Saturday, December 7, 2019

‘Without him, I’d be in Boys’ Home’: The Normal Stream student who just needed someone to believe in him

'Without him, I'd be in Boys' Home': The Normal Stream student who just needed someone to believe in him

'Without him, I'd be in Boys' Home': The Normal Stream student who just needed someone to believe in him

After barely scraping through to secondary school, Yap Zi Yang's self-esteem was shattered - until a youth worker with The Scaffold Programme helped him believe he was capable of more than he thought possible.

CNA Insider
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As a former Normal (Technical) stream student, senior youth worker Shafik Said has been in the position of students like Yap Zi Yang.


SINGAPORE: When Yap Zi Yang saw the score '140' on his Primary School Leaving Examination result slip, he was crushed.

"Study so hard, also fail," he said. "I just wanted to give up." 

And give up on himself, he did. 

Just barely making it into the Normal (Technical) stream at Bedok Green Secondary School, he skipped classes three times (or more) a week to stay home. When he did bother to show up, he was often splayed out in his chair at the back of the classroom, fast asleep. 

"I felt like I had no future," he said. "I just took one day at a time."

Directionless, low on self-esteem, and resentful of the way he thought his peers in the Express stream looked down on him, Zi Yang lashed out.

"We targeted the smaller students. Sometimes I would take their bags and throw them on the floor. 

"Our teachers always said Express students don't look down on us," he added. "But we just felt like they did." 

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Zi Yang, now 17.

Shafik Said knows how students like him feel. "When you're in the Normal stream, you kind of are compared," said the senior youth worker with Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association (CARE Singapore). 

You tend to believe you are way less capable than others. You aspire to less.

Each time he walks into a class and asks "how many of you think being in Normal Technical means it's the end for you?", Shafik said, "a few of them will raise their hands".


But there was more to Zi Yang than the rebellious, couldn't-care-less side he showed in school.

When the school bell rang, 13-year-old Zi Yang, instead of hanging about with his friends, would head straight home, where he'd help his mother around the house and care for his ailing father.

A seamstress, Madam Chin Bee Ching had been taking on more work making curtains ever since Zi Yang's father suffered a mild stroke in 2014 and could no longer work as a taxi driver. 

Zi Yang looked up to his dad. When he was younger, they'd go for supper together, just father and son, at the coffee shop near their home. Over prata with egg, they'd have heart-to-heart conversations about everything.

"My father was one of the closest people to me. I would talk to him about things that I went through, sometimes he would talk to me about his issues. He understood me," Zi Yang, now 17, remembered. 

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Zi Yang and his family in happier years. (Courtesy: Yap Zi Yang)

In January 2015, the month Zi Yang entered Secondary 1, his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The man he looked up to rapidly wasted away before his eyes. 

"He couldn't even hold a spoon himself. Sometimes in the morning, if I needed to feed him, I'd stay home," said the teenager who, without anyone asking, became his dad's main caregiver.

Instead of going to school on some mornings, he'd help his dad down to the void deck, where the older man loved to sit and enjoy the breeze. It was there that Zi Yang's father put on his young shoulders a responsibility that he holds close to his heart to this day. 

"To my father, boys must always support the family," Zi Yang said. "He told me to start to think about how to help my family." 

Three months after being diagnosed, his dad died. Zi Yang lost not just a father, but a confidante.

"My father would sleep in my room," the teen said, "So after he left, it was like there was no one sleeping beside me." 

"When he passed away I couldn't take it. It just hit me very hard."

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The watch that Zi Yang's dad gave him. 


For a whole month, Zi Yang stayed away from school, shut up in his room most of the time.

But his father's words kept coming back to him. Seeing how his mother was working hard to make ends meet for himself and his older sister, he returned to school and started to buck up in class. 

"He wanted to take care of the family," his mum Bee Ching, 53, said. "He would help me with the housework." 

The three of them moved in with her father, and Zi Yang's grandfather became the disciplinarian the boy needed in his life. "If I skipped (school) again, my grandfather would really cane me, so I didn't dare." 

