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Thread: Singapore Also Can
08-11-2013, 10:27 PM #7345
Averting a mid-life crisis
Today file photo
By Goh Chok Tong
6 hours 19 min ago
In two years’ time, Singapore will be 50 years old. We have progressed far as a country but we seem to be trapped in a mid-life crisis. I say this because, according to some surveys, Singaporeans are amongst the world’s wealthiest but are also the most pessimistic.
We are now at an inflexion point of our development as a society. I dare say that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet are having a tougher time governing Singapore than Mr Lee Kuan Yew and I had. And it is not going to get easier.
This is because today’s external environment is more complex, competitive and uncertain than in the past. Our region will be affected by how United States-China relations develop. The growing prominence of major emerging economies, tension in North-east Asia and whether the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) can integrate and stay relevant are only some of the major external challenges that will affect us. On the economic front, before, we could make a good living as an entrepot port and by manufacturing low-valued goods like shoes, tyres and TV sets. Now, we have to compete harder against the whole world for jobs, investments and markets.But our domestic challenges are even greater. They include: Rising costs of living; slower economic growth; ageing population; not having enough babies; a shrinking Singaporean population from 2030; continued high reliance on foreign workers and new immigrants; a more diverse and less cohesive population; and a better educated younger generation with higher expectations of life.
How should we as a Government and people respond to these challenges and avert a mid-life crisis?
Simply put, we need to write a new and inspiring chapter of the Singapore Story. Some policies and programmes that had served us well in the past need updating, or maybe even an overhaul, to ensure that they continue to serve their intended purposes. A new social compact between the people and the government will also have to be forged. Otherwise, I fear that Singapore will begin to go downhill.
REVIEW OF KEY POLICIES
The Government has already begun reviewing and improving policies on issues that cause the most anxiety to Singaporeans. I shall single out a few key areas.
First, jobs. This is most crucial for Singaporeans. The Government is trying to ensure that growth is inclusive, and the workplace progressive; this means ensuring that Singaporeans have access to good jobs. To help low-wage workers, the Government has widened the coverage of Workfare this year. As we restructure our economy to be less reliant on foreign workers and to ensure sustainable growth, the Government has promised to find ways to help affected workers, including PMETs, as well as the SMEs. In particular, we have to continue trying to raise the wages of the lower income workers.
Second, it is good that the Government has pledged to make HDB flats affordable. I consider this as a very big commitment of the Government. It will go a long way to help young Singaporeans plan for the future and start a family.
The third area is in the affordability of health care. The Government is trying to lessen our anxiety over medical costs as we grow old. Medical costs are indeed a burden, not just for the old but for their children as well. Many Singaporeans dread the prospect of being stricken by serious, chronic illnesses, even if they lead healthy lifestyles.
While the future old will have more Medisave and insurance to help pay for their medical needs, the current old — the pioneer generation that built the country — are less able to cope. I am glad that the Ministry of Health is conducting a comprehensive review of the healthcare financing and delivery framework.
These are all reflected in the themes that arose from the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) process. I am sure that PM will provide an update and lay out plans for these and other areas next week, during his National Day Rally. I hope that Singaporeans will deliberate on the changes to be implemented, and support the Government’s agenda to chart a new and exciting course for the country.
MORE PLURALISTIC POLITICS
For me, the Government is like an architect designing and building a common house for all Singaporeans. But a house is only a physical structure and, as we all know, a house is not a home. Singaporeans look to the Government to build this home, when in fact the Government cannot build it alone.
The reason is simple. A home is about relationships, love, warmth, care and security between the occupants. We as individuals will have to build this home along with the Government.
Politics is more pluralistic in Singapore today. People want more freedom to choose their lifestyles, and to have a say on policies and influence decisions in their favour. This is not wrong and we see this in every family too. The question is: How do we align our common interests while having different opinions; how do we express our differences without impairing the progress of home-building; how do we stay united as a family in the same home while retaining our individualism?
Both the Government and citizens have to play their part. It is good that the Government is changing its approach in governance. To solve problems in a practical, ruthlessly efficient bureaucratic way is not enough anymore. The Government must also win the hearts of the people. It has to look at problems from the people’s perspective, and help them in a fair and realistic way, even while it keeps an eye on the big picture and continues to govern in the collective interest.
Citizens are entitled and, indeed, encouraged to give their views and suggest improvements where the Government can do better. But we must not pile unrealistic demands on the Government. It is not in the country’s long-term interests if the Government does not have the time and political space to plan and think strategically and long term for Singapore.
