Monday, July 29, 2019

Number of suicides committed by teenage boys hits record high, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Number of suicides committed by teenage boys hits record high, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Number of suicides committed by teenage boys hits record high

SINGAPORE - The number of teenage boys taking their own lives reached a record high last year.

Nineteen boys aged 10 to 19 committed suicide in 2018, the highest since suicide figures began being recorded in 1991.

In 2017, there were seven suicides by teenage boys.

The total number of suicides also rose last year, with 397 reported – up from 361 in 2017, but still fewer than the 429 in 2016.

The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) provided a breakdown of the annual statistics to The Straits Times after they were released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

The number of people taking their own lives rose across all age groups, except for the elderly - those aged 60 and over.

There were 8.36 suicides per 100,000 Singapore residents, up from 7.74 in 2017.

The prevalence of suicide among young people and males is a "significant societal concern", the SOS said, adding that suicide remains the leading cause of death among the young - those aged 10 to 29.

Last year, 94 young people chose to end their own lives.

For every 10 young people who died from external causes, about six were a result of suicide.

Ms Wong Lai Chun, senior assistant director of the SOS, said: "Suicide remains the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29 and it is a significant societal concern for us at SOS."

Last year, three girls aged 10 to 19 took their own lives, down from five the previous year.

"The sense of hopelessness and despair at the height of a crisis can cause one to contemplate suicide as a means of escaping their emotional pain," she said.

"When teens have yet to develop adequate coping mechanisms and there is a lack of awareness of the available resources, the combination of different stressors may lead youths to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. "

Ms Wong warned that social media is a double-edged sword: "Youths tend to look toward their peers or go on social media for support. 

"However social media may often be a double-edged sword. Whilst personal accounts of resilience are readily available, contents that reinforce suicidal and self-harm behaviours are accessible too.

"Those who are contemplating suicide would often have communicated their intention to end their lives, and this may be done on the social space.

"Youths today seem to have greater awareness of the moments when they feel alone and helpless.

"Even so, it is disconcerting to know that many of our young feel unsupported through their darkest periods and see suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles."

The SOS found that - among those who contacted the organisation and revealed their age and gender - male teenagers made up only 30 per cent of incoming SOS helpline calls and approximately 27 per cent of its e-mail befriending services.

Societal stereotypes that demand men be tough and able to handle all challenges could be one of the barriers preventing male teenagers from seeking help.

For every 10 suicides last year, seven were by men.

According to an earlier report released by the ICA, there were 283 male suicides last year and 114 female.

"We live in a society that stresses the importance of masculine qualities as a measure of success," added Ms Wong. "As a result, we grow impatient towards behaviours that seem to depict weakness."

"Men are stereotypically expected to be tough, stoic and financially stable. The slightest hint of vulnerability can be seen as an imperfection. This has to change. Men and women alike need to know that it is okay to be less than perfect, and we need to educate the public to understand that a supportive and encouraging environment is far more beneficial than a judgmental one for our society."

More than 30,000 calls were made to the SOS helpline last year and the organisation received over 2,500 emails.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or in emotional distress, call SOS' 24-hour hotline on 1800-221-4444.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Earth has near-miss with asteroid that snuck up on scientists, World News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Earth has near-miss with asteroid that snuck up on scientists, World News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Earth has near-miss with asteroid that snuck up on scientists

SYDNEY - A large asteroid barely known to science zoomed past the Earth on Thursday (July 25), speeding by within 73,000km of the planet.

That might sound far but it's about a fifth of the distance to the Moon, scientists said, and a pretty close call.

Called Asteroid 2019 OK, the rock measured between 57m and 130m in diameter, Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on its Center for Near Earth Object Studies website.

If it had hit the Earth, it could easily wipe out a city, Swinburne University astronomer Associate Professor Alan Duffy told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It would have hit with over 30 times the energy of the atomic blast at Hiroshima," he said.

"It's a city-killer asteroid. But because it's so small, it's incredibly hard to see until right at the last minute," he said. "It's threading tightly between the lunar orbit. Definitely too close for comfort."

The asteroid flew past at 1.22pm Singapore time at a speed of about 24km per second, Nasa said.

Asteroid 2019 OK was discovered by the Brazilian Sonear survey just days ago, and its presence was announced hours before it zoomed past Earth, Dr Michael Brown, Associate Professor in Astronomy, at Monash University in Australia, wrote on The Conversation website on Thursday.

"The lack of warning shows how quickly potentially dangerous asteroids can sneak up on us," he said.

In a separate comment to the Herald, Dr Brown said: "This is one of the closest approaches to Earth by an asteroid that we know of."

