 to 52, and 81, on March 1; then those from 01 to 33 on May 1.

Before every phase, each of which will affect 350,000 accounts, consumers will receive a notification package and information booklet. They can also compare prices at the website

The 12 retailers include those which generate power, such as Senoko Energy, and resellers such as Ohm Energy.

EMA director for market development and surveillance Dorcas Tan said the progressive roll-out was to allow retailers and the authorities to focus their resources and better fix teething issues.

Feedback from the Jurong pilot, which involved 108,000 households and 9,500 businesses, helped EMA fine-tune its plan. The option of differentiated pricing for peak and off-peak periods will not be offered as it was picked by less than 1 per cent of those who decided to go with a new electricity supplier.

What stood out from the pilot, however, was how more than 30 per cent of eligible Jurong accounts switched their electricity retailers. Take-up rates in other parts of the world tended to be in the single digits, said EMA chief executive Ngiam Shih Chun.

"Those who switched paid an electricity rate which was on average about 20 per cent lower than the regulated tariff," he added. "We now hope to bring the benefits of competitive pricing and innovative offers to the rest of Singapore."

He stressed that households can choose to stay with SP Group, which manages the national grid and sells electricity at a regulated tariff which is reviewed every quarter.

Smart nation, unwise citizens

As technology assumes greater dominance, so will our reliance on numbers. But caution is called for as figures are not always reliable.
By Ang Peng Hwa, Published The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2018

Two unrelated incidents recently reminded me how, in our drive to make Singapore a smart nation, we could end up doing some very unwise things.

The first was a comment from a former student of mine who graduated recently with a first-class degree and then applied for a job at a local bank. After taking a psychological analysis test, he was rejected, with the interviewer telling him: You are better off as a musician. That was a revelation to him as he had never given any thought to being a musician.

He had apparently been administered a test by the bank - based on Big Data - and it had determined that his profile would not fit a banking career.

The second was a report earlier this month that a group of five parents was starting a movement to influence Singapore parents to de-emphasise school grades.

The connection between the incidents is this: As we move towards being a smarter nation, numbers will become increasingly important. These numbers may be in the form of a grade in an examination, a score in a personality test, or a rating in an algorithm. And these numbers will increasingly determine our life and our future.

The actions of both the local bank and the group of parents are based on the numbers derived from different sorts of test. But neither blindly relying on a number (as in the case of the local bank) nor selectively de-emphasising it (as with the parents) is quite the correct response.

The bank cannot be faulted for administering some kind of psychological screening test. Large companies, particularly US tech ones, have been using algorithms when hiring staff. The algorithms have proven so successful in predicting the success of hires that once-sceptical managers have been won over. There are accounts of managers who decline to interview applicants but instead say: Get me the applicant with the highest score.

The reason for not wholeheartedly relying on a number is that algorithms, particularly if they truly use artificial intelligence (AI), will make mistakes. That is the nature of true artificial intelligence. Only rules-bound "naive AI" systems do not make mistakes in the narrow sense of being rules-bound. In other words, algorithms can be relied upon most of the time, until they cannot be relied upon. How is one to know? That is the trick.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Select Committee on fake news: 22 recommendations unveiled to combat online falsehoods in Singapore

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood Report - 20 Sep 2018

Select Committee releases 22 proposals to combat fake news
It calls for new laws to give Govt power to quickly disrupt spread of falsehoods
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2018

A parliamentary Select Committee has called for new laws that will grant the Government power to swiftly disrupt the spread of online falsehoods, as part of a broad suite of measures to counter the "live and serious threat" posed by fake news.

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods made 22 recommendations in all, from enacting legislation to urging technology companies to take proactive steps to tackle fake content and creating a national framework to guide public education on falsehoods.

It submitted a 176-page report to Parliament on Wednesday, almost six months after it held public hearings over eight days in March to listen to oral representations from 65 individuals and organisations.

Responding to the committee's report yesterday evening, the Government said it accepts in principle the recommendation for a multi-pronged response to tackle deliberate online falsehoods.

The 10-member committee, chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong, was appointed in January to examine the phenomenon of deliberate online falsehoods and study what measures Singapore should take to prevent and combat the problem.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, committee member and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary said the phenomenon of deliberate online falsehoods "threatens our national security".

He pointed to how "malicious actors" have been testing the limits of what they can do online.

"They essentially have been looking for different ways to weaponise falsehoods on the Internet. This phenomenon has grown in strength and has resulted in consequences in various parts of the world."

Different governments are taking steps to protect their people and their countries against online falsehoods, he said. "They see and appreciate the need for swift action, and Singapore, too, is doing our best to act early."

There is no one silver bullet to tackle this complex problem, the committee said, as it proposed multiple short-and long-term measures, grouped in five broad areas.

