Thursday, 23 November 2017

Singapore students are best team players: PISA 2015 study on Collaborative Problem Solving

Singapore students top OECD global survey in problem solving through teamwork
Republic had the highest proportion of top performers, over 20%, in the global PISA test
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2017

Singapore students are world beaters not just in science, mathematics and reading, but also in the ability to solve problems in teams, according to new findings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Republic topped a global test of collaborative problem-solving skills under the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test conducted in 2015.

Singapore had the highest mean score of 561 points, followed by Japan with 552 points, Hong Kong with 541 points and South Korea with 538 points.

The PISA 2015 Collaborative Problem Solving results, released yesterday, are the first test of such skills to help countries see where they stand in preparing students to live and work in an interconnected world.

Some 125,000 students across 52 economies around the world took part in the test, which measured students' ability to solve problems collaboratively, negotiate and come to agreement, for instance.

The PISA test has traditionally assessed abilities in science, mathematics and reading - core subjects in which Singapore was ranked first in the latest 2015 exercise - but is including skills that are increasingly important in the new economy.

Singapore had the highest proportion of top performers - more than 20 per cent of students here achieved the highest level of proficiency (level 4) in collaborative problem-solving. This means they could carry out tasks needing high levels of collaboration, maintain an awareness of group dynamics and had the initiative to take action or make requests to overcome obstacles and resolve disagreements.

On average, only 8 per cent of students could perform at this level.

The results also showed that students here have positive attitudes towards collaboration. More than nine in 10 said they are good listeners, enjoy seeing their classmates be successful, take into account what others are interested in and like cooperating with their peers.

Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said: "Singapore demonstrates that strong academic performance does not have to come at the expense of weaker social skills. In fact, Singapore scores even better in collaborative problem-solving than it does in science and mathematics."

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Work starts on 2nd phase of $10 billion underground sewage superhighway

Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) Phase 2: Costing $6.5 billion, it will free up 83ha of land and also boost the supply of NEWater
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2017

Phase two of the construction of a $10 billion underground sewage superhighway, one of the world's largest, started yesterday.

The Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS), which will be the conduit for all used water islandwide, will boost water recycling and free up space in land-scarce Singapore.



When Phase 2 is completed in 2025, the sloping infrastructure of giant pipes will harness gravity to channel used water in the western parts of the island to a new water reclamation plant in Tuas.

Phase 2 of the project by national water agency PUB, which costs $6.5 billion, will also free up an additional 83ha of land - about the size of 116 football fields - currently housing the Ulu Pandan and Jurong water reclamation plants, about 70 pumping stations and many more sewage treatment plants.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli marked the start of construction at a ground-breaking ceremony in Penjuru Road in Jurong East.

He said: "We have experienced how unpredictable weather patterns can be, and we expect dry seasons to worsen with climate change. It is, therefore, critical to augment our water sources by reclaiming water, so it can be used again and again, in an endless cycle."

DTSS Phase 2 will boost Singapore's NEWater supply, he added. The DTSS will eventually channel all of the island's used water to water reclamation plants in Changi, Kranji and Tuas, where it will be treated and purified to either produce NEWater, or be discharged into the sea.

The tunnels, which sit under the Republic's rail network and above its electricity grid, slope downwards towards the three plants as they are dug at a gradient.

Phase 1, which cost $3.4 billion, was completed in 2008. It serves the eastern parts of Singapore, channelling used water to the Kranji and Changi water reclamation plants.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Singapore to raise taxes as govt spending increases: PM Lee Hsien Loong at People’s Action Party Convention 2017

PM Lee highlights need to invest in economy, infrastructure and social safety nets
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2017

Singapore will be raising its taxes as government spending on investments and social services grows, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"(Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat was right when he said raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when," he said at the People's Action Party (PAP) convention.

PM Lee was referring to Mr Heng's remarks during his Budget speech earlier this year, where the minister outlined how spending on healthcare and infrastructure will rise rapidly, and spoke of the need for new taxes or higher tax rates.



He told some 2,000 party members that "well before that time comes, we have to plan ahead, explain to Singaporeans what the money is needed for, and how the money we earn and we spend will benefit everyone, young and old".

The spending on Singapore's economy, infrastructure and social safety nets is necessary, and is a vote of confidence in the country's future, said PM Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general.

Just as older generations saved and invested, this generation must "plant trees in order that our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters, will be able to enjoy the shade", he added.

Economists said a rise in the goods and services tax (GST) could be in the works. It was last raised in 2007 by two percentage points to 7 per cent.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Anti-Trump media risks hurting US global standing

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2017

LONDON • "Thank you for your support" was the title of an e-mail I recently received from The New York Times. At first glance, this seemed a cute expression of thanks for being an electronic subscriber. Yet when I went on to read the e-mail, complete with the paper's pledges to remain tireless in the "pursuit of truth", I was reminded of just how much the US newspaper industry but also the broader mainstream media has changed during the past year.

The quality is still there, and so is the instinctive chutzpah of assuming that America is central to most things.

