May 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Jin Yao Kwan

Jin Yao Kwan

Jin Yao Kwan
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24. More affectionately known as guanyinmiao, who muses at http://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/. Blogger, runner, volunteer, reader, and writer.

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
The Mohican pub in Little India.

The REACH finding that four in five Singaporeans supported the proposed Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill was met with scepticism – for good reason. This telephone poll conducted by the government’s feedback agency in January 2015 came after two public consultation exercises conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) between October 2013 and August 2014 for “a review of liquor control measures”. This piece may be late to the party, but the lazy methodologies of these exercises are no less damning.

Moreover present criticisms have also missed the mark: some confused the two different exercises conducted, while others were too hung up with the sample sizes (the least of our concerns). Laziness characterises these government-commissioned studies.

Laziness characterises these government-commissioned studies.
Laziness characterises these government-commissioned studies.

Take the REACH study for instance. The random sample of 1,145 – “weighted to be demographically representative of the national population in terms of gender, age, and race” – is reasonable, though the questions could have been improved:

1. Asking if respondents are familiar with the issue is good (Q1), yet it was not ascertained if they were actually familiar. That 92 per cent indicated that “they had at least read or heard a little about this issue” counts for little, since respondents could have tendencies to overstate their comprehension of issues or policies. The respondent’s actual knowledge of the new alcohol restrictions would affect the opinion on the new alcohol restrictions (Q2).

In other words, respondents could support or oppose without knowing the alcohol restrictions. The same problem arises when respondents were asked if “the new regulations would help to reduce cases of drunkenness in public places” (Q5).

2. In this vein, with the assumption that most of the respondents were consumers (a fair one), the survey could have considered how frequent the respondent consumes alcohol. The question on whether “my lifestyle and activities will be affected by the new regulations” (Q3) also depends on the respondent’s alcohol consumption patterns.

3. “80 per cent of respondents agreed that public drunkenness was a serious issue that needed to be addressed”, even though it was not clear if “public drunkenness” was explained to them. Even if respondents were asked if they had actually encountered cases of public drunkenness, the aggregation of these (most likely unreliable) anecdotes would not be particularly useful. If public drunkenness is cited as a reason for the new Bill, then numbers should be furnished by the MHA, to determine if a trend exists and if it is out of control.

And at least we had some information to assess the utility of the REACH study. Besides a brief infographic there was little detail on the two public consultation exercises conducted by MHA, which hosted focus group discussions and industry consultation sessions, as well as received written feedback or e-poll results. Here questions on the sampling are more pertinent. Where did the written feedback come from? Could we understand the demographics of their writers – age, alcohol consumption, or affiliated organisations – as well as the respondents of the e-poll, to conclude if the perspectives are representative? Was there a lobby for or against, by tracing potential similarities across the written feedback? How did the researchers confirm if a written feedback expressed support for or against the restrictions? Without revealing the identities of their writers, could excerpts or samples of this feedback be shared?

Quantitative and qualitative studies can be useful, if done with rigour. These surveys – unfortunately – leave much to be desired.

 

This article was originally published at guanyinmiao.wordpress.com.

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
An old man sleeping in the void deck of Jalan Besar complex despite the poor PSI conditions during the hazy period.

by Kwan Jin Yao

Dear McDonalds Singapore,

Bad move. And for a company that has prided itself on outstanding marketing campaigns, this has certainly left a bad taste.

“Have a sense of humour, Singaporeans”, you might say, “let us cheer you up amidst the doom and gloom of the haze”.

What about the workers labouring outdoors, the households coping without air-conditioning. The parents worrying about their young ones, the sporting competitions that have been cancelled. And the ordinary Singaporean trying not to fall ill. Not too cheery now, we reckon.

Isn’t this the same company that decided not to send its riders out to fulfil delivery orders? Puzzling.

You might not have an obligation to address the immediate problems caused by the haze, but the last thing you should do is to plaster your insensitivity on the front page of a national newspaper.

No thanks, McDonalds.

Yours sincerely,
Singapore

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Kwan Jin Yao

After the controversy between Singapore and Yale, Singapore’s first liberal arts college is set to open in August this year. Yale-NUS College, as TODAY reports (Yale-NUS College to open in August with over 150 students, June 17, 2013), “will matriculate 157 students … picked from 26 countries for its inaugural cohort”.