Its recommendations are aimed at disrupting online falsehoods, nurturing an informed public, reinforcing social cohesion and trust, promoting fact-checking and dealing with threats to national security and sovereignty.

Yesterday, the Government said it will study the committee's report closely and work with stakeholders to roll out the non-legislative and legislative measures it recommended over the next few months.

On disrupting online falsehoods, the committee said the Government should have the power to limit or block the spread of fake news, and discredit the sources of such falsehoods. Legislation will be needed to disrupt the spread and influence of fake news, it stressed.

In recommending new laws - a move observers had expected - the committee did not delve into specifics. Rather, it set out the principles any new laws should follow.

For instance, the measures need to be effective in a matter of hours, to achieve the aim of stopping the falsehoods from going viral. These measures could include take-down powers and blocking access.

The committee also suggested that there be laws to cut off digital advertising revenue to those who spread fake news and impose criminal sanctions in serious cases, such as when falsehoods cause public disorder or interfere in elections.

In a nod to concerns about legislative over-reach and stifling free speech, the committee said the new laws should be calibrated, taking into account the context and circumstances of each case.

"It is also important that they be accompanied by checks and balances," the committee said, adding that adequate safeguards need to be put in place to ensure due process and the proper exercise of power.

To bring about a more informed public, the committee recommended creating a framework to guide efforts to improve media literacy among Singaporeans.

It suggested that media organisations and industry partners consider setting up a fact-checking coalition to swiftly debunk fake news, and gave several ideas on ways to ensure accurate journalism.

Technology companies need to be more transparent and accountable, the committee said. It listed steps they could take, including closing accounts that are designed to amplify online falsehoods and banning the placement of advertisements on sites that spread fake news.

It added that the Government should consider both legislation and other forms of regulation to get technology companies to comply.

"Legislation would be needed particularly for measures to be taken in response to an online falsehood, since Facebook, Google and Twitter have a policy of generally not acting against content on the basis that it is false," it said.

The committee devoted the first half of its report to outlining the serious harm of deliberate online falsehoods, which can and have wreaked havoc. Such falsehoods are a "unique phenomenon of an unprecedented scale", and can damage the social fabric of a nation and violate national sovereignty.

Deliberate online falsehoods are a real and serious problem for the world, and Singapore, it concluded.

Mr Chong said all members agreed unanimously on the report.

On why the committee has called for what he described as "strong measures", Dr Janil pointed to the nature of online falsehoods.

"They are more easily believed, they travel further, they travel faster and they are much harder to dislodge. We need measures that have the same degree of strength to counter the asymmetry that exists between the falsehoods and the truth that is out there."

Friday 21 September 2018

Singapore-China ties: Breaking new ground

New areas of cooperation such as the Belt and Road Initiative and infrastructure financing are being forged in a relationship based on strong foundations
By Teo Chee Hean, Published The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

2018 marks an important milestone in Singapore-China relations. It is the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore in November 1978, just a month before China adopted the policy of reform and opening up.

Coming two years after then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's first visit to China in 1976, this exchange of visits between Mr Lee and Mr Deng planted the seeds of friendship between our countries and laid the foundation for the deep personal ties between successive generations of leaders and our peoples.

Many high-level exchanges were made over the years. Last September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited China, just before the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress and met President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese leaders. In April this year, he visited China again for the Bo'ao Forum for Asia Annual Conference and had good meetings with President Xi and key leaders. We look forward to welcoming Premier Li Keqiang in November this year.

In June this year, I visited six Chinese provinces and municipalities and had good discussions with many senior Chinese leaders, including Vice-Premier Han Zheng, whom I look forward to receiving in Singapore this week to co-chair the 14th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).

We will also co-chair the Joint Steering Councils (JSCs) for our three government-to-government projects - the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park from 1994, as we exchanged experiences in building industrial townships; the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City from 2008, as both countries promoted eco-friendly, low-carbon development; and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI) from 2015, to enhance connectivity for the flow of goods, services and data between Western China, Singapore and beyond.

The JCBC was established in 2004, and is the premier platform to exchange ideas, discuss bilateral projects and set the direction for bilateral cooperation. The JCBC has expanded bilateral cooperation in line with the needs of our countries, in trade and investment, financial services, inclusive and sustainable development, human resource development and people-to-people exchanges. We also review the progress made by our seven joint business councils co-chaired with provincial leaders from Shandong, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Tianjin, Jiangsu and Guangdong.


The JCBC has catalysed several milestones in our bilateral cooperation. The China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) was China's first comprehensive bilateral FTA with another Asian country. It was launched at the 2006 JCBC and completed at the 2008 JCBC, co-chaired by then-Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and then Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, respectively.

The CSFTA reaffirmed our joint commitment to trade liberalisation in the challenging economic environment following the global financial crisis.

Both sides are now working towards concluding a substantive CSFTA upgrade this year which is forward-looking and comprehensive. This will send a strong signal to the global community on our commitment to free trade and an open, rules-based multilateral trading system.

