MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Sports CCA

Encouraging sports CCA

Madam, several Members including myself have spoken previously about a greater level of sports engagement for our pupils and to increase the number of sports on offer by schools. Active participation in sports from young can hopefully help students develop a culture of active sports in the future.

I wish to suggest how we can add to schools’ efforts to provide more sports engagements for students:

  1. Introduce more fun competitions for sports within schools, which can be tiered so students who are at a lesser skill level can move up to a higher level when skills have improved.
  2. Introduce the concept of a minor CCA where students who want regular exposure to various sports can sign up for as a second or even third CCA. The time commitment may not be as intense as a regular CCA but it will allow students to try out more sports. CCA points would be correspondingly lesser.
  3. Recognise and award CCA points for the achievements of students who participate regularly and competitively with external training providers outside of school hours, even if the school does not offer the sports as a CCA. This will encourage students to pursue sports of their interest at a serious level where schools are not able to find the resources to offer that sport as a CCA.
  4. Allow international schools to join in the local inter-school competitions to increase the level of challenge, a point also raised by NMP Dr Ben Tan.

Thank you.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Mother Tongue exemptions at PSLE

Mother Tongue exemptions at PSLE

Madam, I agree with bilingualism being a cornerstone of our education system.  All students in our primary and secondary schools now have to offer a Mother Tongue Language (MTL).

In a recent parliament reply, MOE had said that around 3.5% of students are exempted from MTL at the PSLE yearly. I accept that there are genuine reasons for exemptions such as those who join our education system mid-way without prior learning of the MTL or there are medical reasons that adversely affect their ability to cope with MTL.

In another reply, MOE cited that on average over the past 5 years, 178 MTL exemptions were given at PSLE in the 5 schools with the highest exemptions. That is 35.6 students per school, which is around 15-17% of the PSLE cohort in an average school.

This is high compared to the national average of 3.5%. Has MOE examined the reasons why there are wide variations in MTL exemptions across schools? Has MOE or the principal of schools with high exemptions sought to interview applicants to probe further into the reasons for seeking MTL exemptions? Seeking exemption based on medical reasons is costly. Is there a strong correlation between MTL exemptions and the socio-economic status of parents?

I hope students will not find ways to opt out of MTL even if they find the subject difficult or parents worry that offering MTL may pull down their children’s PSLE T-Score.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Internship

I delivered the following speech during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Education on 6 March 2015.

Management of industrial internship

Madam, internship will play an increasingly important role as we move to a more skills-based economy.

I had spoken on this topic before. While I am happy that there will be more internship and are told that it will be more structured, I remain concerned about how industries will be engaged to ensure that internships are meaningful as we ramp up the number of such places.

I have taken interns over the past 15 years and have spoken with others who have as well. From the perspectives of companies, the supply of interns has been somewhat unpredictable. Some institutions give longer notice period of incoming interns, some are as short as two weeks before commencement. Sometimes we are allowed to interview and select interns but often we are not. It will be difficult for companies to plan for meaningful projects if the supply is unpredictable and if the existing skills of the interns are not properly matched to what companies need.

For projects to be even more meaningful and realistic, where possible, it will be better if there could be continuity across different internship intakes from an education institution. We can encourage projects commenced during internship to continue as say, a final year project when the interns return to school.

We have a new Earn and Learn programme with generous funding support. I hope to see internship funding support for companies that take in a minimum number of interns a year so that they can dedicate resources to make internship rigorous, akin to a sort of apprenticeship programme. I also hope there can be close coordination between companies and supervisors in schools so that projects will be useful to companies while the internship experience will result in the learning required by the school. Where possible, we can also bring in the expertise of industry associations to help plan and validate internship programmes.

MOE Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Integrated Schools and GEP

I delivered the following two speeches during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Education on 6 March 2015.

 

MOE: Integrated primary – secondary schools

Madam, this is the fourth year that I am speaking on the topic of through-train schools from primary through secondary. If I seem persistent, it is because I truly believe that in a suitably diverse education landscape, Singaporeans should have access to such a publicly-funded education option.

Such through-train schools will not require the pupil to go through the PSLE. It will allow the school to develop holistic education for a longer period with the pupils, allowing time to work on their character and values, as well as other aspects beyond exams. From results seen in other countries and in private schools that offer such a through-train system, academic achievements need not be compromised.