These figures are impressive. The administration has adopted an aggressive marketing campaign when it was first established in 2011, consistently blasting emails and sending mailers. The four per cent acceptance rate (after removing unqualified applicants and multiple applications, so one cannot simply divide 157 by the 11,400 applications) is extremely low. Likewise, the yield rate (admitted students who actually enrolled in the college, by accepting the offers) stands at 52 per cent. The students had to go through a rigorous selection process, and only shortlisted applicants were eventually interviewed.

The school’s pedagogy and faculty must have appealed to many. Moreover, Yale-NUS College has offered a Community Scholarship to all incoming students in 2013 and 2014 (which covers 50 per cent of the fees for the Residential College), and a three-week summer immersion programme at Yale (which, according to one student, is “all expenses paid”). Ultimately, the high number of applicants can possibly be attributed to the fact that all applicants to Yale College could check an optional box on Yale’s Common Application Supplement, to “request that a copy of their application materials be shared with Yale-NUS College”.

The Yale website states clearly that out of the 29,790 applications for the Class of 2017, over 9,200 had chosen to do so. What is less clear is whether the 11,400 figure accounts for these sharing requests. Would it then be accurate to surmise that around 2,200 individuals had applied directly to the Yale-NUS College for its inaugural cohort? In addition, how many Singaporeans have applied to the College?

Comparisons cannot be drawn with the acceptance and yield rate in the National University of Singapore (NUS), because the system works differently, and the information is therefore not available. In NUS, the applicants “are allowed to include as many as eight choices in an application and only one offer is made”.

What can be compared, however, is the representation of foreign students. While the proportion of international undergraduates in NUS is under 20 per cent (the figures may vary across the faculties), the statistic stands at 38 per cent in the Yale-NUS College (60 of the 157 students). This is great news for these students who look forward to experiencing an international and holistic education here. TODAY also notes that “almost 10 per cent [of the Singaporeans] from polytechnics”; yet, again, we cannot evaluate how this stacks up against the other local universities.

Furthermore, with this information, some Singaporeans might be interested to know if the College had set a quota beforehand to ensure this global representation. Did the school choose not to take in 250 students this time round because of certain concerns or limitations?

So many questions, but one thing is for certain: all eyes will be on the College in the coming months, especially with its commitment to multi-disciplinary learning, and to not impose curbs on freedom of expression. The pressure to perform is on, and deliver it must.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Landscapers work on a Singa the Courtesy Lion display at Changi Airport Terminal 3.

by Kwan Jin Yao

One might detect irony in ST’s piece, headlined “Social enterprise? What is that?” Even though a recent study released by the Social Enterprise Association (SE Association) has established that there is little awareness of social enterprises among companies, a regular reader would remain uninformed at the end of the article. 60 per cent of the corporate respondents did not know about social enterprises, while 87 per cent of Singaporeans and PRs were in the dark as well, according to a similar survey conducted in 2010.

So, what exactly is a social enterprise?

The SE Association defines it as “any non-profit, for-profit or hybrid corporate form that utilises market-based strategies to advance a social cause”. Its online directory lists about 98 of these businesses, ranging from youth services to dining establishments. Laksania, recently featured on Channel News Asia’s Social Inc., is one of these eateries. The social enterprise serves up fusion laksa dishes in its three outlets, and has a central kitchen in the Institute of Mental Health, which is staffed by clients from the hospital.

A missed opportunity for ST – unfortunately – to educate more about the work done by the social enterprises in Singapore. Most would agree that it might be practical for this emerging group of entrepreneurs to raise the profiles of their own products and services.

In other words, one can perceive the survey results as a damning criticism on how poorly the social enterprises have operated and marketed themselves. Reasonably speaking, there is no obligation for the senior executives to know about these businesses, or to be aware of their responsibilities (especially if they do not concern their operations). Individuals within the network are not doing enough to “make themselves known among corporates”, to obtain the support they might need.

But what if owners are uninterested in greater awareness, or do not crave such publicity? Should the SE Association have taken more care to comprehend the characteristics of organisations under its umbrella? Miss Josephine Ng of clothing alternation business A-Changin – also listed in the directory – explained that “we don’t market ourselves as a social enterprise… we stress that we offer high-quality alteration services”. A-Changin provides professional alternation services to make a profit; at the same time, it fulfils its social mission and function by providing employment opportunities to “women in need, including mature women, single mothers, persons with disability and out-of-work women.”

Equally interesting is how ST covered the survey. The press release from SE Association reads “survey reveals 49 per cent of mainstream companies are willing to provide in-kind and monetary support to social enterprises”. Half-empty or half-full? These respondents were willing to provide other forms of support through funding, donations, and sponsorships (besides direct purchasing). What about the others? Certainly not just the lack of awareness now, especially if they know about the causes of the social enterprises.