The asteroid was approaching from the direction of the Sun, making it harder to detect, scientists said.

Astronomers have found thousands of near-Earth asteroids but few pass this close. Dr Brown wrote on The Conversation website that more than 2,000 near-Earth asteroids were detected in 2017.

"Astronomers are good at discovering asteroids that are visible at night, but less good at spotting asteroids during the daytime. Asteroids also are fainter the further they get from Earth," he said.

"2019 OK has a very elliptical orbit, taking it from the asteroid belt beyond Mars to within the orbits of both Earth and Venus. As each orbit takes 2.7 years, it isn't always going to pass as close to Earth as it did this time. It will make close approaches in the future, but hopefully not quite this close."

He said other near-Earth asteroids are also on track to make close approaches.

The 400m-wide Apophis will pass roughly 30,000km from Earth on April 13, 2029, he said.

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PSLE scoring system changes: 8 burning questions answered, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

PSLE scoring system changes: 8 burning questions answered, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

PSLE scoring system changes: 8 burning questions answered

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education announced on Thursday (July 25) more details on the upcoming PSLE scoring changes that take effect in 2021, and will affect this year's Primary 4 pupils. This adds to what was previously announced in 2016.

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

1. What exactly are the new changes announced on Thursday?

There are four main components to the new announcement.

First, starting from next year and in all subsequent years, pupils entering Primary 5 will be graded on Achievement Levels 1 to 8 instead of the current grades A* to E.

Doing this from Primary 5 will allow pupils and parents to become more familiar with the new scoring system for the PSLE, said MOE.

Second, MOE said it will release the cut-off entry scores for each school using ALs, instead of the current T-score, in the middle of 2021.

Usually the entry scores are derived from the previous year's posting exercise and given to students between October and November.

Third, those who take Foundation-level subjects will know how their scores are graded in the new system. They will receive grades of AL A to C, which are tagged to AL6 to AL8 scores for Standard-level subjects.

Lastly, MOE has announced the eligibility criteria for Higher Mother Tongue. Pupils will need an overall PSLE score of 8 or better to take it up in secondary school.

They can also take up Higher Mother Tongue if they have an overall PSLE score of 9 to 14 and attain AL1 or AL2 in their mother tongue or distinction or merit in their higher mother tongue at the PSLE.

For pupils who do not meet the above criteria, secondary schools will have the flexibility to offer Higher Mother Tongue to students assessed to have high ability and interest in mother tongue languages. This is similar to the existing practice.


2. What was announced in 2016?

The biggest announcement then was that each Standard-level PSLE subject will be scored using eight bands known as Achievement Levels (AL), with AL1 returning the best score of 1 and AL8 the worst score of 8.

The total PSLE score will be a sum of the scores for the four subjects, and the range of possible scores will be 4 to 32, with 4 being the best and 32 the lowest.

The new ALs reflect each child's level of achievement, rather than how he has performed relative to his peers.

3. The new AL system groups pupils with 75 marks and above into 4 AL bands (AL1 to AL4), instead of the current A* and A grades. Doesn't this contradict MOE's aim of reducing fine differentiation?

There is a need to balance having too many ALs with too few, said MOE. If there are too few ALs, there will be more pupils with the same PSLE score, which will lead to more balloting for Secondary 1 school postings.

The raw mark ranges for the eight ALs offer a good balance, added MOE.

The upper range is narrower to better differentiate pupils' level of understanding, as a large majority are able to show an understanding of the curriculum and do well in it.

At the middle to lower ALs, wider ranges are sufficient to indicate a pupil's progress, and further differentiation is less educationally meaningful, said MOE.

4. If my child takes Foundation subjects, will he still be able to qualify for the Express stream?

If your child takes at least one Standard subject out of the four, he will still have a chance to qualify for the Express stream, as long as he meets the score criteria.

Additionally, when he enters secondary school, he will be able to take different subjects at different levels, as long as he can manage his academic load.

Pupils should decide to take a subject at Standard or Foundation level depending on their aptitude for and ability in that subject, rather than whether it will help get them into their desired stream, said MOE.

5. Why are the Foundation subject ALs pegged so low when using the Standard subject ALs?

The Foundation subject grades A to C are pegged to AL6 to AL8.

This pegging reflects the fact that the curriculum of a Foundation-level subject is a subset of the Standard-level subject.

The assessment load at Foundation level is less demanding, said MOE.

Foundation subjects cater to the learning needs of students so that they can pursue learning at a pace and level that is more suited to them.

6. If my child takes Higher Chinese, will he have an advantage for the Secondary 1 school posting?

Yes, but only if your child is applying to a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school.

