Monday, 30 September 2013

Praising the right way

Focus on behaviour or effort when motivating children to build good character and self-esteem
By Lea Wee, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2013

Ms Noorazlina Noraswad recalls that she was hardly praised as a child.

"My parents didn't want me to think too highly of myself," says the 40-year- old staff nurse and a mother of three.

When she became a parent, she was determined to be more encouraging.

She has read about how praising children can make them more confident and motivate them to behave better - and believes it.

Every opportunity she finds to praise her three daughters, aged three to eight, she does it: doing well in school, sharing things with one another and even looking pretty in a nice dress.

She says: "I don't think it gives them an inflated sense of self."

Her mother, housewife Mariyahma Zainal, 60, says she was stingy with praises for her five children because that was how her own parents brought her up.

She says: "Their thinking was, if you praise too much, the children will think they are very clever and won't want to listen to their parents."

Compared to previous generations, many Singaporeans today tend to be more generous when it comes to praising their children.

But they have to be careful not to overdo it.

While the merits of praise in improving children's confidence and motivation have long been recognised, in recent years, the dangers of overpraising has come under scrutiny in the West.

Studies show that frequent and often empty praise could undermine a child's self-esteem.

Overpraising children - especially those with lower self-esteem - for their personal qualities ("You're such a great person") rather than their efforts ("You must have worked hard for this") may cause them to feel more ashamed if they fail and further lower their self-esteem.

But this is not a problem Singaporean parents need to worry about at the moment.

Mr Brian Poh, a psychologist from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health, says: "Anecdotal evidence in our clinic tells us that Singaporean parents are not too lavish with their praise."

In fact, parents interviewed feel that they should be prudent with their praises, otherwise they would not be effective.

Learning - the Finnish way

No exams, no tuition, no streaming, minimal homework and lots of play. Yet Finland consistently produces top students in mathematics, science and literacy. How does the country do it?
By Sandra Davie, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2013

Like Singapore, Finland, which has a population of 5.4 million, is an education superstar.

Its students consistently do as well as top-performing Singapore pupils in international maths and science tests.

But a recent study trip by The Sunday Times sponsored by Lien Foundation found that Finnish students take a completely different route to academic excellence.

Before going to Primary 1 at age seven, all that Finnish children in pre-schools seem to do is play.

And once in school, they do not undergo formal assessments or examinations until they are 18, when they sit for a matriculation examination to enter university.

There is also little homework for primary and lower secondary students, and no nationwide standardised testing.

And tuition? That is a concept foreign to most Finnish parents.

Teachers say the equivalent of Singapore's gifted education scheme or Normal or Express streams would be illegal in Finland because its education policy calls for all children to be given the same opportunities.

The only "streaming" allowed occurs at age 16, when students, after being graded by teachers, get to choose whether to take the vocational or academic route.

And yet, the Finns have consistently performed in the top tier since the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey was conducted in 2000.

This study compares 15-year- olds in different countries in reading, mathematics and science.

So how does Finland do it without the intense pressure and competition that are so much a part of Singapore's system?

Finnish educators list a combination of factors, from the strong reading culture - Finnish people borrow more books from libraries than anyone else in the world - to highly educated and well-trained teachers.

Many also attribute the success of the Finnish education system to the strong foundation in learning laid in pre-school, where the focus is on cultivating intellectual curiosity and a love of learning in the young.

The emphasis is on learning through collaboration, not competition.

"All children are given equal opportunities. We put equity ahead of producing top students," says Dr Pasi Sahlberg, who wrote the much-talked-about book, Finnish Lessons, which details how the country improved its mediocre academic results and produced top-performing students.

The 53-year-old director-general of CIMO (National Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) at the Finnish Ministry of Education explains how Finns aim to have good schools for all students, echoing the Singapore Education Ministry's (MOE) recent slogan that "every school is a good school".

Dr Sahlberg says Finnish parents really do believe that all Finnish schools are equal. That would explain the puzzled looks given by Finnish parents when The Sunday Times asked how they select a school for their children. The answer: They pick the one closest to home.

So many varsities, so few students

Hundreds of teachers in Taiwan may lose jobs
By Lee Seok Hwai, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

MANY of Taiwan's 120 universities are struggling to survive as enrolment numbers fall in tandem with declining birth rates.

Experts worry that scores of tertiary institutions, most of them private, may be forced to close and leave hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers jobless.

