Let’s talk about sense of belonging…

Let’s talk about sense of belonging…

JC General Paper

Recently I have been hooked on this youtube video: 

What caught me in my tracks was the lyrics of the song, other than the composition of the song. The lyrics go like this, “Who could bring me to fly high in the sky? … Maybe I don’t belong here and have to leave; enough with the suffering just kill me heartlessly; it is the centre of dreams yet it is out of reach; it’s the holy land to reach your dreams yet it is so bewildering; many were killed in the cruelty of reality here and disappeared; so many of them were fooled into the traps here yet all that remain are lifeless corpse.”

I could totally identify with the lyrics being a young adult myself who have many friends who are currently at the crossroads of life, struggling to find a job that could balance their dreams and the responsibility of feeding their families… on top of having to deal with the crushing expectations that society has of us, and not to mention that the job market isn’t exactly favourable right now. This has gotten me thinking about the lives of the younger Singaporeans, about our generation and whether we feel a sense of belonging and that we would have a stake of the city’s dreams and prosperity.

I do not know about you, but what do you make out of your future? Do you feel and could identify with the protagonist in the music video about how city life could be a place where many are seduced to come, and leave feeling disillusioned? City could be a place where dreams are crushed instead of fulfilling them?

Let’s talk about our future! (the youths specifically)

Let’s talk about our future! (the youths specifically)

JC General Paper

Once in a while, A level questions would like to test something hypothetical, about the future and whether prospects are going to be more optimistic or pessimistic. Of course, most of the focus would be on the youths since they are the future. It would be advisable to attempt questions that are more general, as it allows you to have greater scope and breadth in the essay.

Well the future would be more optimistic: Poverty rates in the developing nations have been dropping; medical technology has been improving to eradicate diseases through vaccinations; creation of more jobs and opportunities through technology developments, lower start up cost for businesses with technology as a leveller; the world being more open to peace, negotiation and diplomacy;

The future could be more pessimistic: greater uncertainty and disruption due to technological advancement(artificial intelligence in displacing workers); job security would be a thing of the past, rising youth unemployment in the developed countries; fiscal imprudence and debt crisis in Europe and USA; rising income inequality; a more volatile and risky geopolitical world that is open to nuclear warfare and terrorist attacks

Thus from what we see, there remains a lot of potential for the world moving forward, but these potential can always be thwarted with these threats as well. How we are moving ahead would definitely depend on the youths to decide already and the type of government that they are electing to mitigate these crises!

Commentary for 2016 A level paper

Commentary for 2016 A level paper

JC General 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?

Should business be ethical at the expense of company profits and staff welfare?

Should business be ethical at the expense of company profits and staff welfare?

JC General Paper

Question analysis:

At the expense: at the cost of something, the opportunity cost. Please note that you have to address this criteria throughout the whole essay.

Ethical: Relating to moral principles. Pls note that ethics are subjective and every individual has different moral codes. What is considered ethical to an individual may not be to another.

Yes business should be ethical: 

Businesses especially large multi-national corporations (MNCs) today are the bedrock of many capitalistic societies, hence they should be ethical in their practices in order to set the moral tone of how business is done in the corporate world, and to a larger extent, the societal values. Businesses will suffer from a lack of trust and reputation especially if they have flouted some ethical considerations. E.g. H&M have been facing lawsuits in Europe for their sweatshops conditions and exploitation of child labour to manufacture their cheap and affordable clothing. It is highly likely that businesses will suffer from fines and increased regulations if they are seen to be unethical in their business practices. This could affect the company profits drastically and potential sales, which will impact on the eventual staff welfare and salaries that they draw. A case in point would be Volkswagen which was found to have cheated on their diesel emission, and being fined $14.7 billion for it.

It is unlikely for an unethical business to be a champion of staff welfare. Ethics is what make up an organization and if the corporate culture is one that is unethical, it is highly unlikely that bosses will appreciate and care for the staff that makes the business possible in the first way. It is possibly very results-orientated and a cut throat corporate culture where competition is valued first. During difficult times, companies are likely to fire and retrench staff, withhold their benefits without any consideration to protect these staff’s families. After all, the company and the need to stay afloat comes first. E.g. SPH recently pledges to retrench 10% of their staff in order to keep company profits afloat, rather than thinking of how to generate more revenue through other arms of operations and keeping these staff.