I had previously outlined broad ideas on how we can start with, say eight of such schools distributed throughout Singapore, and exclude all top schools from being part of such a pilot. I had called for this to be implemented gradually and on a pilot basis because the majority of Singaporeans may not yet understand how an education system can work without the PSLE.  Nevertheless, I am convinced there is a sizeable minority who will be prepared to have their children go through 10 years of education in the same school, even if it means their children will find it difficult to enter the existing top schools without the PSLE.

I call upon MOE to seriously study the option, conduct public surveys to gauge the level of support of parents for such pilot schools and to publish these results so that we can have a meaningful conversation on this education option.

 

Review of GEP

Madam, Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was started 31 years ago. Each year, about 1% of the cohort are picked for GEP through a series of national tests for abilities in English, Math and Science at the end of primary 3.

I had previously asked MOE to review centralised GEP and in its place, provide support for as many schools to develop their higher ability students so that their students will not need to relocate to one of the nine GEP schools at primary 4.

There are many forms of giftedness, not just in language, science and math. Some are gifted in the arts or sports. The current definition of GEP is narrow. We can encourage all schools to have various forms of deep specialised enrichment engagement. Where we need scale, we can tap on the schools cluster system or work through existing institutions with strong expertise in science, arts or sports. And for the very rare pupil with extreme giftedness who would even find the current GEP unengaging, we can tap on our universities.

Some non-GEP schools have developed their own gifted classes to encourage their best students to stay with the school rather than relocate to a GEP school. We need not have this competition. We can spread the programme developed for GEP across more schools, and also widen our definition of giftedness.

Lastly, after 31 years, has MOE done longitudinal studies to track GEP graduates into their career, and can these studies be made public.  I hope the public can have more data on the outcomes of GEP to examine its continued relevance.

MTI Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Internationalising Singapore companies

I delivered the following two speeches during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Trade and Industry on 6 March 2015.

Growing Singapore’s Global Corporate Champions

Mr Chairman, we have recognised the limitations of relying on Multi-Nationals to drive our economy.  SMEs account for 70% of employment but contribute a much smaller percentage of GDP.

I like to call for a whole-of-government approach to nurturing Singapore’s global corporate champions; just had we had done so in our pursuit of FDI.

This is an important national priority. We should create an inter-departmental secretariat to take ownership of the target to have 1,000 Singapore enterprises with revenues above $100 million by 2020 and even more ambitious goals. This is similar in approach to our National Productivity Council which sets over-arching goals – such as the 2-3% productivity growth targets – and then works with various agencies to set sector goals and monitor sectoral progress. For other urgent national priorities, we have committees, such as the National Climate Change secretariat and the National Population and Talent division

Such a secretariat could work with MFA to ensure that the wish-lists of the most promising Singapore firms be fully factored into our trade diplomacy. It could work with companies to identify R&D needs and coordinate with our tertiary and research Institutes to help to focus important IP developments. It could work with MAS and MOF to address issues related to funding – and perhaps revisit the idea of an EXIM Bank which some of our competitor nations have.  It could also work with all agencies to help improve access to government procurement opportunities or special innovation projects in ways that are GPA[1]-compliant.

It could also work with economic agencies like IES, EDB and SPRING to ensure that more aggressive support is given to firms with the most potential to become our global corporate champions. It could help bring partners together to exploit opportunities as well as government co-investment. But support has to be conditional on delivering results – exports, revenues and spin-off benefits to the Singapore economy.

In the early days of South Korea’s industrialization, then-President Park Chung Hee made aggressive government support available to the emerging chaebols, but conditional on the achievement of very aggressive export targets. Otherwise the firms would be dropped from the program.[2]

Looking at other countries with a similar population size to Singapore which have nurtured global champions – like Israel, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway – as well as looking at how a few of our promising local firms are making good progress globally, I believe that using this results-oriented approach can help build a strong third pillar to our economy.

[1] https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/gproc_e/gp_gpa_e.htm

[2]

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9d84d488-5f90-11e4-8c27-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3TPJbfFZ1

Encouraging Internationalisation

Mr Chairman, we need to grow our promising local firms into globally competitive companies, but with their roots in Singapore.

