Monday, 21 August 2017

National Day Rally 2017

Building up preschools, Fighting diabetes and Making Singapore a Smart Nation







Pre-school sector to ramp up quality, offer more places
At National Day Rally, PM Lee also focuses on fighting diabetes and creating smart nation
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Singapore will double its annual spending on pre-schools in the next five years, to add 40,000 new places for children and improve the quality of pre-school education.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday announced three initiatives to build up the pre-school sector so that every child - regardless of family background - can have the best possible start in life.

Besides increasing the number of childcare places for children aged up to four, the Government will roll out more kindergartens and set up a new centralised training institute for pre-school teachers.

"Today, every child goes to a good school. We want every child to go to a good pre-school," said Mr Lee.

"If we get this right, we will foster social mobility and sustain a fair and just society."

At his 14th National Day Rally, Mr Lee focused on building for the future, highlighting three issues that he said are important for the nation's prosperity and the well-being of its citizens in the long term.

Unlike past rallies where he spoke of Singapore's future, its economy or geopolitical issues, Mr Lee homed in this year on improving pre-school education, fighting diabetes and creating a smart nation that offers opportunities for all.

He noted that the economy is expected to grow by about 2.5 per cent this year, and, most encouragingly, productivity went up by 1 per cent last year after years of almost zero growth.

But he moved beyond immediate priorities like creating jobs to discuss longer-term issues.



He said the Government had moved decisively to transform the pre-school sector five years ago, by creating nearly 50,000 childcare and kindergarten places, increasing pre-school subsidies and raising education standards.

Anchor operators will build more childcare centres in new Housing Board developments to address a shortage of places in young towns.

To improve the quality of education, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will increase the number of its own kindergartens from 15 now to 50 in the next five years, Mr Lee said. This greater scale will allow MOE to influence and raise the quality of the whole sector, he added.

In addition, a National Institute for Early Childhood Development will be set up to consolidate existing training programmes for teachers and develop new curricula.

The Government will also work with employers to ensure salaries for pre-school teachers rise in tandem with their career progression.

Annual spending on pre-schools, which was $360 million in 2012, has more than doubled to $840 million this year. It will double further to $1.7 billion in 2022, he said.

But pouring resources into the sector will mean little unless young parents do their part, he added, as he encouraged them to have more babies.

Moving to health, he warned Singaporeans about the threat posed by diabetes, and urged them to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising more and watching their diet.

Soft drink producers have agreed to reduce the sugar content in all their drinks sold here, he said, adding that the Government is exploring solutions tried elsewhere, like a sugar tax in Brunei.

He then turned to the Smart Nation initiative, noting that Singapore is lagging behind in several areas, including cashless payments and using IT to enhance security.

As Mr Lee outlined various ongoing projects, including using artificial intelligence to comb through data from an integrated national sensor network, he also cited a new app to solve daily problems like paying for parking.



The app, named parking.sg, will allow users to remotely pay for the exact duration they park after it is launched in October, saving them the hassle of adding coupons.

Singapore, he said, had to keep pushing such projects to keep up with a changing world and make sure it stayed among the world's leading cities. Underlying this drive for a smart nation, he added, was the need to make the most of IT to create new jobs and opportunities, making life better for Singaporeans.

Concluding, he noted that each generation in Singapore has sought to create a better future for the next, adding that it is his Government's duty to help realise this. "It has ever been so, and it must always be so."

He added: "Keeping our eyes on tomorrow, and investing in our children. Undaunted by challenges and disruptions.

"Instead, working together to overcome every obstacle, seize every opportunity and realise a bright future for all of us."










Each generation builds for the next – the Singapore story
PM Lee cites a family that has moved up the social ladder, adding every family can do so
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong presented an Edusave Merit Bursary to nine-year-old Adam Zafran Aziz.

When he met the Teck Ghee Primary School pupil's family after the ceremony, he was, to his surprise, shown a small framed photo of a similar award ceremony in 1986. The photo showed Adam's father Aziz Ahmad, then a schoolboy, receiving a Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) House Union Bursary from Mr Lee.

"So, I have presented awards to father and son, 31 years apart," he recounted to applause last night, as he wrapped up his National Day Rally.

When Mr Lee met Adam's 79-year-old grandfather recently, he discovered that Mr Ahmad Azali used to be a gardener with the now-defunct SBC - the reason his son Aziz qualified for the bursary all those years ago.

Mr Lee highlighted young Adam's family to drive home the importance of each generation in Singapore building for the next.

He noted that Mr Aziz, now 42, received his bursary at a challenging time for Singapore, which was coming out of a severe recession.

But even as the nation dealt with the crisis, it never stopped building for the future, and continued to improve its schools, he said.

This allowed Mr Aziz to work hard and do well. He graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering from Singapore Polytechnic, worked in the semiconductor industry for over a decade, and earned a master's degree.

Two years ago, he was headhunted by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he now works as a senior maintenance engineer.

Now, Mr Aziz's son is growing up in a completely different world, where he will need different skills to compete in the future economy.



"It is my Government's duty to build for our future, so that every family can be like Ahmad, Aziz and Adam. It has ever been so, and it must always be so," Mr Lee said.

"In the beginning, when we had little else, we had faith in our future. We believed every family should have the chance to work hard and do well, and improve their lives. We wanted every generation to outdo their parents. We strove mightily to make this happen."

Like his father, Adam will have the opportunity to thrive, Mr Lee said. He and his schoolmates will, for instance, learn how to code.

This will give them a strong foundation to take up good jobs and seize opportunities in the future, Mr Lee added.

"This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceutical engineer; and Adam, (with) a bright future ahead of him," he said. "Each generation striving and building for the next."