Singapore had managed to do well in the first few decades of our independence primarily because of our ability to think ahead, and put in place long-term policies that benefitted the country, even when it meant some short-term pain. We must not lose this edge, especially at a time when the world around us is changing rapidly. We will all be worse off if the Government of the day is chased from pillar to post, forced to apply band-aid solutions to complex problems or to flip-flop policies to stave off populist pressures.
BE A RUGGED, CAN-DO SOCIETY
I also hope that Singaporeans will become more resilient and self-reliant, even as the Government does more to share their burdens. As a people, we need to develop these traits to meet unexpected challenges or shocks.
Recently, our Marine Parade Town Council officials told me that one woman insisted that they go to her house to kill two cockroaches. She claimed that the cockroaches came from the rubbish chute and it was therefore the town council’s responsibility to deal with them! This is hardly the resilience we are advocating.
When I was in my early 20s, I was struck by the phrase “rugged society” which then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sought to build. We must not lose the drive, self-reliance and ruggedness of our parents and first-generation leaders. Given our more complex environment, we must recapture that ruggedness and positive, can-do attitude.
This is fundamental. As a country, no one owes us the right to exist and to prosper. We should ask ourselves: What services and products can we produce that other countries, with more educated and hungrier workers cannot? Increasingly, our workers will be competing against robots and software that can do the jobs humans used to do, and much better, faster and cheaper.
The Government can provide a conducive environment to educate our young, train our workers, and help prepare Singaporeans for the rough world outside. But it cannot guarantee success or ensure a comfortable, sheltered life for individuals. For individuals to succeed, they must help themselves, making full use of the conducive environment which the Government has created.
The world will leave behind those who become complacent. If we as individuals do not face reality squarely and make the effort to do better ourselves, we risk becoming like the proverbial frog in water being boiled, slowly “cooked” by an increasingly competitive environment.
To build our common home together, we need to reinforce our trust in each other and focus on challenges to our collective interests.
The Government is doing its best to meet the hopes and aspirations of Singaporeans, while addressing their fears and anxieties. But Singaporeans must also support the Government in areas that will ensure Singapore’s long-term success, even if it involves certain sacrifices sometimes.
As a country, we must not get stuck in a mid-life crisis. Instead, we should seek to recapture that ruggedness, can-do spirit and sense of purpose which united our society. We must dare make fundamental changes to deal with the new global and domestic challenges. When we do that and when the hearts of government, community and individuals beat as one, we can move mountains.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Goh Chok Tong is Emeritus Senior Minister of Singapore. This is excerpted from a speech delivered at the Marine Parade National Day Dinner last night.
08-13-2013, 04:33 AM #7346
ST journalist wins Siemens Green Technology Journalism award
Published on Aug 13, 2013
Environment correspondent Grace Chua from The Straits Times has been named Singapore's winner at this year's Siemens Green Technology Journalism Award. -- ST FILE PHOTO: AIDAH RAUF
By Joanna Seow
Environment correspondent Grace Chua from The Straits Times has been named Singapore's winner at this year's Siemens Green Technology Journalism Award.
Her commentary piece, "Towards a robust clean air strategy", covered a wide spectrum of causes and effects of air pollution, strategies proposed by academics, as well as government and private sector efforts to manage it.
Siemens received over 170 submissions from the Asean-Pacific region, from local news dailies as well as regional trade publications and online media.
Ms Chua, 29, wins a cash prize of $1,000 and a trip to London for the award ceremony and to attend an environment conference. She will also be considered for the regional round of the competition along with six other country winners from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The results of this round will be announced in September.
08-13-2013, 05:06 AM #7347
Lee Kuan Yew on life after Cabinet... and death
Mr and Mrs Lee at the Istana in 1989 with (from left) Hsien Loong's youngest son Haoyi (on Mrs Lee's lap), Hsien Yang's sons Shengwu and Huanwu, and Hsien Loong's second son Hongyi (with Mr Lee).
The Sunday Times
Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013
SINGAPORE - Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's new book launched last Tuesday, One Man's View Of The World, presents what he thinks about the future of major powers and regions.
In these extracts, he speaks about death and dying, a younger generation of Singaporeans who have known only a thriving Singapore, as well as Japan's ageing society and Europe's currency woes.
Mr Lee: "My daily routine is set. I wake up, clear my e-mail, read the newspapers, do my exercises and have lunch. After that, I go to my office at the Istana, clear more papers and write articles or speeches.