Perhaps any attempt at generalisations at this point in time – when the sector is “still young” – will be meaningless, as the pioneers are still trying to understand what works best for them. In the meantime, the media can do its part to highlight the good work done by these social enterprises (at least, for those who want the attention).

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Photo By Shawn Danker
A passerby walks past an anti government placard on display at the May Day protest at Hong Lim Park.

by Kwan Jin Yao

Unlike the recent Population White Paper and May Day protests, the young Singaporeans were out in full force today. Unhappy with the new licensing rules for news websites, many youths turned up at Hong Lim Park with their friends to express their disapproval. Many were also armed with digital cameras, hoping to take snapshots of the colourful and creative placards that have become a hallmark at these events.

One should not expect otherwise, really. The “Free My Internet” slogan must have appealed to them from the get-go. Moreover, youths in Singapore are amongst the most connected in the world, and it would appear that the MDA is regulating a space that they have grown to use and love. Schools expose students to information and communications technology. Social media platforms feature in their everyday interactions. Most of their work requires active use of the Internet. In a broader sense, the Internet’s global accessibility has allowed young users to connect collaboratively, as well as to articulate opinions about anything and everything.

Some youth prefer to use this rally to make a political statement. (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Some youth prefer to use this rally to make a political statement. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

Young undergraduates the Breakfast Network spoke to were not present out of curiosity. Many were aware of the online developments after the MDA had made the announcement week, and they registered their disappointment with the regulations. Norvin Chan, 22, was worried about how the new licence had been “framed with maximum discretion”, and how the $50,000 performance bond could deter online news sites. On the other hand Hillary Lau, 21, was concerned with the way the regulations had been crafted and communicated. She explained that there were no parliamentary debates, and the new rules “came out of nowhere”.

The organisers of Free My Internet knew they had to connect with these young ones in the audience. About half of the speakers – writers, vloggers, and activists – were in their 20s. Two of them were Benjamin Matchap and Aloysius Ang from Kry8films, a YouTube film team producing comedic and stunt videos. In a light-hearted and impromptu manner, they spoke about how Singaporeans have been treated like children, and the importance of having social freedom. We are “mature and maturing”, the duo proclaimed, when criticising the MDA decision.

Parkour Duo Benjamin Matchap and Aloysius Ang have a go at the mic. (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Parkour Duo Benjamin Matchap and Aloysius Ang have a go at the mic. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

What is objectionable content, they asked. Their answer: if the Government bo song!

Sure.

Yet, if there was a common theme throughout these speeches, it had to be maturity. This is the maturity to write responsibly (without regulations), the maturity to be involved in socio-political issues, and the maturity to henceforth use this (cyber)space intelligently. Jewel Philemon and Nithun Nandakumar – signatories of the open letter for dialogue with Minister Yaacob Ibrahim – spoke of the regulations as a “PR disaster”. Reflecting on how their request had been turned down, they were disappointed with the lack of consultation, and called for young Singaporeans to engage their elected representatives in dialogues. Damien Chng, who has been involved in social campaigns, also echoed the need to defend “this precious space” that is the Internet, and how he has grown to be less politically apathetic after reading many community news websites.

Jewel Philemon says that the government should have the foresight to engage its stakeholders, the people as her partner Nithun Nandakumar waits his turn to speak. (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Jewel Philemon says that the government should have the foresight to engage its stakeholders, the people as her partner Nithun Nandakumar waits his turn to speak. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

What next though, one has to wonder? It is one thing to get Singaporeans reading and evaluating perspectives, but another to engage them in broader discourse. Given the growing suspicion and distrust – between the government and the people, between different online communities and groups – how should young Singaporeans then contribute and participate?

Blogger Visakan Veerasamy probably delivered the most sensible and thoughtful address. It was premised upon the significance of having conversations with one another, and with the Government too. His proclamation that “regulating the media only treats the symptoms, not the diseases” drew applause and cheers from the crowd, because many individuals simply want a space to express their viewpoints. “Stupid” was how Visakan described the MDA legislation, because future governments could conveniently exploit these flimsy rules to their own advantage.

Blogger Visakan Veerasamy describes the MDA legislation as stupid. (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Blogger Visakan Veerasamy describes the MDA legislation as stupid. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

The young speakers did connect with their audience quite competently, but whether the message of maturity was communicated effectively, coherently, I am not too sure. There was nothing remarkably different from what the young ones would have already known, and no real call to action. A pity? Perhaps. But at the very least more are now off their keyboards and on the streets (at Hong Lim Park, that is).