Mr Aziz's path to success was a tale of grit. His father's highest salary was $700, and he entered the polytechnic with the help of tuition fee subsidies from self-help group Mendaki. There, he opted to study engineering in the hopes of improving his chances at employment.

Now, his son's career dreams run the gamut, from being a palaeontologist to a scientific researcher, a chef and a YouTuber.

Said Mr Aziz, who also has a seven-year-old daughter: "I feel honoured to be mentioned by PM Lee, but I know there are many others just like me, who started at the bottom and worked hard to get to where they are now.

"This comes from a combination of the Singapore education system and good governance, plus our own hard work."





Multiracial presidency 'will strengthen racial harmony'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Singapore's multiracial presidency will strengthen racial harmony and national pride, and enable its people to work together more closely, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the National Day Rally.

"It will enable us to work even closer together to face whatever challenges that may come our way, so we can thrive and progress as one people, one Singapore," he said in his Malay speech yesterday.

Next month's election is reserved for candidates from the Malay community, following changes to the law to ensure that the highest office in the land reflects Singapore's multiracial society.



"I am glad that the Malay community is participating fully in our efforts to build a better Singapore. Our collective resolve will enable us to tackle the challenges we face and progress together as one united people," he said.

This, said Mr Lee, was what Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak envisioned 50 years ago, adding: "If he were alive today, he would be happy to see how much progress we have made."

He said: "If all goes well, another distinguished Malay Singaporean will become our next president.

"I hope he or she will bring as much distinction and honour to the office, and be as well-loved and remembered by Singaporeans as Encik Yusof Ishak was. Our multiracial presidency will strengthen our racial harmony, and our pride in and love of Singapore."





Ramping up pre-schools






Big increase in childcare places, MOE kindergartens
Teaching standards to be raised; spending to go up
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Two in three pre-schoolers will, by 2023, have a place in a childcare centre or kindergarten that is run or supported by the Government, up from one in two today.

This will be achieved as more places become available at pre-schools run by anchor and partner operators - which get government grants but must meet fee caps and quality criteria - and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

About 40,000 childcare places will be added by 2022, a 30 per cent increase from now. Most will be run by anchor operators.

MOE will run 50 kindergartens by 2023, more than three times its current 15. With the increase, the ministry will have greater scale to influence the kindergarten sector and raise quality standards.

Since Aug 1, the Government has also appointed 29 more pre-schools under a scheme for partner operators, which face requirements that are less stiff than those for anchor operators. This brings the number of pre-schools in the partner operator scheme to about 200.



At the National Day Rally last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said pre-schools, for children aged two months to six years, are important. "Today, every child goes to a good school. We want every child to go to a good pre-school, so that all children, regardless of family background, have the best possible start in life," he said.

The Government will also double its annual spending on the pre-school sector to $1.7 billion in 2022 - "a heavy investment, but worthwhile and necessary", said PM Lee. He also said he hopes that with this financial support, government-funded pre-schools would be as good as government-funded primary and secondary schools.

A new national institute for pre-school teachers will also be set up to raise standards.

These moves come amid rising demand for childcare places as more parents see the importance of pre-school education in a child's development, and more mothers return to work. The Early Childhood Development Agency, which oversees the pre-school sector, said most of the additional childcare places will be at centres that take in about 200 children each, twice that of an average centre.

PM Lee noted that the shortage of pre-school places is mainly for children up to four years of age. To mitigate this, more "early years centres" will be set up. These centres admit children aged up to four years, unlike most childcare centres that admit children aged up to seven. Eligible Nursery 2 children in the centres will be guaranteed a Kindergarten 1 place in an MOE kindergarten.

The first four centres are under construction in Punggol and expected to open next year. The other new centres will be built in new Housing Board estates for a start.

As for children aged five and six, the quality of pre-school programmes will be raised. The 15 MOE kindergartens have offered good programmes at reasonable prices, said PM Lee. "Parents know that they can trust the MOE brand."

He said raising the number of MOE kindergartens to 50 would allow MOE to make a wider impact beyond its own pre-schools and raise the quality of the sector, which has about 500 kindergartens. Extra help is also being given to children from low-income families, under the government scheme KidStart.

But all of the Government's investment in young children "will be for nought", said PM Lee, if young couples do not start families. "Please have more babies!" he said, to much laughter from the audience.

Civil servant S. Thevigha, 34, who has a one-year-old in pre-school, said: "With government-supported pre-schools taking a larger market share, I think that will set the price benchmark for private operators. That could help keep costs low and encourage more families to have children."
















New national institute to train pre-school educators
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

A new national institute will be set up to train pre-school educators to improve the profession and attract good people.

The National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) will offer the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for pre-school professionals.

It will be the pre-school equivalent of the National Institute of Education (NIE), which trains teachers in primary and secondary schools as well as junior colleges.

Its establishment comes at a time when demand for pre-school teachers has gone up, with the sector expanding to meet increased demand for childcare services.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announcing the setting up of NIEC at the National Day Rally, said it was important to upgrade the profession as pre-school teachers "make all the difference to our children".



With the institute, pre-school teachers can go through the same rigorous training as school teachers employed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), who attend NIE before they start teaching, and to upgrade their skills and prepare for senior roles. NIE also conducts research on teaching methods and keeps them up to date. After obtaining the requisite qualifications, they can progress to be master teachers who show others how to teach, be subject specialists who develop new curricula or school leaders.

"Because teachers are trained well, paid well and have good career prospects, good people take up teaching, and we have a good education system," said PM Lee.

"We will take the same approach with pre-school teachers - train them well, reward them well and attract good, passionate people."

The NIEC, which will come under NIE, will bring together training programmes offered by the Institute of Technical Education, Ngee Ann and Temasek polytechnics, and NTUC's Seed Institute.

