Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Of Soldiers and Teachers

I've not been posting much because I've not had much time for this blog.

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.

Reservists

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
This response was given during the time for clarifications, so I didn't/couldn't ask a further clarification. But my instinctive reactions were that:
  • 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.
So to all of those who feel strongly about this issue, who have been discriminated against, who have commented on it, I ask you to write to the newspapers, to the Second Minister and/or to Mindef, to relate your own experiences and to raise awareness on this issue.

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.

Teachers

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.

33 comments:

sad man said...

Mr Siew - let MOE know? What will become of their career by speaking out of line? Best Rgds and I am glad you are asking the tough questions. I still get fuzzy with the answers to Shincorp investment in Parliament. Very fuzzy. But I understand there is a reason for this ..... http://singaporegovt.blogspot.com/2007/03/top-10-political-prophecies-that-might.html

Recruit Ong said...

When voting is secret yet so many are already fearful, i wonder how many will really dare to voice out openly.

The minister's response to reservist is out of point. Like u said it will be ridiculous for any employers to admit they discriminate! LOL! So his "evidence" is far from accurate. Instead ask him whether mindef has done survey on reservists and how NSMen feel about it! Or an independent survey on NSmen... I bet they won't have such data or evidence. The issue must be addressed from both sides. The gahment cannot just take the employer's side and dun see things from our side.

KuKuBoY said...

hi NMP Siew,
I have enjoyed your blog much thus far.
it is frank and open.

i hope u will continue writing this way
cheers

Mr Wang Says So said...

Thanks for the attempt, Kum Hong (I meant that sincerely).

But I would have thought that the question about NS shouldn't be directed at Ng Eng Hen (or at least shouldn't be directed at Ng Eng Hen alone).

Bear in mind that as Second Minister for Defence, he's thinking from the defence perspective. When he wears this hat, he would probably have little regard for male Singaporeans as employees - his primary concern is about male Singaporeans as soldiers in his little armies.

The question needs to be directed at some minister who has an interest in male Singaporeans as members of the workforce. Perhaps PM, DPM or the Labour Minister.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To sad man: I understand and sympathise with the concerns re career. But ex-teachers can speak up. And if serving teachers feel strongly about it, they can and should give feedback -- MOE does conduct supposedly anonymous feedback exercises. The ultimate question is really: how strongly do they feel about it? And if they do not feel that strongly, then that in itself suggests that EPMS may not be all that flawed.

To recruit ong: I might discuss the issue of Singaporeans' generic fear of speaking up in another post. But I have limited sympathy for those who claim to hold strong views about something, especially when they themselves are victims, and then cite a generic fear of unknown, undefined reprisal as the reason for not speaking up publicly. I understand the reasoning and I know why people hold that view, but I do not agree with it.

To kukuboy: Thank you. That means a lot. :)

To Mr Wang: Dr Ng is also the Minister for Manpower. So he is really the perfect person to respond. The other appropriate forum to ask would have been during the COS on MOM, but I have not filed any cuts there and would not have been able to raise this.

Recruit Ong said...

I understand the reasoning and I know why people hold that view, but I do not agree with it.

Mr Siew, if u understand can liao, whether u personally agree or have sympathy or not is a diff matter. The role like yours in parliament is to reflect the views of the people, thank u for trying to do that.

As u have pointed out there is no smoke without fire. So the problem is real. Actually there have always been letters to the press about plight of NSmen regarding deferment, ICT, RT etc. But mindef always give general and sweeping std replies that don't address the issues and then life goes on & nothing changes. The most hypocritical of it all is how they always thank NSmen for supporting NS.. but how many really supports NS in its present form??

My earlier point about the minister's response: in such debate they sure cite evidence in their favour. But he doesn't say anything about evidence from NSmen side or Sgian male employees' views. Since it is unlikely that people will come forward, we can probe and ask gahment about the results of those surveys mindef did on NSmen. (i know they do such anonymous surveys during ICT cos my friend has done one so mindef sure got the data.) Better still ask MOM to carry out independent surveys or polls to get Sg male employees' views.

Sorry for being long winded. Btw like kukuboy i also want to thank u for doing what u can and voicing out in the parliament. :)

PanzerGrenadier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PanzerGrenadier said...