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Photo By Shawn Danker
The Ministry of Manpower building.

by Kwan Jin Yao

Singaporeans who wish to attend international schools are finding it difficult to do so, ST reports, and the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) has had to stop accepting applications. What is clear is that these applicants must first obtain an approval from the Ministry of Education. What is less clear is whether these schools – or the MOE – have set a quota for the number of Singaporean students admitted.

An officer from UWCSEA was informed that a “significant level” had been reached. An interviewed parent was told “the school had reached its quota of Singaporean students”. A spokesperson for the college said that “there is no quota”. If there are no limits or restrictions, then what sparked the UWCSEA decision to not accept more Singaporeans?

Very confusing.

A quota might be understandable for different reasons. The local education system has its merits, and since schoolchildren would benefit tremendously through interactions and learning, the MOE would want to encourage kids to attend the local schools. The foreign schools might want to maintain a healthy distribution or representation of students.

4 per cent of the 40,000 students (1,600) enrolled in international schools are Singaporeans. Not exactly a significant number, given that overall student enrolment in the government-aided schools (primary schools, secondary schools, and the institutes of higher learning) stands at around 600,000 in 2011.

The popularity of international schools has not abated in recent years. The G, aware of the waiting lists in the schools and continued demand for places, allotted 4 new sites in 2012 for these institutions to expand their campuses. A ST report (“4 new sites for foreign schools”, 4 April 2012) noted that the Economic Development Board had conducted similar exercises in 2008 and 2010. In addition, the Stamford American International School along Upper Serangoon Road opened to much fanfare in August last year.

And since sociologist Tan Ern Ser contended that the interest in international schools will rise as more Singaporeans marry foreigners, the MOE should clarify these uncertainties. The National Population and Talent Division reported that 40 per cent of citizen marriages in recent years were to non-citizen spouses (around 11,000). There were close to 27,300 marriages in 2011.

It would also be meaningful to understand the major reasons for opting for the foreign system schools, especially since Singaporean students enjoy more subsidies in the local, government-aided ones. And how will the MOE encourage these students to opt for the local institutions? Questions remain unanswered.

by Kwan Jin Yao

756.

That is the number of people who were down with dengue last week, higher than the previous peak of 713 in 2005. In its weekly update, ST carried an informative diagram, which compared the 2013 developments to the trends in 2005 and 2007. Since the end of February this year, it would appear that the number of cases has not dropped, and rate of increase has outpaced the rates of the 2005 and 2007 dengue epidemics.

From the start of April, the number of dengue infections has increased from 547 to 756. During the same period, Singapore also reported its first dengue death of the year.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health Dr Lam Pin Min stated that “the trend is not abating in spite of all the current campaigns and community efforts”. While the dengue hot spots are clustered in the east, more cases have begun to spring up in the north and west, ST reports. Dr Lam talks up a great plan of people playing their parts and Singapore winning the war. But, how exactly?

For the ordinary Singaporean, the messages are no different from the ones they have been used to: door-to-door pamphlets and community road-shows to educate the public about the pesky Aedes mosquito, friendly advertisements to check and clear potential breeding sites… Perhaps the latest statistics will jolt more into action, yet one has to wonder whether the G should step up more aggressively to stop the figures from spiralling up? More shock videos and stories to highlight the real dangers and perils of the dengue fever, to address the laissez-faire and complacent attitudes towards it? Slap errant residents with heavier penalties? Giving its operations officers more discretion and power to eliminate suspected breeding sites? Personnel from the National Environment Agency can now break into homes after just a week, but even so new mosquitoes could have bred by then.

One other way: to use its website to galvanise communities into action, to report errant behaviour in different places. Here’s the bottom-line: the status quo will not do.

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A squirrel on a tree ready to pounce.

by Kwan Jin Yao

When it was announced that Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen had won the Camera d’Or prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and as policy-makers rushed to offer their congratulations, questions were asked. Did the G offer financial support for the endeavour? Were other forms of assistance provided to Mr. Chen? How should aspiring filmmakers go about planning for future productions?

Suffice to say, no one quite expected the allegations that began to spread in cyberspace.

Some claimed that Mr. Chen had been denied funding from the authorities. Many readers then lambasted the ministers for being hypocrites, for their purported refusal to help the filmmaker in the beginning. Then the allegers posited that they had fabricated the rumours, because they were trying to expose the implications of the official backing given. In their opinion, the entire film project is but an attempt at propaganda. 

Many were left confused and bewildered.