It will also have the scale to develop curricula with different specialisations such as music and art, and the faculty will have more professional development opportunities in a larger fraternity.

All trainee pre-school teachers will get their fees fully covered, plus an allowance.

Mr Victor Bay, chief executive of pre-school operator PAP Community Foundation, said the NIEC "will expand the availability of continuous professional development for our current teachers".

The Government will start a three-year campaign to attract people to the sector, and work with employers to ensure pre-school teachers have good career prospects and competitive pay.

PM Lee said: "As we upgrade the profession, salaries need to improve further... Only then can we upgrade the pre-school sector and get good people to join and make it a career. Only then can we build a strong pre-school system."





Why mother tongues are better learnt when young
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

The late Madam Kwa Geok Choo began learning Chinese only when she was in her 20s, during World War II, but seldom spoke the language although she could understand and speak it well.

It turned out that a friend had once told her she spoke Mandarin with an English accent, and she felt conscious about her pronunciation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said of his mother.

He cited hers and his own experiences during his Mandarin National Day Rally speech yesterday to illustrate why languages are better learnt when young.

"Adults can also learn a language, but it will not be as easy for them and they will not be as fluent," he said.

"If you learnt Mandarin as an adult, you may not be able to discern its four tones... And if you mispronounce Chinese words, you may end up making a faux pas."



PM Lee himself learnt Chinese at the age of three, when his parents enrolled him in the Chinese- medium Nanyang Kindergarten.

But he did not learn hanyu pinyin, which had not been adopted then.

The romanisation system helps students learn the proper pronunciation of Chinese words.

His Mandarin, thus, has a Nanyang, or Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese, accent, he said.

"Getting the right pronunciation is still not easy for me," PM Lee added.

Because mother tongues are used less at home these days, pre-schools play a greater role in teaching these languages, he said.

This is why the Government will work to improve bilingual education in pre-schools to give children a good foundation, in its push to upgrade pre-school education.





Promising feedback for KidStart scheme
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

A government scheme to help disadvantaged children has received promising feedback after being piloted for a year.

KidStart offers a range of support for children aged up to six, and about 400 families are currently on the scheme.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the National Day Rally yesterday: "Parents say that their children are more talkative and expressive, and interact much better.

"If these results are confirmed, we will scale up KidStart to benefit more children."

The support offered to those on the scheme includes home visits to teach parents about babies' nutrition and care, playgroups for those aged one to three and dedicated staff at pre-schools who focus on keeping these children in school.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin wrote in a Facebook post last night: "(KidStart) is an initiative that is very close to my heart. When we talk of inequalities and disadvantage, we need to go way upstream to begin breaking the cycle."

He also commended the children's parents for their efforts, as well as the staff and volunteers involved. "We couldn't have done this without the dedication of our KidStart practitioners and volunteers. They have been the families' teacher, partner and friend, seeing them through their brightest and darkest moments," he wrote.



A taxi driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, has gone for 10 playgroup sessions with his wife and two-year-old son. Parents pick up parenting skills during these sessions, and learn how to strengthen the bond with their children.

Mr Tan, who is in his 40s, said his son is now more confident and interacts well with strangers. "My two older children had problems transiting to pre-school, and that affected my work. But when I see my youngest child now, I have peace of mind."





Quality pre-schools pay off in big way
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Singapore is known around the world for having built a school system that nurtures world beaters.

In the last Programme for International Student Assessment test, 15-year-olds here were ranked No. 1 among students from 72 countries in mathematics, science and reading.

But looking at the powerful body of research on the benefits of quality early childhood care and education, should Singapore be shooting for the top in pre-school education instead?

It is a reachable target, with pre-schools poised to get better and more accessible.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced yesterday that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will run more kindergartens, from 15 now to 50 in the next five years, so that it has the scale to influence the rest of the kindergarten sector and raise standards.

To cater to children younger than that - those from age zero to four, there will be the early-years centres set up in Housing Board estates.

What was especially heartening was the announcement on the new National Institute of Early Childhood Development, which would be the pre-school equivalent of the existing National Institute of Education for school teachers. This will be set up to train pre-school educators to upgrade the profession and attract good people to the sector.

PM Lee said this was the Government's way of giving children "the best chance to succeed in life".

Indeed, there is a mountain of research showing that the race is already half run by the time a child enters formal schooling at Primary 1.

A large-scale British study - the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary research project launched in 1997 - tracked more than 3,000 children from the age of three through their years of education to employment.

And the evidence was clear - pre-school education is beneficial. Children who attend pre-school end up with better results. The benefit of going to any type of pre-school equated to getting seven B grades in the General Certificate of Secondary Education exams - the equivalent of the GCE O levels - rather than seven C grades. The higher grades, in turn, would translate into better jobs and higher incomes over their lifetime.

Children with pre-school education were also more likely to regulate themselves.

Self-regulation is as important as learning your ABCs, as such children pay more attention in class and can ignore distractions.

Exposure to pre-school will especially benefit children from lower-income homes, for whom one-third of the places in MOE kindergartens have been reserved.

A study by developmental psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley shows that achievement gaps for some children open up as early as the age of three.

The landmark study in the 1990s found that children whose parents were professionals were exposed to far more spoken words - more than 1,500 per hour, on average - than children from homes on welfare. Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly eight million words and, by age four, a total gap of 32 million words.

Professor Edward Melhuish, one of the principal investigators of the British study, explained to The Straits Times: "It comes down to having little learning opportunity at home. Going to a high-quality pre-school will not only give them a good foundation for numeracy and literacy skills, but it will also teach them the other skills that studies show are increasingly important - the ability to self-regulate and cooperate with other people better."

Attending a good pre-school teaches children that learning can be enjoyable and that they can be good at it, he pointed out.