If two pupils have the same PSLE score, the one with better Higher Chinese grades will be allocated a place ahead of the other pupil.

This posting advantage applies before the other tie-breakers for Secondary 1 posting.

There will be no bonus points under the AL system like there used to be with the T-score system.

7. Why is it important that I rank the schools I want by order of preference?

Choice order of schools will be important in the event of a tie. The tie-breakers, barring Higher Chinese grades, are, in order of importance: citizenship, choice order of schools, and computerised balloting.

Previously, choice order of schools did not matter as an unrounded T-score aggregate - down to decimal places - was used to determine which child would get in ahead of the other.

This tie-breaker recognises the different considerations that pupils and parents have in making school choices, such as a school's ethos, culture, programmes and co-curricular activities offered.

8. If I'm still confused about all these changes, what should I do?

In the next few months, schools will be engaging parents and pupils who will undergo the new PSLE scoring system to guide them in making informed decisions, particularly in their subject choices at the end of Primary 4.

More details on the PSLE scoring changes and Secondary 1 posting system are also available on MOE's' website.

Do you have questions on the new PSLE scoring system? E-mail senior education correspondent Sandra Davie at

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

How Singapore left its mark on a backwater village in Bangladesh - CNA

How Singapore left its mark on a backwater village in Bangladesh - CNA

How Singapore left its mark on a backwater village in Bangladesh

Singapore is the land of opportunity for many in Baluchar, Bangladesh, where one in three men in the village are migrant workers. Have the years of hard labour in our city-state helped fulfil their dreams of a better life? CNA Insider finds out in part 2 of the series, Life After Singapore.

CNA Insider
Mohd Yusof and one of his sons.
Mohd Yusof with his son. The Bangladeshi migrant worker spent 10 years as a town council cleaner in Singapore and now speaks fluent Singlish.
(Updated: )


BALUCHAR, BANGLADESH: When Mohd Yusof came up to speak to us out of the blue, my younger colleague Chiew Tong burst into hysterical laughter. 

"I'm so shookt," she declared her excitement in typical Millennial speak.

By this time, we were halfway through our production trip in Bangladesh and had gotten used to curious locals approaching us with questions about where we were from and what we were doing. 

What set Yusof apart from them was the accent. 

We did not expect - at the end of a long day in a small riverside village 30km south of Dhaka - to suddenly get a dose of home from a man who looked typically Bangladeshi but spoke fluent Singlish, ah beng-style. 

"I've worked in Singapore for almost ten years mah," he explained, drawing another guffaw from Chiew Tong. 

CNA Insider journalist Goh Chiew Tong in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
CNA Insider journalist Goh Chiew Tong in Baluchar, Bangladesh.

In retrospect, we should not have been surprised. 

Baluchar, with a population of 100,000, may be a rural backwater, but one in three adult males here work abroad. And their top destination is - you guessed it - Singapore.

The CNA Insider team spoke to migrant workers who had returned home from the city-state where they built homes, cleaned the streets and cast metal parts in factories. 

We wanted to know if years of toiling away in a foreign land had paid off for them; if their Singapore dreams were fulfilled.

The main shopping street in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
The main shopping street in Baluchar, Bangladesh.

The reactions were mixed. Many spoke about incurring a large debt just to get to Singapore. We also collected stories of misadventures, lucky breaks, but never, surprisingly, regrets. 

It would seem that for most Bangladeshis living in this rural area, so harsh is the reality of staying put that they would grasp at any chance of making it overseas, however high the stakes may be.

And whatever the outcome, when they return home, pieces of Singapore stay with them. 

Here are the different ways the island nation has left its mark on Baluchar and its people.

WATCH: The Bangladeshi town with a Singapore dream (Dur 9:55)


If the forklift hadn't hit him, K M Salahuddin wouldn't be where he is today. 

"The forklift driver was moving two boxes but he didn't see me standing there. Then the iron containers fell on me," recounted the 48-year-old who had worked in Singapore from 1994 to 2013, first in a shipyard, then a foundry.

The accident left him with a fractured leg, broken ribs and an extended stay in the hospital.

When he got out and resumed work, he could only do light duties for a few hours a day, earning way below his usual S$1,200 a month. 

So against the wishes of his employers who he said were "extremely nice" to him, he made the painful choice of ending his 20-year career in the Lion City.

K M Salahuddin showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa.
K M Salahuddin showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa in his store.

"My daughter was sitting for her 'O' Levels, and my son was not getting the proper guidance to study. With these considerations in mind and my injuries, I decided to come back," he said.

