April 28, 2017

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education

by Erin Chua 

LOOK at this chart. It seems that there is a more accurate predictor of junior college enrolment than birth rates, which was the reason cited for the need to merge (or is it close?) some less-popular JCs.

The G recently announced the merging of eight JCs to form four JCs – in response to the fall in demand of around 3,200 JC places between 2010 and 2019, with the sharpest year-on-year drop expected in 2018 and 2019. As reported by The Straits Times, JC intake is now expected to drop by a fifth, going from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019.

Singapore’s birth rates, as the G says, are indeed declining. According to the Department of Statistics Singapore, resident birth rates fell from 18.2 in 1990 to 9.4 in 2016. Yes, there is also a fall in pre-university enrolment – from 30,726 in 2006 to 29,559 in 2015.

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Singapore-born residents alone do not account for all the students who enrol in our pre-university institutions. When we solely look at resident birth rates, we are missing out on the numbers of residents (citizens and PRs) born abroad but who have moved to Singapore, naturalised Singaporeans matriculating in our local education institutions and even international students. A closer predictor of JC enrolment trends is the change in our resident population of 15-19 years olds which include all students of JC-going age.

From 2006 to 2015, the fluctuations in our pre-university enrolment numbers are more congruent with the changes in our resident population of 15-19 year olds. The resident population and pre-university enrolment numbers thus appear to be co-related. On the other hand, the Resident Live Births (15 years ago) do not seem to share as consistent a relationship with pre-university enrolment numbers.

Resident Population Data taken from Population Trends 2016 Report by Department of Statistics Singapore, Resident Live Births taken from Department of Statistics Singapore and Pre-university Enrolment taken from Education Statistics Digest 2016 by Ministry of Education (Singapore)

So, where are all of these students going?

The fall in enrolment rates faced by some of the JCs could also be attributed to the increased availability of pre-university options. In the mid 2000s, against the backdrop of the increasing resident population of 15-19 year olds, there was a surge in pre-university programmes and institutions introduced into the local education market – possibly to meet the rise in demand for pre-university education then. Some of these developments in the local education landscape include the opening of new JCs such as Meridian JC and Innova JC, the launching of the Integrated Programme (IP) which is an integrated secondary and JC education where secondary school pupils can proceed to JC level without taking the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations, and the introduction of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme as an alternative to the GCE ‘A’ Levels.

Resident Population taken from Population Trends 2016 Report by Department of Statistics Singapore and Pre-university Enrolment taken from Education Statistics Digest 2016 by Ministry of Education (Singapore)

Note: Pre-university Enrolment numbers from 1991 to 1999 and 2001 to 2005 are not available

The decrease in demand due to the recent fall in resident population, compounded by the high supply of pre-university options arising from the mid 2000s could possibly explain the falling enrolment rates in JC.

As to why certain schools were closed and not others – it was cited as a question of demand and popularity, but we’ll leave it to someone else to say whether it’s popularity that makes a school hard to get in to (high demand, low cut-off points), or whether low cut-off points are what makes a school a popular choice.

 

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons user Sengkang at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.5. Picture taken in 2007.

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By Bertha Henson

WHY are people getting so upset with the news of school mergers, especially at the junior college (JC) level? It’s a no-brainer right? If junior colleges are emptying out, then might as well close them now or merge. It’s such a rational, efficient thing to do. Reading the reactions, the unhappiness boils down to these nine questions.

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1. How is it that our so-efficient G can misjudge birth rates?

Well, the G keeps saying that it is based on information available at that time – and probably thought that its pro-baby policies will work. The last two JCs built were Innova which was founded in 2005 and Eunoia which opened its doors this year. So maybe if you look at the birth rate of the cohort that would enter Innova in its first year, it still looks like it can be filled. Except that later on, Singapore couples didn’t cooperate. Tsk. Tsk.

2. But that doesn’t explain Eunoia, does it?

Ah. But that’s a special JC that caters to the cohort studying in Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School. They will move to the JC as part of the Integrated Programme (IP).

Okay, Eunoia could have waited until next year and moved into one of the JCs’ vacated premises. Could have saved money. But it could be location as well. Eunoia is in Mount Sinai, and will move to its Bishan premises in 2019. Oh wait. Maybe it could still move into an empty campus before money is spent on yet another set of buildings…

3. So, the JCs that will be merged all don’t have IP feeder schools? What does this mean? I have to make sure my kid gets into a secondary school with IP so that they can progress right through to JC and university?

