Sunday, October 27, 2013

Address Poverty, Not The Shadow of Poverty : Why Defining A Poverty Line Is Ineffective ?

MR TIMOTHY Lim Wei Chong argues that setting a poverty line will increase awareness of income inequality and spur action from the state and community ("Poverty line sets clear benchmark for all"; 25th October).But he also concedes that defining the poverty line will "inevitably result in groups on the margins losing out".

I believe the Government's current approach of addressing various facets of poverty - deprivation along the lines of education and health care - is more effective. In considering this issue, it is important to not conflate measuring poverty and defining the poverty line.
Poverty measurement entails objectively looking at how Singaporeans fare on various indicators.Data on the education levels and wages of Singaporeans are examples. Such measurements will enable the public to better understand the problem of poverty in Singapore. A poverty line is unnecessary.
When a poverty line is defined, a target is set simply based on an indicator taken to be more important.A case in point is Hong Kong's poverty line, which is pegged at half of the median wage.

Certainly, there are other factors which influence whether citizens are deprived of access to basic necessities, yet they are excluded, leading to a distorted view of poverty.
When the poverty line is fixed, it is likely that the state and public will be fixated on it.

Certainly, setting targets to alleviate poverty is important, but I believe it is more effective to set specific goals based on a broad range of metrics rather than pursue a general goal.

This is the Government's current approach. It is pushing for higher wages for low-wage workers, strengthening the social safety net and ensuring that education and health care are available to all. Such a multi-pronged approach will yield better results.

Perhaps the problem of poverty and the progress made in resolving it are less obvious due to the fragmented approach in addressing it.To raise public awareness, the Government could perhaps release a comprehensive report regularly on the state of the underprivileged, citing key indicators such as wages, access to education and affordability of essential goods.

Becoming more aware of any problem is an important first step.Specifying the poverty line gives one the illusion of grasping and addressing the complex problem.

It is the nuanced measurement of the poverty, combined with specific targets and precise action, which will be most effective in reducing it.

We need to address poverty, not the shadow of poverty. 

*This is my article that The Strait Times published on 26th October 2013.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Government Support Needed To "Electrify" Singapore

I FOUND Professor Kishore Mahbubani's vision of a Singapore with an all-electric fleet of vehicles exciting, but disagree with his suggestion that a citizen-led initiative is the best way to realise the vision 

Government intervention can smoothen and encourage the switch from petroleum-based fuels to electricity for vehicles - a seismic change that necessitates coordination between numerous industry players. There needs to be sufficient charging stations, dealers and skilled technicians catering to these vehicles.
To ask citizens to push for this initiative is unrealistic. While we could help by independently adopting this mode of transport and convincing others to do so, the ripple effect would be insufficient to advance the desired changes.

Prof Mahbubani cited the example of Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk to demonstrate an individual citizen's power.

But Mr Musk was far from being a sole agent of change; he was supported by the United States government, which granted a loan of US$465 million (S$577 million) to Tesla under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing programme.

Given our Government's regulatory powers, its position on electric cars will greatly influence how developments unfold.

Ultimately, the dichotomy between citizen- and Government-led initiatives is false. Much of today's technology is a product of the Government's and private sector's efforts. A case in point is the Internet, which emerged through heavy government involvement. But its potential was maximised through the efforts of private citizens, who adapted it to suit market demands.

Citizens can certainly unite to pursue the vision of "electrifying" Singapore, but the Government's involvement is crucial to make this dream a reality.

*This article was published on The Strait Times' Online Forum on 19th October 2013. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

MOE's Proposed Online Learning Portal Should Go Further

Image courtesy of Ddpavumba /

EDUCATION Minister Heng Swee Keat recently laid out several key initiatives, one of which was an online learning portal.
While this will bring great benefits and help schools "level up", the Education Ministry could consider putting comprehensive material covering the syllabus requirements - and not just enrichment material - on the portal.
This would ease students' concerns over whether they have covered the required content and reduce their dependence on tuition.
Comprehensive content readily available on the portal will facilitate teachers as they empower students to pick up these facts independently rather than imparting them using classroom time.  The freed up classroom time be used for engaging methods of learning such as group-based discussions and experiential learning experiences which solidify the student's scaffold of knowledge. 
MOE could even consider providing these online lessons free for students from around the world. Currently, Massive Open Online Courses are proliferating on the net. But often they are unstructured and pegged at the tertiary level. MOE’s online portal- housing content from primary to secondary school education in one portal- could plug in the gap. In this process, Singapore’s education system would be “exported” to the world, boosting Singapore’s soft power.
MOE’s proposed idea to provide enrichment material to all Singapore students is a positive move. But given the potential benefits of providing the entire syllabus on the portal, the idea shouldn’t go unconsidered.

 *An edited version of this article was published on The Strait Times' Youth Forum on 9th October 2013.

Need for a more inclusive approach in creating a more inclusive Singapore

Image courtesy of Naypong /
THE North West District is gathering data on the needs of elderly residents and designing more specific programmes to cater to them ("North West District to start elderly database"; last Saturday).
This initiative, together with the numerous social service offices that the Ministry of Social and Family Development is setting up ("4 more social service offices by next June"; Sept 21), reflects the Government's willingness to develop customised solutions in administering help to the needy, rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach.
By accumulating more data on the needs of the underprivileged and the elderly, the Government will be able to make more specific and effective interventions.
I am confident this nuanced approach will yield positive benefits.
But what I find disconcerting is that it discounts the possibility of ordinary citizens stepping up to help.
Anyone - not just grassroots volunteers or the Government - can play a part in helping fellow Singaporeans.
I suggest that the Government set up a database so that those keen to volunteer can list down their skills.
The article about the North West District database mentioned how MP Mohamad Maliki Osman tapped his own database to get a nurse and a taxi driver to help an elderly resident with her health-care needs.
With an expanded database on volunteers, there can be more meaningful matches between volunteers and those who need help. This would strengthen the spirit of giving.
The Government is clearly serious about fostering a more compassionate and inclusive society. An inclusive, bottom-up approach, aimed at galvanising citizens to help one another, will be integral in realising this vision.
*This article was published by The Strait Times on 8th October 2013.Looking forward to the responses.