My company's financial year ends on 31 March, and so March is typically a horrendously busy period. I won't know, because this is the first year-end I'm experiencing, but if the quarter-end in December was anything to go by, March will be horrible. As it is, the current workload is already pretty bad and it is only the 1st week of the month.
The ongoing Committee of Supply debates have compounded that. In fact, my work has been piling up a bit because I've been taking time out to go to Parliament. So between work, being at Parliament and preparing my speeches, I really don't have too much time left.
I intend to post all my questions and the responses by the various office-holders once the Hansard is published. That will take awhile, because there is a timelag between a sitting and the publication of the Hansard record for that.
But in the meantime, I feel that I should specifically mention 2 speeches that I made yesterday and today, because I would like to ask reservists and teachers to stand up for what they have been saying.
I had filed a cut on Mindef, and had originally wanted to talk about reservists and Mindef's policy on deferments for non-Key Appointment Holders including PES C clerks. But in light of the comments made about NS liability handicapping Singaporean males' careers, I worked this issue into my cut yesterday, and asked about Mindef's position on the perceived bias against Singaporean males and measures in place to address it.
Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen responded to my question. In a nutshell, the main points are:
- he noted that the perceived bias was based on anecdotal evidence
- he said that many employers had told him they specifically seek out NS officers and appointment holders, because this indicates that they have leadership capability
- Mindef invites people to give feedback on any specific cases of discrimination
- an employer isn't going to tell Mindef, let alone the Second Minister himself, that it discriminates against Singaporean males in hiring practices
- there was nothing said about non-officers and non-KAHs
- the "anecdotal evidence" argument is very easy to raise in response to issues raised based on Internet posts, and very difficult to debunk convincingly
- the "anecdotal evidence" argument is also not quite fair. I would actually characterise anecdotal evidence as being analogous to a canary in a mine -- when there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, then there must be something there. No smoke without fire, etc.
It is not enough or convincing for me to simply speak up. If this is important to you, please speak up off-line as well. The corollary to the Government's light-touch approach to the Internet is that it also dismisses Internet chatter. So posting on your blog or in forums or on this blog isn't really going to do anything to advance your case, and to show that this is in fact a real and important issue.
Today saw the debate on MOE. I made a speech about EPMS, or Enhanced Performance Management System, which is the method used to assess the performance of teachers. I got a pretty strong, point-by-point response by Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew. It feels to me like I might have touched a nerve. So be it, it comes with the territory.
But what frustrated me was that the MOS seems to have misunderstood one of the key points I was making. Based on what people have told me, and what I have read in the newspapers and on teachers' blogs, one of the main complaints about EPMS is that a good classroom teacher who does nothing more will get a C grading, and it takes substantial amounts of work on non-academic, non-teaching related projects to get an A or B grade. And I tried to make that point.
It seems that I might have failed to make it clearly, because the MOS, in response to this point, stated that between a teacher who has put in effort to come up with innovative lessons, and a teacher who simply teaches off the textbook, the former will be rewarded and that that must be the case.
You know what? I absolutely agree with that. But that wasn't the point I was trying to make, and that is not the point that teachers make. And honestly, MOE does know about this complaint, because it has been regularly raised in the media. And in my speech, I specifically referred to retired teacher Ho Kong Loon, who had written in TODAY last year that EPMS marginalises outstanding classroom teaching and that many good classroom teachers get poor EPMS gradings.
I absolutely wanted to make and would have made a clarification on this, and ask the MOS to respond accordingly. But I simply had to rush back to the office after my speech to clear some matters, and I could not spare the time to wait for the chance to ask a clarification. And so that mischaracterisation of my argument, which to me is pretty fundamental, went unchallenged.
The Straits Times might be running a story on this tomorrow, since they asked for a copy of my speech. Just as I have asked NSmen to raise their issue in the offline world, I also now ask teachers and ex-teachers who do not agree with EPMS to write in to the papers, to the MOS and/or to MOE to make this point clear.
Doing so will also address a comment made by the MOS that I had raised a lot of anecdotal evidence, but MOE's own feedback and surveys show that most teachers support and are satisfied with EPMS (no figures were given though). So if you think EPMS is flawed, then let them know and let them know why you think so.