Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Don't forget the E word

Empathy is trending as a must-have trait in today's fluid global economy, but we parents still seem more concerned about our kids doing well than doing good
By Tee Hun Ching, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

"A group of older boys made fun of me in school today," my son shared recently.

It turned out to be a minor incident with a major lesson.

He was trying to open a packet of food in the canteen with a pair of scissors from a vendor, not realising that the tool was dirty.

"The boys laughed and called me names like 'rotten boy'."

I was all set to soothe his hurt feelings, but he didn't seem very affected. Then came the crux of the story.

"One of the boys was very nice. He asked if I was okay and opened the packet for me, even though his friends laughed at him too," my son recounted. "I was very grateful."

That day, my eight-year-old experienced the transformative power of empathy: A simple act of kindness had taken the sting out of an unpleasant encounter and turned it into a positive memory.

Better yet, he was now inspired to pay it forward.

"I will help if I see other kids in trouble next time," he said.

I hope he keeps his promise, for while we all have the capacity for empathy, it does not always trigger an automatic response.

Like a skill or muscle, the ability to put oneself in another's shoes and then, more crucially, act with compassion, needs to be honed and trained before it can become a reflex.

Around the world, there is a growing call to foster empathy among the young. Advocates point to how this building block of human relationships affects not only social change, but also determines career success in a fluid, fast-paced global economy that demands open collaboration.

More MRT platforms for buskers to perform

LTA extends scheme to 15 stations, up from 5, following 'positive commuter feedback'
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

From pop songs to melodies played on traditional musical instruments like the Chinese guzheng, commuters can enjoy a tune or two while they wait for their train.

After a pilot project, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has extended an initiative allowing buskers to perform on train platforms to 15 stations, up from the initial five.

How would you like to be entertained on the go? How about being serenaded by live performances of creative and...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Monday, October 12, 2015

The new stations include those in the heartland, such as Ang Mo Kio, Boon Lay and Tampines, as well as those in the city, like Bugis and Orchard.

The initiative resumed last Thursday after the trial conducted from July last year to February yielded "positive commuter feedback", the LTA said.

The initial five stations were Bukit Batok, City Hall, Eunos, Jurong East and Raffles Place.

By allowing busking performances at more stations, LTA said it hopes to "create a more pleasant public transport experience", while providing a platform for local performers to showcase their talents.

Four performing acts endorsed under the National Arts Council's (NAC) busking scheme have already been invited to busk at the stations, and the NAC and LTA are working together to rope in more.

Heng Swee Keat as education minister: A study in bold moves

Mr Heng Swee Keat left a mark as education minister, shifting emphasis from grades to talent, and from qualifications to skills
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

When Mr Heng Swee Keat was appointed Minister for Education in May 2011, it marked only the second time that a new Member of Parliament had been catapulted straight into Cabinet.

His appointment was surprising also because many had expected him to head to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, or Ministry of Finance, as he had served as permanent secretary for trade and industry, and then as the central bank chief from 2005 until his election.

In fact, Mr Heng became Minister of Finance this month.

But despite having spent only one term - four years and four months to be exact - in MOE, parents, educators and university heads said that the soft-spoken Mr Heng has left an indelible mark on education.

Several parents, educators, university heads and academics were asked: "What will you remember former education minister Heng Swee Keat for?"

A veteran literature teacher replied: "I will always remember him for doing away with school rankings altogether."

She recounted how she jumped for joy when, just a year after taking up the education portfolio, Mr Heng announced that he was abolishing the league tables for secondary schools that had been in place since 1992.

Over the years, the annual exercise brought on many complaints from parents and even educators who felt that it skewed the priorities in education.

"In the later years, they placed schools in bands, but it was still ranking. Mr Heng had the courage to pull the plug altogether on it," said the teacher who had first-hand experience of the downside of ranking.

She had taught literature in her secondary school for more than a decade. But a few years after ranking was introduced, she was asked to teach English language and geography instead as, in her school, only one class offered literature as an O-level subject that year.

Several educators spoke about the slogan Mr Heng popularised: "Every school, a good school".

One month after GE2015

Cue a reality check, whether winner or loser. For the PAP, it means embracing the nitty-gritty; for the opposition, it's home-truth time.
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015

It has been exactly one month since the Sept 11 General Election, and whatever shock or surprise the results delivered have worn off for many of the political parties.