But what makes a high-quality pre-school?

Research indicates that the most important factor in determining the quality of pre-school programmes may be what teachers do, and how they do it, when interacting with children.

The Perry Pre-school Project in the United States in the 1960s involved providing high-quality pre-school education to a group of three- and four-year-olds living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure.

The children were taught by certified public school teachers with at least a bachelor's degree. The average child-teacher ratio was six to one and the curriculum emphasised active learning. These children were tracked for decades after leaving pre-school. Not only did more of them go on to complete high school and enter college, they also had better jobs and earned higher salaries.

Meanwhile, the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina - better known as ABC - trained children in self-control and social skills from the time they were just a few months old, stimulated their learning and also provided parental education.

This programme was found to have lasting effects on the child's IQ and the children later did better in school and found more high-skilled jobs.

These studies make a clear case for governments to invest in early childhood education.

Early education, especially one that is of high quality, yields handsome returns. It has enduring benefits for children and the societies that invest in it.

Singapore's goal, then, should be to top the charts in early childhood care and education. Future generations will be happier and more prosperous, if the nation can pull this off.





War on diabetes






Soft drinks to pack less sugar to cut diabetes risk
PM also urges Singaporeans to exercise more and watch what they eat
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Soft-drink makers have pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks, as part of a national effort to help curb diabetes in Singapore.

But the work will not stop there, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

In fact, the Government is already looking at ways to help people cut down on soft drink consumption, he added.

He also advised Singaporeans to get their health checked, exercise more and watch what they eat, so as to reduce their diabetes risk.

The chronic ailment affects an estimated 400,000 Singapore residents, a third of whom do not even know they have the disease.

The battle against sugar is one that is being fought worldwide.

Some countries, such as Mexico and Brunei, have implemented a sugar tax. Others, including Chile and Britain, have pasted warning labels on drinks that have high sugar levels.

But it is not clear yet how effective such measures are, said Mr Lee. In fact, consumers might simply find other ways to get their sugar fix.

"Others have tried to limit the size of soft drinks - no more Big Gulp," said Mr Lee, referring to the popular drink from convenience store chain 7-Eleven.

"But (we are) not sure if that works either, because people might just have two smaller gulps instead."

Even though no perfect solution has presented itself, the Government is determined to do something about the problem of soft drinks and sugar.

"If anybody comes up with (a solution) that works, we will study it, and we will implement it," said Mr Lee.



Getting soft-drink companies to come to a consensus is a first step, he added.

The Ministry of Health will give more details in the coming week.

In recent years, local drink manufacturers have rolled out healthier versions of popular beverages, often with less sugar.

Many of these product lines have been certified by the Health Promotion Board as healthier options through the Healthier Choice Symbol.

For instance, Yeo's chrysanthemum tea comes in a "light" version that has 40 per cent fewer calories.

And while Heaven and Earth sells a sweetened jasmine green tea, a sugar-free Ayataka green tea is also available. The line of drinks is under the Coca-Cola group.

Meanwhile, F&N's website says that it tracks the quantity of sugar added into all its drinks, and that it has gradually decreased sugar levels for all of its beverages over the past few years.



Dr Kevin Tan, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said that the move to reduce sugar levels in soft drinks "sends the right signal".

But there are more factors affecting a person's risk of diabetes than just sugary drinks, noted Dr Tan, who is also vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore.

Other factors include the amount of carbohydrates consumed.

"The Government might declare war on diabetes, but the success of the war lies in the individual's lifestyle and choices," said Dr Tan.










Beating diabetes starts with small steps, says PM Lee
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Eat right, exercise more, get your health checked regularly and think twice about picking up that can of soft drink.

These are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's words of advice to Singaporeans who want to beat diabetes.

"It takes effort and discipline, but it can be done," he told the audience during yesterday's National Day Rally, where he devoted a third of his time to speaking about the chronic illness.

Mr Lee, who has a family history of the disease, said winning the war against diabetes often starts with the little things.

"Genes play a part, but your choices make a difference," he said, sharing how he tries to make healthier choices in everyday life.

"Wholemeal bread instead of white bread. Teh-o kosong instead of teh.

"But if the dessert is chendol, it can't be helped. I will just take a little bit."

The average Singaporean can expect to live up to the age of 82 - among the longest lifespans in the world.

But many will spend around eight years of this time in poor health, with the culprit often being diabetes, Mr Lee said.

While diabetes is often a silent illness, its complications - which range from kidney failure to blindness and even impotency in men - can prove debilitating.

Roughly 400,000 Singapore residents have diabetes.

A significant proportion of them do not even know it.

Diabetes also becomes more prevalent as people age, and is estimated to affect nearly a third of Singaporeans aged over 60.

The Government alone cannot solve this problem, Mr Lee said. It is a matter of personal responsibility.

The first thing people should do is find out where they stand by going for regular medical check-ups.

These do not have to be expensive. From next month, nearly two million Singaporeans can get a basic health screening for $5 or less under the enhanced Screen for Life programme.

This was first announced in March, during the debate on the Health Ministry's budget.

"Don't take the attitude that it is better not to know," Mr Lee said. "You must want to know, because if you know about your condition, you can do something about it."

Do not sit on the results, he added, but see a doctor about any red flags in the medical report.

Apart from prescribing medication, the chances are your doctor will advise you to eat healthy and exercise more as well, Mr Lee said.



Ideally, people should get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week - whether it is from a dance class or a Zumba session.

Failing that, walking at least 10,000 steps a day can be an alternative goal.

For instance, why not walk to the MRT station rather than take a bus, Mr Lee suggested.

Alternatively, climb the stairs rather than wait for a lift. "Let's all make the effort to walk a little bit more and work it into our daily routine," he said.

