Singapore Inclusive Policies- A reflection

“An Inclusive Society, A Stronger Singapore” Budget Plan 2012-2016: fulfilled promises, financial burden and new directions

In 2012, the Singapore government introduced a 5-year budget plan aiming to make Singapore a fair, stronger and inclusive society. The main features of this ambitious project were:

  1. Restructuring to sustain growth
  • Less dependency on foreign labour
  • More grants and support for SMEs
  1. Building a fair and inclusive society
  • Improving the social mobility of lower income families through improved financial and educational subsidy and/or grant schemes
  • Helping seniors live long and well by offering housing purchase schemes, credit incentives for hiring aged workers, increased retirement savings and more affordable healthcare
  • Supporting those with disabilities and special needs through subsidies for employing caretakers, providing educational and skills support facilities and building elder-friendly infrastructure
  • Sharing the fruits of Singapore’s economic growth by giving out GST vouchers in cash, Medisave and U-save

(taken from http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2012/download/FY2012_Budget_in_Brief.pdf)

It is not difficult to understand why the government initiated such a plan. In the words of PM Lee “We all have something to contribute,” (channelnewsasia.com, 31 Oct 2015) hence maximising the potential of our human resource: young, old, poor, rich, abled and disabled, and keeping them healthy and happy is a strategic move to support Singapore’s future economic growth.

It is now 2017 and the government has indeed delivered most of what was promised in the budget plan. To highlight a few of these achievements, our neighbourhoods and transport systems are now more elder-friendly, we receive our GST cash vouchers as promised, we have two spanking-new hospitals in the West and are currently in the midst of integrating our healthcare groups to streamline operations and make healthcare more affordable, we built a $25million Enabling Village to help those with disabilities and special needs and we have decreased the local to foreign worker dependency ratio. However no success story is without sacrifice and just who or what were the sacrificial lambs in this budget plan? Moreover, which areas should the government focus on in the next one?

Tax payers are once again not spared from funding Singapore’s progressive aspirations and why should they? The money is redistributed and re-invested to make Singapore a fairer and stronger society. However tax rates have gone up again for YA2017 for the rich and upper middle classes, from a range of 17-20% to a range of 18-22% and with the addition of two new income tiers (www.iras.gov.sg). The question is, is this really fair? I heard that little “Yes!” go up in your head. Truth be told, it depends on how the rich make their money. For those who own successful local businesses, the new tax hikes are going to hurt and might even discourage further business growth or expansion. For those who make their riches through stocks and shares, guess what? These are not declared when filing income tax! Perhaps we should work towards minimising the number of those who profit from loopholes in the system if we truly wish to build a fairer – also towards the rich— and more inclusive society.

Finally, what new directions might we find in the AY2017 budget? The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) of Singapore recently released a report highlighting key growth sectors and proposed seven strategies to sustain Singapore’s economy in the coming years.

Key growth sectors: finance, hub services, logistics, urban solutions, healthcare, the digital economy and advanced manufacturing

Seven strategies:

  • Deepen and diversify international connections
  • Acquire and utilise deep skills
  • Strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up
  • Build strong digital capabilities
  • Develop a vibrant and connected city of opportunity
  • Develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs)
  • Partner each other to enable innovation and growth

(taken from https://www.gov.sg/microsites/future-economy/the-cfe-report)

One can therefore expect more money in the AY2017 budget to be channelled into re-skilling the workforce, encouraging innovation and improving digital infrastructure and technology i.e. building a Smart Nation. Support for the elderly, disabled and those with special needs might take on a minor role in the budget this year because it was the focus of AY2012-16’s budget plan.