Dear Mr Siew

Thanks for highlighting the issue of how NSmen are disadvantaged economically due to NS. Minister Ng Eng Hen's reply is to be expected. Use weak arguments i.e. while your anecdoctal evidence is not conclusive, his own experiences have employers fawning over him how they "love" NS KAH and officers should have weight because, *ahem* he IS the 2nd Minister for Defence.

I think the Government is doing a great disservice to its male citizens by continuing policies that institutionalises covert discrimination in terms of economic development of NSmen. Tokenisms of income tax reliefs, Safra clubhouses do not address the key issue. In the meantime, NSmen will continue to be at the losing end of this global economic competition for jobs and careers right in our own backyards because Mindef just carries on and on and on as if there is nothing wrong with the system.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To all: In the course of this discussion, nobody has explicitly addressed the necessity of National Service. The fact remains that NS is necessary -- I do agree with that principle. So the issue is really about ensuring that, taking full-time and reservist NS liability as a given, what can be done to protect our NSmen from unfair discrimination and other adverse and unjustifiable consequences. I just wanted to remind everyone of that.

And I would also like to thank everyone for their comments. I have found some of the comments a little more personally bruising to me than I like, but that comes with the territory and I do not begrudge anyone the right to speak their minds the way they want to speak it. Please do keep the comments coming, they are invaluable.

shaox said...

Thank you for raising these questions in parliament. It is vital that parliament gets more questions of such calibre asked, especially with a severe lack of opposition MPs.

Of course, I hope that these questions are answered to the point; the answers to the above two examples you have highlighted seemed to missed the gist of your questions.

As an MOE scholarship holder, ie a teacher-to-be, I am especially concerned with the second question regarding EPMS. I hope to obtain a greater understanding of the exact problems teachers face with EPMS.

Anyway, good job! You have changed my opinions with regards to the validity and importance of NMPs in parliament :) Thank you.

family man said...

I too thank you for giving me the faith and belief in the NMP system. On another point, could you help check on something regarding our Uni entrance system? I have heard that in opening up our Engineering places to China, their entrance requirement is an English pass at O level equivalent. If this is true then would it not be grossly unfair to our own citizens who have to pass General paper. I would really like to hear if this is true. Thank you.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To shaox: Thanks for the encouragement. :)

To family man: Thanks as well. And I will try to find out more about this alleged diferential language requirement in the universities.

family man said...

I too want to congratulate Dr Lily Neo who appeared on TV in Parliament last night. She gave a fiesty sting to MCYS on how $1 a day is insufficient to the old and destitude in Singapore. Of course, Dr Vivian went on about how Many Hands should come in and they should not rely on the Govt. What peeves me is how in saying this, our Government is expected to PAY for the increase in salaries of Dr Vivian himself. I know my post is emotional, not 'logical' in the bigger schemes of things, but this is my feeling, and Mr Siew, if you can pass my post to Dr Lily, tell her I am touched by her actions. It gives me faith that if I look hard and deep enough, there are PAP MPs with a soul.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To family man: I'm sure Dr Neo would be much happier to hear from you directly. You can e-mail her at dr.lilyneo@gmail.com. And from what I have observed, I would say that, by and large at the very least, the PAP MPs do have their hearts in the right place.

chrischoo said...

Mr Siew, would it be feasible then to increase the full-time National Service liability for a few months to get complete exemption from reservist liabilities thereafter?

The critical issue is with the disruptive call-ups, IPPT, RT, etc. I personally don't think that men in general question the need for an Army, but with the relaxed immigration policies it is starting to become very clear that reservist liabilities impede our citizens more than they help Singapore defend itself.

If you asked me whether I would be willing to serve 6 straight months of NS now and forgo my 10 reservist cycles I would seriously consider that option. At least I am more confident of being battle-ready as a full-time soldier than some half-baked civilian who has problems getting an IPPT pass.

They should have the right to call us back again when serious diplomatic problems arise, but until then I think MINDEF should leave us alone because there is enough competition from foreign talent as it is.

Locksley said...

Mr Siew - First of all, I want to thank you for being the voice of all local, healthy males who face discriminations in the work-place due to their NS liabilities.

That said, there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said. I would just like to point your attention to a thread on a local forum, where yet another case of discrimination of males with NS liability has presented itself.

http://forums.hardwarezone.com/showthread.php?t=1558683&page=1&pp=15

Thank you for reading.

Siew Kum Hong said...

To family man: I'm told that foreign students enrolling in our universities will have to take a language test, which I assume (but am unable to confirm) is pegged at GP-level equivalent. That would seem fair.