Oooh. Looks like that’s the best bet. Because JC is usually seen as the next step into university, unless your kid is a very bright polytechnic student. Through-train you know… even if this means less choice…

4. How did MOE pick the eight JCs anyway? Just because no IP?

Hmm. It says “geographical’’ distribution. So it’s about spreading them out equally. Like Meridian JC, which is in Pasir Ris, and Tampines JC. So they’re getting stuck together at the newer Meridian campus. Don’t forget that Temasek and Victoria JC are also in the east.

Then there’s Innova JC and Yishun JC merging to be on Yishun grounds. MOE said Yishun was picked because it’s more “accessible’’ than Innova, although Innova is newer. Maybe it also has to do with cut-off points. Innova is at the bottom of all 19 JCs, as reported by The Straits Times. MOE isn’t saying anything about it.

5. Wait a minute, why should cut-off points have anything to do with whether a JC disappears?

Hmmm. Guess MOE thinks there’s no point in having such poor performing JCs. Seven of the eight JCs that are merging are actually clustered at the bottom of the ladder, which means that their students aren’t, ah, as good as the rest. Elitist, but perfectly rational. Okay, there’s something to be said about preserving the school’s heritage and making alumni happy but you know what is said about “scarce’’ resources and so forth.

6. But if it is a matter of geography, Hwa Chong Institution and National JC are right across the road…

They’re IP and good performers and probably with strong alumnus that will kpkb . Just disregard what MOE said about geography, it doesn’t know how to spin doctor.

7. Why so sudden anyway? Some of the kids are already looking forward to entering JCs of their choice, especially those near their homes. Quite demoralising isn’t it?

The G will probably say that there’s never a good time to make such an announcement. If the mergers are delayed, then what are the chances that parents will allow their kids to apply for a JC that’s going to be closed? Rather than sound the death knell, just kill it off quickly.

8. That’s heartless when you think about the people who have been to the schools and have fond memories.

True. But hard truths.. hard truths.

9. Has it got to do with the G changing its mind about having more people going into university?

Well, it said it’s aiming for 40 per cent of the cohort by 2020, but it’s a declining cohort so the absolute numbers will probably remain about the same as now. Although it’s likely that when it came up with that figure, it didn’t think about the birth rate then. Or maybe it figured that the polytechnic route would also yield more university graduates. Then again, polytechnics are facing declining enrollments too. Are you thinking that this will have a knock-on effect on the capacity of our universities? That something will be done about polytechnics too?

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ong Lip Hua
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THE trends are clear: We’re headed for a future where full-time employment is going to be a smaller slice of the pie, and where skills, both hard and soft, will bear more fruit over a career than the qualification you graduate with.
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A recent JobsDB report on how more than 10,000 respondents from seven Asian countries think that promotions are based mostly on your “supervisor liking you” and “leadership ability” tells of the need for soft skills in all types of employment. Job performance was also high up on the list from both employee and employer perspectives, especially in Singapore.
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Most Singaporean parents see studying and academics as their children’s job specialisation and invest heavily to this end. In some families, other childhood experiences, even basic life-skills like housekeeping, cooking and carrying your own bag, are subcontracted to a maid, grandparent or parent, who picks up after the kids. In exchange, the children are expected to deliver stellar academic results in school.
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And while good grades might set you up for a good start in a career, at what point does sacrificing other areas of development in favour of better grades begin to hurt a person? Would it make sense then to gear our children’s education so specifically towards grades?
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This approach has been hotly debated for the last few years, even as the G has begun to call for change through initiatives like Skillsfuture.
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It reminds me of how Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie, described the diversity of her team in a high-tech future: “If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation. What’s true for the group is also true for the individual. It’s simple: Over-specialise, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.”
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But what future are we preparing our children for? Would stellar but narrow academic performances be sufficient, or even give a competitive edge as we think it would? Would it be good for the individual and for society, or do we court Kusanagi’s “slow death”?
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HRinasia cited a February 2016 Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study that measured employers in Singapore expecting a three per cent drop in full time employment over the next three years, and a 59 per cent increase in contingent workers in Singapore, compared to 25 per cent globally, over the same three year period. NTUC expects the 200,000-strong freelancer pool to grow in the years to come. These reports seem to say that our children have to be prepared for periods of non-full time employment.
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This points to the need to have a trade skill to participate in the contingent economy. The need to “bid” and “win” contracts would also require large doses of communication and inter-personal skills for effective networking. Yet these skills are not properly taught in the classroom, and perhaps they can never be.
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When Australia, one of the world’s education powerhouses, finds that skills are insufficient in its education system and that collaboration is increasingly more important than competition, we need to take heed.
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While tuition centres are abundant in Singapore, information on non-academic training, both in schools and by private trainers, is scarce. It is perhaps due to the lack of awareness and hence demand (and budget) that such services remain either a peripheral or the domain of the more well-off.
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But the real solution is simpler – help our kids balance their in-school learning with real-life application: temporary and part-time jobs, apprenticeships and internships, non-curricular activities and engagements and hands-on work at home. Make more holistic university choices and take in basic lessons from the army like making your bed in the morning.
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Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.
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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