Business should be unethical: 

There is a need to find the most cost efficient method of production in order to stay afloat in this cut throat business world. Businesses in this case, are not unethical by choice, rather it is by the push of society and the consumers to be unethical, especially when consumers refuse to pay more for the products. Fast fashion industry is very competitive and companies have to resort to overseas factories and even child labour to manufacture clothes as cheaply as possible to cater to a larger group of consumers. It is not practical for all businesses to venture into serving the luxury group, since there is only that many number of consumers who can afford to pay. Sometimes being unethical comes at the expense of the company’s ability to protect their own staff who have slogged hard for them and to return their loyalty. Employees’ livelihood should be considered before ethics and perhaps ethics should be decided and regulated more often by the authorities on what constitutes proper business practices.

Finally, ethical standards differ throughout the world. Every individual has different expectations with regards to their working hours, treatment and pay scheme. What is deemed unethical to a person in a developed place (e.g. working for less than $5/hr here could be seen as a blessing to someone in the developing countries). Resorting to unethical means is only a short term measure for businesses, as once reputation is tarnished, it takes forever to build it back up again.

P.s Pls note that this is just a sample outline for a business and money essay question. Further points will be elaborated in our lessons.

Sportsmanship is irrelevant in today’s society. Discuss.

JC General Paper

Question type: Simple Polarity

Focus word: irrelevant

Topic word: Sportsmanship – playing fair, following the rules of the game, respecting the judgment of authority (referees and officials), treating opponents with respect – can refer to more than sports

Context: Today’s society (Scope can extend beyond sports.)

P: Sportsmanship breeds healthy competition, builds and promotes bonds in an increasingly competitive and divisive society. Sportsmanship heals losers’ wounds and spurs one do their best, everyone enjoys the game. As the players engage in fair play, a progressive and collaborative society is nurtured. Real winners are those who know how to persevere and to behave with dignity — whether they win or lose a game. Hilter was desperate for the 1936 Olympics to be a show of strength from the Aryan race only to be upstaged by black American Jesse Owens. His win was aided by the German athlete Lutz Long who gave him advice. Long was first to congratulate Owens and the two walked around the track arm-in-arm to an ecstatic crowd.

P: Treating opponents with respect is a form of civilised behaviour which should be present in all humans. Sportsmanship concentrates on improving self-control, skill and reaction which develop one’s good manners. To move towards a gracious society, citizens need to develop ethics like respect, possess moral conduct like dignity and sportsmanship is an avenue to do so, especially for the young generation. An instance could be stopping to help injured competitors as seen in marathons and soccer matches- 1981 London Marathon where the some runners helped the injured ones. The top 2 runners even crossed the finishing line together hand-in-hand. FIFA Fair Play Award winners like Paulo di Canio who ended a goal-scoring opportunity when the opposition’s goal keeper was hurt. Robbie Fowler who waived off a penalty that was wrongfully awarded to him.

P: Treating opponents with respect is unnecessary as showing sportsmanship may be deemed as a sign of weakness. Sportsmanship is not as desirable as victory. People only remember winners. Therefore, some players will rather be remembered as controversial winners instead of being labelled as losers. An instance would be Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ that clinched Argentina’s win in 1986 quarter-final World Cup match against England. Furthermore, diverting attention from own weaknesses by blaming others for their problems is easier than taking responsibility and accountability as pride is hard to swallow.

P: Following rules of the game may prove to be a career handicap in this dog-eat-dog world. In this conflict-prone world, rules usually are broken or breached to achieve success or attain change at the expense of sportsmanship. Michael Schumacher who drove dangerously or even caused intentional collisions to win has the most championship titles in F1 history.

‘Religion divides rather than unites.’ Discuss. (RI 2016 Prelims)

JC General Paper

I realized that I have not done a post about religion, so here is a basic outline for this essay. This question requires students to compare whether religion is more divisive or more unifying in nature.