With the renewed effort that he was putting into his studies, he was pleasantly surprised when he discovered that he had a flair for Mathematics. 

When you solve a question and get the correct answer, wow, it's like, mission accomplished.

As the months passed, Zi Yang's 'U' grades turned to 'A's, and by the end of Secondary 2 he'd topped his class in Math. 

"His results were quite remarkable for a Normal Technical student," recalled Hafiedz-ul Tamrin, who was his Design and Technology teacher. As a result, Zi Yang was offered a transfer to the Normal (Academic) stream – he was one of only two students in the school given the rare opportunity.

WATCH: The mentor who helped a teen believe in himself (6:33)

His form teacher encouraged him. But doubts assailed Zi Yang. With the move up, he'd have to repeat an entire academic year, with a class of strangers no less, and he'd have to take on three additional subjects. He feared he'd falter and fail. 

"I might get demoted, and I didn't want that feeling," he said. 

His mum, however, refused to let him pass up the chance to do better – especially when she believed her son was capable of anything he put his mind to. 

"If he wants to get something done, he can do it well," she said. "(But) he always needs someone to push him."

And so, she insisted on the transfer, which Zi Yang took without much confidence. For the first few months, he struggled.

That's where Shafik came in. 

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Shafik and Zi Yang.


The 30-year-old youth worker had been assigned as mentor to Zi Yang's entire class in Sec 1 as part of The Scaffold Programme. 

Developed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), the pilot programme in 11 mainstream schools sees youth workers working with teachers and families, to help students from the Normal stream build their confidence and set future goals.

The programme targets lower secondary students who – due to factors like poor self-esteem or family troubles – might be at risk of dropping out during the transition from Primary 6 to Sec 1, and from Sec 2 to Sec 3.

Shafik was uniquely suited to understanding how these students felt: He himself had been in the Normal (Technical) stream, and like Zi Yang, had at first seen only a bleak future for himself.

"I was ten times worse than Zi Yang," he laughed, recalling how he'd bullied other students, sometimes even teachers, and got into fights and bad company. 

"I remember the first time when CARE Singapore mentors came, they asked 'where do you see yourself in 10 years?' And I said, 'Boys' Home'."

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Shafik encouraging students during a Scaffold Programme lesson. 

But then, a youth worker came into his life under CARE's Uth Power Programme. Giving advice and encouragement over even the small things – like publicly praising Shafik for how well he'd mopped a floor – the persistent mentor convinced him he had something worthwhile to offer.

The "naughty" teen eventually became a student council leader. "(The youth workers) had this belief in me, which allowed me to really believe that I could achieve a lot." 

And so, after he earned his Nitec in Aerospace Technology from the Institute of Technical Education, Shafik decided that what he really wanted to do with his life was to help troubled youths. He joined CARE.

To help someone like Zi Yang, though, required first getting past his walls. The mistrustful teenager thought of him as "just another teacher".

But when Zi Yang was absent from school for several days with a high fever, Shafik and another youth worker went to his home to check on him. It made an impression. 

"I felt like they really cared about me and my family," Zi Yang said.

And Shafik, on that short visit, saw something in Zi Yang at home that gave him hope that the boy, who sometimes acted like a gangster in school, had potential in him yet.

I saw how he loves his mum a lot. That's when I knew the boy has a heart.


Playing pool became Shafik's way of getting through to Zi Yang.

The school's clubroom had a pool table, and when he found out the teenager couldn't play, Shafik offered to teach him. He used the game to patiently impart life lessons – for instance, turning it into a metaphor for achieving goals. 

You had to plan out your moves, and aim before shooting, he told Zi Yang over the clacking of balls. The den, with its cartoon-doodled walls and foosball tables (Shafik was proud of the fact that Zi Yang had helped to decorate it), became an informal counselling room abuzz with laughter. 

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Zi Yang has improved in pool so dramatically that he beats Shafik in almost every game now. 

"He is a very good person to talk to," the teenager said. "A very good friend. He understands me very well." 

In his big-brotherly way, Shafik was filling the void Zi Yang's father's death had left. He regularly got feedback from the boy's teachers. He and another youth worker checked in often with the teenager and his mother.