I CAN feel the massive ship turning ever so slightly. A raft of changes to the education system signals a shift in the balance, and even a cynic cannot help but wonder how far it will go.

The Polytechnics’ Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), which weighs student interest and aptitude in addition to grades, will now admit up to 15 per cent of the cohort, up from 12.5 per cent last year and 2.5 per cent the year before. The Institutes of Technical Education will also be admitting 15 per cent of the next cohort on these terms.

And then NUS, NTU and SMU will increase the proportion of discretionary admissions from 10 to 15 per cent. It’s the G’s realisation that the best lawyers and engineers aren’t only the ones with straight As. It’s an awakening to the fact that some have been “gaming” the system with academic hothousing, and that students with a headful of knowledge may be pursuing courses of study and careers that fail to light a fire in their hearts.

And then there’s the Skillsfuture Earn and Learn programme, which is as close a programme to an apprenticeship that Singapore has right now. It covers 23 sectors, and the number of takers this year is expected to double to 1,000 which is still only a fraction of the student cohort. But its key takeaway is that the best way to learn a job is by doing it – something that the tertiary education system in Singapore has previously tried to do too much of from within the classroom.

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The civil service has done away with the division system that puts a false ceiling on those without academic qualifications. Teachers and those in the uniformed services now have unified career paths for polytechnic and university graduates.

What more is to come? The Straits Times recently published an op-ed calling for 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions to universities – will Singapore go the distance? Will we be able to push deeper “apprenticeships”, whatever form they may take? Can we break down the walls between work and training into one seamless system of organic but structured self-improvement?

Can we do away with the current “scholarship” system that all but guarantees career paths (and sometimes goes out of the way to ensure the paths are followed) and find another way to develop and attract top talent?

But even in the midst of change, there are fears that the tide is against us. The greatest risk is that parents, employers, students and even workers themselves have ingrained mindsets that will not change. But a ship is made to cut through the waves and push against the forces of nature whereas our port of call will not come to us by itself.

There is hope for this skills-and-aptitude-favouring trend to accelerate if Singaporeans get on board. For one, there has been very little public pushback against these changes. Criticisms about this trend are often a product of a lack of faith in the ability to change rather than unhappiness with the proposed changes.

The majority of Singaporeans seem to, jadedly, acknowledge that all these are good changes, but they think like passengers rather than sailors – unsure of what their role is in helping to move the ship towards their too-distant destination.

When we shrug and keep our heads down, we miss out on the changing view. Parents miss out on their key role in helping their children navigate their education and career options based on their strengths and interests so that their children will be able to make informed choices. If you’ve already decided from the day of his or her birth that your child shall be a doctor/lawyer/banker, then you will be neglecting the most precious parts of your child’s personality.

Pushing your child to get the best grades they can is important, but so is helping them to discover their strengths, make a positive impact in society and find heartfelt satisfaction in life.

Students must be going to school with the long-term view that one day, all these studying will end and the transition to working life is going to be a question of skills and applied knowledge – rather than a test of grades. They need to learn to chart their own career path and understand how to continuously work on walking down that path.

Parents, as today’s workers, need to show their children that they too are constantly learning on the job and outside of it, and that learning is fulfilling and is part of a deliberate plan to better oneself.

The ship of education, of work, of learning, is turning, and everyone on board will inevitably turn too. But how fast we turn and how quickly we move depends on how many of us are sailors, and how many of us are merely passengers.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

THE Direct School Admission (DSA) programme is doing away with its general academic ability tests.

People are going hurrah because it means that their non-Gifted kid can make it into their school of choice because they have another talent that is not exam-smarts.