Since taking on the co-chairmanship of the JCBC in 2011, I have worked closely with both co-chairmen, then vice-premiers Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli. Our two countries have enhanced financial cooperation to support China's renminbi (RMB) internationalisation. In 2013, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was appointed as an offshore RMB clearing bank in Singapore, the first outside Greater China. Singapore is now one of the top three offshore RMB clearing centres globally for cross-border RMB receipts and payments with China.

Project Silver Screen: New programme offers senior citizens aged 60 and above basic functional screening for hearing, eyesight and oral health at subsidised rates

More seniors to benefit from functional screening
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

More seniors are set to benefit from health screenings, with the launch of a new partnership between the Ministry of Health (MOH), Temasek Foundation Cares and the business community.

Project Silver Screen was launched at Kampung Admiralty yesterday, and around 200 people from the neighbourhood took the chance to have their vision, hearing and oral health checked.

The programme, which is underpinned by a contribution of $35 million from Temasek and 11 corporate donors, will scale up the number of these checks across Singapore.

It will also help subsidise the cost of the screening and the functional aids some seniors might need.

The programme is free for Pioneer Generation citizens.

For Singaporeans who are 60 and above, it costs $2 for Community Health Assist Scheme card holders and $5 for others.

Project Silver Screen vouchers of between $15 and $200 will also be given to those who need aids such as spectacles, hearing aids and dentures.

This is over and above existing government subsidies and regardless of household income.

Seniors getting the health checks - also known as a functional screening - might then be referred to the relevant community or medical centres for further tests, such as for cataracts or glaucoma, if need be.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the launch that the programme will help seniors stay healthy longer.

"Beyond chronic conditions, we are also concerned about how to help them maintain the functional abilities so that they can remain active, remain engaged and have healthy living and be as independent as possible," he said.

"Through the functional screenings, we hope to be able to detect their conditions early and to prevent early deterioration.

"This way, we will be able to help our seniors stay healthy and stay well longer."

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Singapore's good guide to learning

What is it about Singapore's school system that it aces world rankings and yet is always striving to do better? The Economist homes in on its key features and the lessons it can offer to others.
The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

When Singapore became an independent country in 1965, it had few friends and even fewer natural resources. How did it become one of the world's great trading and financial centres? The strategy, explained Mr Lee Kuan Yew, its first prime minister, was "to develop Singapore's only available natural resource: its people".

Today, Singapore's education system is considered the best in the world. It consistently ranks at the top of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial test of 15-year-olds in the main three categories of mathematics, reading and science.

Singaporeans are roughly three years ahead of their American peers in maths. Singapore does similarly well in exams of younger children, and the graduates of its best schools can be found scattered around the world's finest universities.

The island-state has much to teach the world. But other countries are reluctant pupils. One reason is that Singapore favours traditional pedagogy, with teachers leading the class. That contrasts with many reformers' preference for looser, more "progressive" teaching intended to encourage children to learn for themselves.

Although international studies suggest that direct instruction is indeed a good way of conveying knowledge, critics contend that Singapore has a "drill and kill" model that produces uncreative, miserable maths whizzes. Parents worry about the stress the system puts on their children (and on them, even as they ferry kids to extra classes).

Yet Singapore shows that academic brilliance need not come at the expense of personal skills. In 2015, Singaporean students also came first in a new PISA ranking designed to look at collaborative problem-solving, scoring even better than they did in reading and science. They also reported themselves to be happy - more so than children in Finland, for instance, a country that educationalists regard as an example of how to achieve exceptional results with cuddlier methods of teaching.

Not content with its achievements, Singapore is introducing reforms to improve creativity and reduce stress. This is not a sign of failure, but rather of a gradual, evidence-led approach to education reform - the first of three lessons Singapore offers the rest of the world.

Where other countries often enact piecemeal and uncoordinated reforms, Singapore tries to look at the system as a whole. It invests heavily in education research. All reforms are tested, with the outcomes diligently monitored, before being rolled out. Close attention is paid to how new ideas and results should be applied in schools.

Carefully developed textbooks, worksheets and worked examples - practices often seen as outdated in the West - are used to inject expertise into the classroom. The result is good alignment between assessments, accountability and teaching styles.

Monday 17 September 2018

Stuck with a smoking neighbour: When neighbours' amity goes up in smoke

MPs say more can be done to help residents enduring smoke from neighbouring flats
By Hariz Baharudin, The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

IT supervisor Azfar keeps a can of scented insecticide in his flat, but it is not for cockroaches or mosquitoes. It is for another kind of pest.

Whenever pesky cigarette smoke from a neighbouring unit wafts into his living room, he will go to the window and start spraying in the culprit's direction.