To chrischoo: I don't think that would satisfy the objective of reservist call-ups, which is to ensure (or at least try) that the NSmen remain "operationally ready". I think doing it in one stretch would not satisfy that.

To locksley: I have seen that thread before.

Actually, as I've always taken pains to clarify, I'm not the voice of anyone. It is just that this is an issue that needs to be examined and addressed.

Having said that, I think one solitary mention in Parliament by me does nothing to change anything. More voices are needed, to show that this is in fact a true concern of Singaporean males. Unfortunately, that does not seem likely to happen.

Socrates_Reincarnate said...

Dear Mr Siew:

Glad to know of your efforts in providing a voice for NS men, allow me a word of Thanks first and foremost.

Regarding the NS issue, I have been through job interviews and for one of them, I did have a caucasian interviewer whom I didn't think is a Singaporean. He asked me about my NS committments towards the end of the interview. Obviously he was worried that my NS committments would interfere with my work My reply was that if my services were urgent to the company, I could always get a letter for deferment. Anyway, I attended that interview for fun just for curiosity's sake because I was targeting a dream job and I managed to land it. Needless to say, I was told that my application for that job was "unsuccessful". I wasn't that affected save for a bus' trip to the interview venue.

As for my dream job, my interviewer was a Singaporean. A Singaporean lady in fact. No questions asked about NS issues during the interview. Glad that I landed what I wanted.

I am not trying to stereotype Singaporean or foreign employers here. I was just speaking based on my experience, and if the need arises, I am willing to vouch for it.

I will be posting something about this issue at my blog socrates-reincarnated.blogspot.com

Thanks for your time and I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Dee

Socrates_Reincarnate said...

Dear NMP Siew:

I would like to make a clarification on my previous comment. I acknowledge that there is a possibility people may have the impression that I was being discriminated based on my NS liability that resulted in me not landing the job. It may also be that I wasn't too keen on the job and treated the interview as an excursion exercise. Secondly, the intention of my comment was meant to relate my experience with two categories of interviewers - the Singaporean and the foreigner. Of course, it could only be my personal experience and how the actual situation on the ground is like, it can only be verified through a more conclusive study.

Lastly, I agree with you. No employer would tell Mindef that they were responsible for a discriminatory practice against Singaporean males. It would hurt their reputation, leading to a collective anger resulting in a possible loss of customer base.

There is another popular forum, Sammyboy forums whom our local journalists also frequent. A number of postings were dedicated to the airing of grievances on the NS issue.

More can be found on my blog at http://socrates-reincarnated.blogspot.com/2007/04/my-exchange-with-nmp-siew-kum-tong-on.html

rezipping said...

Dear NMP Siew,

I am a teacher employed by MOE.

I would like to thank you for speaking up for teachers regarding teacher appraisal and the EPMS. Much has been said not only on the system, but also on the overloaded job descriptions piled into a teacher's portfolio. MOE has employed HR consultants and issues on overloading teachers have been reiterated again and again, yet no satisfactory solutions have been implemented. In fact, new policies to load teachers just keep pouring in.

To be fair, it is difficult to design a perfect appraisal system for teachers. The vision to reward teachers who teach better in class is a difficult one. There are only two ways I can think of to gather evidence for the purpose of such an appraisal - via classroom observation of the teacher and via student feedback.

If you have read other teachers' blog, you might have heard of the problems associated with classroom observations. Typically, teachers prepare colourful lessons only when they know they will be observed. Firstly, this is not an accurate appraisal of the teacher's lessons throughout the year. Secondly, I don't believe it is healthy for the students to learn such hypocritical tactics of the teachers.

The second way of gathering evidence through student feedback is even more disruptive to the aim of education. In this scenario, the teacher is under the mercy of his/her students to provide positive feedback. While this might work for more matured tertiary students, the thought of this being implemented at the primary or secondary level is most disturbing.

Thus, I feel there is a limit with what we can do to appraise teachers fairly apart from taking it to 180 or 360 appraisal systems where teachers do peer appraisal or even appraise their head of departments/principals. But those systems have another set of problems of their own. At the end of the day, I think our main complain is that we get loaded with so many non-teaching duties, our effectiveness in the classroom is sacrificed.

mother said...

Thanks, Mr Siew for being involve with this EPMS. From my observation in schools, I think this is affecting our children. My own child is very much being affected by it.

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