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!

Let’s talk about poverty

JC General Paper

As we all know, essay questions on poverty are usually popular among students. It is an easy topic that usually asks about the reasons for poverty, whether this issue can be resolved, and whether people are poor due to their own personal failings.

With that, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why ppl are poor… Of course, one has to understand that world developments are not even, and that there is a need to discuss both relative and absolute poverty, and to differentiate reasons for poverty in the first and the third world.

First world context: Poverty can always happen due to the inability to keep up with the high cost of living, personal failings such as being lazy, engaging in vices such as gambling or being addicted to alcoholism, external and unfortunate circumstances such as racial discrimination, being afflicted with a terminal illness or even being born with disabilities that cut one off opportunities

Third world context: Poverty in this sense would be in absolute terms, define to be living less than USD1.25 a day. Reasons could be due to corruption of government, presence of incompetent government that could not harness the resources of the place efficiently, cultural stereotypes such as the caste system that entraps people’s minds, natural disasters and even the presence of war.

As we could see, the reasons for why an individual is poor are aplenty.  Could we possibly say that one is poor due to their own failings? Poverty is a very complex and entrenched problem that we see in our world today, it is systemic and could possibly take generations to eradicate it. At times, an individual could also be powerless to deal with the situations that they are born into. Thus, to what extent is really poverty the fault of an individual?

For societies that follow a fair and meritocratic system, should we take on a more compassionate and humane approach towards people who are poor?

Let me know what your thoughts are on this issue! I would love to hear from you ūüôā

 

What distinguishes a truly great work of art from a merely average one?

What distinguishes a truly great work of art from a merely average one?

JC General Paper

A truly great work of art: ability to attract the attention of its audience, invoking passion and strong emotion in them while at the same time, allowing for artists to disseminate their message clearly through their work. It may not necessarily be in terms of pricing. An expensive piece of art may not be truly great if it does not fulfil these conditions.

First and foremost, an artwork must have the basic quality of being aesthetically pleasing in order to make a strong impression on its viewers. Form, colour, composition and the like are a testament to an artist’s mastery over his craft. It is such qualities which invite viewers to analyze the artwork at a closer level. FX Harsono’s installation of butterflies arranged as fine dining food was only so successful because of the artist’s tasteful arrangement of the dead insects in a tidy fashion, emulating the arrangement of food in a restaurant. ¬†Without this, the work would have been considered a hideous desecration of nature, abusing carcasses of life forms for the sake of art. Even in the modern art world where installations are the most prevalent medium, artists still respect the very basic needs of composition and form in the creation of their artworks.

Indeed, strong and powerful symbolic elements are required to be present in an artwork should it even desire to be considered a great work in the first place. American artist Joseph Beuys often made use of felt and fat in his performance pieces to symbolize warmth and a sense of claustrophobia; the use of these materials eventually became a symbolic trademark of all his famous artworks such as ” I like America and America Likes me”. The symbolic value of aesthetics enables an artist to use his artwork to relate with the audience, even with those who are not practitioners of art.

A controversial side to assessing the greatness of art lies in the name of the artist affecting the value of his works. The public and even members of the artistic community are sometimes guilty of the over-glorification of works done by famous artists. For instance many of Andy Warhol’s artworks gained much attention and acclaim despite their being variations of his past works. His prints of celebrities are mere variations of his Campbell soup prints along with his various Mao Tse Tung colour renditions. Critiques and viewers often overanalyze Warhol’s works and those of other artists, such as Damien Hirst’s display of dead animals in tanks. The name of the artist does in fact affect our opinion of their artworks, giving them far more credit than they are worth.

Therefore, an artist’s skill, concept and even the era he was born in would determine the very success of his works while those who fail to meet these requirements would eventually become nameless and unrecognized…

Ps: note that this is just a snapshot of some of the pointers for this essay… it has been contributed by an ex student whose essay was published in his school handbook.

Responsibility of Protecting the Environment

Responsibility of Protecting the Environment

JC General Paper

Environment is a common and easy essay question that could potentially come out for the exams… Students should always analyze their essays from a stakeholder’s perspective to give a more holistic evaluation.

Developed countries

Governments in developed countries have the necessary skills, influence and resources to aid the protection of the environment. They would have the financial means to invest in necessary science and technology which could improve the environment. At the same time, they would also possess political clout to enact policies to force companies to comply with their environmental standards. Education and campaigning to change the mindset of the people towards the environment would be within their means as people are generally more educated and aware.

Businesses could practise corporate social responsibility, and stand to gain since green consumers are more likely to purchase their products. Consumers are more concerned with the origins of their products they buy today. As such, MNCs could influence these green consumers to raise awareness about environmental issues using their products.