"It will become a very big social problem if such highly educated, mostly middle-aged teachers lose their jobs," said Professor Chou Chu-ing, an education expert at National Chengchi University.

Earlier this month, two dozen teachers and students from the Yung-Ta Institute of Technology and Commerce in southern Pingtung county protested outside the Education Ministry in Taipei.

The teachers said they had not been paid for eight months, while the students complained that class schedules were still up in the air just one week before the start of the new school year. They all wanted the ministry to take over the running of the private school.

At least eight universities have been shortlisted for closure since last year, ministry officials told lawmakers this week. They were found to have poor enrolment of under 100 students and not to have paid teaching staff.

The problem, officials and analysts agree, lies in Taiwan's declining birth rate. The number of newborns fell below 300,000 for the first time in 1998 and has since slipped to 234,000 by last year. The Education Ministry expects only 170,000 new undergraduates in 2024 compared with 270,000 in 2015.

Some critics blame the glut of universities for exacerbating the problem and the government for not resolving it much earlier.

The oversupply has its roots in an education reform in the 1990s that grew out of a civic movement calling for university education to be made accessible to all Taiwanese. This led the government to relax regulations so that the private sector can set up colleges and to allow polytechnics to be upgraded to university status. Meanwhile, the number of vocational training schools fell from 72 to 14.

The result is that more than 90 per cent of high school graduates qualify to go to university now compared to 30 per cent 20 years ago. The starting salary of graduates is about NT$25,000 (S$1,060), just NT$2,000 more than that of vocational school graduates, who are now in short supply.

Said Prof Chou: "As an ideal, the aspiration for everyone to have a degree is good. But it becomes a problem when we factor in the realities of the job market."

Greening of Singapore not inferior

I AGREE with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong that the grid system of Manhattan's topography makes navigating around the city on foot very easy ("Take a leaf from New York City's book"; Monday).

However, I find her observation that Singapore has sacrificed "what little pockets of greenery left in the city to the temples of commerce", in contrast to New York, very curious.

The land occupied by Gardens by the Bay could have fetched billions in land revenue and other taxes, but the Government chose to set it aside for an eco-friendly and futuristic park that will blossom with age.

Also, man-made Central Park opened in 1857, long before New York City became a bustling global city of skyscrapers, finance and commerce. Comparing a mature park that is more than 150 years old to one that is less than two years old makes little sense.

Manhattan is about one-eighth the size of Singapore. Perhaps it would be more instructive to compare it to our core central region, from Buona Vista and Tanglin Village down to Pasir Panjang, Tanjong Pagar, Marina Bay and Kallang.

If so, we can claim to have two world-class parks in Gardens by the Bay and the august Botanic Gardens, as well as a few smaller ones like HortPark, an urban reservoir in the form of Marina Barrage, various park connectors and walking trails, and so forth.

In short, I do not see the greening of Singapore as inferior in any way to Manhattan's.

In fact, I regard our evolving "City in a Garden" concept as among the leading models in the world.

To take this vision to the next level, I hope the authorities can consider a world-class community-related park for vertical urban farming, housed in locally inspired eco-friendly architecture right in the heart of the city.

There are two very suitable plots of land for such a project:

The huge tract framed by Orchard Boulevard, Paterson Road and Grange Road, directly opposite Ion Orchard, or

Bay East Garden or Bay Central Garden at Gardens by the Bay.

I am confident that such a project will bolster Singapore's standing as a green city, and its substance as a leisure and cultural destination, as well as provide a shot in the arm for the emerging movement to eat locally grown food.

Toh Cheng Seong
ST Forum, 28 Sep 2013

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Trust is a many-splendoured thing

There's trust in competence, trust in integrity and trust in benevolence. Some Singaporeans are going through a state of trust-in-transition. What will move people to trust or not trust the Government?
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

TRUST enables citizens and the Government to work together to build a cohesive and adaptive society - one with good quality of life for all; where Singaporeans can call home.

So when we examine the issue of public trust in the Government, it is ultimately about citizen well-being, not the survival of a political party.

Trust affects how citizens think, feel and behave. It takes time to build, is easy to lose and once lost, is difficult to restore. Given how critical and complex the concept of trust is, research on trust perceptions may shed light on how and why the public trusts, or distrusts, the Government.

Studies have identified three major dimensions of trust: competence, integrity and benevolence.
- TRUST IN COMPETENCE: This is about people's confidence in the Government's ability to perform and solve problems. It involves the ability to address issues affecting quality of life and also effectiveness in managing crises.
Efficient delivery of public services, low crime rates and a positive record in tackling economic and public-health crises contribute to trust in competence.