The new programmes such as IGS (International Growth Scheme) and the Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation are a welcome step in the right direction. These schemes can benefit companies venturing abroad, especially by organic growth. However, in some situations, acquisition may be more efficient.

We can improve our ecosystem to enable our future world champs. We should encourage more companies to use IFS (Internationalisation Finance Scheme) now that it can be used for M&A. The number of companies getting IE-administered grants for cross-border M&A has been increasing but is still small at 32 last year[1].

To encourage strong development of our brands overseas, can we have a lower tax rate for IP-related income from abroad instead of the usual 17% for corporate tax?

I also like to ask about the new schemes. Can DTD cover manpower expenses incurred to put Singaporeans overseas, such as kids’ schooling allowances and relocation costs?

For IGS, is there a target for the number of companies to be on this? We have targets for the other schemes, but what about IGS? And how many years will be granted and what are the key conditions for renewal at expiry?

For Venture debt risk-sharing, do the schemes apply for overseas M&A?

Thank you.

[1] http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00007198-WA&currentPubID=00007207-WA&topicKey=00007207-WA.00007198-WA_5%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B

Tales from House Visits

Recounting the said encounters during my House Visits

Yesterday in Parliament during the debate on the motion on AHPETC, Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat cited my encounter with one of his parliamentary colleagues during my house visits (HV) a month ago and another of my HV on the Thursday that had just passed.

It was a surprise for me to hear my name being mentioned when I was not even speaking on the motion, having left it to the good hands of my WP colleagues who run AHPETC and who had already explained the necessary details in response to the AGO report. Nevertheless, I must thank the Minister for bringing attention to my busy schedule. I had sat through parliament the entire Thursday which ended around 630pm, then I rushed back to change and do my weekly HV.

Both incidents that Minister Heng cited happened at Pasir Ris town, where I have been doing HV for about a year on a weekly basis. They are part of the regular two, sometimes three times a week ground activities to various parts of Singapore that I take part in, rain or shine for several years already.

I had the privilege to ‘bump’ into DPM Teo last month, who is the fellow colleague that the Minister referred to. Since DPM and Minister Heng thought it was fit to talk in parliament about that casual encounter, let me recount from what I remember.

Several WP members and I were just gathering at the void deck of a block in Pasir Ris waiting for more helpers to arrive when DPM and his grassroots leaders were about to go into a meeting in that same block. The first question the DPM asked was, “What’s happening at the Town Council”. Puzzled, I replied there was nothing much and things were as usual. DPM then asked what was with the finances of the TC? That encounter with DPM was shortly after MOS Desmond Lee and Minister Lawrence Wong had written publicly about AHPETC’s finances in the context of high S&CC arrears.

I told DPM that we will reply at a later date as stated in our press statements, which WP subsequently did with respect to the correction to the S&CC arrears. Yes, I did say that I am not in the TC committees and my colleagues, the elected MPs run the TC and they will be responding in due course when the AGO report is out. I recall the DPM asking if I was a CEC member and hence I should know.

I found that to be a strange comment because I had already said that my colleagues run the TC and that they will respond at a later date as they had said in press statements. Asking me to account to him for things in a TC which I am not involved in the operations of because I am a WP CEC member, is like me asking the DPM in front of his grassroots leaders, to account for things that happen in other PAP TCs just because DPM is a PAP CEC member, such as why rats were running wild in Bukit Batok. Of course, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to tell him that in front of his grassroots leaders so I left our conversation as it was.  I have confidence in our MPs running the TC and I still do now.

Minister Heng said I evaded a resident’s question on Thursday and walked away quickly. We had 2 groups doing HV at Pasir Ris that evening, so I had to check with everyone who were there on Thursday to find out if anyone did turn and walked away quickly when asked about AHPETC. No one had asked the other group about the TC, which was led by another WP CEC member. I had two helpers with me. I was sure I did not walk away without answering anyone on anything. Just to be very sure, I asked both of my helpers and they all were sure that I did not. Here’s the texted message from one of them, “I can’t remember the exact number of residents that asked about the AHPETC but you did not walk away nor not answer any resident.”