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That is, if they clear the talent competition for entry. That is, if the school nurturing the specific talent pool is not on the other side of the island. That is, if the school nurturing said talent and achieving non-academic awards do not ignore Ah Boy’s academic work in the process.

That is, if Ah Boy clears his PSLE in the first place. If he doesn’t make the DSA cut-off point, will he be booted out?

Parents of Gifted children have been told their kid will always get a place based on their results. But the DSA isn’t about getting a secondary school place but a guaranteed, booked-in-advance, choped-already programme. That means, no need to worry about how PSLE results turn out, got place already. So, they will still go for the DSA route.

Parents of “ordinary kids’’ will be looking at the niche programmes and wondering if their kids have the requisite talent for, say, robotics or soccer. If not, they will think about sending the kid to enrichment programmes or a sports academy so they can ace whatever interview or competitive process. It’s a different kind of tuition.

Principals of ordinary schools will be wondering if they can even fill the 20 per cent DSA quota space. They’re not top in any sport or talent but merely struggling to bring all its students up to speed. These would be the garden-variety type of schools which, by the way, is still a good school although not the best. So shy if they can’t fill the space…

Parents and principals will be wondering if schools really have the teachers for these niche programmes. Are they experts or have at least mastered some aspects of the programme or are they themselves learning along with the kids? Does the National Institute of Education prepare teachers for such programmes? If principals decide to bring in outside experts, can these experts actually teach?

This is not to pour cold water on the Education Ministry’s changes to the DSA. It’s to show that people, especially parents, will view changes differently depending on their perspective and their knowledge of their childrens’ abilities. Change always leads to more questions.

We just have to be careful about not starting a different kind of rat race.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Wan Ting Koh

MORE pathways are opening up for students who want to get through the education system via talent rather than grades, but with kiasu and kiasi attitudes still largely driving the education system here, will mindsets change?

In the debate on his ministry’s budget today (Mar 7), Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng outlined several enhancements to existing schemes that show the G’s efforts to shift away from a grade-centric education system.

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First up is the Subject-Based Banding (SBB) initiative that was first implemented in 12 prototype secondary schools in 2014 for lower secondary students. SBB lets students from the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams take subjects that they are stronger in at a higher academic level. For example, a student who is in the Normal (Academic) stream, but scored an A for Mathematics in his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), can take Mathematics at the Express level under SBB.

By 2018, the G aims to roll out SBB to all schools which are offering Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses at the lower secondary level. The SBB has been in place for upper secondary school students since 2003.

Mr Ng said that this approach would help students “deepen their learning in areas of strengths”, build their confidence and “opens up new post-secondary possibilities for them”.

Through an enhancement in the DSA scheme, the G will also be increasing opportunities for primary school students to get into secondary schools through their strengths and achievements rather than academic aptitude.

From 2018, all secondary schools will be able to admit up to 20 per cent of their Secondary 1 intake through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme. First introduced in 2004, DSA is meant to recognise students’ achievements in non-academic areas, such as sports and the arts. It offers Primary 6 pupils places in secondary schools before they sit for PSLE.

Currently, only Independent schools have a 20 per cent allowance on students they accept through DSA. Autonomous schools have a 10 per cent cap while schools with distinctive programmes can admit up to 5 per cent of its students through DSA. The general academic tests that students have to sit for as part of the DSA selection criteria will also be scrapped by 2018. While these tests allow for a comparison of students’ abilities, they “inadvertently put undue focus on general academic abilities”, said Mr Ng.

In any case, students with strong general academic abilities would already be able to qualify for secondary schools with the PSLE results, he added.

On what secondary schools could use to assess entrants, Mr Ng said: “Schools can conduct their selection via a range of assessment tools including interviews, trials, auditions and subject tests. They will also consider the applicant’s overall portfolio and achievements.”

One other change applies to the tertiary front. Polytechnics will be increasing their intake allowance for students who go in through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) scheme, which, similar to DSA, admits students based on their interest and aptitude, rather than academic performance.

This scheme was introduced in 2016 for Academic Year 2017, and allowed polytechnics up to 12.5 per cent intake through EAE. However, from Academic Year 2018, the allowance would be increased to 15 per cent.

What’s new is also the expansion of the scheme to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) so that ITEs will be able to admit up to 15 per cent of their Academic Year intake through the ITE EAE.