And, when a frustrated Zi Yang was struggling with the switch to Normal (Academic) classes – he'd sit at the back "stoning", as he put it, not understanding what the teacher was saying – it was Shafik who reminded him why he was there.

"We told him that the new environment will challenge him," Shafik said. "If you're too comfortable in your environment, you won't grow." 

And by now, Zi Yang had found a goal to shoot for. 

During a Scaffold Programme session in Sec 1, his class was tasked to set their future goals. 

"I didn't even have a goal then," said Zi Yang. "Mr Shafik told me to just write down what interests me most. I like to do things with my hands." 

He'd spent some time in his grandfather's car workshop, and was fascinated by auto mechanics. So that's what he put down as his goal: To become the owner of a car repair business. 

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ZI Yang helping Shafik with his car engine. 

Next, Shafik guided him in planning how to get there step by step. "What would you need to open a shop? Which course should you study In ITE? Which ITE offers that course?" he pressed.

The job, of course, would only be a means to a more important end for Zi Yang – taking care of his family. "My goal is to let my mother travel around the world. That's her dream," he said simply.


In Sec 3, Zi Yang made more strides when he was elected as a student leader. He was also appointed logistics head for a camp jointly organised with CARE. 

"Having a leadership role helps a lot in allowing students to see their own potential," Shafik pointed out.

More than 2,000 Normal stream students have gone through The Scaffold Programme, and Zi Yang is not the only one showing results of the intervention.

"About half of the students showed academic improvement," said Tina Hung, NCSS' deputy chief executive officer. The students were also "better able to build social relationships and set future goals."

Zi Yang's teachers and schoolmates too have seen a difference in him. "He tries his best to pay attention," said his teacher Hafiedz. "He's putting effort into his daily work." 

His friends quipped about how he used to walk around looking like a scary "ah beng". But now, said classmate Marcus Ng, "he will approach me when he sees me struggling with Math. He's quite a good teacher, I really understand when he teaches me".  

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Zi Yang and Marcus. 

Said his mum Bee Ching: "A few months ago I went to the school … The canteen aunties told me that Zi Yang has turned out to be a very good boy, not like the rebellious boy when he first came in."

Reflecting on where he'd be without Shafik and The Scaffold Programme, Zi Yang said: "Maybe I wouldn't even graduate from secondary school. Maybe go to Boys' Home." 

Shafik, nonetheless, describes Zi Yang as "still a work in progress. There is still doubt in him. What he needs is just that extra caring adult, to assure him that he is more than what he thinks he is".

"We believe that there is always a success story in in every child – no matter how rotten you think you are, there's always a star in you," he added. "You still can achieve more."

This story by CNA Insider was done in partnership with 

From 2020, Bedok Green Secondary will be one of 28 schools piloting full subject-based banding, where students will no longer be streamed into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) courses, but will take subjects at different levels according to their abilities.

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RWS says it's not aware of incident in viral dolphin video, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

RWS says it's not aware of incident in viral dolphin video, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

RWS says it's not aware of incident in viral dolphin video

A video clip showing a dolphin repeatedly ramming its head against the wall of a tank, purportedly at Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) S.E.A. Aquarium, was taken last year and sent to Empty The Tanks (ETT), a United States-based organisation focused on ending dolphin and whale captivity.

ETT founder Rachel Carbary told The Sunday Times on Thursday that the clip was sent a day after the person who recorded it visited the S.E.A. Aquarium.

She said: "The video was sent to ETT by a member of the public who visited S.E.A Aquarium in 2018. During his visit, he witnessed the disturbing dolphin behaviour... and chose to record it. We have shared this video on social media in the hope of bringing more attention to the plight of these sentient animals that continue to suffer in captivity."

The clip has garnered more than 300,000 views since it was posted on ETT's Facebook page last Sunday.

When contacted, an RWS spokesman said it was not aware of the incident and unable to confirm that the video was taken at its Dolphin Island attraction on Sentosa, where over 20 dolphins are kept. Visitors can view them through a glass panel.