Individuals could make a difference by starting with themselves first. A small step could go a long way such as supporting Earth Hour or even car pooling.

NGOs no doubt would have more political clout than individuals, and do not have the same restrictions that are placed upon government agencies. They do not have to balance certain commitments such as the living standards in the country. This would result in them having greater flexibility when it comes to their operations and should be able to achieve more. \

Developing countries

Governments have the sole responsibility for the enactment and enforcement of policies to protect the environment. Unfortunately, their main priority is to ensure economic growth rather than the protection of the environment. Developing countries are more likely to have unstable government and corruption is usually rampant making it difficult to care for the environment. E.g Shell engaged in dodgy/shady dealings with the government officials in Nigeria in order to gain a foothold in the country.

Businesses are usually in the primary and secondary sector which focus on the harvesting of raw materials and manufacturing. These are highly damaging to the environment as the mining process results in large amounts of pollutants and waste. Many of their factories are owned by MNCs, and they would have little say in the production methods used.

Individuals concern would be to earn sufficient money to stay alive, they would not mind harnessing the earth for the raw materials or resorting to more efficient methods of clearing the land if they could help to save some money for them.

Considering the situation in both developed and developing countries, who do you think should be responsible for the environment?

Singapore Budget 2017- What it means for Singaporeans?

Singapore Budget 2017- What it means for Singaporeans?

JC General Paper

Future Economy: What is in store for all of us?

Recently, news have been focusing on¬†changes in technology that bring about new prospects for certain segments of the population but disenfranchises others. Some would call it the ‚ÄúFourth Industrial Revolution‚ÄĚ. This is a situation in which disruptive technologies streamline processes making work more efficient and productive, leading to increasing number of Singaporeans being structurally unemployed. One instance could be seen in the transportation industry with the entry of Grab and Uber, reducing the need for traditional taxi drivers who would not embrace technology. Of course, this situation would be made worst when Uber and Grab introduce driverless cars, eliminating drivers as a viable occupation for many people. ¬†As such, the Singapore state appeals for Singapore citizens to embrace technological change. This point on embracing technological change is also highlighted on the Singapore Budget website.

Singapore plans to cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution by becoming a Smart Nation. The Smart Nation initiative aims to rally the collective efforts of people, businesses and government to work together to support better living, create more opportunities, and support stronger communities by harnessing info-comm technologies, networks and¬†big data… As such, this year’s budget emphasizes a lot on helping SMEs expand overseas especially into regional markets through the help of government funding, and of course to embrace technology.

What exactly is the main message of the budget? I think it serves one aim, to inform Singaporeans that their jobs are no longer secure in this uncertain and volatile economy, and that they would need to take action right now if they would like to income-proof their earnings. This would be in terms of being more open to technological changes in the workplace. Of course, the budget sends a strong message that the Singapore government is aware of these structurally changes and challenges in the economy, and that they would support Singaporeans as much as possible.

If you are interested in more budget discussion, you could keep up with the discussions about Budget 2017 on https://www.reach.gov.sg/budget2017;

 http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2017/home.aspx;

https://www.facebook.com/REACHSingapore/

PS: This article is not meant to be an analysis of the budget 2017, as I’m not tutoring economics. It is meant as a context for students to understand the Singapore’s economy and to think of the various social issues, and how policies affect various stakeholders in society.

In times of economic hardship, should a country still be expected to provide financial or material aid to others?

In times of economic hardship, should a country still be expected to provide financial or material aid to others?

JC General Paper

Students are expected to address the criteria of this question throughout the essay; it being in times of economic hardship. For a quality essay, the terms “should” and “expected” should be addressed as well. For instance, a country should still give aid, but perhaps not be expected at a time when its survival is in question, and it does not have a healthy budget balance.

Financial aid- capital/loans/money

Material aid- manpower/distribution of basic goods and necessities

  • Provision of aid during economic hard times could be a political statement and commitment to the recipient country, helping to foster greater political relations in the long term. Giving of aid should be expected especially if the recipient country needs it more than the donor country. Such circumstances could be when the recipient country is facing civil war and there is urgent need of aid to cease the fighting etc. Another possible instance could be during times of natural disasters/emergencies. Also, for most of the donor country, aid takes up a small portion of their budget, hence it should not affect the current economy severely even if the country continues to give out aid during hard times. Aid accounts for 0.5% of the US budget yearly.
  • Governments should be responsible and accountable to their citizens first especially during hard times, hence aid should be allocated domestically rather than elsewhere. The dollar votes of the citizens and their voices are important, and it is only right that countries should be concerned with their own self-preservation before others. After all, an economically prosperous country will then be able to contribute more to the international community, rather than a slow and stagnate economy that is facing difficult times.
  • Perhaps a country should look at other means of support, rather than the provision of aid during bad times. It is presumptuous to assume that aid helps to alleviate the problems faced by the recipient countries. Often, aid may actually harm local industries and foster this sense of self-entitlement and dependency on the donor nations.
  • Legal obligations under international law could possibly bind countries to continue giving aid to another country. A short term economic difficulty does not suffice to repudiate this commitment, especially when contracts have been signed beforehand, and the donor country may risk ruining their legitimacy and international standing.

