Friday, 18 August 2017

Singapore Student Learning Space: New online platform will let students learn at own pace

Move helps level playing field as it gives all students same access to quality resources
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2017

Schools are taking e-learning to the next level with the launch of a resource-rich online platform on which students can learn at their own pace anywhere, any time.

The Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS), first announced by then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in 2013, will be progressively rolled out to primary and secondary schools as well as junior colleges and Millennia Institute from next year.

The portal will also let teachers share best practices and work together on materials with their colleagues across schools.

Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said the "rewards for students will be tremendous", adding that the SLS "will open up many opportunities for their learning". Speaking during a visit yesterday to Admiralty Secondary, one of 62 schools piloting the platform, he described how students who want to review a lesson will be able to do it on their own time, even at home.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) stressed that the platform will help level the playing field as it gives all students, regardless of school, the same access to quality learning resources. The move builds on ongoing efforts by the ministry to leverage IT to aid learning.

"By spurring our students to take greater ownership of their learning and work collaboratively with their peers, the SLS aims to support them towards being responsible future-ready learners," MOE said.

The platform, which will feature videos, simulations, games, animations and quizzes, will reinforce learning of subjects, including English and the mother tongue languages, mathematics, history and even physical education.

Interactive timelines on World War II, for instance, can help students visualise how history unfolded through the years.

Many of the resources have been developed with industry and external partners to offer real-world context to concepts taught in class, said the ministry.

Taxi uncle turns Grab driver

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series, The Lives They Live.
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2017

When he started driving a taxi in 1981, Mr Lim Chwee Choon, then 36, often had to ask his passengers for directions and, at times, decline to take them if they were unsure of the route.

While such behaviour is unheard of today because of technologies such as Global Positioning System, Mr Lim said they had little choice back then. Vocational training was very basic and cabbies were taught only the routes to a few destinations, such as major hotels and the airport.

There were street directories but trying to page through one while driving was not a good idea, he said. Map apps did not exist then, he quipped.

Mr Lim, now 72, said it took him about three years of plying the streets and memorising routes before he could get around on his own.

"It was not easy but passengers were also more understanding," he recalled in Mandarin.

"Nowadays, if you take a route which they don't like, they will be unhappy. Passengers are always telling me, 'Uncle, my time is precious.'"

With more than three decades of driving under his belt, this "taxi uncle" has seen the changes in one of Singapore's most iconic professions, which began in the 1930s, and is facing its greatest disruption now with competition from ride-hailing apps.

Mr Lim himself has jumped "ship".

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Tanjong Pagar Terminal cleared ahead of schedule, port lease expires in 2027

PSA transfers all 500 staff to Pasir Panjang; move could impact property, shipping sectors
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2017

Singapore's great port migration - which has major implications for both the shipping and real estate sectors - has crossed a key milestone well ahead of schedule.

Port operator PSA Singapore has moved all its 500 staff from Tanjong Pagar Terminal to the newer Pasir Panjang Terminal and is dismantling the cranes, as part of plans for the even bigger move to the future mega-port at Tuas. The relocation - well ahead of the city port's lease expiry in 2027 - means PSA might be ready to hand the 80ha site back to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) far earlier than expected.

PSA did not comment on whether it is looking at doing so, but a URA spokesman told The Straits Times: "We are in discussions with PSA on this matter, and are not able to comment further at the moment."

This, in turn, has raised the possibility that plans for the Greater Southern Waterfront project - a sprawling 1,000ha development three times the size of Marina Bay - could kick off faster than expected.

The huge project is to be built on land freed up when the ports in the city, including Tanjong Pagar, and Pasir Panjang are relocated to Tuas.

The Government could set aside some land for release earlier than expected, depending on market conditions and demand, said Ms Alice Tan of property consultancy Knight Frank Singapore.

"With real estate needs changing rapidly along with consumer and business trends, it could make sense for land use planning to evolve more flexibly ahead of changing needs," said Ms Tan, the firm's director and head of consultancy and research.

Mr Desmond Sim, head of CBRE Research for Singapore and South-east Asia, on the other hand, believes it is still much too early to tell if the Greater Southern Waterfront project could start earlier.

"It is a huge project, and there is still a lot of elasticity in land supply today, especially at Marina Bay. So, there is no need to rush and trigger plans for the waterfront area."

That said, Mr Sim noted that both PSA and the state planners would stand to gain if the land is vacated before the lease runs out.