HV is exhausting. For evening visits, we could only do after dinner and have to end before it becomes too late that it disturbs residents’ rest. We try to visit as many as possible yet taking care to engage with residents who want to speak with us. We visit easily over 100 homes each time. Over the years of doing regular HV, I have worked out opening and closing lines based on the locations that I visit. I had applied the same opening and closing for all the homes that opened their doors to us that evening. I recall nothing special that Thursday. We moved quickly from one house to another to engage as many residents as possible before it became too late, but only after ending the conversation with an appropriate closing to make sure that it was a courteous departure.

I could only recall a middle aged man who referred to the TC debate. When I introduced myself as from WP, he said he knew as he was just at that moment watching the news covering the debate. I recall replying that 4 of our MPs had spoken to reply to the findings of the AGO and the remaining AHPE MPs will speak the next day. I had probably also said that our MPs are answering the details of the AGO report in the debate. There was nothing that was specifically asked of me about AHPETC by the resident. Without any specifics to answer, we ended the conversation in a manner as I would normally do before we moved to the next house.

Perhaps if I did unintentionally miss out on someone who had genuinely wanted to engage me, he can email me at jennjong.yee@wp.sg and I will gladly visit him during my weekly HV. Our answers were provided in detail in parliament by 7 speakers, and some further replies were given in clarifications to speeches by PAP MPs. I am satisfied with the answers that my fellow MPs gave and will give the same answers.

 

The Art of Answering Questions

Much had been said by the Minister in his long speech about the quality of the answers by WP members. I try to learn from our learned Ministers about how to give good answers. Here’s one in the name of the Education Minister from the parliamentary records.

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Foreign Scholars (9 Jan 2012)

40 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education for the last 10 years what was (i) the annual number of foreigners who were granted scholarships by the Ministry to study in our schools and universities and the annual cost of these scholarships; (ii) the percentage of foreign scholars who commenced studies in secondary schools and proceeded on to local universities; (iii) the percentage of foreign scholars in local universities who had graduated with Second Class Upper Honours or better; and (iv) the percentage of foreign scholars who completed their contractual bond period to work in Singapore after their graduation.

Mr Heng Swee Keat: For students from ASEAN countries, MOE offers scholarships to promote mutual understanding and goodwill in the region. In the past few years, MOE awarded around 150 scholarships annually to students from the ASEAN countries at the pre-tertiary level and another 170 at the undergraduate level. The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation, and the annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary scholarship and between $18,000 and $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship. Around 65% of pre-tertiary international scholars progress on to our Autonomous Universities.

In addition, our schools, universities and the corporate sector also offer a range of scholarships to quality international students to create a diverse student body that encourages the learning of important cross-cultural skills, as well as to meet the manpower needs of our economy. With Singapore’s decreasing fertility rates, it is important that even as we seek to better develop our talent pool, we augment this with working professionals and students from abroad. This helps us to maintain our economic competitiveness and, ultimately, raise the standard of living of our people.

Of all the international students who graduated from our Autonomous Universities in 2011, around 45% did so with a Second Upper class of Honours or better.

Upon graduation, scholars are obliged to work in Singapore or Singapore companies for up to six years. More than eight in 10 scholars have been working in Singapore and are contributing to our economy. As for those who did not start work immediately, many had deferred their bonds to pursue postgraduate studies.

====================

Surprised that only ASEAN scholars were numbered when the question was about foreign scholars and it was obvious that there are many scholars from other nationalities, I filed another question the next month about non-ASEAN scholars.

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FOREIGNERS ON SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT SCHOLARSHIPS (17 Feb 2012)

16 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education (a) for the last 10 years what was the annual number of non-ASEAN foreigners who were granted scholarships by the Singapore Government to study in our pre-tertiary schools and universities and what was the annual cost of these scholarships; (b) how does the Ministry track and ensure that foreign scholars maintain good academic standards while studying here; and (c) whether the Ministry tracks foreign scholars after graduation and enforces their obligation to fulfil the contractual bond period to work in Singapore.

Mr Speaker: Senior Parliamentary Secretary, you have two-and-a-half minutes.

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education (Ms Sim Ann) (for the Minister for Education): Sir, on average, about 800 pre-tertiary and 900 undergraduate international students (IS) are offered scholarships. The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation. The annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary scholarship, and between $18,000 and $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship.