All the audience members yesterday received a free steps tracker from the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which is spearheading the national effort to get people up and moving.

According to one of its recent studies, more Singaporeans are hitting the target of 150 minutes of physical activity weekly.

But this is not enough to offset the growing amount of calories they consume.

In 1998, Singaporeans ingested around 2,100 calories a day.

But by 2004, they were downing 300 extra calories daily. This is equivalent to two scoops of ice cream, Mr Lee said.

And in 2010, the average daily intake had gone up by a further 200 calories - that is, a third scoop of ice cream and toppings.

"To burn off these three extra scoops of ice cream, you need to run more than an hour every day," Mr Lee said. "Most of us don't do that, so obesity has gone up."



A final target of Mr Lee's speech was soft drinks and sugar.

These drinks contain refined sugar, which is bad for a person and can increase the risk of diabetes.

This problem is especially tricky because drinking such sugary beverages can become an ingrained habit from a young age, he said. "Our children are most at risk because soft drinks are part of their lifestyle."

The Government has worked with soft drink makers to get them to reduce the sugar of all the drinks sold in Singapore. More details will be released later.

"But ultimately, what to drink is a personal choice," Mr Lee said. "The best is to drink plain water."


















Eat less white rice, switch to brown or mixed rice, urges PM
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Each week, before the Cabinet ministers get down to the business of government, they gather for lunch.

Brown rice is always on the menu of this Pre-Cabinet lunch. The ministers agreed to having the healthier, nutty-tasting grain a few years ago on the suggestion of then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

"But only very, very recently, I found out that some ministers don't like brown rice. So when we come to Pre-Cab lunch, they don't have rice and they go home and they eat white rice for dinner," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, to laughter.



The example illustrates how it can be difficult to switch to healthier options, he said, adding: "As a compromise, I am thinking of trying white rice mixed with brown rice. It is not quite as healthy, but it is better tasting than all-brown rice and it is healthier than all- white rice."

Brown rice, which is unpolished and has its bran layer and germ intact, is packed with nutrients such as zinc and iron. It is higher in fibre, which slows glucose absorption by the body.

Starchy white rice, on the other hand, with its high glycaemic index, can overload bodies with blood sugar and heighten the risk of diabetes.

PM Lee said: "White rice may not taste sweet, but the effect is almost like eating sugar, and when you eat white rice, your blood sugar will shoot up."

He quipped that he needed to hold "another serious Cabinet discussion" on what to serve at the Pre-Cab lunches.

The Prime Minister related this anecdote at the National Day Rally to underline the importance of choosing healthier eating options as one way for Singaporeans to combat diabetes.

Fighting the disease is a major policy goal of the Government.

The key was to be disciplined and make the right dietary choices, said PM Lee, relating a story Punggol East MP Charles Chong told him about a lunch with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.



Mr Chong was having lunch with Mr Lee and, when the main course was served, he saw only 1-1/2 pieces of steak on the plate.

As the guest, Mr Chong was served first, and picked the smaller piece of meat out of respect for Mr Lee.

"Mr Lee stopped him. He said: 'That's my piece. You take the other one!' " recounted PM Lee.

Singaporeans could follow the late Mr Lee's example and make healthier choices, he added.

He, too, had to take this advice to heart, given his family's history of diabetes, he said. His paternal grandmother and several uncles had the disease, though the late Mr Lee did not. "For diabetes, genes play a part, but your choices make a difference," he said.



PM Lee urged Singaporeans to choose healthier dishes such as fish soup, if they eat out, or healthier alternatives offered by hawkers, with less oil, sugar and salt.

"And if you do cook at home, make small changes, like replacing white rice with brown or mixed- grain rice," he said.

FairPrice, in a statement last night, said that it will offer discounts on the healthier rice options it carries in its supermarkets from today to Aug 30 to encourage healthier eating.

Among the eight products that will be discounted by at least 10 per cent are brown and red rice, as well as organic rice.










Diabetic cabby improves his health
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

When taxi driver Song Hee Pheow found out he had diabetes three years ago, the diagnosis came as a shock and a surprise.

His family had no history of diabetes, and the 65-year-old had thought it was unlikely he would come down with the disease.

"I thought it couldn't be, I didn't believe it - I thought maybe it was what I ate over the last few days," Mr Song told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

He took action after a subsequent polyclinic check-up confirmed that initial diagnosis at a health check-up for cabbies by the Health Promotion Board and ComfortDelGro.



He cut out soft drinks, and eats a much smaller amount of white rice, and more fish and vegetables.

"I used to drink two cans of soft drink at one go... and when I went home for dinner, I used to eat a big bowl of white rice," he said.

In addition, he now climbs the stairs to his taxi at the multi-storey carpark instead of taking the lift.

Because of those lifestyle changes, Mr Song has lost 4kg in six months, and his doctor said his blood sugar levels are good.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong related Mr Song's turnaround tale during the National Day Rally last night, as he issued a clarion call to fight the scourge of diabetes.

Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to eat healthily, exercise more and go for health check-ups. "If Mr Song can do it, each one of us can do it too," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Song is glad his blood sugar levels are under control. He said: "Diabetes is serious, it can lead to things like amputations. People need to take care of their bodies, and diet is one of the most important things."

He added that these lifestyle changes are difficult, but will bring handsome benefits in future.

It was a similar message to Mr Lee's, who said: "The payoff is large, and it can be done."











 






Seven drink companies pledge to reduce sugar in beverages to 12% or less by 2020
Beverage firms pledge to reduce sugar in drinks but experts say bar is too low as many drinks are already at acceptable levels
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2017

From 2020, most prepacked drinks ranging from fizzy sodas to juice drinks sold in Singapore will be less sweet, following a pledge by seven major beverage companies to reduce sugar in their products.