Dr Chua Tze Hoong, group director of animal and veterinary service (AVS) at National Parks Board (NParks), said a team which visited the RWS dolphin facility on Thursday did not observe any "abnormal" behaviour.

He said the AVS took a "serious view" on ensuring that animal businesses comply with licensing requirements to safeguard animal health and welfare.

In the 27-second video clip, an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) can be seen swimming towards the side of the tank and slamming its head against the wall nine times. "This distressing behaviour is one of the many reasons dolphins do not belong in captivity," read the caption that accompanied the video post.

In a statement to The Sunday Times, RWS said: "At Dolphin Island, we allow our dolphins to swim on their own or in groups at different timings where they can explore and interact with one another in our large interconnecting lagoons, which can be differently reconfigured to encourage play and socialisation."

Dr Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist who works for the US-based Animal Welfare Institute, told The Sunday Times what the dolphin did in the video was an example of "poor emotional health".

She said: "This kind of repetitive, pointless, even self-damaging behaviour is the essence of stereotypy. It is a sign of boredom, neurosis and depression."

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has campaigned against the attraction, said it was not surprising to see a wild animal kept in captivity displaying signs of stress.

"No man-made tank can come anywhere close to replicating the natural environment these animals are found in," Dr Gill said after watching the video.

In a report in July, the World Animal Protection singled out RWS' Dolphin Island as one of the attractions that violate the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (Waza) animal welfare guidelines which state that its member venues should "avoid using animals in any interactive experiences when their welfare may be compromised".

The animal welfare organisation stated that the swim-with-dolphins programme at Dolphin Island, which has been a Waza institutional member since 2014, breached the guidelines.

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Friday, December 6, 2019

After Godfrey Gao: Causes of cardiac arrest among young people who look healthy

After Godfrey Gao: Causes of cardiac arrest among young people who look healthy

After Godfrey Gao: How does cardiac arrest happen when someone looks fit?

(Photo: Freepik)

The sudden death of Taiwanese-Canadian model-actor Godfrey Gao last week (Nov 27) came as a shock to many. Here was a man who looked like he worked out and took care of himself: Muscle tone, enviable abs and an athletic disposition.

Yet, the 35-year-old succumbed to cardiac arrest while filming a Chinese variety series in Ningbo, China. Gao had collapsed while running from obstacle to obstacle during the physically demanding show, and died after three hours of rescue efforts.

His death shocked many fans and netizens, with one posting, "I still can't believe he is gone. He looked so healthy". And therein lies the disbelief. How could someone who looked as fit and healthy as Gao die of a cardiac arrest? If a well-built body isn't a good indication of health, what is?

READ: 7 in 10 Singaporeans can't recognise heart attack symptoms: Survey

Here's why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover – or in this case, your health by your built.

"Good muscle tone is mainly a cosmetic quality and probably does not reflect (a person's) health status," said Dr Kelvin Wong, cardiologist from Mount Elizabeth Hospital, who added that being slim is "no guarantee of good health" either.

Man doing pull-ups and flexing his back muscles

Being muscular or slim is no guarantee of good health. (Photo: Unsplash/Edgar Chaparro)

Dr Kenneth Ng, consultant cardiologist at Novena Heart Centre, agreed: "Looks can be deceiving. You cannot really tell whether a person is healthy or fit by appearance". Blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels are better determinants of whether the person is healthy than judging how chubby he or she looks, he said.

Here are other reasons why your heart health may not look as good as your body.


According to, about 1,000 Singaporeans die from sudden cardiac death every year, half of whom are below the age of 60 – and that includes young people.

Good muscle tone is mainly a cosmetic quality and probably does not reflect (a person's) health status.

There is a difference between "cardiac arrest" and "heart attack". The former is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes it to beat irregularly and it can occur at any age. 

Meanwhile, a heart attack (known medically as acute myocardial infarction) "refers to a sudden blood clot occurring in one of the major arteries, resulting in heart muscle death," said Dr Lin Weiqin, consultant with the Department of Cardiology at National University Heart Centre, Singapore. 