Life back in Baluchar was tough. Salahuddin didn't have much savings because not only was he supporting his wife and three children, he also had to take care of his ailing parents and three siblings with disabilities. 

Thankfully, a year later in 2014, he got a break. Under his company's insurance scheme, Salahuddin collected S$40,000 in workplace injury claim.

And that was when he saw an opportunity to be his own boss.

"I thought that since there are no crockery and electronics stores in the village, maybe opening one would be a good idea," he told CNA Insider.

And in designing the layout of the store, he drew inspiration from an iconic Singapore brand - NTUC Fairprice. 

Crockery sets on display in Salahuddin's 'Sun Moon' store.
Crockery sets on display in Salahuddin's 'Sun Moon' store.

In Bangladesh, goods are usually not on display in the shops. Instead, customers stand outside stores and ask for the items they want, which Salahuddin said he finds "very annoying".

"But the Singaporean system is so beautiful. If I want to buy, I can open the goods and see. If not, it's totally ok," he recounted.

What is important is for (customers) to have an experience. This is what I learnt from Singapore.

Indeed, along the main shopping street in the dusty village, Salahuddin's shop stands out for being brightly lit and welcoming. Customers can walk along the spacious aisles to admire the dinner sets and electrical appliances that are on full display on the shelves - much like supermarkets in Singapore.

The Singapore connection also extends to the store name "Sun Moon" - coined by Salahuddin's former employers who used to ask after his twins by referring to them as his "sun and moon" rather than son and daughter.

"I thought if one day I have my own business, I would call it 'Sun Moon'," said Salahuddin whose store stays open from 7am till late. 

"After working (in Singapore) for 20 years, you get into the habit of waking up at 5am and working all day. I still do that," he said.

Salahuddin tending to a customer.
Salahuddin tending to a customer.

With the store being a big hit with the locals, moving about "ten rice cookers, four gas stoves, two to four water filters and 40 dinner sets" monthly, Salahuddin is ready to expand the business. 

Of the unfortunate circumstances that had led to his return to Bangladesh, he said: "I don't look back. Let bygones be bygones. Now I look to the future."


Unlike Salahuddin who managed to turn misfortune into a chance to capitalise on his experiences in Singapore, there are some who risked everything to seek fortunes abroad, only to end up in a worse position than before.

42-year-old Jamal is one of them.

Jamal showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa.
Jamal showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa.

His brief stint in Singapore lasted only 20 months from May 1979 to December 1980. But two decades later, he is still paying off debt that had stemmed from that experience.

"I heard from my friends and relatives talk about how good Singapore is," Jamal said. "People go there with hopes of owning a house and cars when they come back."

Enticed by this dream of a better life, at the age of 22, Jamal tried to convince his parents to mortgage their home to raise the S$4,000 agent fee. 

"I said no to him but he did not listen," recalled Jamal's mother, Sharifunnesa, 60. 

But eventually, she and her husband gave in to their son, after he started "screaming and arguing" with them. The father, a farmer, even had to borrow money from friends and relatives because the bank loan alone was not enough to cover the agent's commission. 

Jamal's mother, Sharifunnesa, speaking to CNA Insider.
Jamal's mother, Sharifunnesa, speaking to CNA Insider.

The first month Jamal was in Singapore, he did not work for even a day.

"(I was told) that they would give us a job immediately," he said. Instead, for the next 19 months, he was given an irregular series of gigs in cleaning and construction, earning an average of S$14 a day.

"Another time, I went without work for 10 to 12 days." 

Jamal told us that he thought there was nothing unusual about the situation, because it happened to everybody he was staying with in the warehouse that was home to about 40 men who would sleep on the floor at night with just pillows. 

On the days when they had nothing to do, they went to the parks. 

"I had hope and I loved everything about Singapore," Jamal said.

But that hope was dashed one day when his agent showed up and told everyone that "there was no more work to do". 

"They gave us back our passports and dropped us off at the airport. It felt really bad. I was under a lot of debt that I couldn't repay. I cried a lot," Jamal said. 

Jamal in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
Twenty years after working in Singapore, Jamal is still deep in debt.

When he arrived back in Baluchar without notice, Sharifunnesa was furious.

"I screamed at him," she said. "We had no house, no roof. We sent him there with the hope of a better life. But all he would say was that he was back and there was nothing to be done."

To repay the loans, Jamal borrowed more money to fund a hardware business and a private transportation venture. Both failed.

He is now anywhere from S$16,000 to $24,000 deep in debt, he reckoned.

Still, he said he has no regrets: "There are always two sides to every coin."

Had I not gone, I would not be under this pile of debt. But if I didn't go to Singapore, I would have missed out on the good stuff, too.

