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Singapore’s Education System, Good But Not Enough

Singapore students up to their teens are among the brightest in the world according international testing. Singaporeans shoud be proud and not be dismissive of this achievement. Singapore is up there with other Asian giants and they can’t be terrible peers to have. However, while Singapore students compete and are among the best in PISA rankings consistently, there are valid criticisms on why we don’t produce the right type of scientists, artists, engineers etc enough to propel Singapore in industry, commerce, the arts to be right at the top of the world. Since education is the foundation of one’s future, what happened between impressive PISA rankings and the real world?

The lack of creativity, risk appetite, and recently even EQ at work are reasons posited. The assumption is that everyone agree on what is creativity, risk appetite and EQ should be seeded in school ready to bloom when the students enter the workforce. The stellar education system that made Singapore teens top in problem-solving (with Korea) is just not enough for real world problem solving it seems.

Focusing on creativity, can it be seeded in school? Yes and of course, depending on what one means and wants out of creativity. Oddly and as a fleeting thought, that people say Singaporeans are not creative is a close-minded close-ended argument which lacks creativity, and in a way proved that Singaporeans lack creativity. The foundation for creativity seeded in schools would be a holistic education i.e. diversity and divergence opens minds, and even ways to handle selected deviance. Which is a separate deep question altogether as semi-tolerated deviance in behaviour and ultimately discipline in schools is a double-edged sword.

Despite criticisms, education system delivers, says PM Lee
By Joy Fang -
April 11

SINGAPORE — Although the education system here has often been criticised, it is essentially a good system that has delivered good results, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

“We often see and read or hear criticisms of Singapore’s education system — it’s too structured, it’s too pressured, it’s too competitive, it’s too much hard work, (it’s) so stiff,” he said.

While he acknowledged the pressures faced by parents and students, Mr Lee said the Government had taken steps to address the issue and reduce unhealthy competition, such as ending the practice of publishing the names of top Primary School Leaving Examination performers and using a banding system, instead of grades, to assess students’ performance in co-curricular programmes.

“I think it has helped to reduce some of this pressure-cooking sentiment, that you must get it exactly right, the last one-quarter of a mark,” said Mr Lee, who was the guest of honour at Chong Boon Secondary School’s 20th Anniversary Dinner in his Teck Ghee ward.

However, while the Government tries to improve the education system, he added: “Don’t forget this is a good system and it delivers good results for us”.

Mr Lee said there is no youth unemployment problem here, unlike in many other countries. Graduates from Singapore’s schools, such as universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, are highly sought after by employers and manage to get good jobs.

Singapore students have also performed well in international competitions and comparison studies, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Mr Lee said.

He cited the recently-published results from a new PISA test, which had assessed 15-year-old students around the world for problem-solving skills.

“It’s a new test, no 10-year-series, no studying for the test. You need common sense, you need to be able to think, you need to have creativity and judgment,” he pointed out.

About 1,400 Singapore students were randomly selected by the PISA team for the test.

Every secondary school had students who participated and they formed a representative sample of Singapore’s student population.

Singapore students came up tops among the territories and countries that had participated, outperforming students in developed countries such as in Europe and the United States, as well as Asian economies that have high-pressure education systems, such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

“I think the test shows that we are not doing badly. We are not near the bottom, we are not even at the middle. We are well above many countries in the world,” Mr Lee said.

However, he added, Singapore must continue to learn and improve, as well as raise the quality of all institutions, whether they are neighbourhood schools, schools for those with special needs or special talents, or institutes of higher learning.

“We have to teach skills like critical and creative thinking; we have to help our students to climb higher, especially those from the less-advantaged homes,” Mr Lee said.

Islamic Feminism

Islamic feminism, an oxymoron to some, is constantly being revitalised. A British feminist group made up of female Muslims wants to challenge misconceptions about the attitiude towards women in Islam. They face criticism from fellow Muslims, as well as those feminists who think religions with ideas on gender models perpetuate the patriarchy. For example, the hijab, the symbol of a “modest” and pious Muslim women is cited as a symbol of oppression of Muslim women i.e. they have to wear something because men or a patriarchal religion required them to.  The truth is somewhere in between. Women might be socialised to wear hijab as a norm in Islam more often in some societies than others.  Some women want to out of free will, some don’t want to but do anyway for fear of talk behind their backs or other harsher forms of social measures to make women conform. As long as there is choice and empowerment to make that choice, that’s all to it isn’t?

