July 2003 |

Sars in Retrospect

Dr Daniel Yeo was quick to refute Ms Elisia Yeo’s claims that the Sars crisis was overblown. Both have strong arguments to substantiate their stand on the issue: Ms Yeo was writing objectively based on her interviews with reliable sources; while Dr Yeo based his argument on his experience as a frontline warrior in the battle against Sars.

Sars is undeniably the major reason for the economic woes of affected countries; foreign investments and visitor numbers dwindled. But Ms Yeo was wrong to criticize WHO for blowing the crisis out of proportion. It’s worth noting that there’s still no known cure for Sars. Without strict regulations and stringent measures, together with constant reminders about the severity of the crisis, what other ways are there to curb the spread of the virus?

Dr Yeo was right to point out that those countries which complained most vociferously about travel advisories admittedly did so out of monetary concerns and not public health concerns. And what good is it to have a job when you no longer have a family to feed?

Ms Yeo commented that while an initial underplaying of the seriousness of the outbreak in Singapore boosted apprehension about the disease, it also instilled public confidence about how the situation was being controlled. However, she failed to note that every affected country downplayed the crisis too.

Singapore didn’t suffer from popular dissatisfaction like Hong Kong because Singapore implemented strict regulations and stringent measures which effectively contained the Sars crisis. The only way to boost public and investors’ confidence is by controlling the spread of the virus, not manipulating the free press.

It’s hard for Singaporeans living in a multicultural society to understand why the world prejudiced against Asians during the height of the Sars crisis. In the same way, it’s hard for Muslims to understand why the world relate terrorism to Islam.

Prejudice is not a unique experience of the Sars crisis. The only way we can fight prejudice of all kinds is through education and tolerance.

A carefully coordinated press briefing may save jobs in the short term, but it’ll not save lives.

30 July 2003 · Health, Politics · Comments (0)

One Giant Leap for Singapore

A march was recently organized to promote breastfeeding among Singapore mothers. This is a step forward for Singapore. Despite its modernity, Singapore still observes fairly conservative social values. I applaud the authorities for allowing the march to proceed. It’ll be ironic for the government to openly employ gays in the civil service while denying mothers of their right to breastfeed their babies in public.

In an article on the International Youth Conference for Democracy organized by SDP, 30 teenagers reportedly turned up to listen to opposition voices and aired their opinions.

These 2 seemingly unrelated events have something in common: a group of Singaporeans voicing their views and challenging the status quo. The signals sent out by the government are encouraging. It allowed the march and the conference to be held, a move unlikely to be taken a decade ago.

Remaking Singapore is more than just restructuring our economy or revamping our education system. We need to change our mindset and take a more proactive role in national affairs if we want to survive as a nation.

Breastfeeding in public may not be widely practised as a result of the march; those teenagers who attended the conference will probably not enter politics in the future. But to paraphrase Neil Armstrong’s famous words:

That’s one small step for breastfeeding mothers, one giant leap for Singapore.

28 July 2003 · Politics · Comments (0)

Violet Bear Causes Uproar

In a bid to boost attendance, veterinarians at a zoo near Buenos Aires, Argentina have coloured a polar bear’s fur violet, while claiming to be treating it for skin infection. Animals around the world took to the streets to protest against such inhumane treatment towards their species.

In India, demonstrations turned violent after drivers knocked down protesting elephants. Hundreds of monkeys invaded a tea garden in retaliation, chasing petrified workers and damaging machinery. And in Vancouver, Canada, a man was attacked for protecting a group of ducklings from angry mob.

Police said the situation is now under control and animals are slowly returning back to work at slaughterhouses. Agricultural ministers reassured meat lovers that fresh meat supply was not affected by recent demonstrations.

25 July 2003 · Fun · Comments (0)

Summer School Programme

The article on Dr Chua Choong Tze was reflected upon by several readers. I agree that Singapore should allow those with higher capabilities to complete their studies in the shortest time possible, in accordance to our practice of meritocracy. It is necessary for a small country with no natural resources to maximize everybody’s potential, because human resource is our only resource.

There are many issues we need to consider before implementing the summer school programme.

About 50% of the professors hired by local universities are foreign nationals. Are they willing to spend the term break teaching summer courses, and choose not to spend their holidays back home? A friend studying in NTU told me that it caused a lot of unhappiness among the professors when it was announced that the exams were postponed by a week due to SARS because many of them have to make adjustments to their travel plans. Even if they do stay behind, how much will they demand as fair compensation and can the universities afford to pay?