But most of the media coverage on domestic US matters is no longer about reporting events, unless they fill one messianic mission: to unearth any transgression, real, alleged or imagined, of Mr Donald John Trump, the 45th President of the United States.



Much of the current mainstream reporting on Mr Trump boils down to a self-feeding loop in which new stories are published or picked up not because they are significant but because they may strengthen the openly held opinion among most US mainstream journalists that Mr Trump ended up as President by mistake, and must be removed.

The New York Times used to run on its masthead the famous slogan "All the News That's Fit to Print"; its real slogan today should be "Any Anti-Trump News Ends Up in Print".

If this was just an internal US episode, it would have been regrettable, but not very significant for non-Americans. But the hate and vilification campaign against Mr Trump in his country's media has a very practical and potentially very harmful effect around the world.

Of course, the President has brought much of this upon himself. He has dismissed some of America's most honourable and worldwide respected media networks as purveyors of "fake news".

And his network of friends, family and business associates, as well as their potential links to foreign powers, are now subjected to federal investigations and, occasionally, criminal proceedings.

Mr Trump once excoriated journalists as "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth"; he should not complain that they respond in kind.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Heritage buff hand-draws Singapore's national monuments in ink

Just call him Mr Monument
Retiree aims to draw all 72 of Republic's national monuments to showcase heritage
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2017

Online photos of the country's national monuments usually fail to fully capture their profile, scale, architectural details and surroundings in a single frame.

Frustrated, heritage buff Steven Seow decided to hand-draw in ink A3-sized perspectives, to share with Singaporeans the sheer majesty of these monuments.

Take, for instance, the Hong San See temple in Mohamed Sultan Road. Mr Seow, 65, has reproduced a sweeping view of the temple with its roof's curved ridges and upturned swallow-tail end sweeps.



Mr Seow has drawn 33 of the 72 national monuments here since he started on his personal project in June.

He adds in surrounding buildings, roads, infrastructure and landscaping features. Most of these are reproduced in exacting detail.

The retiree said: "Drones have their limitations in capturing full details. Photographs don't present our full, complete heritage.

"A more visual and holistic portrayal of the monuments, in the context and setting they were built, might help Singaporeans fully appreciate the country's heritage."

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The iGens - trying to connect from the privacy of their rooms

A new generation bred on smartphones and social media is changing social mores
By Peter A. Coclanis, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

Few nation-states anywhere in the world have embraced information and communications technology (ICT) as enthusiastically, intelligently and successfully as has Singapore.

Along with Scandinavia and Estonia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, it regularly ranks highly on league tables relating to ICT metrics, and the futuristic, high-tech character of the city-state is one of the first things that visitors notice and comment upon.

The Government, as usual, has long been out in front of ICT issues, having drawn up and largely implemented bold and far-sighted national ICT plans since the early 1980s. As a result, Singapore has largely fulfilled the goal of the Government's Intelligent Nation masterplan (iN2015), for which it certainly merits high praise.

That said, it might be time for all of us to shift greater attention at the margin to some of the downsides of information technology. Here, I'm not speaking so much of excesses in the political blogosphere, of attempts to spread misinformation and false facts, or even of cyber bullying, for various parties in Singapore and elsewhere have already weighed in usefully on such matters.



Rather, I'm speaking here about what the heavy reliance on electronic technology is doing to both our own moral development and to our ability to connect deeply with others around us.

Last year I wrote a piece for The Straits Times ("Digital natives risk losing empathy for real people"; Feb 13, 2016) where I discussed some of the issues raised by Dr Sherry Turkle in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age.

In this important work, Dr Turkle, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that heavy reliance on electronic technology hurts individuals in a variety of ways, not least by reducing one's ability to conduct face-to-face conversations, to work in groups, and to engage productively in civic life.

In iGen, a new book attracting a lot of attention these days, psychology professor Jean M. Twenge from San Diego State University has gone one step further, analysing the deleterious effects of hyper connectivity not just on individuals, but on entire generations in the United States.

Although it is both wise and prudent to take generalisations made about entire generational cohorts with a grain or two of salt, Prof Twenge, at the very least, is on to something about the tendencies of "iGens", the cohort of Americans born between 1995 and 2012.

According to her, this cohort of over 74 million - about 23 per cent of the US population - is the first generation of Americans that grew up completely immersed in ICT. Unlike the millennial cohort that preceded it, iGens don't remember a world without the Internet, grew up with cellphones - most notably, the iPhone, which debuted in late June 2007 - and seem to live by and for social media.

Let's not condemn Singaporeans to extinction

Some European cities have managed to reverse declining fertility rate trends. Singapore, too, must persevere in its society-wide efforts to become more pro-family.
By Paulin Tay Straughan, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

As a novice sociologist in 1991 returning to the National University of Singapore after completing my PhD, the very first project I embarked on was on work-life balance for women from dual-income families.

As a young mother and a new assistant professor, I found it daunting to have to manage job expectations as well as be a good mother to my sons. My husband was facing similar challenges at his workplace, and we felt entrapped in a circumstance we seemed to have little control over.