The world’s major religions preach love, peace, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness and reconciliation. However in reality, religion often divides rather than unites when violent or harmful acts are committed in the name of God against humanity. In the history of the world thus far, we have examples of the Crusaders, as well as today’s religious extremists who have waged war and suicide bomb attacks on innocents, all in the name of religion and their twisted mission to ‘avenge’ or ‘bring glory to God’s name’. Recent examples include the Bali and London suicide bomb attacks by religious extremists. The division comes about in the aftermath of such attacks when people begin to place blame or be overly suspicious or hostile towards a certain religion or race. Again, differences are emphasised and the society is divided into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, with unfounded prejudices, and immense anger and bitterness.

Religion has been shown to be able to unite rather than divide people during times of crisis, by providing a common denominator through which strangers can reach out and relate to one another. In the aftermath of 9/11, religious places of worship throughout America provided a place of solace, comfort and strength for believers seeking answers and support. Believers gathered together in mosques, temples, churches and synagogues for mass prayer and vigil sessions, which united communities and pulled the nation together as one as all shared in the immense grief and shock following the tragedy.

Religion can also unite rather than divide by playing an important role in society as moral compass as well as peacemaker. In times of societal conflict and tension, religious leaders and institutions are often called upon to help out as they are deemed to be highly respected and influential in the community. In the face of potentially volatile racial and religious tension and discrimination in Singapore following a string of extremist bombings in the region, an inter-faith dialogue was set up to promote better communication, understanding and respect amongst the nation’s major religions. This sought to ensure that the local community would not be vulnerable to false teachings/ prejudices, or liable to instigate violent retaliations against any group. The dialogue also sought to find common ground between the religions, thus uniting rather than dividing the nation’s citizens during an otherwise volatile time.

Ideally, religion should unite people by emphasising the similarities between each other, regardless of race or nationality – that we are all equally fallible and imperfect, and in need of a higher guidance. However in reality, religion can often create division in societies as it creates and emphasises differences in beliefs and opinions between people. This can result in conflict and tension especially when people begin to think and view things using an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, and start taking sides or criticising others’ way of doing things. For example, the recent AWARE saga generated nation-wide debate and controversy as people were outraged and concerned about Christian values and opinions being promoted in a secular organisation. The debate culminated in a dramatic and at times, bitter showdown between the two sides, where the new ex-co was given a vote of no confidence. Thus, religion can divide rather than unite when it is deemed to be threatening the harmony within a society.

 

Getting what one wants in life is what matters. Discuss.

JC General Paper

Getting what one wants in life is what matters. Discuss.

This is a very deep philosophical question that requires students to answer in a mature way on what do they think life is about. What are the things that matter to us? Do they hold any meaning at all at the end? Is it even possible for us to get what we want, if at all?

First, let’s define what are the things that matter to us in life. To most of us, some of the tangible and intangible things that we have been pursuing sure hold some weight: Money, status, power, love, relationships with friends and family, good health, career goal, collecting of a myriad of life experiences etc. Though these things do matter in some way or another, do the attainment of these make us less contented and fulfilled over time? Will the initial satisfaction of attaining these goals be waned off?

What exactly is important in life? Is it the attainment of what matters or the pursuit of these goals that give us a sense of fulfillment, life purpose and satisfaction? For me, I think what I’m after is more of the pursuit and the challenge of attaining the goals, than the goals themselves. The thrill of the chase is definitely what keeps many ambitious and driven individuals going, with a focus and a sight of the goal in mind. The prospect of getting the goal one fine day is what keeps individuals going and giving them a sense of hope. We do not necessarily need to get our goals, it is alright to fall short of them. After all, with a bit of failure that we get to appreciate some of our success. That is the paradox of life itself.

Of course, others will argue and think that there is no point in the continuous chase if the goal is always unattainable. What we want ultimately is the goal in itself. But then, what’s the point of possessing the goal/item since we have to lose them anyways? Nothing in life is permanent and we cannot continuously hold on to them anyway right? 🙂

P.s This post is not meant to be written in the full essay structure outline. Is just meant to get you thinking more about life, and what exactly is meaning to each and every single one of us. Is the attainment and our obsession with goals so important at the end of the day?

 

 

Is it necessary for a country to invest in its artists?