On the other hand, issues of infrastructure, such as public transport lagging behind population growth, raise doubts relating to trust in competence.
- TRUST IN INTEGRITY: This is about people's assessment of the Government's character or the extent to which they think it is not corrupt and is impartial. The focus here is on the integrity of public service officers and political leaders but it also involves the perception of how breaches of integrity are handled.
The series of high-profile corruption and sexual impropriety scandals involving politicians and public officers erode trust in integrity. Vigorous action against those caught for corruption, regardless of who they are, may mitigate the erosion of trust to some extent and reinforce the Government's position on zero tolerance for such wrongdoings.
- TRUST IN BENEVOLENCE: This is about people's belief in the Government's intentions and motivations - in what it says and does and in people's perceptions about the underlying reasons for a policy or government action.
Trust in benevolence increases when people believe that the intention of policy and government action is to serve their interests and is motivated by genuine concern for citizen well-being, as opposed to being influenced by vested private or partisan interests.

It gets eroded when people think that policies are formulated by an elite which is disconnected from ground sentiments, is unable to empathise, or does not care enough for the less fortunate or ordinary folk.

There has been increasing emphasis on citizen well-being, social mobility, quality of public engagement efforts and humility and empathy in public service.

There are also significant policy shifts in housing, health and education. If these emphases and policy shifts are sustainable and translated into intended outcomes that benefit citizens, trust in benevolence will increase.

Online comments: Kill them or fix them?

By Alex Hern, Published The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

POPULAR Science is closing comments on its articles. Citing "trolls and spambots", the 141- year-old American magazine has decided that an open forum at the bottom of articles "can be bad for science".

The decision was "not made lightly", said online content director Suzanne LaBarre - nor, appropriately, without some supporting scientific evidence.

Citing research from a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, the magazine argued that exposure to bad comments can skew a reader's opinion of the post itself.

"Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they'd previously thought," Professor Brossard wrote in the New York Times.

"If you carry out those results to their logical end," said Ms LaBarre, "commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded - you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the 'off' switch."

The reaction to Popular Science's announcement was mixed (though on their site, there was silence: comments weren't enabled on the post announcing comments were to be disabled).

The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri argued that "it can't come soon enough", but Mr Mathew Ingram of paidContent echoed the sentiment of many, asking: "Why not try to fix comments instead of killing them?"

That's what Google's trying to do. The company has announced a major change to the way comments on YouTube, widely seen as the worst of the worst, are displayed. Now, comments will be tied to a commenter's Google+ profile - which they will have to have to be able to comment. When viewing comments, you will be able to see posts from those who your Google+ circles show as friends and acquaintances, or who are "popular personalities" near the top of the thread; by contrast those from random passers-by are relegated further down the list.

As already occurs, the video's creator will have a privileged place in the thread. But so too will popular personalities on YouTube. But hiding bad comments only solves part of the problem. For one thing, the person who moderates the comments still has to read all the abuse. It's preferable, surely, to focus on encouraging good comments?

That's the approach the Huffington Post is taking, as it attempts to increase the accountability of its commenters.

Starting this month, the site is asking new users to verify their identity when creating an account, in the hope that it will "reduce the number of drive-by or automated trolls".

"Rather than participating in threads and promoting the best comments, our moderators are stuck policing the trolls with diminishing success," said Mr Jimmy Soni, the group's managing editor.

Being poor is more than having too little money

An inclusive society must ensure the less advantaged are not marginalised
By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

EARLIER this year, a colleague and I went to a junior college to give a talk on Singapore politics.

As I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a topic most 17-year-olds would find less than compelling, I cracked my head for a way to get their attention and to better connect with them.

I decided that smartphones might just do the trick, and decided to use the rivalry between Apple's iPhones and the Android phones produced by companies such as Samsung as a way to get a discussion going on political competition.

It worked.

But unintentionally, I had also reminded my audience of the divide between students with smartphones and those without; and as it turns out, this is a difference poorer teens feel keenly.

After the talk, an educator was kind enough to let me know my mistake. He said that in future, I should avoid asking students who had iPhones and who had Android phones. He told me that students without smartphones feel so excluded from their peer groups, they need to be counselled.

That stunned me, and made me realise how little I know about the lives of fellow Singaporeans whose circumstances are different from mine.