With the polls firmly behind them, the parties have got back into the swing of things.

The People's Action Party has hit the ground running, setting up a number of new party branches and securing locations for its weekly Meet-the-People Sessions. It seems the party believes that it was the tireless grassroots efforts of the last five years that helped clinch its 69.9 per cent vote-share victory, and 83 out of the 89 seats for elected MPs.

The Workers' Party, the No. 2 player on the scene, is also looking ahead and has moved on from its unexpected disappointment at the ballot box, where it narrowly held on to Aljunied GRC. The party has gone into soul-searching mode, even as it presses on with its plans.

Despite not getting its younger members into Parliament, the WP has gone ahead with renewing its leadership ranks, and has held a meeting to appoint some candidates to its top decision-making body.

The rest of the opposition camp, meanwhile, have found the results a sufficient wake-up call to reach out to discuss a possible merger or coalition. So far, the National Solidarity Party, People's Power Party, Singaporeans First and Reform Party have met up. Talks are still in the preliminary stage, but party leaders say something needs to be done to give opposition players a better chance at electoral success.

Insight looks at the parties' plans for moving ahead, a month from the general election.

Bankrollers of US presidential race

Just 158 families, and their firms, have given $245m so far to hopefuls, mainly Republicans
The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

NEW YORK • They are overwhelmingly white, wealthy, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women and by black and brown voters.

Across the sprawling United States, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighbourhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed US$176 million (S$245 million) in the first phase of the campaign, according to a New York Times investigation.

Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much of the early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalised by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision five years ago.

These donors' fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country's economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the US, emigrating from countries such as Cuba, the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel.

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republicans who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programmes.

Swimming 65km over 3 days for charity

40-year-old culinary trainer does 1,317 laps in 50m pool; gets a place in Singapore Book Of Records
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

Doing 1,317 laps in a 50m pool is equivalent to swimming more than 65km - or swimming from Singapore to Batam and back, and then to Batam again.

And 1,317 laps was what Mr Vincent Koh, 40, did over three days from Friday until yesterday, setting a new entry in the Singapore Book Of Records for the most laps swum in consecutive days.

Mr Koh, a culinary trainer, spent about 10 hours in the pool each of those days paddling back and forth.

He was taking part in SAFRA's Swim for Hope charity drive. Sponsors donated $1 for every lap swum.

Close to $80,000 raised at Charity Swim
The 5th SAFRA Swim for Hope ended with a splash with close to 80,000 laps completed. The charity event which started in 2011 has been increasing in popularity ever since. Over at SAFRA Tampines, we caught up with some of the participants to find out how it feels like … swimming for a cause!Catch this video to find out more!
Posted by cyberpioneer on Sunday, October 11, 2015

The three-day event ended yesterday and involved 1,700 swimmers doing laps at five SAFRA clubhouses - Yishun, Mount Faber, Jurong, Toa Payoh and Tampines.

A total of $79,038 was raised - the highest amount since Swim for Hope started in 2011. Participants were mainly operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) and their family members. There were also swimmers from non-profit organisation Special Olympics Singapore and Metta School.

The funds raised will be distributed equally to four beneficiaries: Aquatics Heart and Hope, Community Chest, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Care Fund and Singapore Children's Society.

First waterfront CC opens at Marina Bay

Fancy a kayaking session after line dancing? Head to 'specialist CC'
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

The Marina Bay waterfront is now home to the first community club here offering water and adventure sports.

The new "specialist CC", PAssion WaVe @ Marina Bay, was officially opened yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at a launch event attended by more than 2,000 people.

Thanks everyone who came down to support us at the launch of PAssion WaVe @ Marina Bay - PA's first specialist CC. This...
Posted by PA Water-Venture on Sunday, October 11, 2015

Located at Rhu Cross by the Benjamin Sheares Bridge, the community club will offer water- based activities such as kayaking, pedal boating and bell boating, alongside niche lifestyle classes such as urban gardening and coffee appreciation, and CC staples such as zumba and line dancing.

More than 20,000 people a year are expected to benefit from the new community club, which aims to serve residents in the Mountbatten and Jalan Besar constituencies.

It is the eighth of the People's Association's Water-Venture outlets offering water-based activities islandwide. Plans are under way to upgrade the other outlets to specialist CCs that offer land- based activities as well by the end of next year, starting with East Coast and Pasir Ris.