JC General Paper

In today’s society where globalization has led to a world that has become heterogeneous, countries can use their artists to not only articulate their own culture but to establish an identity through art. Local artists often would base their artistic efforts on the experience of being a citizen and living in the country, thereby providing original content that is uniquely their own. By investing in the local artists, a country uses the artists and their acute ability to express and manifest a cultural identity through art and share the expression with the community at large. This is vital as the people then have a visual representation of who they are as a people and can use the artwork as an icon or symbol which they can relate to. The citizens of the country will then have a stronger sense of national and cultural identity and this, in turn, creates a deeper sense of belonging to a country. A good example would be Filipino artist, Fedrico Aguilar Alcuaz who was conferred the title of National Artist in Philippines as his work was identified by many Filipinos as iconic to their beloved country. He went on to participate on international grounds and brought glory to his country through his engaging art pieces. Alcuaz has helped Philippines become internationally recognized because of his powerful art.

Art also serves as a platform for many to enjoy and engage in social commentary. By investing in its artists, the country is able to use the works to cultivate a civic-minded community. The arts provide a commonplace where families, friends or colleagues come together and experience an art piece that will stimulate the mind and this allows people to think critically and discuss today’s issues in an accessible and creative manner. This is because the work of the artists act as ‘social mirrors’ that reflect the cultural, historical and socio-political life of the country. This, then, amplifies potential points of discussion that the state and the people can engage intelligently in. Not only does it encourage the development of views, it also creates harmony among people by allowing various groups of people to come together to enjoy the art work. For instance, in most theatre performances today, playwrights incorporate question and answer sections into their plays in order to “break the fourth wall” between stage and audience, allowing the audience to take an active role in the discussion of the issues presented or simply allow the artists to share their experiences in the process of creating the performance and how that is reflective of reality.

Investing in the arts is also important in bringing in tourist receipts for the country and building up the image of the country. Arts and culture is a form of “soft power” where it can project its influence to the other countries. For instance, Paris has a reputation of being an arts hub, a place with rich historic significance which is able to attract tourists to their plays, museums and musicals. Also, by projecting that the country has a reputation in this area it will help to attract creative talents from all the corners of the world to help raise a country’s artistic and creative standards. In doing so, the country will be creating an exciting and vibrant city-state where citizens and foreigners will be able to share and produce entertaining, meaningful and world-class artistic creations that are different from the mainstream media, which is usually dominated by western media. For instance, Japan is known for its Manga, Anime and cos-play. Such is the potential of investing in the arts till a country is recognized based on its achievements.

However, critics would argue that the resources invested in the artists might be better allocated to more important areas such as the Maths and Science sector as these areas help to bring in financial stability and security which eventually lead to the smooth development of a country. With investments in these areas, the country would be more productive and efficient as it caters to real needs in future. For example, improvements in healthcare require a background knowledge of sciences and with greater investment in strengthening a country’s education in Maths and Science, a country can develop more quickly in various areas such as healthcare, medicine, infrastructure and military technology. With such concrete development ensured, countries actually are able to prepare for any disasters and would have the necessary facilities and equipment to face any turbulent times. Singapore clearly believes that she should ensure her people’s welfare through investments in healthcare and national defence as well as in subjects such as Maths and Science. It is a more practical route that yields tangible results in the long run compared to the arts.

P.s this is a short contribution from some of my top students for the arguments. If you are curious how we teach content and essay writing skills in our classes, why not try our trial lesson @ 50% off (limited to the first 10 students who call in).

 

Is the elimination of global poverty a realistic aim?

JC General Paper

Poverty as defined by the UN is “the denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity”. What this essentially means is that a person suffering from poverty lacks the ability to participate actively in society; having no capability to feed and clothe a family. It also means that this individual is insecure and powerless. Considering how most of the world is still mired in poverty, is reducing poverty such a painstaking and strenuous task?

Poverty is nearly impossible to alleviate due to the many players involved, especially since it is caused by greed, corruption and violence which are acts of powerful individuals on the powerless and vulnerable. No doubt there are organizations that work diligently to reduce global poverty, but the task seems difficult because there are always powerful individuals in corrupt governments who refuse to help as they make great profit from those that suffer in hunger and poverty. Examples of corrupt leaders are plenty nearby. We have Najib in the recent IMDB scandal, President Marcos and Sukarno as well. It is very unrealistic to say that global poverty can be eliminated considering how the people in power are the ones that is perpetuating this cycle of poverty.

