Parliament Highlights - 11 July 2018
PUBLISHED ON 11 Jul 2018

No single measure of success, learning has to be lifelong: Ong Ye Kung

Instead of capping achievements and limiting opportunities at the top in a bid to close the achievement gap, which runs against the fundamental philosophy of Singapore’s education system, the Ministry of Education will continue with its approach to 'lift the bottom’.


Speaking in response to a parliamentary motion filed by five Nominated MPs on “Education for our Future,” Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung explained that opportunities, once regarded as available to students from affluent backgrounds, have become more broadly accessible. 


Lifting the bottom is the way to go and his ministry’s resourcing of schools reflects this approach.


Mr Ong revealed that the highest level of resourcing – about $24,000 per student – goes to specialised schools like Crest, Spectra, NorthLight School and Assumption Pathway School. Students in the Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic) streams get about S$20,000 and $15,000 each in resources respectively.


In contrast, a student in other courses in a Government, Government-Aided or Independent school would receive under$15,000 in resources.


Mr Ong explained that the system of meritocracy in Singapore has uplifted families over the decades, but in turn has resulted in students from affluent families getting a head start. “Meritocracy, arising from a belief in fairness, seems to have paradoxically resulted in systemic unfairness,” he elaborated.


Mr Ong also added as more poor families are successfully uplifted, those that remain poor face more difficult challenges, which are translated to their children’s performances in school. “So the more we uplift poor families, the greater the achievement gap between the rich and poor,” he stated.


Mr Ong commented that while tacking inequality is unfinished business, he stressed that there is no contradiction between meritocracy and fairness, nor reducing inequality and raising collective standards.


Instead, Mr Ong reiterated the importance of doubling up on meritocracy, by broadening its definition to embrace various talents and skills. “We should not cap achievement at the top, but continue to strive to lift the bottom,” he said.


Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah emphasised that MOE is aligned on the various broad objectives that were brought up.

“We too want every child to have a bright future and to do well. Like the MPs who have spoken, we want them to have a wonderful school experience,” she said. “We are also concerned about the vulnerable, and we want integration and inclusivity to be at the heart of our education system.”  


“Where we may differ in some aspects is on the strategies or solutions, but let me reassure the House that we are very much at one in terms of the overall aims and objectives of education,” she added.


In addition, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim said that the Ministry is committed to ensuring equal access to opportunities for every child, from pre-school to adulthood, his ministry is investing in three groups of students: disadvantaged families, high-needs learners and students with special education needs.


Member of Parliament (Jurong GRC) Mdm Rahayu Mahzam acknowledged that while there have been great strides to encourage and promote inclusiveness in the community, more still needs to be done in Singapore.


Reiterating the importance of enhancing inclusiveness in the education system, Mdm Rahayu said that it will bring greater benefit to Singapore, allowing for the community to embrace people with special needs and at the same time creating opportunities to be more caring and compassionate.


Members of Parliament (MPs) and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) had debated on the motion, "Education for our Future" in Parliament earlier today, calling for equal opportunities for students across the board.



More productivity for economic growth and improved wages

Senior Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon has emphasised that it is "crucial" to press on with driving productivity to maintain Singapore's competitiveness globally and to continue improving Singaporeans' wages and living standards.

Responding to a question in Parliament, he said that the wages of resident workers grew in tandem with productivity over the last 20 years.
Manufacturing, wholesale trade and finance and insurance sectors were among the sectors which observed real wage growth in tandem with productivity.

Dr Koh Poh Koon revealed that sectors such as constructions and health and social sciences saw real wages rise faster than productivity because of labour market constraints. These sectors, he added, were domestically-oriented.

However from 2011 to 2017, the annual wage growth grew 1.9 per cent while productivity grew only 1.1 per cent in the same period. The sectors that showed such trends were the transportation and storage, and accommodation sectors.

Dr Koh reiterated that over the long term, real wage growth should track productivity growth in order to be sustainable. “If real wage growth outstrips productivity growth for an extended period, businesses will be at risk of losing their competitiveness and potentially be forced to scale back or close their operations," he emphasized.

Acknowledging that wage growth will not be uniform across all sectors, Dr Koh added that it is important for Singapore to press on with driving productivity to maintain global competitiveness and improve wages and living standards of Singaporeans.