I was reminded of this incident when at a National University of Singapore forum on an inclusive society on Tuesday, Nominated MP Laurence Lien cited the lack of a smartphone as a mark of poverty in today's Singapore.

Those who cannot afford such devices will not be able to join conversations that increasingly take place over smartphone applications such as WhatsApp, he said.

He went on to argue that in measuring poverty, society needs to take into account what people need to spend on items (such as phones) or experiences (a night out) to feel they belong to a group and thus socially included.

Mr Lien, who is also chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, used the example to illustrate an idea of poverty that has gained currency in Britain.

This is the idea of the late British sociologist Peter Townsend that poverty is less about shortage of income and more about the inability of people on low incomes to participate actively in society.

Townsend's insight was that poverty is both relative and multidimensional.

Mr Lien's point was that Singapore needs better measures of poverty and a better understanding of the daily challenges that poor people face.

This in turn relates to a larger question about what it means to be an inclusive society - one that embraces every one of its members and enables each to flourish, leaving no one out in the cold.

The French can ban the veil but not the English

By Andy Ho, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

SINCE 2011, France has banned the niqab from all public spaces. The niqab is the full-face veil that leaves just a slit for the eyes, which some Muslim women wear.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recently broached a niqab ban too. This is odd because a niqab ban may be consistent with French history and culture but not with English tradition.

In the English media, the issue is portrayed in terms of an individual's right to express her religion.

In French discourse, however, the issue is seen through the lens of laicite or "secularism". The free exercise of religion is guaranteed in France by the law concerning the separation of the churches and the state. Passed in 1905, it bears little resemblance to the separation of Church and state in the United States.

In the US, the state adopts a hands-off approach to religion. Competition among a diversity of faiths in the religious marketplace is supposed to lead to a stable and peaceable religious pluralism.

Not so in France, where the revolution that overthrew the regime of Louis XVI in 1789 was viciously anti-clerical. The revolutionaries perceived the Catholic Church as being in an alliance with the monarchy and smashed first the monarchy, then the Church. Setting up the Republic, they vowed never to let class or religion divide society again. So the republicans passed a law to confiscate all Church property in 1790, permitting the Church to use it only at the state's pleasure.

To this day, the state owns and maintains all churches constructed before 1905, including the world-renowned cathedrals of Paris, Chartres, and Reims.

In French society, the Church is thus kept reliant upon and subject to the state. French laws targeting Muslims arguably also aim to rein in Islam and make it subject to the state. (Earlier, in 2004, France also passed a law forbidding girls from wearing the hijab or headscarf in schools).

Such state control of religion since the revolution is justified in terms of laicite. Enshrined in the Constitution, it is a doctrine of citizenship grounded in liberty, equality and fraternity. In this conception, faith-based diversity of views can be seen as a threat to social cohesion.

A common school system tries to inculcate the national values of equality, non-discrimination and dignity. The French assimilationist project expects all, including immigrants, to give up their communal identities in public.

In public spaces, French people are to express their common values, especially human dignity, by treating no one differently. This requires that there be no segregation on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, class, disability and so on. In particular, explicitly religious expression must be sequestered from public affairs. For example, proselytising in public is not permitted. Thus also the ban on wearing the niqab in public.

There is apparently a wide consensus on all this - and that the state is the organ to enforce this laicite. This is evident from the fact that the senate, as elected representatives of the people, voted 335 to one to pass the 2011 law.

But this avowedly illiberal doctrine of laicite would have no place in England, where religion occupies a much larger place in the public sphere. Despite very low church attendance today, the Church of England has a unique constitutional position afforded by the Act of Supremacy 1558.

Curb rising cost of health insurance, allow switch

By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

IN ITS current tweaking of health-care financing, the Ministry of Health (MOH) should give some thought to MediShield integrated plans and see how they can be better regulated. After all, 60 per cent of residents here have opted for this higher coverage, which sits on top of the basic MediShield plan that covers 92 per cent of residents.

Five insurance companies now provide more than 20 different MediShield integrated plans. Coverage is typically grouped into three categories: the priciest plan covers treatment in private hospitals; another plan covers A-class patients in a public hospital; and a cheaper plan offers coverage up to B1-class rates in a public hospital.

Policyholders may go to more expensive wards than their coverage allows, but top up the difference in rates themselves.

At a quick glance, with more than 20 integrated plans to choose from, the Integrated Shield market appears to be highly competitive. But health insurance is very different from, say, car insurance, where drivers can switch companies to get the lowest premium rates.