Bid to boost feminism among Muslim women
The charity Maslaha is aiming to persuade more Muslim British women to engage with issues of gender equality
Tracy McVeigh
The Observer, Saturday 15 March 2014 17.37 GMT    

For many feminists the hijab is a glaring symbol of male oppression and the patriarchal power of religion. But now there is a small but growing number of Muslim women looking to take their places in Britain’s rapidly expanding women’s movement.

A new project to connect Islam to feminism has been launched to tackle long-standing concerns that religious Muslim women are excluded from the women’s rights debate.

In what is a deeply controversial area for many in Islamic communities and for many mainstream feminists, the linkup between a Muslim charity and the project is seen as a pioneering step to bring women from different cultural backgrounds together in the battle for sexual equality.

The social enterprise Maslaha, established by the Young Foundation to work on improving social conditions in Muslim and minority communities, said the programme had attracted a huge response in the past few days.

“An awful lot of Muslim women have felt excluded from the debate about women’s rights and this project really focuses on bringing ordinary women into a debate about Islamic feminism that has so far only really been heard in academic circles,” said Latifa Akay of Maslaha.

She said the online resource islamandfeminism.org was bringing out some extraordinary responses from British Muslims who reported feeling previously isolated.

“This is really taking off. Islamic feminism is not a new thing, which will probably surprise most people, but Muslim women have the same core concerns as white, secular, British women: the workplace, discrimination, childcare.

“And also they have different layers of struggles and different layers of oppression, just as a black lesbian will have different struggles to white disabled women, and none of them should be excluded just because they are diverse.

“There has been a dire lack of spaces for women within Islam to have these kinds of conversations and they have felt very much that their religious beliefs exclude them because religion is seen as patriarchal.”

Feminism has been on the rise over the past few years in various Islamic countries around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, but it remains a taboo in many more traditional communities who fear that it will lead women away from religion.

“The internet will help Muslim women find each other, just as it has for young secular women in Britain, and start a real conversation,” said Akay.

While a number of new books on Islam and feminism have been appearing around the world in recent years, the UK has been slow to catch up.

Last year when a University of Derby lecturer, Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, published Muslim Women in Britain: De-mystifying the Muslimah, she said she believed that many of the misconceptions around Islam were directly linked to how people believed the faith treated its women.

“The media portray Muslim women as oppressed and subjugated and Islam is often presented as misogynist and patriarchal,” she said, and her book was intended as an antidote to that.

The term Islamic feminism first made its appearance in the 1990s. In 1992, Shahla Sherkat, an Iranian who took part in the revolution of 1979, published the first issue of an Islamic feminist magazine, Zanan, which was later banned.

Old, Lower Income and Vulnerable

The pioneer package per se is inadequate if there is no system to take care of the old and low income population. For example, nobody to inform those who can benefit from the pioneer package. Not only a government helpdesk where they can call or email, if that is a good idea among the profile of a population unfamiliar with the internet, but government or civil society support groups who go down to HDB estates to spread the word. The assumption is that the lower income in smaller than 3 bedroom HDB flats would benefit more from such an outreach. NGOs for the aged, more often termed “VWOs” than NGOS actually, do not get that much attention and “edgy” factor, unlike civil society focusing on foreign worker welfare, gender equality, LGBT interests, environmental concerns or conservation. The NIMBY stories we hear about people complaining that nursing homes are too near their estates is a sombre mindset that needs changing.

Should the government do more? Depends on what is “more”. If civil society is not taking up the slack, it should in general as that would really mean it is concerned about taking care of the pioneer generation, more than just giving out already welcomed handouts in terms of medical benefits. The government can be more nanny here and few can reject the government’s interfering hand in taking care of the elderly.

Stronger social support ‘needed to boost health of lower-income elderly’
By NG JING YNG -
April 1

SINGAPORE — Beyond financial incentives from the Government’s Pioneer Generation Package, there is a need to strengthen social support networks, which can bring better health outcomes for senior citizens, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have suggested.