Kidnap phone scams on the rise

Spike in kidnap phone scams in Singapore
241 scam attempts in first half of this year, with 22 victims cheated of a total $98,100
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015

The customer wanted to withdraw $10,000 from her bank account, but something was wrong.

When staff at POSB's Woodlands branch tried to make small talk with her, she was silent. Instead, she wrote on a piece of paper: "My son has been kidnapped."

Branch service manager Kina Neo, 50, said of the encounter last November: "She looked like she wanted to cry."

Ms Neo took the woman, a fruit seller in her 40s, to a private room and kept communicating with her through writing. The woman revealed that she had answered a phone call and heard what she thought was her teenage son's voice begging for help.

This was followed by another caller demanding $10,000 if she wanted to see her son again. She was ordered not to hang up so the caller could listen in on whatever she was doing.

On learning that the customer's son was doing his national service, Ms Neo managed to get in touch with his officer-in-charge and ascertain he was still in camp.

The phone call had been nothing more than a hoax.

Such kidnap scams tripled in 2014 from the year before. The police received 422 reports of such scam attempts last year, 40 of which were successful - compared with 13 out of the 178 reported in 2013.

These scams usually involve the victims getting a call from someone pretending to be their relative in distress. A "kidnapper" then comes on the line and demands that they remit a ransom, usually to an overseas bank account.

In the first half of this year, 241 scam attempts had already been reported, up from 216 in the same period last year.

Of these, 22 victims were cheated of a total of $98,100, close to the $113,700 lost across the 40 cases last year. The highest sum handed over in a single incident last year was $45,000 in January.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Struggles of Singapore's ageing caregivers

Many are unaware of the challenges of caring for elderly family members
By Venessa Lee, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015

In Singapore's ageing society, caring for an elderly loved one may become a reality for many people. But what happens when the caregivers themselves are getting older and more frail themselves?

Longer lives mean many people have to cope with the problems of ageing not just in their charges, but also in themselves.

Ageing caregivers have their own health concerns, such as chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and worry about their future medical needs, says Ms Wang Jing, senior manager of counselling and coaching at Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing.

They may also have little strength to help their charges in daily activities, such as transferring them from beds to wheelchairs.

Caregivers may not be aware of the challenges they face.

Their responsibilities are 24/7, says Ms Wang. "They may not get enough rest as they need to be alert all the time, even during the night, if the care recipient needs the washroom or a cup of water."

Mr Kelvin Lim, chief of the social care division at the Agency for Integrated Care, says many caregivers see their duties as "a natural extension of their relationship", such as if they are the wife or the son.

"Sometimes they're not aware that their role is quite extensive as a nurse, personal assistant and someone who handles the finances. They tend to focus their energy on their loved one's well-being at the expense of themselves," he says, adding that one challenge is that caregivers can become isolated socially.

There are many caregivers who would rather not receive help, eldercare providers say.

"We have a certain level of resilience in our community," says Mr Kelvin Lee, manager at Touch Caregivers Support.

"People generally want to provide care on their own, sometimes to the point of resisting help or thinking that the assistance can be given to others with more needs."

To lighten the load of caregivers, Touch has asked neighbours to help one another and provides training for the more complicated aspects of care, such as changing urine catheters and inserting feeding tubes.

When caregivers are properly trained, they are less stressed and more able to enjoy the presence of their wards.

After all, "the quality of care is directly related to the caregiver's health and well-being", Mr Lee says.

As of June this year, those aged 65 and older form 13.1 per cent of Singapore's citizen population, up from 12.4 per cent in the same period last year, says a report by the National Population and Talent Division recently.

A decade ago, the figure was 8.8 per cent.

Crucial to 'keep getting healthcare right': PM Lee

It's not just about expanding health facilities, Singaporeans can help support system too: PM
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015

With the number of patients rising steadily as the country ages, Singapore will need to expand current facilities and get new hospitals.

But these are just part of the equation in ensuring that people continue to enjoy one of the best healthcare systems in the world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday. It is also important to "keep on getting the system right".

And this is going to be hard.

With better protection through MediShield Life and schemes such as the Pioneer Generation Package for seniors and the Community Health Assist Scheme for middle- and lower-income families, patients and doctors have less to worry about when it comes to healthcare costs.