In the afternoons and evenings, I sometimes have interviews scheduled with journalists, after which I may spend an hour or two with my Chinese teachers.
I have made it a habit to exercise daily. At the age of 89, I can sit up and I do not need a walking stick.
When I was in my 30s, I was fond of smoking and drinking beer. I quit smoking because it was causing me to lose my voice at election campaigns. That was before medical research linked smoking to lung and throat cancer, among other things. Oddly enough, I later became hyper-allergic to smoke.
The drinking gave me a beer belly and it was showing up in pictures appearing in the press. I began to play more golf to keep fit, but later on turned to running and swimming, which took me less time to achieve the same amount of aerobic exercise.
Now, I walk on the treadmill three times a day - 12 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch and 15 minutes after dinner. Before dinner, I used to swim for 20 to 25 minutes.
Without that, I would not be in my present condition physically. It is a discipline.
I continue to make appointments to meet people. You must meet people, because you must have human contact if you want to broaden your perspective.
Besides people in Singapore, I meet those from Malaysia, Indonesia, and, from time to time, China, Europe and the United States.
I try not to meet only old friends or political leaders, but people from a variety of fields, such as academics, businessmen, journalists and ordinary people.
I have cut down on my overseas trips significantly, because of the jetlag, especially when travelling to the US.
Until 2012, I was still travelling to Japan once a year to speak at the Future of Asia Conference - now into its 19th year, organised by the Japanese media corporation, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei).
For a time, I was going to China nearly once a year, although I am reluctant to go to Beijing now because of the pollution. But the leaders are there, so you have to go there to meet them.
The JP Morgan International Council, which I am on, did me the honour of holding its 2012 annual meeting in Singapore, so did the Total Advisory Board.
Going to France is all right. It is a 12-hour direct flight on an Airbus 380, there and back. But to go to New York is much more tiring - especially because of the time change, from night into day and day into night.
Travelling overseas helps me widen my horizons. I see how other countries are developing. No country or city stays static. I have seen London and Paris change, over and over again.
Being out of Government means I am less well-informed of what is going on and the pressures for change. I therefore go by the decisions of the ministers, by and large. I seldom express a contrary opinion - at least, much less than when I was in Government and attended Cabinet meetings, which allowed me to participate fully in the debates.
Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.
A suggestion was made: "Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas."
I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?
I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.
Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely...
Life is better than death. But death comes eventually to everyone. It is something which many in their prime may prefer not to think about. But at 89, I see no point in avoiding the question.
What concerns me is: How do I go? Will the end come swiftly, with a stroke in one of the coronary arteries? Or will it be a stroke in the mind that lays me out in bed for months, semicomatose?
Of the two, I prefer the quick one.
Some time back, I had an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit. I had it signed by a lawyer friend and a doctor...
If you do not sign one, they do everything possible to prevent the inevitable.
I have seen this in so many cases... Quite often, the doctors and relatives of the patient believe they should keep life going. I do not agree. There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach.
In such cases, one is little more than a body.
I am not given to making sense out of life - or coming up with some grand narrative on it - other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied...
Different societies have different philosophical explanations for life and the hereafter.
If you go to America, you will find fervent Christians, especially in the conservative Bible Belt covering much of the country's south.
In China, despite decades of Maoist and Marxist indoctrination, ancestral worship and other traditional Buddhist or Taoist-based religious practices are commonplace.
In India, belief in reincarnation is widespread.
I wouldn't call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God. The universe, they say, came out of the Big Bang.
But human beings on this earth have developed over the last 20,000 years into thinking beings, and are able to see beyond themselves and think about themselves. Is that a result of Darwinian evolution? Or is it God? I do not know.
So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God - nor deny that there could be one."
Last edited by Loh; 08-13-2013 at 05:17 AM.
08-13-2013, 09:33 PM #7348
A birthday wish for Singapore
From: James Poh Ching Ping
5 hours 13 min ago
It is timely, as the Republic celebrated its birthday, that the Our Singapore Conversation dialogue sessions have wrapped up, with voices and valuable feedback from the ground reflecting 12 perspectives of the nation that Singaporeans want to see.
At the same time, Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched his latest book, One Man’s View of the World, a perspective from the veteran politician on local and international politics, the global economy, climate change, death, religion and personal issues.
While some readers may differ in opinion from his blunt views, his role in turning Singapore into a high-tech industrial and financial centre with limited resources was not forgotten by citizens during the National Day Parade.