Their study, which is ongoing, showed that the lower-income elderly have weaker social support and are, therefore, less likely to attend health screenings.

The three-year study, which was shared yesterday during an NUS symposium on successful ageing, found that having close friends and family members is important, as they are the ones who would encourage the elderly to go for blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol.

Seniors who stay connected with friends and family can receive better information on diseases and health screenings. Women with better social support can also rely on family and friends to help with domestic duties so they can go for regular mammograms, the study concluded.

But the researchers’ findings showed that those who have lower household income and who live in one- to three-room Housing and Development Board flats tend to have weaker social support. This, in turn, affected their attendance at health screenings, said the study’s team leader, NUS sociologist Associate Professor Paulin Straughan.

She added: “There are people who are social isolates and, unfortunately, there is a strong relation between being social isolates and being poor, so this is the group we need to reach out to.”

The study, which involved 1,540 respondents aged between 50 and 69, will conclude next month. Public health and sociology researchers involved in the study are working with their Korean and Chinese counterparts to provide a cross-cultural comparison on successful ageing.

The researchers noted that family norms in Singapore were changing and cautioned that successful ageing could mean different things across ethnic and income groups.

Assoc Prof Straughan felt that empowering voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and forming a group of community volunteers are key to improving social support for the lower-income elderly.

She said VWOs have already formed good synergies with the community. Citing the Pioneer Generation Package, Assoc Prof Straughan said there is a lack of understanding of this policy among beneficiaries, and that the Government could tap VWOs to help clear up any misconceptions.

Volunteers could also engage the elderly on everyday issues and help them connect with society. New retirees could also volunteer, organising activities and helping the elderly find their relevance in the community, she added.

To capitalise on existing touchpoints in the community healthcare system, Assoc Prof Straughan further suggested that the elderly be allowed to consult with the same physician when going for check-ups at polytechnics, to enable them to build a relationship with their doctors.

Meanwhile, a qualitative study in 2011, which involved 120 elderly residents, showed that those living alone in rental or one-room flats might not necessarily suffer from social isolation. Some were found to be resourceful in forming social networks with neighbours or were in regular contact with their children, said the study’s researcher, NUS Associate Professor Thang Leng Leng.

Politicised Racism in Malaysia Persists

Soon, but not too soon, after Malaysian deputy home affairs minister Wan Junaidi made a racist remark that non-Malays accept child rape compared to Malays, a Penang bishop mentioned that Malaysia needs justice before there is peace. Borrowing from non-violence activism ideas, he said that there would be no peace without justice in Malaysia. Forgiveness for past transgressions is the way ahead, presumably from victims of racist injustice. That’s a tall order in Malaysia for now. Coming from Penang, the bishop’s call for peace with social justice is not without context. Penang is Chinese, and opposition, and thus faced UMNO’s wrath occasionally. UMNO’s brown shirts, Perkasa, hounded the Penang government in the past. Despite its gimmicky olive branch waving just recently, it’s unlikely the right wing government funded ketuanan Melayu NGO is going to change its spots.

Malaysia needs a dose of peace and forgiveness to fix racism, says Penang bishop
BY LOOI SUE-CHERN
March 30, 2014

Peace, justice and forgiveness are the “prescription” to treat Malaysia’s problem caused by racists and extremists.

The prescription was made by Penang Bishop Right Reverend Sebastian Francis last night and was quickly taken up by PAS leader Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusuf Rawa.

Both men came together at a peace dinner organised by the Penang Island PAS Supporters’ Club last night in Bayan Lepas, when Francis urged the people to be united in fostering and strengthening peace, justice and forgiveness.

“There can be no peace without justice”, the bishop said as he reviewed the theme of the dinner.

Francis said justice was the prerequisite for peace and unity and also could not exist without forgiveness among the people.

“If we keep on having negative feelings towards others, we will not be able to become agents of peace, justice and forgiveness.

“As people of faith, we must pray that we can maintain these values in our everyday lives. Malaysia needs us all to stand together in this for the interest of the people,” he said.

Francis congratulated the organisers of the peace dinner, which was attended by about 100 people of all races and background, for their initiative.