"This would give PSA more buffer time to sort out any teething problems and ensure the handover goes smoothly. For the state planners, getting control of the land earlier... allows them to have more flexibility with planning."

Monday, 14 August 2017

Should I help my patients die?

An American doctor grapples with the ethics and practicalities of being asked to help a patient die
By Jessica Nutik Zitter, Published The Sunday Times, 13 Aug 2017

I was leafing through a patient's chart last year when a colleague tapped me on the shoulder. "I have a patient who is asking about the End of Life Option Act," he said in a low voice. "Can we even do that here?"

I practise both critical and palliative care medicine at a public hospital in Oakland, California. In June last year, our state became the fourth in the nation to allow medical aid in dying for patients suffering from terminal illness. Oregon was the pioneer 20 years ago. Washington and Vermont followed suit more recently. (Colorado voters passed a similar law in November.)

Now, five months after the law took effect here in California, I was facing my first request for assistance to shorten the life of a patient.

That week, I was the attending physician on the palliative care service. Since palliative care medicine focuses on the treatment of all forms of suffering in serious illness, my colleague assumed that I would know what to do with this request. I didn't.

I could see my own discomfort mirrored in his face. "Can you help us with it?" he asked me. "Of course," I said. Then I felt my stomach lurch.

California's law permits physicians to prescribe a lethal cocktail to patients who request it and meet certain criteria: They must be adults expected to die within six months who are able to self-administer the drug and retain the mental capacity to make a decision like this.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Singapore Labour Force - Getting ahead of the curve

By Devadas Krishnadas and Elena Lopez, Published TODAY, 12 Aug 2017

The “Labour Force in Singapore 2016” report released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department reinforces the perception that the Singapore labour force is facing long-term pressure to transform its skill base.


The employment rate for residents has decreased amid anaemic economic growth and a modest increase in supply of foreign workforce. The nominal median monthly income (including employer contributions to the Central Provident Fund) of full-time employed residents is rising at a slower pace while the education profile of the labour force has been improving over the years.

The number of Singapore residents with a degree, diploma or other types of higher education qualification has increased to over half the resident population, higher than the average for Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member states and also higher than that in South Korea (45 per cent), and the United States (44 per cent).

The occupational distribution amongst employed residents reflects the continued shift to a services concentrated economy – more than half are Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians, with most concentrated in information and communications, professional services and financial and insurance services.

At the same time, training participation rate has edged up, resuming the uptrend after a moderate drop in the previous year. This rate was higher in the services industry than the national average. The resident unemployment rate continued to rise for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 3 per cent in 2016. Unemployment was highest in the information and communications, and accommodation and food services sectors. Worryingly, job seekers are taking longer to find jobs. The proportion of unemployed residents still looking for work after six months rose to 20 per cent in 2016.

Public transport system to go fully cashless by 2020

Drive to go cashless on public transport
All bus, train fares to be paid using travel cards by 2020; no cash top-ups at stations
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2017

Singapore's public transport system is set to go fully cashless by 2020, with all bus and train rides to be paid for using only travel cards and top-ups with cash no longer available at stations.

The first cashless rail line will be the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open from 2019.

The goal of going fully cashless, in line with the Smart Nation push, was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and subsidiary TransitLink yesterday.

To nudge commuters on board, rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit will not offer cash top-ups at passenger service centres at 11 train stations from Sept 1. They are: Admiralty, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Buona Vista, Farrer Park, HarbourFront, Hougang, Lakeside, Pasir Ris, Serangoon and Yew Tee.

Cash top-ups will cease to be available at passenger service centres of other stations sometime next year.

Currently, about 27 per cent of commuters rely on staff at the passenger service centres to help reload their cards with cash. Service agents will be deployed at the 11 stations to help these commuters switch to using the general ticketing machines, which accept cash.

These machines will not accept cash by 2020, when self-service ticketing machines at stations and bus interchanges will accept only cashless top-ups such as with Nets.

LTA's group director for technology and industry development, Mr Lam Wee Shann, said: "When we relieve PSC (passenger service centre) staff from handling cash and doing top-ups, their attention could be more focused on train station operations, which is their core job."

He added: "There are also costs that are not small in maintaining cash transactions. By going cashless, cost avoidance can be re-invested into the public transport system, to improve and maintain it."

LTA and TransitLink said they have been adding payment options at ticketing machines since January to accept credit or debit cards and mobile payment platforms such as Apple Pay and Android Pay.

They assured commuters cash top-ups will continue to be available come 2020, but in limited forms, such as at convenience stores.