Nonetheless, there is so only so much money can do in helping a country to survive. As pointed out by PM Lee, Singaporeans need to practice active citizenship. This means making the effort to keep oneself fit and healthy, using the incentives and support systems in place to reskill or retrain oneself to meet with changing labour demands, revising educational content to ensure our students are prepared for the future by the time they graduate and managing ones expectations and demands in times of economic difficulty. Policies, systems and budget plans will change but the brunt of it can be softened by adopting the right attitude and mentality. Thus when the AY2017 budget comes out, hold your tongue for a moment, understand the changes and safety nets in place and learn to embrace them. If not, a corner of Hong Lim Park beckons you.

Release of A’levels Results 2016

For students who took A’levels in 2016, please note that information for the release of A’levels Results 2016 can be found in the following!

Release of A’levels 2016

Grade Profile (i.e. Number of As you need to get into courses for)

SMU

NTU

NUS

P.S. Results does not define you. When one door closes, another opens.

“In your society, do the arts merit the vast sums of money spent on it?”

Between the 1960s and 1990s, there has been a strong perception that the arts were an abstract waste of time. More focus was invested on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to boost the value of each worker and compensate for our geographical disadvantage. Recently, the Singapore government revealed that $210 million fund will be allocated to the arts under its Community Engagement Masterplan. With the arts, people will be able to connect with one another on a deeper level, promoting understanding. There will be preservation of culture and heritage that fosters a sense of identity. The arts are able to reap various tangible and intangible benefits proving that is does merit the vast sums of money spent on it.

Being a country, lacking natural resources, people may argue that Singapore should pay more attention and energy to pragmatic aspects such as education, trade and science. These fields are guaranteed to yield tangible economic benefits. The Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Economic Survey of Singapore has shown that the main indicators of the Singapore economy include finance and insurance, manufacturing, construction, and information and communications. The arts are regarded as mere entertainment and not worth the money spent on it.

However, according to statistics from the National Arts Council, the arts in Singapore have developed tremendously over the last 10 years. Artistic creativity is closely tied to business entrepreneurship and technological innovation. The trail-blazers in this new economy are expected to be creative and imaginative. The creative sector is increasingly embraced in Singapore. In order for a business to be successful, entrepreneurs have to come up with differentiated ideas to ensure that their products will be unique in the competitive market. This debunks the argument that the arts will not reap economic benefits. Through innovation, companies can earn a higher revenue, with their larger and widespread clientele. The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts released statistics that the total nominal-value added of the arts and cultural sector has increased steadily from $822 million in 2003 to $1.28 billion in 2010. The arts have been playing a larger role in the building the Singapore economy, justifying the money spent to promote the arts among the younger generation.

The arts play a vital role in encouraging Singaporeans to have a sense of belonging and pride towards their homeland. Sir Julian Huxley once said that art is “the effective organization of experience into integrated forms which are emotionally significant and aesthetically satisfying”. Art can be used to document human progress. The number of museums in Singapore has increased from 28 in 2004 to 58 in 2015, including the newly inaugurated National Art Gallery. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) stated that more Singaporeans are embracing the arts as visitor ship to national museums and heritage institutions reached 3.2 million in 2013. Museum and heritage centers hold great value in our society. They are visual evidence of the developments Singapore has undergone through the years. The fact that more people are willing to visit these heritage centers correlates to the improvement of national identity. People will be better equipped with knowledge about the hardships their pioneers had to go through. They will be given the opportunity to learn from the past mistakes and experiences. The amount of money spent to preserve the history of Singapore is justifiable, as the future generations will be allowed to learn about their homeland’s humble beginnings.

Using the arts, Singapore is able to build and maintain its reputation in the world affairs. The diversity and scale of arts-related events and exhibitions in Singapore demonstrate the vibrancy of the arts scene and, in particular, how Singapore is a place for cultural exchange and collaboration for the global arts community. The National Arts Council initiated Art Week in 2013, to ride on the momentum of the growing visual arts scene. They include the growth of Art Stage and the launch of the art gallery cluster and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art. Singapore is drawing attention from all around the world, and many are willing to take part in this international fair. Countries will be able to gather in Singapore and establish long-term relationships between their art sectors and communities, on a larger scale. Singapore presents itself as an arts hub platform. Other countries will begin to notice the potential of the tiny red dot, known as Singapore. They will be willing to be our allies and possibly, involve in our trade and economy. Being as arts hub introduces many opportunities for Singapore to improve regional and international ties, as well as, boost its economy. This benefit proves that the arts warrant the large amount of money spent to support international fairs.