There are two issues that need addressing: people cannot easily change plans; and the premiums rise sharply.

Stuck with a plan

THE first problem occurs because once people enrol for a MediShield integrated plan, they are stuck with it - and its premium rises. This is because insurance companies provide full coverage only for people who are healthy at the time they join.

It becomes almost impossible for someone over 60 - or even 40 - to switch plans without incurring hefty penalties. That's because a profit-driven insurer will reject those already deemed unhealthy, or cover them but exclude those conditions.

By the age of 40, 12 per cent of people here have diabetes, 17 per cent have high blood pressure and 18 per cent have high cholesterol levels.

Singapore Hainanese heritage explored in 2 new books

Works address migration of dialect group here, along with prominent members
By Leong Weng Kam, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

FORMER MP and clan leader Chau Sik Ting, now 73, wants to promote the research of Hainanese culture and heritage, as well as the Chinese dialect group's contributions to modern Singapore.

The general practitioner and MP for Thomson between 1980 and 1984 formed the Hainan Culture and Heritage Research Centre in 2011.

The centre has just published its first two books - a two-volume set in Chinese - featuring nine top Hainanese in Singapore including economist Lim Chong Yah and former minister Mah Bow Tan, and a collection of essays on the history of Hainanese migration. Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong launched the centre and the books at a dinner attended by about 300 guests at the Marriott Hotel last night.

Dr Chau, a former president of the Singapore Hainan Hwee Kuan, said the centre aims to leave "something" behind for the Hainanese community here which is about 200,000 strong.

It is the fourth-largest Chinese dialect group here after the Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese.

"We want them to know what their forefathers have done for Singapore and hope that their spirit of adventure, hard work and perseverance will inspire them," added Dr Chau who chairs the centre.

The centre's secretary-general Foo Kok Pheow, 73, said it would also be linking up with Hainanese from all over the world with its programmes.

The books' chief editor Lim Hong Too, 83, said the volume of essays comprises mainly papers from Chinese scholars who attended a seminar on Hainanese migration organised by the centre in China two years ago.

Miss Vicky Han, 52, writer of the two-volume book of profiles, said it took her two years to complete the task.

Other personalities she featured are the late Confucian scholar Wu Teh Yao, retired civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow, Great Eastern Holdings chairman Fang Ai Lian, real estate veteran Han Cheng Fong and SIM University chairman Cham Tao Soon.

Also featured are Dr Chau's late father Chao Yoke San, a Chinese community leader and philanthropist, and Dr Chau's younger brother, Court of Appeal Judge Chao Hick Tin.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Fast-ageing Singapore, fewer to support aged; Total population at 5.4 million as of June 2013

Experts fear this will exert pressure on economy, society and governance
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2013

SINGAPOREANS are living longer and not having enough babies to replace themselves, meaning the swiftly ageing population has fewer working citizens supporting the growing pool of elderly.

These worrying trends, which emerged from the latest population figures released yesterday, can exert significant pressure on Singapore's economy, society and governance in future, said experts. They added that those working may have to toil longer and pay more taxes, and the Government will need to invest more in elder-friendly facilities.

These will be in demand by a growing number of Singaporeans, with those aged 65 and above forming 11.7 per cent of the citizen population this year, up from 7.8 per cent in 2002.

This year's Population in Brief report also showed that the old-age support ratio - which is the number of citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 needed to support one older citizen - is decreasing rapidly.

It has fallen from 8.4 in 2000 to 5.5 today. But a better picture emerges when permanent residents are included, with the ratio at 6.4 this year, down from 8.7 in 2002.

According to World Bank data, Singapore has the highest proportion of older residents and the fastest ageing population in South-east Asia.

It is greying much faster than other developed nations such as Australia, the United States and most European countries, though the rate is on a par with Hong Kong's and slower than Japan's and South Korea's.

Economists and demographers say this will mean greater demand for health care and eldercare services, and elder-friendly infrastructure such as barrier-free accessibility features in transport and housing.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said that with the Government inevitably spending more, it will mean a "heavier financial burden on the working population, which in turn may mean higher taxes".

But Ms Selena Ling of OCBC said that the state may continue with its redistributive tax model, where the rich pay more through wealth and asset taxes.

"Singapore has been financially prudent, we can afford to draw down on our reserves as well," the economist added.

An ageing population will also require a slight "reorientation" of the economy, she said. This would involve a greater focus on developing medical services and attracting more workers to the sector, as well as increasing productivity and the use of technology in jobs so that people can continue to work as they age.