Mujahid, who is Penang PAS deputy commissioner and Parit Buntar MP, said he agreed with Francis and would turn the prescription into a political manifesto.

The PAS leader who is well known for visiting and having dialogues in churches nationwide to engage Christians, said it was in line with what PAS had been struggling for, as reflected in the party’s slogan “PAS for all”.

Mujahid said when he visited PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat to present the latter a copy of his book “Berdialog dengan Gereja – Sebuah Travelog Kedamaian” (Dialogue with the Church – A Peace Travelogue), the Kelantan leader asked about Sebastian.

“The first thing Tok Guru (Nik Aziz) said to me was ‘How is our friend the bishop?’

“No joke. That was what happened. People may say he only talks about Islam but he is actually a Tok Guru for all Malaysians,” he said.

Mujahid said when he debated the royal address in Parliament last week, he hit out at certain quarters wanting to take the country 50 years backwards with racism and extremism.

“A country built under the name of Malaysia is a nation that loves its people regardless of their race. Why are we talking about Chinese Muslim, Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian? Why are we talking in the tone of racism?

“This is not the future we want for Malaysia. The peace we want to achieve for the nation demands that every Malaysian, regardless of race, gives his or her commitment to save the country from racist and extreme groups trying to destroy the unity and harmony.”

Mujahid said racists and extremists did not represent Malaysians, but only “narrow-minded” parties for such “narrow-minded purposes”.

“Anyone who wishes to be with them, do so but let me tell you that Malaysia does not need racism and extremism.

“The country needs people to move forward together hand in hand, step by step and we cannot do it unless peace prevails,” he said.

Mujahid said even in the Quran, there were verses telling Muslims to stand firm for justice in the name of God.

Therefore, PAS would speak out to defend those oppressed because of race and supremacy, even if they had to hit out against their fellow Malays, he said.

He also paid tribute to the members of the PAS Supporters’ Club in Penang for their support towards the party’s struggles, and assured them the party considered them as members and would look after their welfare as well, regardless of their race and religion.

“What matters to PAS is that we are all Malaysians who have dignity and are proud to be citizens of this country,” he said.

Other local PAS leaders who spoke at the event were Penang PAS Unity Bureau chief Yusof Noor and deputy chief Abdul Rahman Kassim, who presented a poem about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370. – March 30, 2014.

The Middle Kingdom Can Be a Bully

Regardless whether Malaysia was inept in its handling of the MH370 crisis, China has emerged as a bully, although for the very same actions of demands of the Malaysians, in the eyes of its domestic China audience, an assertive regional influence.

The protests staged by the families of those lost in MH370 in Beijing is a channel of anger at the Malaysian embassy there.  In a society where street protests in Beijing are rare, the Chinese government either looked the other way as a sign of flexibility and compassion, or encouraged the protests to pressure the Malaysians and score points with its PRC domestic audience. A mix of both, but more the latter than the former surely.

The Malaysians are busy now but they would not forget China’s self-righteous anger and aggression e.g. demands of showing evidence that all hope is lost that MH370 crashed into the ocean. The region is also watching, with the Spratly Islands in mind, and can expect that China like any aspiring hegemonic power , will shove its way when it can. If there is a bilateral spat between Singapore and China, we can count that China will also attempt to bully Singapore. The state of small states.

 

Geopolitics lurk amid the MH370 tragedy
John Lee26 Mar, 6:46 AM

For idealists, the 25 or so nations searching for any debris from the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is a rare example of international cooperation in the face of a humanitarian tragedy.

After all, political, bureaucratic and military officials from countries such as the United States, China, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia are all contributing military hardware, technology, intelligence and manpower to end the mystery of what happened to MH370. If an undergraduate model United Nations wanted an illustration of multilateral collaboration, this would be it.

Some countries clearly have more at stake in the search than others. Given that possible debris was spotted off the coast of Western Australia, Canberra is heading the search for the most promising lead.

The fact that it was a Malaysia Airlines flight means that Kuala Lumpur is ‘central command’ in terms of ostensibly coordinating the international effort, dissemination of public information and managing government-to-government relations about the issue — a task which has embarrassed the country due to its often bumbling and inept performance.