The industry pact, believed to be the first of its kind here, will see sugar content being capped at 12 per cent, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.

This works out to 12g of sugar for every 100ml. It means that a typical 330ml canned drink would contain at most 40g of sugar.


The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends that people should consume no more than 40g to 55g of added sugar a day. An HPB spokesman added that the companies can reformulate drinks that contain too much sugar, or take them off the local market.

The substantive impact of the industry pledge would be limited, though. Most of the seven companies said the majority of their drinks already fall within the 12 per cent limit, with three - F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries and Nestle - saying all their drinks contain no more than 12 per cent sugar.

The move by industry players underscores a concerted effort to get the nation healthier, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally last Sunday. He devoted a third of his speech to the fight against diabetes, and said the new measure would be a first step in tackling the problem of soft drink and sugar consumption.



The seven players, said MOH, provide 70 per cent of the prepacked sugar-sweetened drinks sold here.

The other firms are Yeo Hiap Seng, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Singapore and Pokka. Among their products that are especially high in sugar are A&W Sarsaparilla, Pokka Soursop Juice Drink and Kickapoo.

The amount of sugar the average Singaporean consumes via these drinks is significant: More than 1,500 teaspoons, or over 7kg, a year.

"This move could potentially reduce sugar consumption by about 300,000 kg per year," said MOH.



According to its statistics, 60 per cent of Singaporeans' total sugar intake comes from sugary beverages, including soft drinks and juices, as well as coffee and tea.

The firms did not respond to queries on whether the changes will have an impact on prices, although one, Yeo's, said it had not passed on the costs of replacing sugar with natural substitutes.

Some experts said the bar for the companies should be set even higher, given that many products already fall within the acceptable range. Sugar levels in Coca-Cola Classic, for example, are at 10.6 per cent. "If Coke is already at that level, let's challenge companies to reduce sugar even further," said dietitian Jaclyn Reutens of Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants.

Mr Derrick Ong, a dietitian at Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy, said he is "slightly disappointed" by the news.

Canned and packet drinks are not the only high-sugar beverages to watch out for, warned Ms Liow Min Choo, a dietitian at PanAsia Surgery Group. Drinks made on the spot such as tea, coffee or fresh juices are often very sweet too.

"My bugbear is fruit juices - you have a lot of cold-pressed or organic juices and nobody bats an eyelid because they are natural. But they can contain a lot of sugar."











Building a Smart Nation


 




Coupon-free parking with new mobile app from Oct 2017
Just key in the vehicle number, carpark and parking duration to pay on per-minute basis
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Motorists will be able to pay for parking on their phone from October, instead of using coupons, when the mobile app Parking.sg becomes available for download.

The app - developed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Housing Board and GovTech - will replace the use of paper coupons in about 1,150 carparks, including kerbside parking spaces.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking at the National Day Rally yesterday, said: "It will save motorists a lot of unnecessary parking hassles."

Making people's lives more convenient by taking full advantage of technology is a key strategic goal of Singapore's Smart Nation push, he added.

Payment through the app will be cashless, and motorists just need to key in their vehicle number, select the carpark and indicate their intended parking duration.

Charges will also be calculated on a per-minute basis, with refunds given if motorists park for a shorter period than they initially intended to.

With the paper coupon system, motorists pay at least 60 cents for 30-minute blocks, and those who park for a shorter time do not get to pay less.

The app also makes it more convenient for those who need to extend their parking sessions, as this can be done remotely. Currently, motorists have to go back to their cars to add more coupons if they need to park for a longer period, or risk being fined.

Mr Lee noted that motorists here have been tearing out parking coupons for the past 40 years, even though Singapore boasts a world-class Electronic Road Pricing system and many Singaporeans are savvy with smartphones.



A month-long trial for Parking.sg took place in May and involved 2,300 public officers and nearly 100 public carparks.

Since then, the app has been upgraded to include a new alert feature to warn users before their parking session expires.

Sales executive W.K. Heng, 43, said he likes the new app and its alert feature, saying: "I don't have to rush back to the car any more to add coupons."



Paper parking coupons will still be in use when the system is rolled out in October, but will eventually be phased out.

Parking.sg will pave the way for the next-generation satellite Electronic Road Pricing system, which is expected to be introduced in 2020.

Satellites will monitor vehicles to calculate road usage and parking fees, and charge motorists electronically, saving on enforcement costs.




















When Lim Swee Say felt like a 'suaku' paying cash in Shanghai
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say was queueing up to buy chestnuts at a roadside hawker stall in Shanghai a few years ago.

When he saw customers ahead of him waving their mobile phones, taking their chestnuts and leaving without paying any cash, he thought they were showing their phones to get a special offer.

He declined to participate, offering to pay the full price in cash.

But it turned out the customers were using WeChat Pay to scan the hawker's QR code.



Mr Lim felt like a "suaku" (country bumpkin), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday when he recounted the incident.

Loud laughter greeted the narrative Mr Lee used to make a serious point: Singapore lags behind other cities in several areas of its Smart Nation push, like electronic payments. This is despite its "natural advantage", with its compact and highly connected state, a digitally literate population, and basic computing and robotics being taught in schools.

In major Chinese cities, nearly all payments - from taxi rides to tips for waiters - can be made by scanning a QR code with a phone. Cash and credit cards are rare.

"So, when visitors from China find that they have to use cash here, they ask: How can Singapore be so backward?" PM Lee said.



Six in 10 transactions here are made via cash or cheque, and there are too many different e-payment systems and schemes which must be simplified and integrated.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has been working on this.

In the next 18 months, 25,000 unified point-of-sale terminals, which accept multiple payment options such as credit cards and contactless payments through phones, are expected to be deployed islandwide, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office said in a statement yesterday.