Singapore still faces many long-term threats and challenges.
Though I may not have 48 wishes for the country, I do hope for a l-o-v-a-b-l-e Singapore.
L, for leaders with the foresight and love for Singapore to achieve a more fulfilling pace of life
O, for Singaporeans to have ownership in building the Singapore brand
V, for stronger values, aspirations and sense of belonging
A, for affordability and a comfortable standard of living
B, for a barrier-free multicultural and multiracial society
L, for lots of babies to continue our family lines
E, for equal opportunities provided to everyone, so they can excel, and especially to ex- offenders, people with disabilities, the aged and foreign workers.
Even as Singapore is too small to change the world and we have to maximise space for ourselves, the state should also give space to citizens to explore and be creative in many ways.
I simply hope that electronic gadgets do not stand in the way of social interactions here.
Here is wishing Singapore a happy birthday month and that every Singaporean contributes to a successful society, while building strong families.
08-13-2013, 09:53 PM #7349
Biggest success may lie in nurturing habit to speak up, listen
Archive: Singapore Business Park, Marina Bay sands. MBS, Singapore skyline..
Photo: Ernest Chua. August 2011
By Kenneth Paul Tan
5 hours 34 min ago
Inclusiveness is one of the most important qualities of public deliberation. As a national-level public engagement exercise, the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) needs to be a space where as many representative voices as possible are heard, taken seriously and engaged with openly. This gives the people of Singapore a basis for regarding its discussions and decisions as legitimate.
When I was first introduced to the OSC, I thought that it had begun on the wrong foot. Its claim to inclusiveness was compromised, at least in terms of the composition of its committee, by the unmistakable exclusion of opposition politicians, prominent activists and public intellectuals known for their more controversial views.
Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation to volunteer on its committee with the hope of contributing positively to a process that was, even with the best of intentions, bound to be complicated for political as much as practical reasons.
I later understood that the OSC’s idea of “inclusiveness” was actually tied to its efforts to engage with Singapore’s “silent majority”, a borrowed term that originates from the ideologically partisan world of American politics.
THE INVENTED ‘SILENT MAJORITY’
On one level, the silent majority is a romanticised construct. Projected onto the political landscape, it is an imaginary image of a mass of people whose views, interests and values are somehow authentic, moderate and conservative, but whose voices remain unheard. Lacking the motivation, the ability or the courage to speak in the public sphere, the silent majority is unable, maybe just unwilling, to raise its voice above the more articulate, often agitated, and sometimes shrill tones of a “vocal minority”.
On another level, the silent majority and vocal minority are ideological constructs, an invented dualism that enables politicians to assume moral authority by claiming to protect the “moderate” interests of a majority against the “extremism” of sectarian interests. Politicians around the world have often taken the liberty of speaking on behalf of the so-called silent majority. Through tokenistic gestures, some politicians have invited the participation of acceptable people they claim to be representative of this silent majority.
An invented silent majority can thus become a useful ideological resource for justifying resistance to pressures for change, while maintaining political paternalism without sacrificing democratic credentials.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the notion of the silent majority should emerge in Singapore as a counterpose to the recent rise of anti-establishment views expressed especially well in the alternative media.
But if it seeks to engage the silent majority while visibly excluding the so-called vocal minority, the OSC runs the risk of becoming an ideological instrument of the political establishment. Given the sharpened critical sensibilities of the public today, this will not go unmissed. In the worst case, it will lead, at the end of the year-long process, to cynicism, political divisiveness, and an erosion of public trust and social capital.
REMOVE BARRIERS TO ENTRY
So rather than target an imaginary group of Singaporeans, a less divisive approach might be to focus on removing barriers to entry and enriching the quality of public engagement when it happens.
While structured citizen dialogues and sharing sessions may be among the most efficient modes of engaging Singaporeans and extracting information and insights from each conversation, the formal nature of these activities may actually turn off those who communicate better in a vernacularised and less directed way. They could also be intimidating for people who are not used to standing up to make an argument, supporting it and then defending it against the criticisms of others.
It is clear to me that the organisers have been extremely mindful of this challenging problem and have creatively employed a range of devices to stimulate dialogue and imagination, for instance, by introducing the element of “play” in the design and facilitation of these discussions.
And yet, Singaporeans can also be a very practical people impatient for results. They might prefer to get to the point in a more results-driven discussion. If the OSC does not efficiently record their concerns and yield the best ideas for policy-making, participants may disengage, convinced that the whole exercise is a waste of time.