But there is probably more at stake for China than any other country — and not just because over two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese citizens.

There is no reason to doubt that Chinese President Xi Jinping is genuinely “devastated” by the tragedy as was reported in his conversation with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

But model UN participants should take note: the smell of politics and geopolitics is everywhere, especially when it comes to Beijing’s reaction and response.

The immediate clue that finding out what happened to MH370 matters to Beijing is the fact that the country’s propaganda officials have been supervising and monitoring coverage and comment about the investigation and search for debris.

The state media has been offering a running commentary on the earnest activities of Beijing’s leaders coordinating the search from the Chinese side, meeting with foreign officials to expedite the search, and demanding answers from the Malaysians when none have been forthcoming.

State reporting has also spruiked the ‘sophistication’ of Chinese military hardware used to conduct the search, such as the heavy duty and remodelled Chinese IL-76 aircraft (with a large Chinese flag freshly painted on the body) as well as the country’s high-imaging satellites, radar and infra-red imaging technologies.

To be sure, and when great powers suffer these kinds of tragedies, they naturally want answers and grow frustrated with the lack of progress on this front by other countries.

It is natural that China would deploy resources at its disposal that smaller powers might not have.

But there is a domestic political context here. Chinese officials have been criticised for not stepping up to the plate when humanitarian crises have affected their citizens in the past or, even worse, suppressing grieving voices of disapproval or even arresting protestors wanting more a more competent official response.

For example, in November 2002 when the first case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome appeared in Guangdong province, the government did not even report these instances to the World Health Organisation until February 2003.

Even after February 2003 and in their determination to avoid negative publicity during a period of leadership transition, the spread of SARS was exacerbated by officials who pretended that the problem did not exist.

When the disease reached Hong Kong from China, officials instructed state media to report that the Hong Kong strain came from elsewhere despite all expert evidence to the contrary. It was not until April 2003 that Beijing changed course, sacking the Health Minister and Beijing Mayor.

Amid widespread public criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, incoming President Hu Jintao ordered officials to finally report the spread of SARS accurately, leading to an eight-fold increase in the number of reported SARS infections from previous official figures.

Another example is the 7.9 magnitude earthquake which hit Sichuan province in May 2008, followed by a secondary quake in August 2008. Thousands of the quake’s victims were children crushed in shoddily built schools, a fact made worse by the spectacle of well-built government buildings standing unaffected metres away.

Protests by grieving parents were suppressed and criticised by the government as ‘unpatriotic’. Although Chinese officials refused to release the number of students who died or their names, one official report was leaked and estimated that up to 10,000 students lost their lives in the collapse of 7,000 classrooms and dormitory rooms.

When reports emerged in July 2008 that local governments in the province had begun a systematic campaign to buy the silence of angry parents whose children had died with a $US8,800 payment and guarantee of a pension in exchange for silence, outrage throughout the country ensued.

The far more media-savvy administration under President Xi has immediately understood that the government needs to show that it is responsive, pro-active and compassionate during instances of humanitarian tragedy. In this case, it has been made easy by the fact that it was a foreign airline that has disappeared and a foreign government that bears the brunt of anger.

Even so, Beijing is determined to do what it takes, and be seen to be doing what it takes, to find answers for the relatives of Chinese victims on board MH370. Hence, Chinese officials have bullied and ridiculed seemingly incompetent and clueless Malaysian counterparts, allowed state media to show the outrage of relatives while demanding justice and closure for these relatives, in addition to making a public show of committing its resources to the search.

As Beijing would argue, and in lending weight to its argument that authoritarian regimes can also be caring and responsive, this is precisely what a good government on the side of its people ought to do.

So as far as the considerations of domestic politics are concerned, there is nothing too unusual, let alone sinister, about how China has responded to the MH370 tragedy. But there is also a geopolitical game at hand, which will make for far more uncomfortable regional reading.

It is well known that a number of countries have competing claims to maritime regions in the South China Sea, the body of water where MH370 first disappeared from radar screens. The most significant claimant is China, whose infamous nine-dash claim line covers some 90 per cent of the South China Sea, putting Beijing at odds with claims made by Hanoi, Manila, Brunei, Kuala Lumpur, and most recently Jakarta.