While the G is taking tangible steps to expand the education system’s focus beyond academics, mindsets will take a longer time to catch up. This problem was flagged by Member of Parliament (MP) Denise Phua, who asked what could be done to change mindsets that are geared towards grades.

Mr Ng said that while academic excellence is “a key strength of our system, it should not be over-emphasised, at the expense of other meaningful activities”.

But whether the G’s push towards a more holistic education can genuinely change mindsets remains to be seen.

 

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by Suhaile Md

AS THE work day comes to a close, a giant mass of office workers stream towards Tanjong Pagar MRT station, ready to head home. Against this flow are a few who are walking towards the GB building for classes at the London School of Business and Finance in Singapore (LSBF).

Thick in the midst of the business district seems an unlikely place for a college campus. There are few open spaces for shorts-and-sandals clad masses of chattering students to mill around. The laid-back atmosphere normally associated with a campus has no place in the fast paced walkways of the district.

But so what? Not everyone looks for a laid back experience. “I’m already past the stage for school-based social life”, said 23-year old Mr Mohamed Mujahid. He’s studying for his Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) certification. Most of his classmates, like him, were “focussed on their studies”, unlike during his time at a local Polytechnic where he completed his Diploma in Banking.

Mr Mujahid joined LSBF because his friends recommended it to him. Most of his friends cited the good reputation of lecturers. “They simplify what seems complicated”, said Mr Mujahid. The quality of the teaching at LSBF was a key reason why he joined LSBF.

Classes

Silence greeted everyone exiting the lift at 6.30pm on the 18th floor of GB building. But a short walk past the lobby revealed a large classroom, that takes up almost the entire floor with a corridor hugging its perimeter, steadily filling up with students.

A quiet intensity hung in the air. Little wonder, since classes started in 15 minutes. Almost all the students were in business attire – work had just ended. There was little time before class. Some made quick trips to the washroom. Others had a short shut-eye with heads resting on their desks. Most of them, though, were eating packed food.

At 6.45pm sharp, the ACCA class started.

The atmosphere in that classroom was quiet, studious. But that is not all there is to LSBF.

Head over to the 6th floor of Springleaf Tower, a mere 3 minutes walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, and you’d be awash with the constant buzz of conversation liberally interspersed with laughter. Student-led activities were underway.

Culture at LSBF

There were nearly 60 activities and events for students held in LSBF last year. Student clubs like the go-green club, photography club, sports club, and students council, among others, add life beyond the classroom for students who want to do more than their studies. Through these clubs, students get to meet diverse students outside their courses.

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Student bonding activity at Marina Barrage. Image by LSBF.

“The best thing about LSBF is the diverse and friendly culture,” said Malaysian student Ms Nabilah Aimi. The 20-year-old is studying for an advanced diploma in logistics and supply chain. She has made friends from Singapore, Mongolia and Russia through the student clubs.

“Staff here are engaging and friendly… I don’t feel homesick”, she added.

Echoing her sentiments was Ms Otgonjargal, a diploma in international hospitality management student. She recounted her experience with staff at another renowned PEI when she was doing a campus visit: “I needed help… I waited so long, wait, wait, wait, and finally some guy came and rushed through.” After which he left even though she was still confused. That was not the case when she visited LSBF.

That difference in experience, among other reasons like the course itself, convinced Ms Otgonjargal to join LSBF. When asked if the smaller campus at LSBF was an issue, she shrugged it off and said “it’s cosy”, and that the friendly, helpful culture of the people managing the institution mattered much more.

The human touch

Last December at the LSBF staff workplan seminar, Managing Director Mr Rathakrishnan Govind said: “Yes, technology is important, but the human touch matters.”

It’s not just talk.

Prospective foreign students don’t just email LSBF staff when they have queries. Staff engage them live, through online chats, said student Mr Baldev Singh. The 28-year-old Indian national joined LSBF just over a month back to study hospitality. The staff were “very cooperative”, engaging him directly and immediately. It was more intimate, and human, compared to just email correspondence.

Another example: The programme management office, which is responsible for the various study programmes, work in the GB building because that’s where most of the classes are held, and students can have easy access to them. And if there are evening classes, the office remains open way past its closing time for the students. Sometimes even coming down on the weekends, on their own accord, if there are classes.