But what we really need, beyond organising a mechanism for collective decision-making, is to enrich the quality of public life, impoverished by decades of political paternalism and the kind of political apathy that is said to have resulted from material success and affluence.
To do this, we need to create new spaces, practices and even rituals for public engagement and citizen activity — spaces that are non-intimidating, authentic to the diverse groups of Singaporeans, whose identities and interests are increasingly complex, and motivated as much by citizens themselves as they are by centralised committees.
Instituting the habit of public participation and nurturing the skills to do this well are, in my view, a more important contribution of the OSC than recording the aspirations that will feature in the final report. The enrichment of public life helps us build social capital. With more social capital, we can better build on Singapore’s successes and transcend the worst forms of polarisation and the excesses of populism.
This is not to say, of course, that we should be blindly conformist in our individual contributions to the common good. But rather than get entangled in deliberative knots, public discourse should rise above conventional wisdoms and platitudes that can emerge from both the establishment and anti-establishment. The success of the OSC, far beyond the technical achievements of its final report, will partly be defined by this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kenneth Paul Tan, an OSC committee member, is Associate Professor and Vice-Dean (Academic Affairs) at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. This commentary first appeared in the OSC publication, Reflections.
08-15-2013, 01:34 AM #7350
Wow Uncle Loh, after not coming to this forum for the last 4 years, I'm glad to see that you are still here promoting Singapore! My hat's off to you!!!
08-15-2013, 02:47 AM #7351
08-15-2013, 03:00 AM #7352
NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine welcomes its first cohort of students
Published on Aug 15, 2013
Shortlisted candidates queueing to start their interviews for the newest medical school at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up by NTU and Imperial College London. Singapore's newest medical school welcomed its first batch of students at its first white coat ceremony on Thursday. -- FILE PHOTO: NTU
By Amelia Teng
Singapore's newest medical school welcomed its first batch of students at its first white coat ceremony on Thursday.
The pioneer batch of 54 students at the Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine students received their white coats and stethoscopes at the ceremony held at NTU.
"Medicine is a noble profession and membership calls for not just great commitment and passion, but also a clear moral obligation," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was the guest of honour at the event, as he urged the students to be ambassadors for the new school.
He also pointed out that there were diverse career opportunities available in the public healthcare service, the chance to train future generations of doctors, or do research and take on leadership roles.
08-15-2013, 03:05 AM #7353
Social Service Office officially launched at Kreta Ayer
Published on Aug 15, 2013
By Priscilla Goy
A Social Service Office (SSO) was officially opened in Kreta Ayer on Thursday. It is the one of 20 such offices to be progressively rolled out by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in the next two to three years. Six others started operations in July.
The SSOs will bring social assistance "touchpoints" closer to residents, and work with voluntary welfare organisations and community partners in their areas to provide more coordinated social services.
The network of SSOs "will allow us to develop local solutions to local social challenges, leveraging on the local community resources and integrating the efforts of the voluntary welfare organisations... and other social service providers,” said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.
The MSF said Kreta Ayer was chosen as one of the first locations for an SSO because of its larger proportion of elderly residents and public assistance recipients. Since the office started operations in mid-July, it has served over 300 residents in Chinatown, Outram and surrounding areas. The MSF said residents have given positive feedback are especially happy that they only need to travel a shorter distance to the centre.
08-15-2013, 03:06 AM #7354
After returning to Singapore in 2006 after 9 years in Hong Kong, there were a lot of changes to cope with and less time on computer/internet etc. To some extent, I was quite tired of reading the same old tirades among certain members (you should know what I meant!) so did not quite come here often enough.
I have been posted to Shanghai since 1/June/2013, so now trying to get use to living in China on long term basis!
08-15-2013, 03:08 AM #7355
River Safari plans triple celebrations for pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia
Published on Aug 15, 2013
River Safari has planned a slew of activities to celebrate the birthdays of Kai Kai (above) and Jia Jia next month. -- ST FILE PHOTO
What is the perfect birthday present for a panda?
If you are Kai Kai or Jia Jia, it seems the answer is a big party.
Singapore's River Safari is planning a triple celebration for its two biggest celebrities - complete with a photography contest and furry mascots stationed at malls.