"So it is one of the important tenets of the Industry Transformation Maps that we want to help companies to better increase productivity by leveraging on technology such that the companies can make better profit margins while controlling their costs from various pressures," he added.
Government assistance through schemes designed to help firms enhance their capability and productivity are also bearing fruit.

He added, “The Government is committed to continue to work with businesses and the unions to help businesses improve their productivity, and ensure that the productivity gains are shared with workers through higher wages.”

Financial assistance support two-thirds of ITE students

The Ministry of Education’s financial assistance schemes are designed to support at least two-thirds of students in post-secondary education institutions like the Institute of Technical Education.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim explained that higher education is significantly subsidized, for example course fees at the ITE have more than 90 per cent subsidy. Prof Faishal added that more than 70 per cent of ITE students received some form of financial assistance or scholarships for the academic year of 2016.

He shared this information in response to questions regarding financial assistance for students.

Merit-based scholarship and financial aid schemes by self-help groups and other organisations also help students with school fees and school-related expenses. Information on financial assistance is available online and offline, with the ITEs stepping up on its outreach to encourage needy students to apply for financial assistance, he said.

Higher pay for early childhood educators
Starting wages of early childhood educators rose 20 per cent over the last five years, said Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Desmond Lee in Parliament.

Full-time educators fresh in the job market with a diploma can earn $2,300.

Based on the statistics from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), salaries of teaching professionals and principals in the early childhood sector rose 15 per cent since 2013, more than the general market for similar job sizes which grew eight per cent in the same duration.

Reiterating that the sector will require 20,000 early childhood educators by 2020, he added: “ECDA expects salary growth for early childhood educators to continue to outpace that of the general market.”

Measures taken to reduce roadkill in Mandai: Sun Xueling

Mandai Park Development (MPD) has undertaken a number of measures to reduce roadkill in the Mandai area, such as installing hoardings around the development areas on Mandai Lake Road.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said that MPD is responsible for implementing measures to mitigate the impact of its development work on wildlife in the area. However, even though there are no penalties imposed, there is an Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP) that the developer has implemented.

She also said that developers are not penalised for not implementing proposed environmental impact mitigation measures, said in Parliament on Wednesday (July 11).

Ms Sun was responding to MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng's question on whether measures have been put in place to reduce roadkill in the Mandai area, following the deaths of a pregnant wild boar and a Sambar deer in June.

Stringent safety requirements for Autonomous Vehicles
In response to questions regarding measures to ensure safety of road users with the introduction of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Janil Puthucheary has stated that the AVs that are on trial must meet stringent safety requirements such as having a safety driver on board, and they have to be fitted with a black box data recorder.
There are 14 AVs that are currently on trial at one-north and areas around National University of Singapore and also at Singapore Science Park 1 and 2. These initial trials are conducted on lightly used roads, and further trials in complex environments will be allowed when the AVs demonstrate a higher level of competency.
“All AVs must have a vehicle fault alert system that will alert the safety driver of any faults, and allow the control of the vehicle to be immediately transferred to the safety driver,” Dr Janil emphasised.
In addition, vehicles are also required to have the necessary insurance coverage against third party liability and property damage.
Dr Janil added, “We are mindful that the AV technology is evolving rapidly, we will review these measures regularly and enhance them if necessary.”

URA studying feasibility of short-term accommodation
The Urban Redevelopment Authority is studying the feedback from public consultation of short-term rentals before deciding on how to take the issue forward, said Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong.
Current regulations only allow for a minimum rental period of three months and six months for private homes and HDB flats respectively, making short-term rentals such as a Airbnb prohibited.
“Many respondents supported the need for regulations on STA (short-term accommodation), given that STA can cause negative externalities to other residents,” said Mr Wong.
He added that common key concerns were safety, security and privacy as well as abuse of common property. “Many also supported regulating STA platform operators, for example, through a  licensing framework,”  he said.
URA is also looking at the impact of STAs on the hospitality industry in Singapore. “The intent is to provide a more level playing field in the STA sector and the hospitality industry,” Mr Wong emphasised.
Mr Wong reiterated, "Our approach to this has to be one that's based on fair competition. It's not possible to say let's block any new entrants into the hospitality sector simply on the basis that the existing incumbents have put in investments.