More worryingly, several online news networks published and propagated these allegations hastily. Hopping on such bandwagons seems to be a common phenomenon nowadays. Sure, corrections and retractions were made, but one has to wonder whether the websites should be held to a higher standard. Take for instance the false information about an injured soldier from a military grenade exercise and the recent child-grab incident. They were unwarranted, for these falsehoods deeply unsettled parents.

And it is becoming increasingly evident that there is simply no veracity in the accusations. Funding for Mr. Chen’s film was approved by the Singapore Film Commission, a grant scheme that is part of the Media Development Authority. ST also reported that Ngee Ann Polytechnic had also pumped in $200,000 to support the $500,000 film feature, a significant sum. Singaporeans too, are pointing out the absurdity of the conspiracy claims.

It is a shame that some have chosen to dabble unnecessarily in these incredulous assertions, attempting to uncover supposed conspiracy theories. At the end of the day, this triumph is a straightforward one: a Singaporean who has achieved something wonderful; a filmmaker who has done all of us immensely proud on the global stage.

by Kwan Jin Yao

ST and TODAY ran their reports on the developing Shane Todd court case with similar headlines: “no doubt” that the American researcher had killed himself.

During the Coroner’s Inquiry, the pathologist who had conducted the autopsy – Dr. Wee Keng Poh – explained Dr Todd’s cause of death, and refuted the findings of Dr Edward Adelstein, who had penned a report raising murder as the cause of death. The United States-based pathologist was consulted by the Todd family. Furthermore, the State had consulted two other American examiners as independent experts, and they agreed with the conclusions made by Dr Wee.

It would appear that the State is doing its utmost to answer the questions the Todds have, and the public is getting a clearer picture of the investigations. In fact, it is an education in the sort of marks death by hanging or strangulation would leave!

What of the Todd family? How are they taking the revelations in court so far? They had pursued a “murder’’ line of inquiry and have said some not-very-flattering things about the state of justice in Singapore. TODAY’s report said that the parents pronounced themselves “happy with the evidence adduced yesterday”.

They weren’t earlier, and had made some comments to the media during the lunch break which they subsequently retracted and apologised for. Apparently, terms like “not up to international standards” and “corrupt” had been used. Well, emotions do get the better of people and the quantity of information and detail on their son’s death would have been hard for them to listen to. Plus, they are in a foreign land, with unfamiliar people and immersed in an unfamiliar justice system.

The proceedings will hopefully show that Singapore’s investigation practices and agencies are not only rigorous, but competent enough to stand up to scrutiny. Justice will be served, whether American style or Singapore’s.

By Kwan Jin Yao

It would appear that the Committee to Strengthen National Service (NS) has laid out two main objectives: First, to sustain a “commitment” to the NS institution; second, to gather varied opinions from Singaporeans, who could also articulate concerns or frustrations.

What exactly does the Committee mean by “commitment”? Is it for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to be more dedicated to their roles and responsibilities? Are the members going to encourage more NSmen to clear their physical fitness tests and combat obligations faithfully? For many, the two full years of training and 10 cycles of reservist are already tremendous commitment; what more does the Government expect from them? Therefore, if “commitment” is going to be a guiding principle in the upcoming sessions, then the exact goals should be clearly established from the get-go.

The second intent, on the consolidation of feedback, is a more worthwhile endeavour. A soldier’s experience and perception of the military are more often than not shaped by his day-to-day activities. The Committee is well-positioned to not only hear these comments, but also galvanise its divisions and units to proactively seek out views from its personnel.

Present plans to organise focus group discussions and town hall sessions across the country are going to be constructive, for NSmen will be able to air their grouses or inconveniences they have experienced. To make the process more meaningful, the Committee should also make trips to the camps and units. These on-the-ground interactions with the NSFs are crucial because they are the ones who can speak most directly to how procedures or protocols can be improved. Enhancing the way NSFs train, work, and live will yield greater dividends.

If the Committee heads down this path, then it has to move to reduce the potential fear and apprehension that some might feel when it comes to voicing perspectives, particularly on a public platform. Will servicemen be cautioned or lectured by their superiors on what they should or should not say? Will they be allowed to speak up about transgressions? There is a website for visitors to pen their viewpoints, but what happens if the website is inundated by complaints or unit-specific incidents?

In this regard, especially when engagement with the young is desired, the Committee might be handicapped by the lack of demographic diversity in its composition. Furthermore, the members seem to be soldiers who might have left the service a long time ago, or high-ranking commanders who might not be representative of the general population (within the army, regular men and commanders are treated differently). Unless it moves to involve more in the coming months, any recommendations at the end of the process could be perceived apathetically.