Citing the newly launched PayNow service, Mr Lee said he hopes to use it to pay for hawker centre meals in the near future.



PayNow lets people make payments to a person's mobile number, instead of his bank account number, and works across different banks.E-payment at hawker centres will be rolled out in phases by the National Environment Agency by end-2019.

The drive is among five government projects to promote pervasive use of smart technologies.

Other e-payment initiatives include a common QR code to be rolled out in six months' time, which consumers and small businesses can use to receive money via PayNow, and account-based ticketing, which lets commuters use contactless bank cards to pay for trips without making top-ups.

To be a smart nation, Singapore has to take full advantage of information technology, said Mr Lee.

It is not just about having the fastest Internet connection or using self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, he added. It is about "using IT comprehensively to create new jobs, new business opportunities, to make our economy more productive, to make our lives more convenient, and to make this an outstanding city in which to live, work and play".
















Language whizz helps silver peers get to grips with tech
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Retired human resources professional Tariam Singh speaks five languages that he puts to use regularly as he helps fellow senior citizens get to grips with technology.

Mr Singh, 70, is one of 163 volunteer Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassadors.

"In my working life, I saw that many seniors had problems with IT," said Mr Singh, explaining why he became an ambassador.

It is also a good way to socialise and combat the loneliness the silver years can bring. About once a month, he teaches his peers how to use gadgets such as smartphones and tablets.

He does so at venues like Silver IT Fest roadshows where there are Learning Island Tutorials, at which seniors are taught to use mobile apps.

Anyone aged at least 50 can be an ambassador, as long as he is active with IT and can encourage his peers to actively adopt digital technology. He can nominate himself or his friends online.

Ambassadors are appointed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority and People's Association Active Ageing Council under the scheme, introduced in 2012.



Mr Singh, who has been an ambassador since June, said his ability to speak English, Mandarin, Malay, Hokkien and Punjabi helps him with students who may not understand terms used during lessons, which are in English.

One difficulty in teaching the elderly is that they tend to forget fast, so he gives them material to take home and his phone number.

One of his most rewarding experiences was when a man whom he taught saw him on the street, and ran to hug and thank him. He had taught the man to use a smartphone.

Mr Singh does not see himself stopping any time soon.

"My inspiration is to help my peers... Until the day they don't need me, I have no intention of stopping," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out Mr Singh when speaking on Singapore's Smart Nation drive. He said anyone could be like Mr Singh in sharing IT knowledge with others to bring them up to speed.









'Smart' lamp posts to transmit data
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Plans are afoot to turn every lamp post into one that can transmit information gathered from surveillance cameras and sensors across the country.

This network of interconnected lamp posts could form the spine of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP), which aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to analyse, for instance, video footage collected by various government agencies.

Such data could be used to detect anomalies and predict situations such as potentially unruly crowds and traffic congestion.

"We are making every lamp post a 'smart' lamp post to mount different types of sensors," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech yesterday when he spoke about making Singapore a smart nation and using technology to boost public safety.

The AI-based video analytics system is slated for a trial in Orchard Road as well as selected housing estates from October.

During the year-long trial, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and other agencies will monitor noise, water and sewage levels for better estate management, and install smart water meters in homes to better track the use of utilities, said PM Lee.

GovTech and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will test the lamp posts with trials in selected areas over the next 18 months.

The private sector will also be roped in. GovTech will call a tender at the end of the year for products that will let LTA's 95,000 street lamps be used for transmitting data such as temperature, humidity, footfall or vehicular traffic.



PM Lee said the SNSP initiative was born after the Little India riots in December 2013 - the first public disturbance of its kind in 40 years.

"We were caught a little flat-footed. There were too few CCTV cameras... We had to rely on footage posted by the public on social media," he said.

Around 300 foreign workers were involved in the riot at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road, which lasted for about two hours.

Since then, more CCTV cameras have been installed in public places. However, the different surveillance systems have not been brought together, said PM Lee.

For instance, LTA has its own cameras to monitor traffic conditions and deter illegal parking. The police have put their cameras at the void decks of Housing Board flats and lift landings as part of efforts to deal with loan sharks.

National water agency PUB has sensors to detect water levels in drains.

In this respect, Singapore lags behind other cities, said PM Lee.

"Many cities already have comprehensive CCTV and sensor networks. And they also can integrate the inputs from all the sources, analyse and make sense of the information, and respond promptly if there is an incident or emergency."

Combining such inputs into an integrated data source is crucial, PM Lee added.

"If one day, we have an incident like the Boston bombings, our Home Team can assess the situation quickly and respond promptly, or even pre-empt it," he said.

In April 2013, twin bombs near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded 264.

The Boston police identified the two bombers in three days after pulling together and analysing a vast amount of data from CCTV cameras, social media and footage from the public.





Dropout seizes tech advantage
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

When online retail giant Amazon's Prime Now service landed in Singapore last month, it picked home-grown logistics firm Riverwood as its main delivery company.

The brainchild of school dropout Syafiq Yussoff, Riverwood had a rocky start seven years ago, with four workers and two vans. Competition was stiff, but Mr Syafiq pressed on, often joining workers to make deliveries and upgrading operations by tapping technology.

Today, it has more than 60 vehicles, over 120 workers and big-name clients like Sephora.

Mr Syafiq, 33, was one of several success stories in the new economy that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted at his National Day Rally last night.



In his Malay speech, Mr Lee noted how, like Mr Syafiq, more young Malays are taking advantage of IT, and starting new companies in a range of sectors.

Mr Syafiq said Riverwood was born out of a hunch that e-commerce would be the next big thing. He dropped out of a mass communication diploma course because of financial problems, and later attended night classes for a business studies diploma, but stopped out of lack of interest.