So far China has lacked the naval (military) and maritime (civilian) wherewithal to actually exercise control over the South China Sea. Even so, it is engaged in what might be called a ‘talk and take’ strategy: speak the language of negotiation without committing to any binding agreement and consolidate its de facto control of disputed areas square mile by square mile, all the while.

To Chinese frustration, and in deploying its unmatched arsenal of aircraft carriers, search and surveillance vessels and aircraft, satellite imagery and radar reach, the US unilaterally expanded the search area across the South China Sea (and towards the Indian Ocean).

This is embarrassing for Beijing because it can hardly claim de facto sovereignty and control over an area it calls its maritime backyard if it cannot even lead the search for the debris of a flight bound for Beijing and filled mainly with Chinese passengers.

Indeed, there has long been criticisms within China that the People’s Liberation Army’s emphasis on new generation submarines, ballistic missiles, cyber warfare technology and other anti-access and sea denial capabilities does little for the soft power of a country that claims such a vast maritime territory as its own.

Remember that the PLA was profoundly embarrassed when it lacked the capacity to help victims of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in the region (since submarines are not very helpful in a humanitarian crisis) while the US deployed its aircraft carriers and other vessels in a show of compassion and strength.

It is no wonder that in the search for MH370 debris, Beijing has been keen to showcase what capabilities it has to its own people and the region. It is also not surprising that Kuala Lumpur has been far more comfortable in seeking military help from Americans, Australians and even long-time rival Singapore than from China in the current search.

But just as Beijing, like the other South China Sea claimants, is keen to establish its ability to conduct the search in its allegedly ‘sovereign’ waters, the PLA has also been coy about what its true capabilities that it can deploy in the search actually are. This is not because it is trying to hide its strength, but because there are still significant gaps in the PLA Navy’s ability to exercise control and surveillance in maritime areas it calls its own.

It would be too cynical and unfair to claim that President Xi and his government are not genuinely devastated by the likely death of 150 Chinese citizens on board MH370. But it would be naïve to believe that achieving closure for the grieving relatives is the only thing going on in the search for the ill-fated plane.

Dr John Lee is the Michael Hintze Fellow and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, non-resident senior scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, and a Director of the Kokoda Foundation.

Strong Civil Society in Singapore Only if Strong Civil Society Media

Jose Raymond (from the Singapore Environment Council?) acknowledged that there is more engagement between the government and the civil society compared to before. I think that is hard to dispute although the government is likely to engage some groups more than others. I hastily presume TWC2 is down the list compared to ACRES now, until it becomes more politically fashionable to place foreign worker interests near the top. Which bluntly says a lot about animals and foreign workers.

Furthermore, what happens if different lobby groups have competing interests? What is the government’s role then? In the ongoing contest between gays and the religious conservatives, is the government going to side one against the other? However, so what if the government takes sides if the ruling party thinks it is a calculated move to win votes, rather than its wishy-washy status quo stand now.

Issues get more complicated when business lobbies with more financial pull and influence push into the picture. The reality in almost every Western democracy because as long as it is legal, it’s fair play. That’s where petitions to change government policy can sometimes be seen as corruption if there is an exchange of favours between the legislature and lobby, and outside of the rules of the game – naturally in the eyes of competitor lobbies, patron lawmakers and their lawyers.

Lobbying and engaging the government becomes even more complicated and entertaining when the media takes sides and gets into the lobbying process. In Australia, mining tycoon Gina Rinehart bought a major stake in Fairfax media to control the direction of Sydney Morning Herald and the Age’s media independence.  In the US, the coal industry also using a right-leaning political news website to push the coal industry agenda according to a more left competitor news site.  Interesting times.

So what it means for strengthening civil society in Singapore is that the civil society needs a stronger The Online Citizen or The Independent Singapore.

Strengthening civil society in Singapore
By Jose Raymond
Published: March 27, 4:13 AM

There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Singapore Government is now more prepared to engage and work with civil society than it previously was.

In the environment, the Government has worked with non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the Singapore Environment Council to reach out to the community.