The academic performance of each scholar is closely monitored every semester, and the scholarship would be withdrawn if the scholar’s performance is not satisfactory. Most international scholars serve out their bonds to completion. The scholarship administrators take action against the few who default on their obligations, by pursuing liquidated damages from individuals who default on their service obligation

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Sir, I thank the SPS for the answers. I have some supplementary questions. Firstly, is there any noticeable shift in the quality of scholars coming from countries that are fast-growing like China, because people may be richer and have other options to go elsewhere to study, and whether we follow a certain quota system of just maintaining a certain number from each country every year? Secondly, is there some figure that SPS can share regarding the number of scholars who had their scholarships suspended as they consistently did not do well in their performance?

Ms Sim Ann: Sir, because the admission of foreign scholars into our system is primarily to augment our manpower pool so as to better anchor investors and employers who can in turn offer good jobs for the economy and for Singaporeans, we do take the quality of such intakes very seriously. In terms of where the scholars come from, they come from the ASEAN countries as well as China and India. Basically, this has been the mix over the years. And over the years, we have been able to maintain certain standards in the quality of such students. In terms of the number of scholarships that has been suspended due to poor performance in school, I do not have the figures at hand, but, by and large, we monitor their performance very carefully. In terms of the quality, I can share with the Member that, for instance, in terms of the number of international scholars who have been awarded Second Upper and above in our universities, this has been around 45% [please see report on 28 February 2012], and this compares with about 32% for Singaporean citizens.

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Strangely, are scholars from China and India not foreign scholars? What do you think?

Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill

I delivered the following speech in Parliament on 29 January 2015

Madam Speaker, I echo the position presented by my Party’s colleague Mr Pritam Singh.

While I welcome additional measures to better manage unwanted and rowdy behaviour caused by drunkenness especially in residential areas, I am concerned if some parts of the Bill are too far-reaching.

The Bill makes it an offence to consume alcohol across Singapore during the prescribed no-public drinking period, which is currently planned to be between 1030 pm and 7am. The exception would be to drink at licensed premises or if consumption permission has been applied for and granted to an event organizer prior to the event.

Madam, I am of the view that there are public spaces where the consumption of liquor can be permitted without disturbing residents. An example would be in areas popular for barbeques and gatherings such as the Changi Beach, East Coast and West Coast Parks. I live near one of these parks and would often go there in the evenings. The people at the parks, even those who have been drinking, are generally well behaved. Many are the occasional social drinkers. They are also far away from any residence so there is also no disturbance caused to households.

I believe we can relax the Bill to allow the Minister to designate areas where drinking can be allowed at all times. If there are frequent undesired incidents related to drinking in these areas, the Minister can publish an order in the Gazette to restrict the drinking period or totally ban drinking in that area, just as the Minister will be able to do so for liquour licence holders under this Bill.  In any case, under existing laws and also under section 14 of this Bill, we will have the powers to deal with drunkennesss in public places at all times and against behaviours that cause public nuisance, so we have the means to take action against drunkards and those behaving in unruly manners.

I believe this will lighten administrative load of having to approve consumption permission for events in areas where drinking is unlikely to cause problems. During weekends and on public holidays, it is common to find many of the barbeque pits in popular public spaces occupied. How responsive will the processing of permits be? Will we have enough security personnel to patrol these areas to enforce the no-drinking rule? Is it necessary to have the police patrol such public places to catch people drinking?

Already, we have heard during the Committee of Inquiry, or COI on Little India that our police force is understaffed and highly stretched. Paragraphs 196 to 198 of the COI report had called for more officers but this issue has barely been addressed. The then-Commissioner of Police Mr Ng Joo Hee closed his testimony before the COI with a plea for another 1,000 more officers to be added to the police’s ranks

Given this situation, how ready are we to enforce this no-drinking rule in all public places across Singapore? If enforcement of this Bill is weak, it will not reflect well on our law enforcement officers

Next, I like to seek some clarifications from the Minister on the Bill.

First, there is some public disquiet over what may seem to people as excessive powers to search individuals for any container of liquor and to search premises. I like to seek clarification that an individual who was consuming liquor in a licensed premises and who leaves the licensed premises with opened and unconsumed liquor in a container during the prescribed no-drinking period has not committed any offence under this Bill, i.e.  the presence of liquor with the person in a public place but who is not at that point consuming the liquor, is not an offence, if the liquor was purchased in a licensed premises or during the allowed sales period.