The power of sociological methodologies framed me with lenses that revealed the inter-connectedness of social agencies. Thus began my journey to distil the complexities of our population woes.

That was in 1991.

Along the way, I matured as a sociologist and learnt more about the intricacies of the world we live in. My sociological model for understanding fertility decisions became more complex, and also more focused. Meanwhile, Singapore's marriage and birth rates continue to fall, making it more urgent to devise policies to ease transition to an ageing population.

Some have argued that we should just face the inevitable, and focus on the advantages of growing a "quality" Singapore family, rather than think in terms of growing the quantity or size of the Singapore population. I find that disturbing on several grounds. Let me address these systematically.

That we should accept that the Singapore population would shrink and do nothing about it, to me is nothing short of being irresponsible. This perspective may allay concerns of the present population as we struggle through spatial congestion and economic competition. But it does little to advance the needs of the younger and future generations.

The correlation between population growth and economic health is notable. As a small city state that relies heavily on foreign investment to generate employment opportunities, Singapore's ageing labour force would not place us in good stead to compete with emerging markets in the region with younger and lower-cost labour forces.

LIMITS OF IMMIGRATION

One argument suggests immigration as the solution to our population woes. Carefully calibrated immigration strategies do help in mitigating our ageing demographics, and a globalised workforce adds significant value to our cultural diversity. But relying primarily on immigration for population augmentation is not sustainable in the long run.

First, to rely on surplus labour from the region puts our economic stability at high risk as we cannot control the supply of manpower inflow as and when the need arises.

Second, the 2011 elections and conversations on the Population White Paper revealed how Singaporeans might be nervous about the inflow of immigrants. If we over-compensate through immigration to address the needs of the economy, we may aggravate social tensions and jeopardise racial harmony on home ground. For a multi-ethnic nation like Singapore, any attempts to segregate by national identities will inadvertently lead to dangerous discourse on race relations.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

MRT collision: Signal fault to blame as trains collide at Joo Koon Station





Signal fault to blame for Joo Koon MRT collision
Stalled train hit by another train at Joo Koon after software glitch; 29 injured
By Maria Almenoar, Assistant News Editor and Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2017

An unprecedented software glitch in the signalling system of the East-West Line resulted in a stalled MRT train being hit from behind by another one at Joo Koon station yesterday morning.

This resulted in injuries to 29 people, three of whom were still in hospital yesterday evening.

The collision took place at 8.20am during the morning peak hour and disrupted train services between Boon Lay and Tuas Link stations through the day.

Train services between Joo Koon and Tuas Link stations will remain suspended today while the authorities carry out their investigations. Bus bridging services will be provided to the affected passengers. Other trains on the East-West Line will run at slower intervals.



In the accident yesterday, the first train had pulled into Joo Koon station when it stalled because of an anomaly in the signalling system, and its passengers were offloaded, save for a solitary SMRT staff member who remained on board.

The second train, which had stopped more than 10m behind and was carrying more than 500 passengers, unexpectedly lurched forward and collided with the first train.

At a press conference later in the day, Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT officials explained that the signalling system had mistakenly profiled the stalled train as a three-car train, instead of the six-car train that it really was.

As a result, the second train which had stopped 10.7m behind the first "misjudged the distance" between the two, resulting in a collision.

"It is an awful day today. Commuters were inconvenienced, and some even injured. We are deeply sorry for that," said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who showed up at the press conference and spoke to reporters after it was over. SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek was present, but did not speak.

The incident was the latest in a series of mishaps that have hit the train operator, including tunnels between Braddell and Bishan stations being flooded last month.

Sharing their preliminary findings yesterday, SMRT and LTA said the first train departed Ulu Pandan depot with a software protection feature, but this was "inadvertently removed" when it passed a faulty signalling circuit.

Passengers got off the stalled train and the second one halted at the correct, safe stopping distance behind it. However, the second train moved forward a minute later when it could not properly detect the stalled train as having six cars.



Mr Alexandru Robu, 35, who was in the second train, described how it came to a sudden halt after its impact with the first one, causing passengers to lose their balance and fall. "I have experienced sudden stops before on the MRT, but this time, it was really bad," said Mr Robu, a service coordinator.

One MRT employee on each train and 27 commuters were hurt. Several were taken to hospitals, and most were discharged with minor injuries. The remaining passengers were taken off the train through the driver's cabin at the front - a process that took some time.

Thales, the firm supplying the new signalling system for the North-South and East-West lines, said it had never encountered a glitch similar to yesterday's before.

Mr Khaw said after the press conference: "Thales is confident of their system, but I advised the team, let's play doubly safe, where safety is involved, that is why I want them to suspend the Tuas West Extension tomorrow, so we have a whole day to do a thorough check before we resume the Tuas West Extension."



Asked if a committee of inquiry will be convened to look into this, Mr Khaw said the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

On whether commuters' confidence in the MRT system had been undermined following yesterday's accident and last month's MRT tunnel flooding, Mr Khaw said: "Obviously people will be upset... I am equally upset."