The arts are a form of universal language and expression. Singapore has a rapidly ageing population and is well known to be the home for multiple races and religions. The arts can be used to bring people of different backgrounds and walks of life together, and motivate them to share their experiences and cultures with each other. In July 2015, there was a special concert put together by creative director of New Creation Church KC Gan, titled “Harmony In Diversity”. This concert brings together Singapore’s 10 major religions and 4 main races. The medium of a concert, with colorful songs and dances, was used to promote racial harmony, as it is likely to be enjoyable and have a wider reach to the public. Moreover, since the arts do not require physical fitness, the elderly can also be involved to encourage inter generational bonding. Similar to the workshop “Sounds Like Fun!” organized by Year 2 students of the Arts Management Program in Laselle College of the Arts in 2013, there can be activities prepared to bond senior citizens and the younger generation. In order for the mentality of social cohesion to be ingrained in all Singaporeans, the arts can be used as a platform. Social cohesion is one of the main principles for Singapore to be a pleasant country to live in. Hence, it is justifiable to spend money on the arts to promote this social cohesion.

The arts are a core contributor to building Singapore’s national identity, boosting its reputation as an arts hub and fostering social cohesion between Singaporeans. Although some may argue that money should be invested in more pragmatic issues, the future of Singapore is more likely to be successful if they are creative and innovative, similar to other countries in the world. Hence, the vast amount of money spent on the arts is driving towards this end goal, and is justified.

P.S: This essay is taken from one of my current student who got 32/50 for a school exam. What do you think of this essay? Leave your comments below and we can take up a discussion from there.

How to maintain your self discipline to study?

Dear all, this is a general post on how to keep your study momentum up during this december holidays. As you already know, this december holidays is not only a time for you to rejuvenate yourself from the hectic JC life, it is also an important revision time for you! It is a time when you consolidate all that you have learnt in this year, so that you would have a good foundation to start JC2. (For those who didn’t do well in the promos, you should be doing catch up. For those who did well, you could possibly revise your learning and embark on a head-start program.)

So what are the 3 tips for you to have self-discipline?

One of the reason why students do not have self-discipline is because they do not believe in themselves and their abilities to attain academic success. They attach negative talk to themselves such as they are stupid, lazy and not cut out for straight As. Hence, their inner beliefs shape their actions and their revision process. One way to change it would be to change your identity. Start thinking to yourself that you deserve Straight As everyday and you will soon internalize it and manifest these behaviours. 

Secondly, you should attach pain to the notion of you not achieving your goals. Each time when you think about how you would not achieve your goals, it will automatically propel you to take action! It could possibly be a lack of self esteem, respect from your parents and society. Regret for not achieving your aims etc.

Finally, you could think about how to reward yourself whenever you achieve your goals and to get a trusted person to be accountable for you. One way to do this is to tell your friends or parents what you desire to achieve for the A levels, and to get them to monitor your revision schedule. I know this sounds unappealing to you, but this could perhaps be the best way to make sure you stay discipline to your goals!!

Have a good break everyone! Of course have a fruitful revision time too!