Once China catches up - what then?

By Lee Kuan Yew, Published The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2013

BARRING any major disruption, the speed at which China is growing in terms of total gross domestic product will enable it to catch up with the US by 2020. China will then go on to surpass America.

During the 1978-2011 period, China's high average rate of growth - about 10 per cent annually - was the result of Deng Xiaoping's 1978 trip to Singapore and his subsequent decision to implement economic reforms and open the economy to international investment. During that period, the US economy's annual growth rate was 2 per cent to 3 per cent.

Despite the financial debt crisis in Europe and the turmoil in US markets over the past few years, China's economy has continued to register strong growth. According to the World Bank, China's US$8.22 trillion (S$10.3 trillion) economy is now the second largest in the world, compared with the US$15.68 trillion US economy. China is the world's largest exporter and its second-largest importer. The recent global economic crisis has allowed China to close its economic gap with the world's top developed nations.

In 2012, China's per capita GDP was US$9,233, compared with US$49,965 in the US. In 2020, China's per capita GDP is projected to reach US$10,000, one-fifth that projected for the US. China's population in 2012 was 1.4 billion, America's 316.5 million. In 2020, China's population will remain four times that of the US. China's economic growth rate will continue to increase at a much higher rate because the base upon which its economy will grow is enormous in comparison.

Just as the US Interstate Highway System changed the way people and goods move across America, so China's National Trunk Highway System will facilitate economic development. China's highways have grown rapidly in total length, from 271km in 1990 to 85,000km in 2011, making this the world's longest national freeway system. The US Interstate Highway System - started in 1956 and considered complete in 1991 - totals 47,182 miles (75,932km). It is not expected to grow significantly going forward. China, on the other hand, continues to expand its expressways and is intent on connecting all provincial capitals and cities with populations over 200,000 residents. These new highways and the economic growth they will drive will help close the gap with the US. And when China does surpass America, the question then will be whether these two great major powers will cooperate or compete.

I believe that during the next 30 years, the Chinese will have no desire to enter into a conflict with the US. They know they will continue to grow stronger, but they are also aware of how far behind they are technologically. They require continued access to American schools so their students can learn how to reinvent themselves.

What is it that makes Americans so much more versatile and innovative? I believe the Chinese have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in the differing natures of the two societies. Innovation and creativity are a part of the American culture, a natural trait of an immigrant society.

ST cartoon + maths formulas = PM's Facebook likes

The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has shown a side of himself that many knew was there but few had seen in public for some time.

Yesterday, the mathematics whiz was drawn to a cartoon by The Straits Times artist Miel Prudencio Rosales Jr on education resources going online by 2016 which included a complex, though apparently accurate, formula.

Sharing the strip on Facebook, PM Lee wrote: "Was enjoying Miel's cartoon in Straits Times today, when I noticed, to my astonishment and delight, that the maths formulas in the pictures not only made sense, but were correct!

"Usually such 'math formulas' drawn in cartoons are just gibberish."

Apparently the formulas were for combinations and permutations that, as PM Lee pointed out, would be familiar only to those doing A-level maths.

Miel said he picked the formulas as he was thinking of the kind of learning that would take place in the future. He added that he was honoured to have been mentioned by the PM but said: "If I think too much about it, I won't be able to come up with my next cartoon."

The post picked up nearly 3,000 likes and 84 comments within four hours. One commenter named Larry Tan wrote: "Once a mathematician, always a mathematician."

Mr Lee topped his class and graduated with a double first-class honours in mathematical statistics and mathematical economics from Cambridge University.

Friday, 27 September 2013

MOE Work Plan Seminar 2013: Big push to nurture all-round students

Shift from exam focus will help them thrive in today's world: Swee Keat
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

SCHOOLS will have to go beyond equipping students for examinations and prepare them for life, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday as he spelt out new initiatives to make the shift happen.

Speaking at the Ministry of Education's (MOE) annual workplan seminar at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he took pains to explain why Singapore's education system - admired worldwide for producing top performers in maths and science - had to change course.

The reason: A globalised world and a future marked by unpredictability.

The education system, he said, needs to now produce all-round students who can work with people from different backgrounds and adapt to what companies term a "VUCA" environment - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

"To deal with the demands of a VUCA environment, good grades in school are not enough. In fact, they might not even be relevant."