While the government and the universities can help to finance the implementation of the summer school programme, students taking summer courses will have to share a portion of the financial burdens. Will the tuition fees put many students off? The fees will just get higher for the remaining students as more students opt out and have a snowball effect. Is the programme still viable if only a small minority within the student population is interested?

I’m not being pessimistic by raising these questions. I believe in the merits of implementing the summer school programme. But we have to be realistic as overhauling our tertiary education system is no small feat.

The students’ union, tasked with the mission of safeguarding the students’ welfare, should hold discussions with the administration about the implentation of the summer school programme. The programme will allow brighter students to complete their degree faster; and weaker ones will have a chance to retake their failed modules during the term break, rather than retaking their failed modules on top of their normal workload next term.

The administration has an incentive to work with the union, because like what Mr Yap wrote, tailoring courses to the needs of our undergraduates is one step towards making our tertiary institutions world class, a goal it is striving to achieve.

24 July 2003 · Education · Comments (0)

Jessica Lynch Returns Home

The Jessica Lynch saga is characteristic of how the US government sells the Iraqi war to the American public: by misinformation. It’s important to keep the morale of the troops high, especially when they’re fighting an unpopular war. But manipulating the facts is not the right way to achieve it.

Perhaps the US government is trying to divert the soldiers’ attention from the moves taken to reduce their welfare and benefits, during a time when they’re fighting for the country and their lives.

22 July 2003 · Military · Comments (0)

Iced Tea Served Hot

Ray and friends went to Snoopy Place for dinner after attending Sheryln’s commencement. It was a happy occasion for all. Both Lye Heng and Sheryln have already found work after graduation; I was delighted to meet my friends after another year in Toronto; and Hanwen was just happy to get a free treat from Sheryln.


We headed down to Coffee Club for dessert and our waitress made us bursting with laughter when she asked Hanwen if he wants his Iced Berry Tea to be served hot or cold.

That reminded me of another hilarious incident three years ago. Avin ordered a Large Cookie (that’s the actual name of the item) and since there are two flavours to choose from, the waitress asked him how would he like his cookie. He answered, “Large!” and emphasised the size with his hands.

Life is never boring with Avin around.

19 July 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

New Economy Needs New Education System

While I share the joy with all my friends graduating this year and congratulate them for concluding another chapter of their lives successfully, I’m not looking forward to my own convocation in two years’ time. I think many of the recently graduated will share my sentiments.


The relief of knowing there’ll be no more late nights cramming for exams and worrying about results is perhaps outweighed by the uncertainties that lie ahead. Everybody is starting to understand that a degree is no longer guarantees a bright future.

The new economy is a knowledge-based economy; a well-educated and highly skilled worker will do well in the times ahead. But this doesn’t explain why graduates are having a hard time finding a job in Singapore, does it? In fact, it seems to reinforce the idea that a degree is a ticket to the good life.

A knowledge-based economy favours those with innovative ideas, new technologies and a workforce which can adapt to changes in the economy quickly. MOE needs to restructure the education system if it is to prepare the next generation with the right skills for the future.

Criticisms on the lack of creativity in our classrooms can be heard in recent years. I was educated in such an environment where the system favours conformity to creativity. My teachers were generally not enthusiastic in getting students to be interested in their subjects; the focus of the lessons was always to score good grades in the O- and A-level exams, and that translated to a strong emphasis on exam techniques and less on understanding.

But to be fair, our education system has provided us with a strong foundation in science subjects, without which new knowledge cannot be built upon. Singapore students have constantly outperformed students from other countries in international math and science competitions, a testimony to the success of our system.

I am in favour of reforming our education system. This is the only way Singapore can survive in the new economy. However, I don’t agree with the idea of implementing radical changes within a short period of time.

Radical changes made to the teaching syllabus within a short period of time will lead to an exodus of experienced teachers who might not be able to take the stress of adapting to the new syllabus. This is what’s happening in Taiwan where many older teachers are opting for early retirement.

Furthermore, Singaporeans receive 12 years of education on average. Although they might be able to adapt to the new syllabus faster, it doesn’t seem plausible that new teachers fresh out of NIE will be equipped with the right skills to teach a radically new syllabus within their 1-year training programme, having studied in the old system for more than a decade.

MOE should be given credit for introducing reforms in recent years. While many people are urging the ministry to speed up its pace, I caution those who favour a radical restructuring of our education system.

19 July 2003 · Education · Comments (1)

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