Commentary for 2016 A level paper

1. ‘Any adaptation of a novel for a film, television or the theatre is never as effective as the original.’ Discuss. (Media)

2. Assess the view that traditional buildings have no future in your society. (Arts and SG Society)

3. ‘Longer life expectancy creates more problems than benefits.’ Discuss. (S&T)

4. Considering the money involved, should developing countries be allowed to host major sporting events? (Sports)

5. ‘Human need, rather than profit, should always be the main concern of scientific research.’ Discuss.  (S&T)

6. ‘Countries experiencing conflict should be left to sort out their own problems.’ How far do you agree? (International politics) 

7. How far has modern technology made it unnecessary for individuals to possess mathematical skills? (S&T + Maths)

8. ‘People who do the most worthwhile jobs rarely receive the best financial rewards.’ To what extent is this true of your society? (General)

9. Evaluate the claim that equality of opportunity for females is a desirable, but unrealistic, goal. (Gender)

10. Assess the view that most natural disasters are the result of human activity. (Environment)

11. Is competition always desirable? (General)

12. ‘Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion is of equal value.’ What is your view? (General)

Based on the above questions, it appears that this year’s paper is relatively easy to prepare for and address. Common topics that come out yearly include science and technology and arts and culture. This year’s paper has a high percentage of science and technology question (Q3, Q5 and Q7), 2 being comparison in nature and 1 being a general question. Topics of focus are narrow and specific. Hence, for students preparing for questions on science and technology, they should be well versed in the different sectors and to be prepared for a specific question type. General and opinionated questions form the other bulk of this year’s paper (Q8, Q11 and Q12). It would be harder to predict and prepare for these questions, but they tend to appeal to students who either have a flair for smoking or did not prepare for the other content-based topics.

Moving forward, students should know what type of questions they are strong in, whether they should do a specific question type or a more open-ended/general question. Second, students should also know the question requirements in order to tackle the essay effectively. Absolute terms, matrix questions and even criteria questions have been evident for this year’s paper.

Are you prepared enough at this stage if you are taking A levels in 2017?

How far has modern technology made it unnecessary for individuals to possess mathematical skills?

  1. How far has modern technology made it unnecessary for individuals to possess mathematical skills?

Argument 1: Modern technology has provided us with tools that automate mathematical operations for us, making possessing mathematical skills redundant.

Elaboration: All we have to do are to insert the data we want to be processed into our modern technological tools, and their software automates the required operations and calculations for us, allowing us to attain the necessary processed data effortlessly.

Example: Calculators has made skills such as the ability simple mental calculations mostly redundant in everyday life. Online free tools such as desmos and Wolframalpha. Paid tools such as MatLab, Maple and R.

Link: Modern technology has provided us with tools that make certain mathematical skills such as doing simple mental calculations seemingly redundant.

(Counter) Argument 2: We still ultimately require mathematical knowledge and skills to utilize these technological tools

Elaboration: To say that possessing mathematical skills is unnecessary altogether would be too much of a far-fetched statement

Example: We still require intermediate knowledge on math to effectively operate a Graphic Calculator for more complex math problems. Basic knowledge for syntax used in programs in Graphic Calculator, or algorithm is needed.

Link: Mathematical skills are still required to allow modern technology to operate in our favor.

(Counter) Argument 3: Recognizing patterns, reasoning and logical thinking are important life skills which are largely mathematical.

Elaboration: These life skills are largely inculcated into our children via an education in mathematics.

Example: Number or shape pattern recognition is a skill inculcated into primary school children via math education. Over the years, this analytical skill is honed and eventually applied to solve industry-relevant problems such as market trends. Famous Hedge-fund owner James Simmons, only hires Mathematicians and Physicists, who do not need any business or banking background, to work as bankers in his company, Renaissance Technologies. The top Quantitative Analyst in the world has a doctorate in Physics and to quote him, in research he deals with 23 variables, but now in life and finance, he just has 3 to handle.

Link: Mathematical skills are a prerequisite to develop higher level cognitive and analytical skills in order for us to excel in society.

(Counter) Argument 4: Being equipped with the most basic Mathematical skills provides us with much greater convenience as compared to having sole reliance on technological tools.

Elaboration: Simple day-to-day activities largely involve the use of mathematical skills and would ironically take a longer time and effort if we were to fully rely on technological tools. Moreover, it would be a hassle if we were to require such tools to physically be with us all the time as compared to solving problems on the spot with our mathematical knowledge.