To thrive in such a world, students "need to have the confidence to deal with problems that have no clear-cut solutions", he said. "And they need to be able to work effectively with others across races and nationalities."

The demands of the future are not just economic, he noted.

"For a strong social fabric... our young must care for one another and be committed to our collective future," he said, before explaining how MOE plans to achieve this.

He announced that by 2017, all secondary schools will offer two distinct schemes to stretch students beyond academics.

One is an applied learning programme to help students grasp the relevance and value of their lessons, and to develop a love for learning. He highlighted several schools such as Hai Sing Catholic and Outram Secondary which are already doing this through robotics and entrepreneurship programmes.

The second is the Learning for Life programme, which aims to get students to understand more about themselves and how they relate to others, through the arts, sports, outdoor adventures or volunteer work.

All primary and secondary schools will have teams to plan and oversee the holistic development of students at every level.

In both programmes, the idea is to have students learn beyond academics.

The MOE will leave it to schools to design their own activities, but it will help them link up with industry partners or government agencies for advice.

"When fully implemented, our student, whether his home is in Woodlands or Toa Payoh or Jurong or Tampines, will have a colourful landscape of distinctive schools to choose from," said the minister.

As for the Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system and expansion of the Direct School Admission system to take into account a student's character and leadership skills, details will be released later, he said.

But the changes will support MOE's plans to move away from an exam-based system.

On concerns that the changes will move schools towards mediocrity, he disagreed, saying: "They will allow us to achieve excellence in a broader and more enduring sense."

He concluded: "Will it make Singapore a better society? I believe so, if our students grow up not just smart, but with a heart."

10 firms slammed for biased job ads

Foreign hire ban after asking for specific nationality, gender or age
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday that the 10, which included five employment agencies, were taken to task after they could not give valid justifications for the ads asking for specific nationalities, gender or ages.

The companies, which have removed the offending portions from their ads and put up online apologies for 30 days, include PSC Biotech, Winshire Education Centre, Dr Ci:Labo, Modern Pak and Global Citizen Forum.

Cosmetics firm Dr Ci:Labo, for instance, had wanted a Japanese or Singaporean, aged 30 to 50, for the position of general manager.

Youbook, Accredit HR Consultancy, Stafflink Services, Sky Asia Consulting and Zingmi were also punished. MOM found that the employment firms had misinterpreted their clients' requirements.

Sky Asia, for example, stated that female Chinese were preferred to fill administration coordinator and sales support roles.

Meanwhile, Accredit HR Consultancy posted an ad for an assistant store manager, and it indicated: "Filipinos welcomed".

A ministry spokesman told The Straits Times that MOM will continue to educate employment agencies, which play an important role in advising clients on how to comply with fair employment guidelines.

Fair employment watchdog Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices said that in June, it organised a briefing, with MOM, for more than 300 employment agencies.

This is the second time this year that companies have been hauled up for placing discriminatory ads.

Most local residents give casinos a miss

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2013

THREE years after the two casinos opened, 7.7 per cent of adult local residents have made more than one visit to either.

The "vast majority" of the remaining 92.3 per cent - both Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) - did not go at all, said the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) in its latest annual report. It did not give absolute numbers.

Making these figures public for the first time, it said the number of visits by Singaporeans and PRs had also fallen since the casinos opened. They made a daily average of 17,000 visits last year, down from 20,000 in 2010.

This is likely due to the novelty of the casinos wearing off, CRA chairman Richard Magnus said in his foreword. Stringent safeguards - particularly the $100 entry levy - were cited as another factor.

A total of $174 million from both daily and annual entry levies was collected last year, a dip from $216 million in 2010.

Gaming analysts pointed to the strong social safeguards in place that keep local residents away.

"No other major gaming market has such a punitive entry levy - most have no levy - so it is not surprising that local visitation would decline," said analyst Grant Govertsen of Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Group.

The analysts estimated that the percentage of local patronage is comparable to that of other gaming jurisdictions. For example, about 7 per cent of the adult population in Britain visited a casino in the past 12 months, said Global Betting and Gaming Consultants chief executive Warwick Bartlett.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ex-offenders help ease labour crunch

Number of employers listed on Score database rises to 3,800
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2013

AS THE manpower crunch bites, one group is reaping the benefits - former prison inmates.

Bosses are increasingly turning to them as a way of coping with the shortage of workers.

About 3,800 employers are now listed on the database of the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE).

Last year, there were just 3,400, while the figure for 2011 was 2,800.