The giant pandas both have birthdays coming up next month and will soon mark the end of their first year in Singapore
08-15-2013, 03:15 AM #7356
Ngee Ann Poly student lauded for trying to save motorcyclist
Published on Aug 15, 2013
Ms Alessandra Connie Leong (above, second from right), with (from left) brother Ivan, father Leong Fok Chai and grandmother Kwek Kah Ling at the award ceremony. -- PHOTOS:KUA CHEE SIONG, SHIN MIN
Ms Leong had used CPR to try to save a motorcyclist who had crashed on July 23. -- PHOTOS:KUA CHEE SIONG, SHIN MIN
By Maryam Mokhtar
The plucky 19-year-old nursing student who perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on an injured motorcyclist three weeks ago received the Public Spiritedness Award from the Singapore Civil Defence Force yesterday.
"I didn't think too much, I knew he needed my help and so I was concentrating on saving a life," said Ms Alessandra Connie Leong, a final-year nursing student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
The motorcyclist eventually died because of the injuries he sustained when he apparently skidded and crashed into a lamp post along Braddell Road.
"It was hard to accept that day and a few days later that he didn't survive, but my conscience is clear. I would've felt very guilty if I hadn't helped at all," she said, after receiving her award from Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Chow, head operations, 1st SCDF Division.
08-15-2013, 03:31 AM #7357
Policy shifts not knee-jerk or populist: Heng Swee Keat
Published on Aug 15, 2013
Mr Heng Swee Keat gives his roundup after listening to the presentations at the first Our Singapore Conversation dialogue. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
By Rachel Chang
Now that a year-long national conversation involving some 50,000 Singaporeans has drawn to a close, the man in charge wants to dispel a few myths about the mass engagement exercise.
The first is that Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) dialogues were a "major meet-the-people session", with the Government collating a wish list and then giving people what they want, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in an interview this week.
Not so. The OSC-influenced policy shifts to be unveiled at Sunday's National Day Rally, he emphasised, will not sacrifice strategic thinking for the sake of showing empathy and responsiveness.
The Prime Minister is widely expected to announce more state support for health-care costs and housing affordability. Tweaks to the Primary School Leaving Examination will also be announced.
When you think about how Singaporeans have had to adapt and adjust over the past 15 years, it is quite understandable why they feel that this has become a much more competitive, stressful world. And then when we juxtapose that against our ageing demographics, it is quite understandable the concerns about our elderly have also grown.
- Education Minister Heng Swee Keat
NO IDEOLOGICAL SHIFT
I would not characterise (the OSC-influenced policies) as an ideological shift. The founding generation of leaders has made it very clear that you need both growth and equity... We are probably one of the very few, if not the only, nation where (property) wealth is so widely shared among Singaporeans, and that's the reason why we have far fewer tycoons than many developing economies.
- Mr Heng
NOT ABOUT GRANTING WISHES
The OSC is not about collation of a wish list. And then the Government responding to each and every one, because it's a very long list of ideas which we collected. And some of these ideas contradict each other. It's a process for citizens to come together and appreciate each other's perspectives and then try and build that common space.
- Mr Heng
FINDING A BALANCE
I would not characterise it as the Government giving people what they want. I don't think the basic stance of the Government has changed, which is that leadership is about being strategic and forward-looking, and also being empathetic and responsive... That careful balancing must always be a feature of our leadership.
- Mr Heng
Heng Swee Keat on...
'JOBS I'VE NOT HEARD OF'
THE diversity of aspirations of young Singaporeans today both cheers and worries Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) chief Heng Swee Keat.
He recalls sessions where he asked students what they want to be when they grow up. Their answers involve "terms which I am completely unfamiliar with", he said.
They want to be sound artists, fashion photographers and animation character developers - a wide range of jobs reflecting the evolving nature of the Singapore economy and the exposure children now get, he said.
But while he feels cheered by the different pathways and passions on display, it worries him. "Unless we are able to create opportunities, many of our young people are going to be disappointed," he added.
This is not a challenge the Education Ministry can meet on its own, but will require a whole-of-government approach to building an economy that can accommodate the aspirations of the workforce of the future.
THE 40-YEAR GAP
- THE OSC dialogues often reveal to Mr Heng gaps between what the Government thinks it is doing and what people perceive it to be doing.
In the education dialogues, he was struck by the wide gap between what schools think they are doing - to develop every child to the best of his ability - and what parents perceive to be going on in schools.
"Unless we bridge that gap, we will always have a problem in terms of how parents perceive education," he said. "And that's why we decided to expand quite significantly the engagement of parents."
