Saturday, 27 July 2013

Our Honeywell air purifiers from Amazon are here!

Update: I've found some deals on eBay which are worth a look.

Earlier, I posted about air purifiers for the haze. I am pleased to report that they arrived in a mere NINE days, using the cheapest shipping option (which isn't at all cheap, by the way). I had ordered them on 13th July, as I did my first post on the topic. They arrived on 22nd July.

I don't know why I had one "gift-wrapped"...
Beefed-up (relative to the first one) transformer for the more powerful purifier

Looks a lot nicer than the other one

I only did this update now, as the winds have brought a bit of the haze back to SG. Otherwise, I know most Singaporeans have forgotten the impact and intensity of the 400 PSI haze, and nobody will read this post. Today's haze smells pretty bad but AQI really isn't that bad. It's still in the moderate range, and AQI factors PM2.5 into the equation.

PSI readings are still "good" though. If you believe in placebos, read "the right things" and avoid this website. It sure is cheaper in the short term to take no precautions to protect yourself.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the four purifiers I bought (one from a friend, three from Amazon) were for my family, and my in-laws'. I thought that the haze was gone after Vivian gave that envelope to his Indonesian friend. But after Vivian said that the haze was coming back, I decided to bring home the oldest and lowest capacity Honeywell, the one that I wrote about previously.

I wonder what was in that envelope. Not that I mind, because it seemed to work!

I am happy to report that it works well enough. I cannot say how how efficient the filtration is, but I have been running the purifier overnight for the past week, and closing all our windows in the event the haze snuck up on us. My efforts paid off last night. This morning, I detected a slight haze smell in the rest of the house (I use air con at night), and noticed two Facebook status updates about the hazy smell. There was no smell whatsoever in our bedroom!

The smell outside was far worse. I guess this is largely a "smelly haze", which doesn't affect visibility much and doesn't register too steep a decline in air quality. Sorry for the unscientific description but I guess that's what it is.

So if a rather well-used low-capacity air purifier works, you can be sure that those Amazonian Honeywells will work even better. Those clean a much larger volume of air, but the trade-off is that they are somewhat noisier, and consume more electricity at full blast (90W vs 180W).

Here is a video I took of the Honeywell Enviracare HEPA purifier to illustrate the noise level. It's noisier as it emits the air through a much narrower opening, and a lot more air too.

My recommendation is to crank it up once you get home, and turn it down only before you go to bed unless you like this sort of white noise. Given that these things run on transformers, I would NOT recommend that you leave it running when you are not home, in the event of overheating. My friend has tested these to near overload conditions, and his findings are that it auto cuts off due to overheating. Which is good, but no harm playing extra safe.

These things are the same physical size as the Honeywell SilentComfort series that I first got, and am running at my house now. The SilentComfort is designed to be much quieter, mainly by having a much larger exhaust (in this case, exhaust is clean air). The airflow feels deceptively mild, but that's what helps it run silently and effectively.

The Enviracare sucks through a large intake and jets the clean air out through the narrower opening. I could really feel the draught while testing it. Its lowest setting is slightly noisier than the SilentComfort.

Value-for-money wise, just get the Enviracare unless noise is a bigger issue.

You could buy these here and have "after-sales service" and a warranty, but be prepared to pay at least double the price. The good thing is that buying locally-sold sets (from a proper retailer, because I can imagine some people bringing in US-spec sets) will eliminate the need for a transformer. That should save a bit on electricity as well as make the whole setup somewhat safer. 

- S

Friday, 26 July 2013

Migrating to Australia - A response to reader KT

Hi KT,

Thank you for your comment. I did not publish it, as it had your email details within. This is more for your own privacy than anything else.

We would like to engage you in public, in case other readers have the same questions. A's posts have been very detailed - she has a much keener eye for detail than I do - thus I believe that once you have digested them, there may not be that many loose ends left. In addition, while her posts are not the last word when it comes to Migrating to Oz, she links amply to the DIAC, which is.