Former offenders usually command relatively low starting salaries - from $1,300 a month for a cook or warehouse assistant.

This makes hiring them a good way for companies to take on more Singaporeans, who may normally be too expensive to hire. And it saves firms from having to recruit foreign workers, which has been made more difficult by a slew of policy changes introduced throughout the year.

Yesterday's figures were revealed at SCORE's annual Appreciation Awards at the National Community Leadership Institute.

Sixty-five people and organisations were recognised for helping former offenders reintegrate into society via the workplace.

Every year, SCORE trains about 5,000 inmates and matches 2,000 workers with employers.

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin, who was guest of honour at the event, said it was encouraging to see so many companies stepping forward to provide former offenders with job opportunities.

Some make a special effort to help them reintegrate smoothly into society, providing structured orientation programmes and mentorship schemes.

"The extra mile that might not seem hugely significant to us can mean all the world to the people you're reaching out to," said Mr Tan.

SCORE chief executive Teo Tze Fang said hiring former inmates was not just a way of beating the manpower crunch.

He added that many employers put in place "progressive and supportive work systems" to keep them satisfied, such as on-the-job training.

"I'm happy to note that increasingly... (firms) are also having regular HR feedback sessions in order to understand the needs of such new employees," said Mr Teo.

He said SCORE had also been helping to make sure former offenders have a reasonable starting salary that allows them to survive in Singapore.

Childcare centres get funds to open in more areas

$40m over five years to help operators open in high-demand areas
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2013

PARENTS in areas where there are not enough childcare centres may soon find it easier to secure places for their children.

For instance, operators can get rental subsidies even when they set up centres in commercial buildings like malls. Currently, subsidies are given to eligible operators only for centres in Housing Board premises such as void-deck areas.

To house these new centres, developers of commercial premises will be given incentives - in the form of additional floor area - when they set aside space for childcare facilities.

The Government will set aside up to $40 million over the next five years to fund these schemes, in the latest round of measures to ramp up childcare places.

The schemes unveiled yesterday were targeted at small and mid-sized childcare centres run by commercial and non-profit operators. These operators have found it hard to cope with rising rentals, and to compete with bigger players for space to expand.

About 847 of the 1,070 childcare centres here are run by small and mid-sized operators.

Under a scheme announced yesterday, these operators can apply from October for rental subsidies when they set up centres in commercial premises in areas where pre-school services are in high demand. The Government will subsidise 30 per cent of rental costs for commercial centres, and 60 per cent for those run by voluntary welfare organisations.

Currently, commercial operators do not qualify for rental subsidies. Non-profit ones can apply for help, but only when they set up centres at HDB void decks.

To get the subsidies, operators must meet affordability and quality criteria. For instance, fees must be capped at $850 a month for a full-day childcare programme over three years after their application for the scheme is approved.

"We want to enhance our support to operators to expand their operations in these high-demand areas," Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said on the sidelines of a visit to Just Kids Learning Place, a childcare centre at Taman Jurong Shopping Centre.

High-demand areas include Punggol, Sengkang, Jurong West, Woodlands and Tampines. Some of these areas are new estates with many young couples, and childcare centres in these places usually have long waiting lists.

More help for couples trying to conceive

By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2013

FROM Oct 1, couples trying for a baby using assisted conception procedures will be able to use their Medisave funds for more than the current three cycles, said the Health Ministry (MOH) in a statement yesterday.

This is because the Government has co-funded up to three-quarters of each assisted reproduction cycle at public hospitals for eligible couples since January, so couples need to use less of their Medisave each time.

The enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package is intended to help Singaporeans have children.

Previously, the Government paid for up to 50 per cent of each cycle, up to three cycles.

"Since then, some Singaporeans have asked for more flexibility in the use of Medisave to complement the enhanced co-funding scheme," said a Health Ministry spokesman.

But while MOH has lifted the three-cycle cap on Medisave claims, the cumulative Medisave use allowed remains at $15,000 to ensure couples do not deplete their Medisave prematurely.

Assisted conception procedures include artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilisation and other techniques.

Currently, Medisave can be used for these procedures at any public or private assisted reproduction centres.

The current Medisave withdrawal limit is $6,000 for the first treatment cycle, $5,000 for the second and $4,000 for the third.

The change will allow couples to use Medisave for the fourth and subsequent cycles, subject to a $4,000 limit each, up to a cumulative total of $15,000.

Last year, a single cycle of IVF treatment here typically cost between $7,000 and $14,000.