LSBF has been in Singapore for only six years. It registered as a Private Educational Institute (PEI) in 2011. In spite of its young age, there are over 10,000 full-time and part-time students. It provides 55 different courses ranging from preparatory courses to post-graduate and masters courses. These are in various fields like hospitality, logistics, and business among others.

But this is not enough. LSBF is looking to do even better. As Mr Govind said to his staff at the workplan seminar: “If you think you’ve already achieved, you will fail miserably… the focus [is] on quality, quality, quality.” And quality can always be improved.

 

This article is the first of a three-part series in collaboration with LSBF.

 

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by Suhaile Md

EMPLOYEES who turn 60 can no longer have their wages cut because of their age. The re-employment age will also be up from 65 to 67, with effect from July 1 this year. These amendments to the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA) were passed in Parliament yesterday (Jan 9). The retirement age still stands at 62.

Prior to the amendments yesterday, employers were allowed, by law, to reduce up to 10 per cent of their employees’ wages when they turned 60. So now, workers will continue earning the same after their 60th birthday. However CPF contributions, which drop from 13 per cent to 9 per cent for employers, and 13 per cent to 7.5 per cent for employees, upon hitting 60, will continue. No changes have been announced on that front.

When workers turn 62, they can either choose to retire, or take up an offer of re-employment. The RRA obliges employers to offer re-employment to citizens and permanent residents. Yet, it may not be in the same role with the same wage. Also, workers have to be medically fit, serve the company for at least three years before turning 62, and have performed well enough, as judged by their employer.

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Why not just increase the retirement age then?

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.” For re-employment though, “the concept is not necessarily the same job, not necessarily the same pay,” said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament yesterday.

“When you raise the retirement age, the expectation is same job, same pay.”

So, it seems the removal of wage cuts when a worker reaches 60 is about “same job, same pay” being secured for at least two more years, with changes in a worker’s income only expected after 62. About 12 per cent of Singapore’s labour force was 60 or older in 2015, which is more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006, reported The Business Times today (Jan 10).

About 12 per cent of the labour force was 60 or older in 2015, more than twice the 5.5 per cent proportion in 2006.

Also, CPF monthly payouts only kick in when Singaporeans turn 65. Increasing re-employment age to 67 provides older workers two more years of employment, hence reducing or even delaying their reliance on CPF payouts accordingly. On that note, current CPF contributions drop again at 65. Employers’ contribution decreases from 9 per cent to 7.5 per cent, while employee contribution drops from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent.

 

Finding re-employment elsewhere

Another change: A company can find re-employment opportunities for its worker in another company, which is agreeable, and handover the obligation to that company. That is, the new company will be responsible for the re-employment of the worker until he’s 67 years old. This was not allowed prior to the amendments yesterday.

However, if the worker in question does not want to take up the offer to work in another company, his current employer must still find a role for him in-house. If there’s no opening available, the employee must be offered an Employment Assistance Payment (EAP). The one-off payment is to help with the loss of income, as former employees look for jobs on their own.

In response to the amendment in Parliament, the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation updated the joint guideline that recommends a payment range for the EAP. It’s recommended that the EAP be equal to three and a half months’ pay, with a minimum sum set at $5,500, and limited to $13,000. This comes into effect on July 1 this year. Presently, it’s set at three months’ pay, with the range between $4,500 and $10,000.

 

Incentives and help for employers

Businesses get some help too. Currently, employers who hire Singaporeans older than 55, and who earn less than $4,000 a month, will have up to 8 per cent of the monthly wage covered by the G under the Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme. This scheme will end in 2019.

If a company voluntarily employs workers above 65, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset.

If a company voluntarily employs workers aged above 65, an additional 3 per cent is offset. That is, a total of 11 per cent of the monthly wage is offset under the SEC scheme. The additional 3 per cent offset expires on June 30 this year, but the G is considering an extension, said Mr Lim. Details will be out later.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

MOST of the 6 per cent of Singaporeans who used their SkillsFuture Credits for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were below 40, reported SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) on Sunday (Jan 8). Busy with work and with little time to spare, it’s no wonder that MOOCs, which allow users to learn at a time and place of their choosing, appeal to the busy working Singaporean. Given its flexibility and eligibility for credit use, you might want to consider it too.

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SkillsFuture Credits cannot be used for just any MOOC though. It has to be one that has been approved by SSG. Still, there is a wide variety of over 2,000 courses that SSG has identified on its website. The three most popular courses were on business administration, Python programming language, and web development.