"That is how I send a message that their smoking is inconsiderate," said the 37-year-old who, perhaps unsurprisingly, declined to give his full name for this report. "If they can blow smoke into my house, then they would not mind some nice-smelling insecticide."

The windows in the living room of his five-room HDB flat in the northern part of Singapore are usually kept closed, even though he, his wife and their four-year-old son spend most of their time there when they are at home.

"Upstairs, left, right, all around me, there are smokers," said Mr Azfar, who lives on the fourth floor. "My wife is asthmatic and the smoke makes her and my son sick."

He stops short of confronting his neighbours because he does not want to risk offending them. "What if they pick a fight and make life difficult for my family?"

He is one of many who want the authorities to do something.

Last Monday in Parliament, several MPs urged the Government to take action against smokers whose second-hand smoke affects their neighbours.

They were speaking during the debate on amendments to the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, which empowers National Environment Agency (NEA) officers to enter places where smoking is prohibited without warrants to investigate violations. On banning smoking at home, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said: "Such an intrusive regulatory approach to tackling neighbourly issues could ultimately be even more detrimental to community harmony."

Following the debate, several people wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page to lament about their neighbours' cigarette smoke.

Video producer Alice Chong, 26, lives on the fourth floor of a condominium in Bukit Timah where smoking is banned in common areas, but not in residential units.

The smoke from her neighbour's unit on the floor below sometimes wafts into her home, forcing her to close her unit's windows. She said: "I don't want to confront them so I just close my windows, but I do wish they would not blow the smoke out of their windows."

Under current laws, smoking is banned in most indoor locations, including entertainment outlets. Smokers also cannot take a puff in the common area of any residential premises or building, including common corridors and void decks.

They can only light up at designated smoking areas and approved smoking rooms or corners, and certain open areas such as beaches, uncovered walkways and on the top deck of multi-storey carpark buildings. They can also smoke at home.

MPs say they get many complaints from residents about second-hand smoke wafting into their homes. Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who had spoken in Parliament on this, said such complaints are a "weekly occurrence".

While he is not calling for a total ban on smoking at home, he does hope that more can be done.

"It is ironic that people who smoke do so at the window or balcony because they do not want the smoke to get into their own homes, but in doing so, it goes into the homes of others," he said.

Walk2Ride: LTA completes 200km worth of sheltered walkways under $300 million initiative; Public consultation for Land Transport Master Plan 2040 launched on 19 Sep 2018

New covered walkways to hit 200km mark
Last 150m stretch of added pathways under Walk2Ride scheme to be completed on Wednesday, Sept 19
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

An ambitious programme to provide more covered walkways here will achieve a major milestone on Wednesday with the completion of 200km worth of new paths.

These pathways, which cost $300 million to build, are more than four times the 46km worth of walkways built before the launch of the Walk2Ride programme in 2013.

The last 150m stretch of the 200km of added walkways will be completed outside Tekka Centre in Little India on Wednesday. A ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be held to mark the occasion.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We know that safe, comfortable walkways are necessary to get Singaporeans to #WalkCycleRide and make Singapore car-lite. And in our tropical weather, they have to be sheltered too."

Launched in 2013, Walk2Ride sought to link commuters from MRT stations to residences and amenities such as schools and healthcare facilities within a 400m radius, as well as to bus interchanges, LRT stations and some bus stops within a 200m radius.

Before this, sheltered walkways were provided from transport nodes to schools and healthcare facilities only within a 200m radius. They were also provided within residential estates by town councils.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it will continue to add to the network of sheltered walkways.

To minimise inconvenience to residents, as well as ensure the durability of the walkways, the LTA had prefabricated all materials off-site to speed up the installation process.

The walkways were also standardised to allow modifications later. They were made with galvanised steel and aluminium, which the LTA said are more durable and cheaper to maintain.

In addition, the walkways are supported on one post - as opposed to two - to maximise the space for commuters.

For Fajar Secondary School vice-principal Guinieve Yeo, the sheltered walkways put up at the start of the year near the school in Bukit Panjang have had a noticeable impact on her students: fewer are late now. "Even when it's rainy, they can come to school on time," she said. "They don't have to wait out a storm at an HDB void deck or MRT station."

In addition to connected walkways in the neighbourhood, the LTA "filled in" a 6m-gap between an existing walkway and the school's.

Another beneficiary is full-time national serviceman Ferdinand Ezekial Francis, 21, who can now make his way to South View LRT station from his Bukit Panjang Housing Board flat come rain or shine.

"I don't carry an umbrella, so the walkway has been good."

Asked about the Walk2Ride programme, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who had in March last year raised in Parliament the case of a walkway ending 10m short of Khatib MRT station, said: "All gao dim (taken care of) already."

But she hoped the authorities can move on to a second phase of the programme.

"If we want to encourage residents to walk more, the Government can consider a Walk2Ride extension beyond the 400m radius to even 1km, for some areas."