Should there be any specific questions, do field them via the comments box, minus your contact details. Thanks!

For those who have just surfed in, the overview is in the top tab, or if you are on mobile browsers and can't see the tabs, do click here.

All the best in your journey!

- S

Thursday, 25 July 2013

That brave girl doing CPR...

Contrary to how movies portray, CPR's success rate isn't fantastic. Most people who have CPR performed on them won't actually live to tell the tale. In this case, given that the victim had sustained head injuries, CPR is even less likely to result in a positive outcome (it wouldn't hurt to try, though). The AED is what really boosts success rate, even then only under certain conditions which cause a person's heart to stop (the heart's electrical rhythm must be a 'shockable' one).

A and I are CPR/AED-trained. Like most non-medical, CPR/AED-trained personnel, we haven't actually got the chance to use it. Having gone through the training, I'd say that everyone who is physically fit should take a CPR + AED first aid course.

Although the victim unfortunately passed away, this unidentified (she didn't give her name to the papers) girl is still a heroine. Not just for trying, but given the way social media is sharing the case, I hope her act inspires more people to learn these lifesaving skills. And inspires those who have learned these skills, to step forward and use them, should the need arise.

- S

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Would you choose to be gay?

I can just imagine the ribbing I am going to get from some of my guy friends, asking this on NRSC.

I must admit that I have very few homosexual friends. In fact, I have at most one gay friend (even then only highly suspect, not confirmed) whom I meet once in a blue moon. The others I can count with one hand, and really only qualify as acquaintances. Call me "boring". Whatever...

Discomfort with my faith
As a Christian (albeit lukewarm at times), homosexuality has been something I struggled with, even though I am not gay.

It disturbs me that someone could be 'created to sin', because I believe homosexuality is not a choice. Straight folks could sail through life doing all the things that 'please God'. Theoretically where this is concerned, as long as you go to church (and believe), don't have sex before marriage, and marry a Christian, all is well.

The problem is that homosexuals have a darn hard time doing that (pun unintended but noticed nonetheless). They apparently have no way to lead a lifestyle 'pleasing to God'. There are certain camps which believe that a monogamous homosexual marriage is no worse in the eyes of God than a heterosexual one, and on the flip side there are camps who believe that the only right option for Christian gays is total celibacy.

Honestly, I wouldn't know. Both sides seem to quote tons of scripture, and despite my having prayed before, I will have you know that talking to God can be like banging one's head against a brick wall sometimes. The major difference is that one gets an immediate reply from the brick wall. I still believe that I may get to see Him in the afterlife, and my question wouldn't be the titular one, but instead: Why did You create some people gay?

Nature or nurture?
Again, there are two camps. Some believe that being gay is a choice, while others believe that it's nature - pointing to the fact that many species of animals engage in gay sex as well. I have personally witnessed one of my male hamsters raping his brother, and was disgusted enough (yeah, I'm homophobic in a way) to separate them after that. Of course, not having provided a female mate for him (because our prior overindulgence had led to a population explosion and we had 30), I couldn't really blame him for trying to relieve himself in the nearest victim. This may not be a good example, but I am dead sure I would prefer the company of my hands to the company of another guy, should I desire this sort of relief.

The euphemistic label "Alternative lifestyle" doesn't quite do the situation justice. It implies choice. Cheap shots at publicity such as these also don't do justice to the situation and the LBGT community. From a typical Christian perspective (which for all we know, is quite different from whatever the Man-Up-There thinks), if you choose to be gay, then you are a bigger sinner. "Bigger" sinner not because you are more well-endowed, of course, but because to many people, willfully butt-f**king a guy is one of the biggest sexual sins in the book. Never mind adultery, never mind prostitution, never mind child sexual abuse (apparently usually boys are the victims...) in the Catholic Church.
Now personally, I AM uncomfortable with the idea of gay marriage.
Although I reconciled my discomfort with that by marrying a wonderful lady instead.
Why should this be so? Is it because people are...?