Currently (Jan 09), there are 2,212 MOOCs on the list. The courses range from general topics in problem solving to specialised ones like how to code and develop apps.

Here’s a breakdown according to course categories, costs, and duration:

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All 2,212 courses are categorised into 36 areas. The top 10 subject areas, shown in the graph above, make up nearly 92 per cent (2032) of all courses. Most courses are provided by either Coursera or Udemy.

Information and Communications by far has the most number of courses at 829 offerings (37 per cent). It includes courses on web development, programming languages like Python, Javascript, and C++, among others.

Business Management stands at second place with 325 courses (14.7 per cent). These include project management, foundations of business strategies, and conflict resolution, among others. There are some topics, like learning how to use Excel spreadsheets, or making a PowerPoint presentation, that some would consider under Business Management. But on the SSG site, these fall under “Administration”, which is a separate category on its own.

Likewise, subjects that can fall under advertising, sales and marketing, or accounting and finance, have separate categories of their own. They do not fall under the generic Business Management grouping. If these areas are considered business-related topics on the whole, then a total of 586 (26.5 per cent) of courses are available.

Beyond the top 10 categories, the remaining 26 make up only 8 per cent (180) of all courses. Some areas like fashion, sports, real estate, and marine and port services, have only one course each.

 

 

The most expensive course ($795, before GST) on the site is a 100-hour business and financial modelling course. It’s a five-module course, created by the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, offered on the Coursera platform.

The cheapest costs $20 for about four to 12 hours of courses, on varied topics from learning how to use Excel, to launching social media marketing campaigns.

You can search for courses according to price range, but the values are preset on the site. The ranges are: Between $0 and $10, $10 and $50, $50 and $100, $100 and $500, $500 and $1,000. It goes higher, to $5,000, but there are no courses that reach that price range.

Note though, that the G gave $500 worth of credits to those 25 years old and above. Exceed the credit in your account, and you pay for the balance out of your own pocket. Also, there are plenty of free courses on Coursera and Udemy that are not reflected on the SSG site.

 

 

How much time do I need?

You can also search for courses according to the time commitment required to complete it. Like the price range search function, the time values are preset to specific ranges: Less than a day to one day, one day to one week, one week to a month, a month to six months, six months to a year, and over a year.

However, there is no clear definition of what “a day” actually means. Courses listed “a day” long range from 8.70 hours to 11.70 hours, the last of which is in effect longer than a full work day. However, you don’t have to complete the required hours in one shot, so you can spread it over a week, for instance. The shortest courses are three and a half hours long, and are considered “less than a day”.

The longest courses take 280 hours – there are only two of those. These fall under the one month to six month range. Search for courses longer than six months, and nothing turns up. So, assuming 280 hours over six months amounts to about 11.5 hours a week, or about one and a half hour per day, every day.

Yet there are also 90-hour courses that are categorised between the one week to one month range. Even if a full month is taken, it amounts to 22.5 hours a week – no small commitment if you’re working!

Basically, course duration is a very rough guide. Read the details of each course to find out more.

 

Featured image Julia Roy – Gmail Mastery Photoshoot by Flickr user Julia Roy(CC BY 2.0)

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by Brenda Tan

THIS year, seven more primary schools in Singapore have switched to be single-session schools, leaving only eight primary schools as double-session schools. This is in line with the recommendation of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) committee made in 2009.

Single-session schools have a greater flexibility in maximising the use of facilities and arranging staff schedules, enabling school leaders to focus on executing programmes without needing to think about how they would affect the afternoon session’s school hours, or where to hold the student body without affecting either school session.

Newer directives like Form Teacher Guidance Period and daily classroom cleaning are accommodated simply by extending school dismissal time. Thus, the dismissal time in many single-session primary schools has been steadily shifted from 12:55pm to 1:45pm over the years.

To help children cope with the extended dismissal time, schools are now directed to allow students a five to 10-minute break for snacks between 11:30am and 12:30pm in class.

As a parent of two primary school children, I wonder if this is enough for our children to deal with the very real issue of hunger.

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Unlike my P3 son, my P5 daughter takes the school bus to school. My son gets home at about 2pm for lunch, but with the extended dismissal time, my daughter gets home at about 2:50pm. She’s by no means the last student to get off her bus; she tells me her friends often complain of hunger on the bus, and their lunch times are past 3pm!