That means there is "greater incentive to overuse healthcare services".

"We have to make sure that patients don't overuse resources and doctors don't over-treat patients," said PM Lee, who also urged Singaporeans to be proactive in leading healthy lives.

"Ultimately, Singaporeans must be willing to support the system and support the Government when it tries to keep the system efficient, accessible and sustainable."

He was speaking at the official opening of the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East yesterday. Mr Lee said Sengkang and Woodlands general hospitals and Yishun, Sengkang, Outram and Woodlands community hospitals will open over the next seven years.

These facilities will be needed to cope with the rapidly ageing population.

The number of people aged 65 years and older for every 100 working adults went up from 12 in 2005 to 13 in 2010. The Prime Minister said those numbers were manageable until 2010, when they started to increase very rapidly.

Today, it is 18 people aged 65 years and older for every 100 working adults, he went on, adding that rising healthcare costs are "one of the major reasons why our Budget spending will grow over the years".

Aside from hospitals, various areas of care such as primary and nursing care are also being ramped up.

This way, he said, "the patient gets appropriate treatment in the right place. And the system as a whole delivers better care for the patient, in a cost-effective way".

Mr Lee also spoke about how people need to take their medical conditions seriously. He highlighted how a third of people who go for a health screening find out about a medical condition, but many fail to follow up on it.

"It's really wasted effort," he said. "And you are sitting on something that will cause you a lot of trouble later.

"The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself and keep healthy, because that will give you the best quality of life."

2 new courses to boost careers in social service

They are part of push to draw more mid-career workers to sector
By Calvin Yang, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015

With a growing need for skilled social service professionals, various initiatives are being set up to draw more mid-career workers into the sector, while upgrading the skills of those already in the field.

Two new Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training courses - an advanced certificate in social service and a diploma in social service - were launched yesterday. They are being introduced as part of the Government's push to encourage skills upgrading and strengthen career pathways in the sector.

In case you missed the buzz last Saturday at SSI... :PMSF together with WDA and SSI launched 2 new WSQ Certificates...
Posted by Social Service Institute on Sunday, October 11, 2015

Both qualifications, developed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), will replace flagship programmes offered by the Social Service Institute - the diploma and higher diploma in social service. Close to 300 individuals have graduated from these programmes since they were started in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

WDA chief executive Ng Cher Pong said: "The skills required in the social service sector are evolving in response to the changing needs of Singaporeans. Therefore, new entrants to the sector and existing practitioners must continue to strive towards skills mastery."

The classes for the new WSQ programmes will start next February. Applications opened yesterday.

Coney Island Park opens to the public

Nature haven on Coney Island is accessible via two bridges linked to Punggol and Pasir Ris
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015

A slice of rustic island nature, complete with a free-roaming bull, is now open to the public, and there is no need for a boat to get there.

Coney Island Park is located on the 50ha offshore Coney Island, which is connected to the mainland by two bridges on its western and eastern ends to Punggol Promenade and Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6. The park was officially opened by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan.

Costing about $3 million, the park took 15 months to build. It features a beach that stretches 2km and a 2.4 km-long path that is part of the park connector network, which cyclists can use to travel between Pasir Ris and Punggol.

Keen-eyed visitors may also encounter many different types of plants and animals there - the park is home to 86 tree species and at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened species such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

Luckier visitors may even come across the single Brahman bull that roams freely across the island.

It is not clear how the bull got on the island, but the timid and gentle animal was found in poor condition during redevelopment, although it has since been nursed back to health, Mr Khaw told the crowd to applause at yesterday's event.

To give that authentic feel, there is no electricity or piped water on the island. Instead, electricity to power the pumps for toilets is generated from solar power, while water for flushing and hand washing is harvested from rain.

Most of the signboards, benches and boardwalks are made using timber from uprooted casuarina trees, which grow well on coastal habitats like those on Coney Island.

The National Parks Board (NParks), which manages the park, has also tried to preserve the island's original lush vegetation by intentionally leaving the beaches uncleared and allowing greenery to grow in its natural environment.

"The main distinguishing feature is the rustic charm of the park. We want to keep it as basic as possible," said Ms Kartini Omar, senior director of parks from NParks. Compared to Pulau Ubin, which has a similar rustic vibe, Coney Island Park is much easier to access as it is connected to the mainland, she added.