Idolising the anus?
Someone on my Facebook shared this link, then used it to make the point for Section 377A to remain. If you have soldiered this far, I guess this law requires little further explanation. No surprises that it came from an evangelical Christian. The debate was long and tortuous, with the poster on one hand citing reasons ranging from "the weak must be protected from the strong", to "body parts must be used for the correct purpose". Never mind that existing laws on assault offer more than adequate protection, unless the assailant is a drunken diplomat.

Before I proceed, I must profess that as a Christian, I largely agree with the idea of Evangelism. I may not be a "good" Christian, but since I believe that I have to accept Jesus Christ etc etc or else, naturally I think that the message should be spread so that people get a shot at an entrance ticket to heaven.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that imposing one's beliefs on another is the way to conduct effective evangelism. In fact, it's likely to be a complete turn off.

Even though I haven't read the Bible for some time, I know that all sin is equal in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God, I am as sinful as the horniest gay man on earth. And so are you, because we are apparently all sinners. If you are Christian, you can't deny that. If you aren't, then that's some Christian perspective for you.

I usually can't read this trashy, titillating tabloid without committing some form of sin. Which is a tiny part of why I don't. Something for virile Christians to think about...

Strangely, we do not have laws against most other forms of sexual debauchery. Prostitution is tolerated (maybe not strictly 'legal'?) in designated areas of Singapore, with areas in Geylang set aside for it and the trade is regulated by having 'legal' prostitutes go for health checks every so often. Straight swingers and other less sociable one-on-one 'adulterers' can operate with complete impunity from the law. In fact, the law only mandates that the girl is at least 16 - unless the guy pays the girl - which bumps the minimum age to 18.

Does a gay man poking another gay man affect the family unit more? Or does an adulterous parent affect the family unit more? I'm assuming that the gay man is not married to a woman and has kids.

With the unholy fixation on "anal sanctity" amongst certain circles, I can only conclude that a weird form of anal worship is taking place. If I ever were to go back to church on a regular basis, the anuses of the world would be the furthest thing from my mind. Unless I've had one of these the night before. That might give me something to worry about for a while...

True story... But even so, I'm not going to put the anus on a pedestal...

And on to my Golden Question for my LGBT readers:

If you could choose, would you choose to be gay (or etc)? Why? Why not? It's not about whether you are proud of who you are today. It's more about which you would choose, assuming you were asexual and had to 'choose' a path.

Stay tuned for my next post, covering conversion therapy. For that, I need your inputs, and thus it's open season for all - from gay rights activists to rabid evangelicals. Fire away!

- S

P.S. I know not all Christians are against S377A, or condemn homosexuality specifically. But I have personally witnessed a very vocal segment doing so, without offering acceptable explanations as to why religious values should dictate secular law, in light of the other inconsistencies with those religious values and existing legislature.

I have also been touched by this story. Do read this, and contribute to the discussion, before I follow up with my next post.

SG Teach Part 2: The downsides of teaching in Singapore

This is the second part of a 2-part series. If you have missed the first part, click here.

Have you wondered what contributes to the high turnover rate of teachers in Singapore? Have a chat with educators who have left the service (or those still in service willing to speak the truth) and some of the following reasons come to mind.

#1. Long working hours and heavy workload.

A few years ago, a forum letter to the Straits Times from the wife of a Primary School Teacher went viral online. The lady who wrote the letter, Ms Quek, chronicles her husband's typical work day and questions the non-existence of work-life balance in a teaching job.

Fast forward 3 years... and very little has changed. Work-life balance for teachers is by and large still not a priority and therefore virtually non-existent. Granted, working in Singapore is stressful regardless of the occupation. However, no other job besides the teaching profession requires one individual to play as many roles (refer to my earlier posts here and here).