"I will take my kids to Singapore one day," he said.

Jamal and his family in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
Jamal and his family in Baluchar, Bangladesh.


Jamal's neighbour, Mohd Yusof, also thinks about Singapore with the same kind of affection.

In fact, the 33-year-old loves the Little Red Dot so much that he even speaks like a Singaporean. That was what caught our attention and amused Chiew Tong and myself so much when we were in Baluchar.

Yusof was a cleaner with Pasir Ris-Punggol town council from 2007 to 2016. When his Work Permit expired, he was sent home.

"The government said more than ten years cannot do, then our town council, even our company people also said, 'Sorry brother, no choice, you have to go back,'" said Yusof.

Mohd Yusof speaking to CNA Insider in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
Mohd Yusof speaking to CNA Insider in Baluchar, Bangladesh.

At that time, a Work Permit holder could stay in Singapore for only ten years. Although Yusof knew the rule, he thought that an exception could be made given his good work performance.

"We liked to keep (the estate) clean because we knew that was the Singaporean standard," he said.

As the estate cleaners' supervisor, he was well-loved by the residents he served, saying that "they even invited me to birthday parties".

"One of them also told me to meet up with him when I come back to Singapore next time," he added.

From our conversation, it was clear that Yusof was not ready to move on from his dream of returning to Singapore.

Yusof playing with his son and other children in Baluchar, Bangladesh.
Yusof playing with his son and other children in Baluchar, Bangladesh.

For the last three years, he has been living in limbo, trying again and again to get a job in another sector with no success.

"Singapore is constantly rejecting my visa for unknown reasons," he said, showing us on his phone screenshots of the Manpower Ministry's web page that employers use to check Work Permit application status. 

"My documents are just not getting approved," he lamented.

Yusof claimed there is no work to be had in his hometown, so for now, he is relying on what is left of his savings.

"When I worked in Singapore, I saved enough to buy a piece of land. So if I still can't find a job, then I might need to sell the land next time," he said. 

His goal is to work in Singapore for another three to four years.

"I came back home suddenly, and I haven't yet completed my dream. So I have made up my mind that I will go there again," insisted Yusof.

Mohd Yusof (left) and his brother holding Yusof's twins.
Mohd Yusof (left) and his brother holding Yusof's twins.


By contrast, when Shahidul Islam got sent home from Singapore prematurely by his agent without an explanation, he took it in his stride.

What makes the difference for him was having a clear direction and plan in mind.

Before heading to Singapore from Baluchar in 1999, he already had his own wood business that he wanted to expand and modernise. To do that, he needed to raise S$3,000.

"This was my plan, to earn more money and start a sawmill," he said.

Back then, Shahidul had to cut wood for his clients by hand. Without machines, it was impossible to scale up the operation. 

So at the age of 45, he left his family to move to Singapore to work in construction. His plan was to stay and earn for at least three years. 

"It was very painful work and had to be done with a lot of risks," he said. 

Shahidul Islam showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa.
Shahidul Islam showing CNA Insider his Singapore visa.

At the Jurong Island construction site where he sometimes worked till 9pm, he saw people "break their hands and legs". 

"If we fell down, then we would die," he added.

However, he managed to keep his own morale up because "the salary was good". With overtime pay, he could earn up to S$10,000 to S$12,000 a year.

The biggest drawback, though, was being away from his two children who were aged 3 and 9 then. 

"It felt bad," Shahidul said. "I used to worry all the time about how the kids were doing."

Making international calls was expensive, so Shahidul got through the tough times by writing and sending the children letters every fortnight. 

Shahidul and his family in Baluchar, Bangladesh.

In 2001, after two years in Singapore, Shahidul was told, abruptly, along with 60 other workers, that their contracts had been terminated. They had one week to pack up before being flown home.

Fortunately for him, he had already managed to save enough to buy more land in Baluchar. 

The moment he got back, he went about setting up the sawmill he wanted - one of only two in the area then - that has since helped make life easier for many villagers. 

"People do not have to go far away to cut their wood. Now they can easily get it from my shop to build their homes," Shahidul told us with pride.

Shahidul at his sawmill.
Shahidul working at his sawmill.

For all four migrant workers that CNA Insider spoke to in Baluchar, Singapore remains the land of opportunity that can help make their dreams come true.

But when forced to leave before they were ready, some were better prepared than others to face life after Singapore. They are the ones who had a plan.

Left grappling seem to be those who just cannot move on; who keep wishing for a second shot at the Singapore dream.

READ: The migrant worker who founded a polytechnic (Part 1 of the Life After Singapore series) 

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