While cash is currently accepted at 39 TransitLink ticket offices located at stations and bus interchanges, the agencies said they are working towards removing this, but will study this plan "very carefully".

Saturday, 12 August 2017

All new homes to have smoke alarms from June 2018

Updated Fire Code to be released mid-next year; costs likely to be borne by home buyers
By Ng Jun Sen and Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2017

All newly built homes - Housing Board flats as well as private residences - will have to be installed with smoke detectors from next June, when an updated Fire Code is released, The Straits Times understands.

Called a home smoke alarm, the device costs between $60 and $80 for a basic version. Installation could cost another $50 or so.

The costs will likely be borne by home buyers, though the authorities, led by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), are working with grassroots leaders to identify elderly and needy households that need financial help in doing so.

The battery-operated devices are designed to alert occupants when they sense smoke, and function independently. They are not connected to emergency services or a central fire alarm system.

Currently, fire alarms are mandatory for commercial, industrial or mixed-use buildings above a certain size. The interiors of homes are currently exempt from this.

ST understands that the change has been in the works for over a year and is not linked to a specific incident. But two-thirds of fires last year - or about 2,800 - took place in homes, with rubbish chute or bin fires being the most common. There were 4,114 fire calls last year, the least recorded since 1978.

When contacted, the SCDF declined comment.

Mr Benedict Koh Yong Pheng, president of the Fire Safety Managers' Association, which represents fire safety managers here, said the authorities have been encouraging the voluntary use of fire alarms and fire extinguishers in homes for several years, but the take-up rate has been low.

Making smoke detectors mandatory in new homes will help raise fire safety standards here, said Mr Koh, who is also in the technical committee for the code of practice for electrical fire alarm systems published by SPRING Singapore.

He said: "In many cases of home fires, there have been cases of injuries or death due to smoke inhalation, which could have happened while the occupants were asleep. A localised smoke alarm will alert residents so they can react to the fire at an early stage."

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Singapore celebrates 52nd National Day

National Day Parade 2017: One heart, one nation, one Singapore
Drone display dazzles crowd at Marina Bay as Singapore turns 52
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2017

With the Marina Bay skyline serving as a backdrop, Singaporeans celebrated the nation's 52nd birthday and cheered the return of crowd favourites such as the Red Lions skydivers.

The Marina Bay floating platform proved to be a hit for the tens of thousands of people clad in red and white, returning as a National Day Parade (NDP) venue for the first time since 2014.

Last year, the NDP was held at the new National Stadium, while the SG50 bash was held at the Padang.

Always intended to be an interim venue while the new National Stadium was being built, the floating platform has become a popular choice for NDP due to its location.

Attendees said the whole area is an embodiment of what Singapore was, is, and will be.

Teacher Kathiravan Bhupathy, 32, said: "This is the venue for NDP. At one look here, you can see how far Singapore has come."

The theme of this year's parade - #OneNationTogether - is a "call-to-action for all Singaporeans to take pride in our achievements, and to be confident in our collective future as we overcome all odds together".

There were hints of the future and the Smart Nation ambition, with Edgar the robot co-hosting, and a light show put on by 300 drones taking to the skies at the same time. Pre-programmed using sophisticated algorithms, the drones winked and danced against the Marina Bay skyline.

After a two-year hiatus - due to the weather one year and logistics the next - the nine-member Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team, or Red Lions, returned to rapturous applause from the 25,000- strong crowd as they glided effortlessly onto the floating platform.

The audience was in awe of the dynamic defence display, showcasing Singapore's military assets on land, air and sea, back also after a two-year break.

There was also a reminder of challenges and the ability to overcome them. For the first time, yesterday's defence display included a demonstration of the Republic's capabilities in the event of a terrorist attack. Performers fired blanks while in the seating gallery to add to the realism.

The show ended revealing Singaporeans who had scaled their own peaks.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling, who clinched Singapore's first Olympic gold, and Paralympic champion Yip Pin Xiu stood on the summit of a replica of a mountain.

They were accompanied by others such as top female police officer Zuraidah Abdullah, 55, and skills upgrader Rama Kerisna, 70.

Yesterday's celebrations also took on a sentimental note as President Tony Tan Keng Yam witnessed his last parade as head of state.

Speaking to the media after the parade, he said: "I'm touched by the affection which was displayed to me tonight... I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve as President and also to reach out to Singaporeans. My wife and I believe Singapore will continue to progress and I think that we'll have a marvellous future together. But we have to strive to work on, there is no end to our journey."