Such a perception gap has been written about in Europe and the United States. It is known as the "40-year gap" because parents with children in primary school attended primary school 40 years ago.
"At the same time, our educators are trying to see how we can prepare the Primary 1 child for life, 40 years hence. So you actually have two 40-year gaps to cross," he said.
- ANOTHER worrying gap is in health care. Participants at times decried the system as unaffordable, but when Mr Heng asked if they knew of schemes to defray costs, like the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), they did not.
CHAS gives middle- and low-income Singaporeans subsidised treatment from private general practitioners and dentists, and access to some brand-name drugs for half the price. "Therefore, one big takeaway I have is that the same things have to be repeated over and over again and we really need to do a better job of reaching out to fellow Singaporeans whenever we have important policy changes," he said.
Last edited by Loh; 08-15-2013 at 03:34 AM.
08-15-2013, 03:47 AM #7358
Mr Tharman, who is Chairman of SINDA, giving pointers to a lower primary pupil during his visit to East View Secondary School to observe the tuition programme STEP. Photo: Don Wong
By Sumita Sreedharan
12 hours 23 min ago
SINGAPORE — The education system has to strike a balance between assessing a student academically, while allowing them time to develop their dreams and aspirations. This was a point made by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last night, after he visited self-help group SINDA’s school-based tuition programme at East View Secondary.
At the centre, Mr Tharman visited four classes conducting mathematics lessons and interacted with both teachers and students. He then headed a panel discussion for parents, where they shared concerns such as transport for children, who ended their classes at 9pm, and more individualised help for students. Some parents also asked if Tamil or Mandarin lessons could be conducted at the school-based tuition programme. Currently, the programme is conducted at 20 schools with about 3,000 students enrolled in the evening classes.
The DPM, who is also the Chairman of SINDA, noted the feedback from parents. One anxious mother, for example, asked if her child could be given as many assessment papers as possible — a view countered by another parent who said he prefers that the child does all the homework in the school and be free of the stress of homework at home.
Mr Tharman, who helmed the Education Ministry for five years, felt both points of view are valid. “Our challenge in education is to find the right balance — don’t overstress the children too much, too early with examinations and at the same time, respect the aspirations of the children and the parents — which is a real strength in Singapore,” he said. “Finding that right balance is a constant question in education and we will not be able to meet every expressed need.” The task of the Government would then be to explain to parents why the balance eventually struck would serve their children best, he added.
When asked if SINDA has met its benchmarks, Mr Tharman said that the self-help group is probably on “a never-ending journey” to do better for the community. “There are still a significant number of kids who are not achieving their potential early in life, in primary school, and we got to help them to get past that mental hurdle,” he added. SUMITA SREEDHARAN
08-15-2013, 04:24 AM #7359
Hope you'll get used to Shanghai soon and enjoy your stay there.
08-15-2013, 11:10 PM #7360
More Singaporeans may participate as SAF look to expand volunteer scheme
Published on Aug 16, 2013
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said a committee he heads "will seriously consider the suggestions to allow volunteers to play a bigger role in our defence". -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG
By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday indicated that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) may expand its volunteer programme to allow more Singaporeans, including women, to do more for the country's defence.
He said a committee he heads "will seriously consider the suggestions to allow volunteers to play a bigger role in our defence".
One suggestion that has been made is to expand the SAF volunteer scheme to include those who are not liable for national service, like women.
Other suggestions include making military-related jobs available to volunteers, added Dr Ng, who heads the high-level Committee to Strengthen National Service, whose goal is to increase support for and commitment to NS.
08-19-2013, 05:38 AM #7361
PM Lee outlines 'new way forward' at National Day Rally speech
Published on Aug 19, 2013
PM Lee meeting ITE students at a reception after his speech yesterday. Mr Lee, who chose to deliver his 10th National Day Rally at the ITE’s new Ang Mo Kio campus, said the ITE community had been very supportive of him holding the Rally there and thanked the institution for being an excellent host. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
By Lydia Lim, Deputy Political Editor
Singapore will move decisively to shield citizens from the harsh effects of global change, an ageing society and rising inequality, with a new approach to government policy.
After decades of what others have called "tough love", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced big shifts to:
- Extend help to middle-income households to buy Housing Board flats, and to owners of two-room flats ready to upgrade.
- Widen safety nets to everyone, regardless of age, to deal with health-care costs; and
- Ensure that every child gets the best shot at developing his potential to the maximum, while removing some of the stress in the education system.