In animal welfare, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has benefited as new committees to tackle animal welfare issues have been formed with the help of government agencies.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) sought input and held multiple dialogue sessions with green groups after it announced the proposed construction of the Cross Island Line across parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The LTA has since called for a tender for an environmental impact assessment study to be done with the input from green groups.

These are but just a few examples, but there is still room for further partnerships between the Government and civil society.

Engaging and working with NGOs is a growing trend around the world.

DEALING WITH THE NEW NORM

Academics have stressed the need for tripartite and creative collaborations to seek solutions for many of today’s pressing challenges. More than ever, the work of public agencies, NGOs and the corporate sector has become closely connected.

While the Government and the corporate sectors will continue to attract the bulk of top talent, the leadership of civil society must not lag behind in potential, ideas and passion.

This is because NGO leaders must be able to think strategically as never before to translate their insights into effective strategies to cope with changing global circumstances. Building strong partnerships with government agencies and companies will also be crucial in coping with global megatrends. Singapore’s civil society groups must constantly build their internal capabilities to implement strategic changes.

In Singapore and the region, the formation of creative coalitions in public-private partnerships could well be the way forward as we seek solutions to issues such as the haze as well as energy and food security.

BUILDING LEADERSHIP

In trying to build the leadership capabilities of civil society, I would like to offer three simple strategies as follows:

1. Corporate mentorship

Without casting a broad stroke across the sector, I believe many NGO leaders will agree that they have to fend for themselves in figuring out strategies for effective management, talent retention, fund-raising and in developing brand equity for their organisations or programmes.

In many instances, NGO leaders may not even be aware of how important building brand equity is and how to go about doing it.

Corporate C-suite leaders should adopt an NGO leader as part of their corporate social responsibility to share some of their best commercial practices.

2. Education

If it is critical for civil society leaders to raise their capabilities because of the increasing need for tri-sector collaborations and strategic foresight, then it is only right they be given the opportunities to do so through professional courses.

Two programmes that would be useful for NGO leaders are the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s Master in Public Administration and the Singapore Management University’s Master in Tri-Sector Collaboration.

Such courses could well be worthwhile investment to help our civil society leaders learn how to tackle increasingly complex issues that involve regional and global policies and projects.

If funding is an issue, NGOs should source for scholarships or corporate sponsorships to cover the course fees.

3. Sustainable leadership

While I may not be privy to the leadership strategies of all NGOs in Singapore, it is a concern that there are far too few recognised leaders in civil society. When National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre Chief Executive Officer Laurence Lien announced he was stepping down, he also made an appeal on his Facebook page asking friends to “let me know if you know of anyone who can take over!”. Mr Lien leaves behind very huge shoes to fill.

Sustainable leadership is a serious issue that all organisations grapple with. If companies and public agencies face difficulties in recruiting and retaining top talent, imagine how difficult it can be for civil society to groom and keep talent.

One way to promote sustainable leadership is to publicly recognise the efforts of outstanding civil society leaders.

Currently, there are several such outstanding leaders who have done meaningful work for their respective organisations. Mr Louis Lim (ACRES), Ms Corinna Lim (Association of Women for Action and Research) and Dr William Wan (Singapore Kindness Movement) are just a few.

The impact of the work that they do, unfortunately, is hardly recognised at the national level.

This could well be plugged by the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership. Doing so will not only inspire many others to come forward to serve in the sector, it will also underpin the critical role that the non-profit sector plays today and in the foreseeable future.

Certainty and Closure for MH370

Malaysian PM announced last night that all on board MH370 were lost when the plane went down into the south Indian Ocean. It took more than 2 weeks, lots of confusion, lots of heart, lots of impatience and frustration, lots of questionable crisis communication processes. In the end, the family of those who lost loved ones on MH370 can finally begin to deal with the tragedy. A tragedy which is still scarce in details on how a plane became lost and plunged into the sea according to a 1990s satellite, British satellite company Inmarsat and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

How much military satellite or radar info which eventually dropped clues for a commercial UK company to pick up and piece together is the question, as countries with the capabilities and had data on MH370 would be coy to release their information as it would show their hand in what they can and cannot track. This is one reason why the Malaysian-led multilateral search and recovery operations appeared so messy and scattered at first  e.g. looking for  the plane in the Malacca Straits, and off Vietnam.