However, critics may argue that reducing poverty appears to be realistic considering the more educated the world becomes, it is made aware of the true hardships faced by those who suffer from poverty. An important first step is to create awareness of the situation, hoping that more individuals who are financially secure can step forward to help. For example, we have organizations like Millennium Villages dedicated to improving all the conditions that cause poverty such as water, food, education, sanitation and they have proven that by helping they have successfully managed, in one aspect, to provide the schools that they run to expand and strengthen their GSM network coverage.

Having said that, at times, the environment does not allow for poverty to be resolved, with nature catching us off guard at times. The environment constantly changes and humans usually fall short when responding to the aftermath caused by nature’s fury. Often. when Mother Nature strikes, human lives are affected drastically as structures collapse and so do economies, putting those nations with the ability to help, in crisis as well. For example, when Tsunami struck Japan, thousands of people were left hungry and homeless and it made the world focus more on the crisis at hand, than the crisis in Africa where food shortages affect over 260 million people.

In addition, the rapid economic progress in developed countries makes it difficult for poorer countries whose economies are driven by farming and agriculture, to catch up. This widens the gap between the rich and those in absolute poverty. Developed nations have the required skills to progress forward and they are usually more technologically advanced. Wages tend to be suppressed in the developing nations since there is a large pool of labour available for blue-collared labour work. Developed nations also outsource production to developing nations to generate higher profit margins, squeezing them dry just to produce for the MNCs. Examples of such sweatshops include Apple and H&M. Considering how the world is moving forward, will the elimination of poverty even be a realistic aim?

P.s. This is a short outline for this question, with some relevant arguments from my ex student who scored A for his GP. If you are interested in how we teach our students to come out with arguments, to craft their essays, pls come for our trial lesson at 50% off (limited to only the first 10 J1 students who call in).

Environmental Conservation is solely the responsibility of the government. Do you agree?

JC General Paper

Environmental Conservation is solely the responsibility of the government. Do you agree?

Environmental questions are possibly the simplest to tackle in the examination given the predictability of the type of questions that come out. This question is asking about who are the actors that should be responsible in the protection and conservation of the environment. Very simply, students can examine it from the local, intra-regional and trans-national level for this essay.

On a local scale, we can safely say that individuals have a part to play in environmental conservation. Individuals have an obligation to safeguard the earth, and to let future generations inherit the earth in the same condition that they have inherited it from their forefathers. Individuals have to take note of their consumption patterns and materialistic tendencies in order to reduce unnecessary consumptions. Our lifestyles and habits go a long way in ensuring a more sustainable earth as well. For instance, individuals can always practice recycling habits and to purchase products that are environmentally friendly (bio-degradable products). However, one should always question the willingness of individuals to change their lifestyle consumption habits and spending just for environmental conservation. Would individuals be more willing to spend on electric cars than normal cars requiring fuel? Would they be willing to spend more on recycled tissue for home use? When we want individuals to make the such consumption changes, we are assuming that they are willing to do so and spend the money.  But are they?

Governments on the local level can also advocate for greater environmental awareness among the citizens and champion environmental movements in order to instill and cultivate a care for the environment. In Singapore, there is the clean and green campaign; energy efficient campaign; Keep Singapore clean movement. To spearhead a change in habits of individuals, governments can always offer subsidies for environmental friendly products such as hybrid cars. Currently, Germany and China are offering subsidies in order to spur consumptions of these hybrid cars. Such initiatives are seen to be more effective if they are coming from the government, a top-down approach could possibly incite more changes in behaviour especially with legislation compared to a bottom-up approach.

Finally, governments can always collaborate and work together to reduce carbon emission rates across countries. This works on the assumption that countries are able to put aside their own self-interests for the larger good of the environment. For instance, we have the environmental summit organized by the UN every year and the Kyoto Protocol in order to reduce emissions rates. However, one should always be critical and wonder if these environmental summits set out to achieve what they have in mind initially and whether the reduction in emissions really lead to an improvement of the larger environmental condition.