Second, I seek confirmation that while a foreign employee dormitory is deemed to be a public place, it is only for the purpose of being drunk as defined by section 14(1) of this Bill, i.e. it is not an offence to drink in a foreign employee dormitory after 1030 pm unless the person becomes drunk.

Finally, I like to seek an update from the Minister that with this Bill and the designation of Little India as a Liquor Control Zone, what will happen to the measures that had been earlier imposed on Little India in the aftermath of the riot and subsequently with the temporary public order bill on Little India? There are a couple more months before the expiry of the Temporary Public Order Bill. Will the restrictions be immediately superseded when this Bill takes effect? What were the key lessons learnt on the ground from the imposition of the restrictions on Little India?

Madam Speaker, in conclusion, while I support the principle of this Bill, I like to urge the Minister to review the scope of the regulations to leave more flexibility for the sales and consumption of liquor in areas that are away from private residence. Thank you.

Pawnbrokers Bill

I delivered the following speech in Parliament on 19 January 2015.

This Bill seeks to update the Pawnbrokers Act which was last amended in 1993. Amongst others, it removes the existing auction system, requires pawnbrokers to provide an indicative valuation of a pledge to a pawner at the point of pawning and at the end of the redemption period, and raises the minimum paid-up capital of pawnbrokers for their first outlet and for each subsequent branch.

Madam Speaker, I support the Bill. I am concerned though about the rise in the number of pawnshops and in the total value of pawnbrokering loans in recent years. The number of pawnshops has grown from 114 in 2008 to 217[1] as at June 2014. The value of pawnbrokering loans rose more than three times from S$2 billion in 2009 to a peak of S$7.1 billion in 2012[2]. Many of the pawnshops are in the HDB heartlands. In an earlier parliament reply, we are told that HDB does not generally limit the number of shops for each trade and leaves it to market forces to determine the trade mix of shops. Market forces have indeed led to the rise of the pawnbroking industry.

In our geographically small island state, with some 217 outlets, access to pawnshops for a quick loan is easy. This has prompted some journalists to cast the spotlight on our pawnbrokering industry which now has three publicly listed pawnbrokers as key players in the market. A Bloomberg report in June last year titled “Rolex for Casino Cash Fuels Singapore Pawnshop Growth”[3] highlighted stories and statements by industry players about the rise in pawnbrokering activities being driven by gambling. The report, as well as other reports[4] [5], also pointed to soaring living costs as another reason for Singaporeans to turn to easy credit sources such as pawnbrokers to cover their living expenses.

Madam Speaker, there is very little data available on the profile of pawners. The ministry has said that it does not track the reason for non-redemption of pledges[6]. While the overall percentage is small at 5%[7], 5% of 4 million valuables pawned in 2012 works out to around 200,000 items that were unredeemed and had to be sent for auction. We do not know how many of these 200,000 items were from pawners who repeatedly failed to redeem their valuables. We also do not know the reasons for these non-redemptions.

I’d like to call for a more detailed study on the profile of pawners and on the industry. In particular, we should look at those who do not redeem their valuables to understand the underlying reasons. Also, in order not to become a society with excessive pawning, the study can also look into the appropriate number of outlets in each neighbourhood and if the level and content of advertising should be subjected to some controls. I believe better data will be useful to help look into the underlying causes for the rapid rise in the pawnbrokering trade and how we can tweak the Pawnbrokers Bill in future to continue to keep pace with this industry’s changing landscape.

Thank you.

[1] http://business.asiaone.com/news/pawnshops-the-rise

[2] http://tablet.todayonline.com/singapore/removal-auction-system-among-proposed-pawnbrokers-act-changes

[3] http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-17/rolex-for-casino-cash-fuels-singapore-pawnshop-growth.html

[4] https://sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/singapore-cost-living-sees-pawnshops-043309125.html

[5] http://www.fool.sg/2013/11/04/the-battle-of-the-pawnbrokers/

[6] http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00006308-WA&currentPubID=00006301-WA&topicKey=00006301-WA.00006308-WA_1%2Bid-da07f921-38d6-46fc-8a85-f7f746df8cfd%2B

[7] http://news.asiaone.com/print/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130527-425418.html

 

减少学校班级学生的人数 – Towards Smaller Class Sizes in School

The following is a Chinese article reproduced from my submission to WP’s Hammer article published in December 2014. The English translation is provided for your convenience.