Mr Lee delivered his 10th National Day Rally (NDR) speech and chose to hold it at the Institute of Technical Education's new Ang Mo Kio campus for a serious purpose: "To underscore my longstanding commitment to investing in every person, every Singaporean to his full potential, but also to signal a change, to emphasise that this is not the usual NDR."
He added: "Singapore is at a turning point."
Responding to key issues raised by nearly 50,000 citizens who took part in the year-long Our Singapore Conversation, Mr Lee announced key changes in housing, health care and education.
Addressing worries about home prices, he announced that a Special Housing Grant of $20,000 that is now for buyers of two- and three-room flats will be extended to middle-income buyers of four-room flats as well.
Playing "HDB housing agent", he showed that existing and new grants make it possible for some to buy a three-room flat and cover monthly loan payments entirely with their Central Provident Fund contributions. A couple with a household income of $4,000 could buy a four-room flat and pay only $67 a month out of pocket.
"Don't worry," he said to hesitant couples. "Go ahead, plan on it, get married, get your flat."
On concerns over health-care costs, especially given the rapidly growing number of older folk, he said MediShield will be extended to everyone, including those with pre-existing health conditions.
The national health insurance scheme, which now covers people up to age 90, will cover everyone for life. Citizens in the "pioneer generation" who built Singapore will get help to cover their MediShield premiums. And subsidies for outpatient care, which now kick in at age 40, will be raised and extended to everyone from poor families, regardless of age.
Education has proven to be a major bugbear of parents, especially the process of getting their children into popular primary schools, the stress of the high-stakes Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), and keen competition for places in top secondary schools. There will be changes on all fronts.
All primary schools will have to set aside at least 40 places in the annual Primary 1 registration exercise for children with no links.
The PSLE grading will be changed, to replace the current T-score with broader grade bands, but this will take several years to implement.
Mr Lee said Singapore must continue to have top secondary schools, but they should admit more than the brightest students. More will be done to let children with special traits, such as resilience and drive, enter the best schools, and bursaries will help those from poor backgrounds get in too.
Mr Lee said he and his Cabinet colleagues had pondered the problems caused by global change and income inequality and taken in valuable input from the Our Singapore Conversation process.
They have decided on a new way forward, which he described as a new balance between individuals, community and the Government because those who are vulnerable can no longer make it through individual effort alone. "We must shift the balance. The community and the Government will have to do more to support individuals," he said.
He called on Singaporeans to organise themselves to help solve problems, and for the more privileged to give back to society.
Singapore will tread carefully to ensure the changes do not undermine self-reliance, lead to over- consumption of health care or compromise academic standards and rigour, Mr Lee stressed.
Over the longer term, it will have to raise its taxes or cut back on other spending so it can pay for stronger safety nets and new social programmes without saddling the next generation with debt.
"We must pass on to our children a better Singapore than the one we inherited. We owe it to them to do so, just as we owe what we have today to our founding generation," he said.
He illustrated how his Government intends to do so with a preview of plans to expand Changi Aiport over the next decade, and move Paya Lebar airbase to free up land larger than Ang Mo Kio for new homes, offices and factories.
"In a deeper sense, these are not plans; these are acts of faith - in Singapore and in ourselves," he said. "Faith that a generation from now, Singapore will still be here, and will still be worth investing in.
"Faith that we can thrive in the world, whatever the challenges, and hold our own against the competition.
"Faith that we can get our politics right, that we can throw up honest, capable, trusted people to lead our country well, to make our system work for Singaporeans.
"Faith that we can stay together as one united people, maintain a steady course year after year, and make our dreams come true," an energised Mr Lee said as he drew his speech to a close.
He invited Singaporeans to work with him and with one another.
"Together, let us forge our new way forward," he said.
MORE REPORTS: TOP OF THE NEWS
- MediShield insurance for all, no age limit or exclusions
- More subsidies for outpatient care
- More Primary 1 spots for those without links
- PSLE T-score to be replaced by grades
- Top secondary schools to broaden admissions
- Help for every working family to afford a flat
- Grants for middle-income to buy 4-room flat
- More help for two-roomers to upgrade
YOU ARE NOT ALONE; WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER: PM LEE
Singaporeans sense correctly that the country is at a turning point. I understand your concerns. I promise you, you will not be facing these challenges alone, because we’re all in this together. We will find a new way to thrive in this new environment...We must make now a strategic shift in our approach to nation-building.
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