READ: The silent heart attack you didn't know you had – and how it could kill you

"Younger persons who appear slim and toned can have cardiac risk factors not immediately apparent to the untrained eye," said Dr Lin, who listed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, genetics and smoking as risk factors.

Woman wiping her brow while exercising on a mat

Individuals with heart conditions are predisposed to unstable and dangerous heart rhythms during periods of extreme physical exertion, which can lead to cardiac arrest. (Photo: Freepik)

But even without these risks, young individuals can still suffer from cardiac arrests. "There are some rare, inherited conditions which cause individuals to develop abnormal heart muscles (cardiomyopathy) or electrical conduction abnormalities in the heart," said Dr Lin, citing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy and Long QT Syndrome as examples.

READ: Weekly short walks can lower risk of dying from heart attack and cancer

He added: "Individuals with these conditions are predisposed to unstable and dangerous heart rhythms during periods of extreme physical exertion, which can lead to cardiac arrest. In fact, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has been found to be a leading cause of sudden death in elite athletes".

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has been found to be a leading cause of sudden death in elite athletes.

Unfortunately, said Dr Ng, "these genetic heart diseases may not be apparent from the physical appearance, and can be detected only if they go for in-depth tests".


While there weren't any reports that Gao had cardiovascular issues prior to filming, he was said to have worked for 17 hours straight.

"During stress, hormones are produced which increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms," said Dr Wong, who added that stress may also alter the way blood clots in the arteries and increase the risk of a heart attack.

Woman feeling unwell in locker room

Extreme stress can be involved in a unique kind of heart attack, resulting in a weakened heart known as Takotsubo Syndrome or broken heart syndrome. (Photo: Freepik)

"Extreme stress can also rarely be involved in a unique kind of heart attack, resulting in a weakened heart known as Takotsubo Syndrome or 'Broken Heart Syndrome'," he said.

Dr Ng added that being under emotional duress, such as depression and mood disorders, is another factor for increased risk of heart attacks.

READ: Want to maximise your gym results? Drink chocolate milk post-workout


Gao was also said to be nursing the flu while filming the physically demanding variety show. Catching the flu may not seem like a big concern but the virus can cause inflammation of the heart, said Dr Ng.

Dr Wong said: "Depending on the severity of the inflammation, it can weaken the heart and cause heart failure. Or even result in sudden cardiac arrest due to electrical problem."

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Pisa 2018: Singapore slips to second place behind China but still chalks up high scores, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Pisa 2018: Singapore slips to second place behind China but still chalks up high scores, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Pisa 2018: Singapore slips to second place behind China but still chalks up high scores

SINGAPORE - Singapore's 15-year-olds emerged among the top performers last year in an international benchmarking study testing how well they apply knowledge and skills, and solve problems.

The Republic slipped from its previous No. 1 position in 2015, and was ranked second in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), a study done every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Singapore came in second place in all three subjects covered in the study - mathematics, science and reading - losing out to China, which topped the charts. In 2015, China was not part of the top five scorers.

Macau was ranked third in all three categories, followed by Hong Kong in fourth place for reading and mathematics. Estonia, another top performer, was fourth in science and fifth in reading.

Reading was the main focus of Pisa 2018, which was released on Tuesday (Dec 3) and Singapore students showed significantly better literacy skills compared to 2015.

They had higher scores than the OECD average in higher-order reading processes like evaluating content, assessing credibility and differentiating between fact and opinion.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed the improvement in reading to English language curricula in primary and secondary schools that hones critical reading skills across a range of texts, as well as more students from English-speaking homes. This went up from 49 per cent in 2015 to 57 per cent last year, Pisa's student questionnaire showed.

Last year was the fourth time that Singapore took part in Pisa, with the first in 2009. The study, which was conducted last year, involved about 600,000 students from 79 countries and economies.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said that competing demands for students' time due to the rise of smartphones and social media play a key part in the drop in enjoyment of reading as a hobby. 

"This whole business of non-stop Instagram and Twitter is much more attractive because it's interactive... compared to reading traditional print books that is a much more solitary activity," he said. 