Flight MH370: how Inmarsat homed in on missing Malaysia Airlines’ plane

Analysis by the British satellite company Inmarsat and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was cited on Monday by the Malaysian prime minister as the source of information that has narrowed the location where the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean to a corridor a couple of hundred miles wide.

The analysis follows fresh examination of eight satellite “pings” sent by the aircraft between 1.11am and 8.11am Malaysian time on Saturday 8 March, when it vanished from radar screens.

The prime minister, Najib Razak, said: “Based on their new analysis, Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.

“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

He added that they had used a “type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort”.

The new method “gives the approximate direction of travel, plus or minus about 100 miles, to a track line”, Chris McLaughlin, senior vice-president for external affairs at Inmarsat, told Sky News. “Unfortunately this is a 1990s satellite over the Indian Ocean that is not GPS-equipped. All we believe we can do is to say that we believe it is in this general location, but we cannot give you the final few feet and inches where it landed. It’s not that sort of system.”

McLaughlin told CNN that there was no further analysis possible of the data. “Sadly this is the limit. There’s no global decision even after the Air France loss [in June 2009, where it took two years to recover the plane from the sea] to make direction and distance reporting compulsory. Ships have to log in every six hours; with aircraft travelling at 500 knots they would have to log in every 15 minutes. That could be done tomorrow but the mandate is not there globally.”

Since the plane disappeared more than two weeks ago, many of the daily searches across vast tracts of the Indian Ocean for the aircraft have relied on Inmarsat information collated halfway across the world from a company that sits on London’s “Silicon Roundabout”, by Old Street tube station.

Using the data from just eight satellite “pings” after the plane’s other onboard Acars automatic tracking system went off at 1.07am, the team at Inmarsat was initially able to calculate that it had either headed north towards the Asian land mass or south, towards the emptiest stretches of the India Ocean.

Inmarsat said that yesterday it had done new calculations on the limited data that it had received from the plane in order to come to its conclusion. McLaughlin told CNN that it was a “groundbreaking but traditional” piece of mathematics which was then checked by others in the space industry.

The company’s system of satellites provide voice contact with air traffic control when planes are out of range of radar, which only covers about 10% of the Earth’s surface, and beyond the reach of standard radio over oceans. It also offers automatic reporting of positions via plane transponders. It is possible to send route instructions directly to the cockpit over a form of text message relayed through the satellite.

Inmarsat was set up in 1979 by the International Maritime Organisation to help ships stay in touch with shore or call for emergency no matter where they were, has provided key satellite data about the last movements of MH370.

Even as the plane went off Malaysian air traffic control’s radar on 8 March, Inmarsat’s satellites were “pinging” it.

A team at the company began working on the directions the plane could have gone in, based on the responses. One pointed north; the other, south. But it took three days for the data to be officially passed on to the Malaysian authorities; apparently to prevent any more such delays, Inmarsat was officially made “technical adviser” to the AAIB in its investigation into MH370′s disappearance.

Inmarsat’s control room in London, like some of its other 60 locations worldwide, looks like a miniature version of Nasa: a huge screen displays the positions of its 11 geostationary satellites, and dozens of monitors control and correct their positions. A press on a key can cause the puff of a rocket on a communications satellite 22,236 miles away, nudging its orbit by a few inches this way or that.

More prosaically, Inmarsat’s systems enable passengers to make calls from their seats and also to use Wi-Fi and connect to the internet while flying.

If the plane has its own “picocell” essentially a tiny mobile phone tower set up inside the plane then that can be linked to the satellite communications system and enable passengers to use their own mobile phones to make calls, which are routed through the satellite and back to earth.

After its creation, Inmarsat’s maritime role rapidly expanded to providing connectivity for airlines, the media, oil and gas companies, mining and construction in remote areas, and governments.

Privatised at the end of the 1990s, it was floated on the stock market in 2004, and now focuses on providing services to four main areas: maritime, enterprise (focused on businesses including aviation), civil and military work for the US government, and civil and military work for other governments. The US is the largest government client, generating up to a fifth of its revenues of about £1bn annually. The firm employs about 1,600 staff.

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