My daughter gets on her bus at 6:20am, but as a P5 student, her recess is at a relatively late time of 10:45am — about 4 hours later. Her snack break comes at 12pm, which is usually too short for more than a quick snack of fruits or biscuits, and then the next time she eats is 2:50pm.

She’s not alone going through such long hours between food breaks.

A P1 child I know gets on her bus at 6:05am, with her recess at 10:15am. She doesn’t get home until 3:30pm. Unfortunately, on the first day of school, with all the logistical issues her teacher had to focus on, her class wasn’t given that 10-minute snack break. The poor girl was famished by the time she got home!

Unlike recess, the snack break is usually held in class and the children are not allowed to go to the canteen buy food. Thus, kids who don’t have a snack in the form of lunch boxes of fruits or sandwiches, would bring in packets of biscuits, seaweeds, or crisps to consume in class. My son tells me that sometimes, his classmates would forget to pack snacks and they would have to go without, or hope that someone would share their snacks with them.

However, I wonder if that short break to wolf down a quick snack is enough to sustain the children until their very late lunches, especially for those who commute by school bus, where eating is restricted on the bus.

Studies are clear that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand. In one study, the American Psychological Association found that hunger can cause depression, anxiety, and withdrawal, hindering a child from focusing on education. A single child’s behavior in class can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention, and the overall learning atmosphere.

Another study conducted an experiment where a class was told to skip breakfast one morning, and then half the class were given a good breakfast at school, while the other received nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who had breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by observers who didn’t know which children had eaten). Later, after all the children were given a healthy snack, “the differences disappeared as if by magic”.

While I don’t think our Singaporean children are malnourished, being hungry in class does affect their ability to focus.

Being hungry in class does affect our children’s ability to focus.

If we take workers’ welfare seriously and institute work breaks and lunch breaks to ensure their productivity and well-being, why aren’t we doing the same for our kids?

Even when I run full-day adult workshops, my participants expect to have 15-minute morning and afternoon tea breaks and an hour-long lunch – why then do we expect our children to be learning optimally when they aren’t given timely food breaks for nutrition and socialisation?

I also wonder at how much time there is for children to learn healthy eating habits. The onus is on parents to prepare healthy snacks not only for recess, but for the break as well. The canteen is usually too crowded to buy freshly cooked food in time, even with staggered recess timing. And children simply don’t have the time to both sit down for a meal and be actively playing with their friends – I know which of the two activities my son would opt for during recess!

Most nutrition sites just list the kinds of food that are recommended for rapidly growing kids, but very few sites focus on when older children ought to eat. Even our Health Promotion Board’s ‘Raising Heathy Kids’ eBook recommends breakfast at 8am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6pm, and snacks for when active children are hungry between meals. This recommendation could only be carried out if the children are on school vacations or if they are in pre-school.

 

What can we do?

So what can we realistically do about our primary school kids’ late lunches?

Apart from highlighting to their schools if your child gets home after 3pm for lunch, perhaps it may be helpful to see if schools can switch their recess and break times.

If schools have their snack break between 9am and 10am, then they could have their staggered recess from 11am onwards. The longer recess timing might allow children to have more time to eat a heavier meal, which could sustain them better for their journey home, whether their lunch is at 2pm or 3pm.

Another thing parents could do is to pack foods that measure lower on the glycaemic index (GI). Foods with a low GI such as nuts, vegetables, and beans are digested more slowly and release energy more slowly than high GI food such as white bread and sugar. Also, pack high-fibre foods which help reduce hunger between meals.

I also invest in good thermal food containers to pack food for my children’s recess. These thermal food containers may be bulkier to bring to school, but they keep cold foods like sushi and fruits, and warm foods like fried rice very well. I also explore interesting and “fast to eat” food for their snacks, to avoid relying on energy bars that may contain high levels of processed sugar. For example, I skewer grapes with food picks so that during the snack break, these can be easily eaten in a few quick mouthfuls.

That said, I hope that schools and teachers are more mindful about their children’s nutrition, which often gets forgotten in the daily grind. Unlike heading to the staff room between lessons for a quick short bite, our kids don’t have that luxury when keeping to school rules regarding eating in class or on the school bus.

We do want our children to obey school rules and be disciplined, but we also need to create an environment that helps them to grow up strong and healthy.

 

Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

MOE responds to lunch break story

5 quick and easy meals for a lunchbox

 

Featured image Nan Hua High School Canteen by Wikicommons user JinKai97 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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