In dire situations, countries should still continue to give aid to one another. However, expectations to scale down in terms of aid is definitely reasonable and justifiable.

‚ÄėThe young lack drive.‚Äô Do you agree?

‚ÄėThe young lack drive.‚Äô Do you agree?

JC General Paper

Question Type: Simple Polarity (no conditional words present in the question)
Key Words: The young; drive
Minimum Requirements: Students will need to unpack the key words and explore the reasons why one can argue that the young lack drive. Similarly, they must be able to also highlight why some may disagree with this claim. Better scripts will look to evaluate the arguments based on the changes that have occurred in today’s world and provide a broad and varied range of examples, not just limited to Singapore.

P: The young of today are soft, pampered and dependent because comfortable lives they enjoy today do not provide any impetus to strive.
E: The young live in a world have enjoyed the peace, prosperity, affluence, tranquillity and comfort brought by the 80s and the 90s. With greater affluence and smaller families, they are unlike earlier generations who are forced by dire circumstances to work very hard to feed their families or for survival. This lack of urgency or hunger driven by need allows them to take things easy.
Eg: In many societies worldwide, across both western and eastern cultures, in both First World countries like the USA, the EU and Japan as well as the newly developed economies of Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, young people normally come from one-child or two-child families where the young is being molly-coddled and spoiled. Over-indulgent parents pamper these children so much that they have no initiative and cannot do simple things like washing their own cups after drinking or carrying their own schoolbag while in Primary School.L: These young people will necessarily grow up to have no initiative and sense of urgency as everything has been done for them. With their parents carrying the full financial burden of the family, they see no need to be very independent and give up easily when things go wrong.

P: With greater affluence and family support, young people can afford to pursue their passions and try new things
E: Coming from smaller and more affluent families, young people are no longer pressed by necessity to submit to mundane jobs right after graduation and have the option to pursue their passions. While some may be hindered by fear of failure, there is now a choice to pursue something driven by desire rather than necessity for others.E: This is evident in young people who give up stable jobs to pursue their dreams such as setting up their own businesses.

P: They are risk-averse and are not willing to step out of their comfort zones.
E: In today‚Äôs competitive world, failure is a very expensive proposition. As such, in many societies, there is a fear of risk-taking and failing. Unsurprisingly, this has also affected the young who grow up in an education system that is consistently ranking and assessing them against benchmarks and model answers. Therefore, they lack the drive to venture out of their comfort zones and try new things in life, preferring to ‚Äėplay it safe‚Äô. As a result, many find themselves lacking the energy to get out of mundane jobs, leading routine lives.
Eg: For example, one common trait in Singapore is the lack of young Singaporeans who are willing to become entrepreneurs. Many are content to get themselves an education and work for others.

P: They look for instant rewards and are not willing to work hard long term to achieve their hopes and aspirations.
E: They are impatient because they never had to wait for anything as everything was instantly given, especially in the fast-pace society today where businesses compete with each other to offer the most immediate and convenient solutions to their consumers. With ‚Äėsame-day deliveries‚Äô and ‚Äėexpress results‚Äô, young people are used to instant gratification and lack the determination to persevere if things do not yield instant results.E: Young people have a tendency to quit their jobs very quickly because they do not feel fulfilled in them, choosing to find an easier or better option rather than staying and making what they have work.

p.s: this essay is contributed with most of the points from an ex student. Points are taken from his school magazine. This essay serves as a reference point only.

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 ‚Äď 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‚Äô 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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs ‚ÄėHand of God‚Äô that clinched Argentina‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs religious extremists who have waged war and suicide bomb attacks on innocents, all in the name of religion and their twisted mission to ‚Äėavenge‚Äô or ‚Äėbring glory to God‚Äôs name‚Äô. 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 ‚Äėus‚Äô versus ‚Äėthem‚Äô 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äėus‚Äô versus ‚Äėthem‚Äô mentality, and start taking sides or criticising others‚Äô 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.

 

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).