He started work as a personal trainer, but after six years saw fresh potential in online shopping: "I may not have much when it comes to formal education, but I am a hard worker and, when I saw the opportunity, I was willing to adapt and learn."





Economy and jobs immediate priorities for Govt
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

Singapore's economy remains strong and growth is expected to reach around 2.5 per cent this year, higher than last year's 2 per cent.

Productivity, key to better jobs and better pay, is also improving - it rose 1 per cent last year after several years of negligible growth, and should do even better this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at last night's National Day Rally.

As with the early nation-building years, the country has to deal with many urgent issues, among them the economy, terrorism and international relations, he added.

"The Government is managing these issues carefully and calmly, and we hope the people will support us and work with us."

In his speeches in Mandarin and English, Mr Lee said economic performance and jobs are immediate priorities which the Government will continue to focus on.



He said that while economic transformation is progressing at an encouraging pace, it is not complete and all involved must push on.

He pledged that the Government will continue to help those affected by the restructuring process, such as professionals, managers, executives and technicians who have lost their jobs.

Through SkillsFuture, the Government is helping displaced workers and professionals retrain and reskill for new jobs.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and the Future Economy Council, together with unions and employers, are also implementing industry transformation maps to guide efforts in each growth industry.

And companies are given support to upgrade and enter new markets overseas.

A successful example is soya snack company Xiao Ban, started by the son of the founder of Lao Ban Soya Bean Curd. It has opened outlets in Vietnam with the help of International Enterprise Singapore, said Mr Lee.

"I believe that so long as the Government, people and industries work together, our economy will continue to grow steadily, we will open new frontiers and we will create good job opportunities for all," he added.

















Weighty themes underpin the issues highlighted
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2017

At first glance, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's decision to devote the bulk of his National Day Rally speech last night to pre-school education, diabetes and building a smart nation may appear unusual.

The rally speech is an annual policy address to Singaporeans. These three seem to be softer issues compared to weighty matters like foreign policy, jobs and economic transformation that Mr Lee covered in past rallies.

Indeed, even Mr Lee acknowledged that some Singaporeans may be puzzled by his choice of topics. He said in Mandarin: "Many wondered why the Prime Minister should talk about diabetes at the National Day Rally."

But on deeper analysis, the issues are not as soft as they may seem. There are some common themes that underpin them. Here are three.

One, all three issues affect large numbers of Singaporeans.

Pre-school education affects six-year-olds and below, including future generations.

Diabetes looks set to strike older Singaporeans, as well as younger ones who will grow old in the future.

And if pre-school education and diabetes are issues that bookend a person's life journey, the Smart Nation plan, when it takes full shape, will affect people from cradle to grave.

As Mr Lee put it: "Smart Nation is for all of us, young and old."

What PM Lee talked about last night will impact Singaporeans at several points in their lives.

Two, not only do the issues affect Singaporeans, but they also fundamentally shape their long-term well-being.

Take pre-school education. Mr Lee took pains to explain last night why the Government is drastically expanding pre-school places, upgrading the profession of pre-school teachers and doubling its spending on pre-schools in the next five years. "Pre-school is important to give our children a good start and the best chance to succeed in life," he said.



The Government's greater focus on pre-school education also strengthens an important pillar of social policies here: meritocracy.

This is why programmes like KidStart, that give children from low-income families a head start in life, cannot come soon enough.

Controlling the spread of diabetes and implementing the Smart Nation programme will also improve the quality of life of Singaporeans.

Avoiding the ailments that diabetes brings means a smaller healthcare bill and being able to lead a fuller, active life. The benefits of technology in improving daily living can be eroded if one has poor health to begin with.

Finally, these issues also shape an important third area - jobs.

The Smart Nation programme is not just going to change how Singaporeans go about their daily lives, but it will also shape the economy and shake up the labour market.



PM Lee said that the Smart Nation drive will create new jobs and opportunities, such as engineers, programmers, data analysts and technicians - good jobs that Singaporeans can aspire to.

One can expect tertiary institutes to churn out graduates equipped for such jobs and Workforce Singapore to step up conversion programmes for mid-career workers. Picking up skills that these jobs demand will be easier if a sound educational foundation has been laid from a young age. This is how early investments in pre-school can pay off later when the young charges enter post-secondary education and even after they join the workforce.

Meanwhile, for older workers, their health is going to directly affect their employability and income-earning ability as they age, especially with the re-employment age having been raised to 67.

Put bluntly, being stricken with diabetes can bring about financial hardship for workers and their families, both in terms of larger healthcare bills and reduced earnings.

While pre-school education, diabetes and the Smart Nation drive may appear to be unrelated on their own, collectively they will impact Singaporeans not just in terms of how they live, but also how they work.

But while PM Lee may have given Singaporeans much to think about in his rally speech, two questions remain.

First, on issues like diet and exercise, one wonders how much the Prime Minister can shape personal, individual decisions.

He can raise awareness, but that alone may not be enough to coax Singaporeans to change their diet and daily habits.

Government agencies such as the Health Promotion Board must expand their outreach. Employers, too, can do more, such as by getting their desk-bound employees out of their chairs and away from the keyboards.

The second question has to do with displaced workers.

The parking app to replace parking coupons may mean fewer carpark wardens in the long run.

Similarly, cashless payment options and self-service checkouts mean fewer cashiers.

What is going to happen to workers like carpark wardens and cashiers? For displaced workers, the Smart Nation programme may mean joblessness.

Overall productivity may rise, but this downside of the Smart Nation drive cannot be underestimated. Efforts to prepare, help and retrain these workers should start right away.













National Day Rally 2017 Speech (Chinese)






National Day Rally 2017 Speech (Malay)

No comments:

Post a Comment