In Singapore, 6,676 teens, most of whom were in their Secondary 4 year, were randomly selected to join the test. The sample, which is representative of the 15-year-old student population here, came from all 153 public secondary schools and 13 private schools, which include international schools and religious schools.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said on Tuesday (Dec 3): "We are pretty happy with the 2018 Pisa findings because it shows that our students are equipped with the critical skills and the resilience to cope with the challenges of a rapidly changing world. In particular, our students have maintained a very strong performance in reading, math and science in the 2018 study."

On losing its top spot to China, Mr Sng said: "We are happy that China is doing well. We didn't take part in Pisa to try to beat every country. We take part in Pisa to learn important areas for improvement for ourselves. And when other countries do well, we will continue to learn from them and try to make the education experience and learning journey, a more positive one and a more effective one for our students."

He said that the Pisa results were a useful reference for the ministry as it developed education policies and programmes, and it would look into trying to improve in areas found lacking in the study.

These included the high proportion of students in Singapore who expressed concern about failure, as well as a decline in teenagers enjoying reading, whether offline or online.

Similar to their international counterparts, Singapore teenagers said they did not like reading as a hobby or only read to get information that they needed. For example, 49 per cent of Singapore students said reading was a hobby, down from 54 per cent in 2009. In addition, 46 per cent said they read only if they had to, up from 35 per cent in 2009.

The latest Pisa cycle also showed that Singapore continued to have high proportions of students who did well - with the second-highest percentage of all-rounders - and low proportions of low performers.

In reading, for instance, 26 per cent of students in Singapore were top performers. For mathematics and science, the figures were 37 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. The OECD average for top performers in the three domains ranged from 7 per cent to 11 per cent.

Similarly, Singapore had fewer students who were low performers in reading at 11 per cent or about half of the OECD average of 23 per cent. The Republic also had markedly lower proportions of low performers in mathematics and science, at 7 and 9 per cent respectively.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

Civil servants to get 0.1 month year-end bonus, lump sum payment amid economic uncertainties, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Civil servants to get 0.1 month year-end bonus, lump sum payment amid economic uncertainties, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Civil servants to get 0.1 month year-end bonus, lump sum payment amid economic uncertainties

SINGAPORE - Civil servants will be getting a lower year-end bonus, as the Government exercises restraint taking into account prevailing economic uncertainties.

The Public Service Division (PSD) on Monday (Dec 2) said all civil servants below superscale grade will receive a year-end annual variable component (AVC) of 0.1 month and an additional one-off lump sum payment of $250 to $1,500.

Civil servants in the lower pay grades will receive a higher amount.

Meanwhile, senior civil servants in superscale grades will receive a one-off payment of $400 in place of a year-end annual AVC.

The year-end civil service AVC is the lowest since 2009, during the global financial crisis. Amid negative growth that year, civil servants received a one-off year-end payment of 0.25 month, capped at $750.

The amount announced is also significantly lower than last year's, when public officers had a year-end AVC of one month. Lower-wage officers had received a minimum year-end bonus of $1,800.

The mid-year AVC of 0.45 month, paid out in July this year, also saw a slight dip from 0.5 month last year.

Taken together with the mid-year AVC, civil servants last year received a full-year AVC of 1.5 months, compared with a total of 0.55 month this year.

In a statement, the PSD said: "Taking into account the prevailing economic uncertainties, the Public Service Division, in consultation with and with the support of the public sector unions, will exercise restraint for the year-end bonus payment."

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has forecast that the economy will grow by 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent in 2019, with growth for the fourth quarter expected to remain modest.

The AVC, which reflects economic conditions, is typically set based on a multiple of a civil servant's monthly salary.

Commenting on the year-end bonus, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong noted that the outlook remains uncertain.

The public sector unions, comprising the Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers and the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE), thus agreed on a calibrated approach and to give more to lower-grade officers, she said.

The NTUC and public sector unions will work closely with the public sector to train workers and improve their employability, as well as ensure that they stay up to date on how the public sector is transforming itself, she added.

AUPE general secretary Sanjeev Tiwari echoed the need to keep up with sector transformation and said the lower payout is reflective of the lower economic growth expected for 2019.