Example: Mental calculations would greatly aid us in buying and selling as opposed to solely relying on a calculator even for simple operations. The absolute necessity of having a calculator around with you would often times become a hassle in that case. The basic skill of doing rough mental calculations and pattern recognition would enable us to have greater control over our finances in estimating and analyzing our spending habits and saving progress.

Back to the A’levels H1 General Paper 2016 Paper 1 Solutions

‘Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion is of equal value.’ What is your view?

‘Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion is of equal value.’ What is your view?

Define opinion and its purpose.

An opinion is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Opinions are predicated on the individual’s current understanding and analysis of perceived phenomena, and its dynamic nature brings value and meaning to the uniqueness of individuality and colorful context to otherwise mundane events.
Thesis statement

While everyone has an opinion and every opinion should be given fair amount consideration in order for society to best function and cater to the interest of every individual as much as possible, the harsh truth remains that not everyone’s opinion is of equal value. Firstly, opinions predicated upon evidence are more reliable to derive inspiration from compared to one which manifests purely from emotions and personal bias. Secondly, psychological bias renders the notion that everyone’s opinion holds equal value and be given the same amount of consideration to be impractical. Hence, everyone has an opinion and is indeed entitled to have one, but not everyone’s opinion is of equal value for society.

(Counter) Argument 1:
Every opinion should be equally considered in order for society to best function and cater to the interest of every individual as much as possible

Elaboration: The conscious societal effort to hold everyone’s opinion with equal regard protects the interest of every individual, especially of those from minority groups. If we were to disregard opinions which do not interest the majority of us, it can lead to immoral and biased behavior, policies and consequences.

Example: Severe racism against blacks in the US in the past was due to the majority group’s absolute lack of consideration of opinion and interests of the perceived minority group.

Link: Every opinion should be carefully regarded in order for society to not neglect the interest of certain groups in the midst of societal progress.

(Counter) Argument 2:
Every individual is unique and as valuable, and hence every opinion carries a perspective that has their own distinct and equal value which should not be ignored.

Elaboration: Based on the premise that “all lives are equal”, all opinions should be equally considered as every opinion represents a distinct and unique individual who is as valuable as another.

Evidence: In a democratic government, every vote from every eligible individual is considered and carries the same weight, acknowledging the notion that every individual citizen is of equal value.

Point: Every opinion matters as every individual is unique.

Argument 3:
Informed opinions hold more meaningful value

Elaboration: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison

Opinions predicated upon evidence are more reliable to derive inspiration from compared to one which manifests purely from emotions and personal bias. Opinions direct societal progress, and hence informed opinions lead to more informed decisions which would allow society to function and develop in its best interest.

Example: In the political context, a deep understanding of politics and the local political scene would compel the informed citizen to support the most capable political party. This informed opinion leads to be more logical and rational political vote which brings great positive value to the country, as opposed to having disgruntled citizens angrily voting for political parties which capitalize on emotions without decent consideration for practicality.

Link: Informed opinions is of greater value than uninformed ones.

Argument 4:
Personal bias renders the notion of everyone’s opinion holding equal value impractical

Elaboration: Opinions generate the greatest amount of real tangible value when they resonate with the masses. And the extent of how well an opinion is received by the masses is influenced by psychological bias driven by factors such as age, the perceived credibility and prestige of the opinion-bearer and how well that opinion aligns with our own personal beliefs.

Example: In the campaign for gender equality, it is evident that Emma Watson’s efforts hold greater influence and are held in higher regard than most people who have been essentially advocating and saying the same thing. This is the reason why charities tend to tap onto the prestige of celebrities to amplify their impact.

Link: It is impossible for everyone’s opinion to be genuinely held with equal regard due to personal bias.

Back to the A’levels H1 General Paper 2016 Paper 1 Solutions