A school in Singapore

A school in Singapore

减少学校班级学生的人数      

 

在新加坡,大多数的学校每班有40名学生。自2005年以来,小学一年级和二年级的班级人数逐步减少到30名学生。这虽然是一个令人感到鼓舞的趋势,也符合工人党呼吁减少学校班级学生人数的目标。但是,如果与经济合作与发展组织(OECD)成员国统计数据中的平均每班21名学生来比较,我国的学校班级学生的人数还是相对的多。

 

海外进行的各个研究项目已经觉察到较少学生人数的班级所带来的正面效应。美国的布鲁金斯研究院(Brookings Institution)的研究显示,大量减少班级学生人数能对学生的学业成绩有显著而且长期的效应。这些效应似乎是越早推行少人数的班级就越有效果;而且,对于来自家庭背景比较不良好的学生有利,并能实现更好的教育成果。

 

在美国田纳西州进行的“学生与教师成就比率”研究项目(Tennessee STAR – Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) 和在威斯康辛州实行的“学生教育成就保证”计划 (Wisconsin SAGE- Student Achievement Guarantee in Education)也都显示出较少人数的班级对学生的认知和非认知学习成果有着正面的效应。这些正面的效应在学生整个的学校生活中持续不断。其他研究也显示出较少人数的班级能让来自家庭背景比较不好的学生受益。

 

在新加坡,我们学校里班级学生人数多有其弊端。教师们必须处理更多与纪律和行政有关的事项,与此同时,学习能力较弱的孩子也有可能被忽略;因为教师有限的时间都分给了所有的学生,因为班级学生人数多,个别学生所能获得的时间也相对减少。

 

不过,要更好地促进学生的学习进展,减少班级学生的人数并不是唯一的途径。它必须从整体上与其它的教学策略一起实施。教育部一再强调,教学质量比班级人数的多少来得更重要。当然,教学质量是重要的,在这方面的投入是理由充足的。然而,我认为我们也应该同时策划把学校一般班级的学生人数减少,并为此设定目标。

 

随着生育率的下降,从教育部的统计数字来看,报读小学的人数一年比一年少。以2012年来说,小六学生人数有将近4万9千名,相比之下小一和小二学生人数每个年级则少于3万9千名,差别为1万名学生。反观教师的人数则一直在平稳增长。从事教育服务的教师人数已经从2009年的少于3万人增加至2012年的3万1千8百人,预计在2015年将会达到3万3千人。在所增加的教师人数中,其中的一部分学校会灵活地决定分派担任一些特定的职务,比如“学习支援计划” (Learning Support Programme),指导学习进度比较慢的学生,一些时候甚至安排一班里有两名教师。

 

我认为,现在正是施行减少班级学生人数计划的最佳时机。由于学生人数逐年减少,我们或许不需要聘请比教育部原先计划中的更多的教师。比方说,小三和小四的班级可以先开始减少学生人数到每班30名学生,然后逐步将这个比例扩展到小五和小六,朝人数较少的班级的目标前进。这或许需要重新设计学校里的一些基础设施并增加多一些课室。

 

较少学生人数的班级使教师能更好地了解每一个学生。新加坡的教育体系正朝向一个更加强调全面化的教育、品格和以价值观为基础的方向发展,教师对个别学生的了解因而就显得更加重要。此外,好些家长总是觉得学校里的老师无法有足够的时间和注意力来教导他们的孩子应付学校的课业和考试,这是他们认为孩子必须上额外补习课的原因。班级人数少也有助于教师的课室管理的工作,使他们能有多余的时间关注那些学习能力比较弱的学生。

 

English Translation:

Towards Smaller Class Sizes in School

 

Most schools in Singapore have a class size of 40. Since 2005, Primary 1 and 2 classes were progressively reduced to 30 students. While this is encouraging and is in line with the call by the Workers’ Party for smaller class sizes, it is still large compared to the OECD countries’s average of 21 students per class.