He added that the unions have taken a cautious approach by having tiered payments for all, providing more to lower-income officers and less to senior officers.

"With the various transformation efforts within the public service, our focus remains on ensuring our officers are adaptable and ready for new roles," he said.

Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin told The Straits Times that lower civil service bonuses mirror weak economic performance and lower overall private wage growth.

"They reflect the uncertain and sombre economic reality," he said, adding that the private sector could take a leaf from the civil service's book when considering its own year-end payments. "Some private sector firms might benchmark their bonuses and increments against the civil service payout."

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Top engineering talent needed for Home Team Science and Technology Agency to succeed: PM Lee, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Top engineering talent needed for Home Team Science and Technology Agency to succeed: PM Lee, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Top engineering talent needed for Home Team Science and Technology Agency to succeed: PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Top engineering talent is needed across the board for the new Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) to fulfil its ambitious mandate, but attracting such people will not be easy, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Dec 2).

The Government has tried hard to do this in recent years by offering scholarships, for instance, and persuading Singaporeans working in the tech sector overseas to return home, he said.

Besides attending to factors such as competitive pay, career progression and a good working environment, one other ingredient is providing a sense of purpose - employees must feel there is something worthwhile to achieve, PM Lee said at the launch of HTX at Mediapolis in one-north.

"So we are structuring engineering jobs and responsibilities to enable engineers to do valuable work and make an impact in the public service. That is something that HTX can offer them," he said.

"Protecting lives and property, maintaining law and order, and, ultimately, safeguarding Singapore through the application of science and technology - it is a noble cause, which I hope will inspire our Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent to join HTX."

The 1,300-strong statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will be tasked with developing customised solutions and growing organic capabilities in science and technology for Singapore's homeland security. It has plans to expand to 2,000 officers.

Its mandate includes conducting applied research in areas such as biometrics, smart sensors and robotics. HTX will also bring together capabilities, knowledge and resources from different Home Team departments.

Some 1,400 people, including government officials, foreign ambassadors, industry leaders and staff, attended the launch event on Monday.

For the agency to succeed, Home Team agencies must see tech as an integral part of their operations, he said.

"Every agency must see tech as central to their mission - not as an add-on, not something exotic, not something to be left to HTX... to manage on their own. It's a command responsibility.

"Every commander, every officer must embrace tech and welcome what HTX can do for them, even when using tech means disrupting existing routines and established ways of doing things," said PM Lee.

The Home Team has made much progress in the last decade or so, he said. For instance, by developing digital forensics capabilities, trialling unmanned surface vessels to patrol the country's waters, and automating immigration clearance processes at border checkpoints.

He expressed hope that HTX will help take the Home Team to the next level.

PM Lee added that the agency is part of a larger effort across the Government to build up tech capabilities, bridge and break down silos, use resources more efficiently, and recruit high-calibre officers who can translate operational requirements into tech solutions.

HTX can be a centre of excellence within the Government, sharing its experiences and solutions with other agencies that have similar needs, for instance, in enforcement or regulatory work.

Revealing that agencies such as the Manpower Ministry, Singapore Customs and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau have already approached HTX to work together, PM Lee said he looks forward to seeing HTX make its mark - as a key member of the Home Team, as a leading science and technology agency for homeland security, and as a force multiplier for Singapore.

"Long may you be unconventional and, indeed, as X-ceptional as your acronym," he added.

Mr Chan Tsan, who is concurrently deputy secretary (development) at MHA and chief executive of HTX, said in an earlier speech at the event that his agency's ambition is to realise a smarter, swifter and stronger Home Team - one that is "powered by HTX solutions".

To do so, the agency will harness the potential of technological advances and translate them into operational capabilities. It will also invest in and groom the next generation of talent in the science and technology field, said Mr Chan.

HTX will also work with industry and public service partners such as the Defence Science and Technology Agency and the Government Technology Agency, as well as with fellow Home Team departments.

"HTX's technologies are only meaningful when they are deployed in your operations - solving crimes, saving lives, securing our borders and protecting our public spaces. HTX will succeed only when you succeed," he added.

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