 

Various research projects overseas have noted the positive effects of smaller class sizes. The Brookings Institution noted that large class-size reductions can have significant long-term effects on students’ achievement. These effects seemed to be largest when introduced earlier, and for students from less advantaged backgrounds. The Tennessee STAR and Wisconsin SAGE projects also demonstrated the positive effects of smaller classes on students’ cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. These effects persisted throughout the school life of the students. Other studies also show smaller classes have benefited students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

There are drawbacks to the large class sizes we have in Singapore. Teachers have to deal with more disciplinary and administrative issues, while weaker children risked being marginalised because the teacher’s time is divided amongst all students.

 

Class size reduction is not the magic bullet to better student development. It has to be implemented together with other holistic policies. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has repeatedly emphasized that teaching quality is more important than smaller class sizes. Certainly, teaching quality is important and investments in this area are well justified. However, the time is right for us to also plan towards having general class sizes that are smaller as well.

 

With falling birth rates, it appears from MOE statistics that the cohort of students in primary school is getting smaller each year. In 2012, there were nearly 49,000 students in primary 6, versus less than 39,000 students per level in primary 1 and in primary 2; a difference of 10,000 students a year. In contrast, the number of teachers has been steadily increasing. The Education Service has grown from under 30,000 education officers in 2009 to 31,800 in 2012 and is projected to reach 33,000 by 2015. Some of the increases have been and will be used by schools to decide how the teachers will be flexibly deployed in specific situations, such as for Learning Support Programmes for the slower learners and sometimes to have two teachers in a class of 40.

 

The best time to do the planning for smaller class sizes is now. With increasingly smaller student enrolment, we may not need many more teachers than what MOE has already planned to recruit. We can start to move towards smaller class sizes, say starting at 30 students per class from primary 3 and 4, and then gradually moving towards that ratio for primary 5 and 6. This would also necessitate some re-design of the physical infrastructure in schools to have more classrooms. The ratio can be further reviewed at a later stage to aim to reach the OECD’s average.

 

The smaller class size will also allow teachers to better understand individual students. This is even more important now as Singapore move towards a more holistic character and values-based education system. Also, an oft cited reason for parents to have tuition for their children is because they feel teachers are not able to provide the attention needed by their children to catch up with our demanding syllabus. It will also help make classroom management easier for teachers, who may otherwise not be able to pay attention to the weaker students.

Confronting the dangers of radicalisation into violent extremism

The massacre in central Paris yesterday shocked me. It shocked the world. 12 lives were lost, 4 more were critically wounded and several more were injured. Masked gunmen had stormed into the office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and opened fire randomly at people. Supporters of the ISIS movement have already openly praised the attack.

I offer my deepest condolences to those that have lost loved ones in this tragedy.

Last month, it was the siege incident in a popular downtown Sydney café by a lone gunman who was making demands to support the ISIS movement. It resulted sadly in the death of two of the hostages.

Four months ago at a gathering of Asian political parties in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I gave a speech calling for the promotion of peaceful developments and to embrace political diversity. I had shared my fears of remote conflicts spreading their influences to places all over the world, including Singapore. Text from speech extracted as follows:

“I am personally alarmed and saddened by the recent increase in violence and conflicts globally, such as in the Middle East. Even though the Middle East conflicts are far away from Singapore, in our interconnected worlds, it is nevertheless very close to home. Once a while, we hear of volunteers from Singapore and from our nearby region joining the ISIS movement. Yesterday, as I was travelling here, I heard the news that an ISIS network was broken up in Australia, fortunately before they could strike within Australia. These are dangers we must constantly guard against if we wish to build a strong Asian community.”

In particular, I am very apprehensive of what the ISIS movement may mean to the world. There are many supporters of the movement being won all over the world. These include those born into good families with comfortable lives in developed countries. Some of them have excellent education and professional backgrounds. Not all will join the fight just in Syria and Iraq. Some will carry the fight into places everywhere. Singapore is not immune to this too.

In the multi-racial, multi-cultural and highly interconnected world that we live in, we need to be constantly on our guards to safeguard peace and to embrace diversity. Only then, progress can be made. It is important especially for those in positions of influence to speak out against misunderstanding of teachings that may lead to radicalisation. It is equally important that we should not form stereotypes and be biased against others of different beliefs because of the actions of some in their community. It is good to know that some leaders have indeed spoken out against extremism. Let’s work to preserve the peace and harmony in our community.