My friends can attest that I am very efficient when it comes to work. Therefore I can say without shame, that despite my best efforts to optimize and manage my time without compromising on work quality, I work an average of 60 to 70 hours per week during school term (including weekends) as an ordinary school teacher. This number does not take into consideration staying overnight for camps or going overseas for school trips. Each ordinary teacher typically has a marking loading equivalent to 4 full classes, which works out to between 120 to 150 scripts to be marked for each assignment given. On top of that, teachers are required to attend school meetings (aka contact time), department meetings, level meetings, committee meetings and parent-teacher meetings. In addition to timetabled lessons, we also conduct CCA, remedial, one-on-one student consultations and supplementary lessons in the holidays. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the greatest challenges in modern life is to find the middle path.

No wonder 'No Work Life Balance' is an option that a resigning teacher can check on the MOE resignation form. I kid you not. So they know.

#2. PARENTS. 'Nuff said?

I can't think of any other occupation that needs to deal with such a unique group of stakeholders and their expectations. Parents are neither 'clients' (technically our clients are the students) nor part of the school nor experts in the teaching profession - but just speak to any teacher who has been in service long enough and almost every single one of them has a story to tell about insufferable or unrealistic parents.

In every line, one has to deal with unreasonable customers - those who will threaten to send complaint letters to your boss, question your professional judgement (and in a teachers' case, undermine your authority over the child) and never, ever admit errors made on their own end. Teaching is no different in this aspect. Yahoo News has described a typical modern Singaporean parent as 'pushy, unreasonable and self-entitled' - so to all new teachers or teacher-wannabes, be very, very careful when you handle parents.

If only people came with labels like these. Life would be so much easier.

#3. A Teaching career in Singapore - A 'Consolation Prize'?

How is a teaching career regarded in Singapore? Refer to the Jan 2013 speech from the Singapore Prime Minister on meritocracy here. Let me quote the interesting bits for you.

Spelling out how it (meritocracy) works, PM Lee said that all would get a chance to compete fairly, and the best man would get the most difficult job and be rewarded accordingly, but there must also be consolation prizes for the rest.

Later on, he added 'Within Singapore, we can say... you're a school teacher, you may not be a top lawyer, but I make sure you're also paid properly.'

Why is a teaching career the number one choice of Finland’s best and brightest students?

Pay is not the answer.  Teacher pay in Finland is reasonably competitive but no more attractive than in many other European countries. In fact, the range of salaries among professionals in Finland is very small, compared to most other advanced industrial countries, which means that differences in compensation in Finland generally have less of an influence on career choice than in other countries.

The answer certainly has something to do with the age-old respect for teachers in Finland, but much more to do with the selection process, the work itself and the working conditions.  Because Finland has very high standards that must be met to enter teacher preparation programs, getting in confers prestige on the successful applicant.  The fact that  Finland has moved teacher education into the universities also confers prestige on young people who go into teaching, because they are getting professional training in the same institutions providing training to the highest prestige professions.

I rest my case and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

#4. Workplace abuse in schools

I did a complete post on workplace bullying in schools, here. Suffice to say, the school may not be as nurturing an environment (for teachers) as you think. After all, most employees leave their managers, not their jobs. A teaching career is not any different. Encounter a really mean boss (ie P, VP or HOD) and you may pack your bags sooner than you think.

#5. Communicating with HQ

Communicating with HQ is a pain. When the organization is so huge, the middle management is so thick and the turnover rate of the ground level staff at HQ is so high, communication will invariably break down at some point. Of course, since what I have stated above is not the "right news", you will not find such politically incorrect information in the MSM (even if it is true). Internally, the Ministry conducts an organization-wide survey known as the School Climate Survey every 2 years - and I'm not surprised that they score poorly when it comes to communication with the ground and with schools. Before the Internet Brigade begin their rampage at this point, let me clarify that I do not expect the organization to be perfect, but I do draw the line when I hear the Ministry calling themselves 'world class'. Give me a break.

My personal encounters with HQ have yielded the following observations - the average waiting time to speak to a Customer Service Officer from the MOE hotline is 20 minutes, an email enquiry sent to the generic email address never gets a reply unless it is sent through the P/VP and the MOE HR staff who worked directly with me has changed 3 times in 2 years. A good friend of mine who has been in service for more than 20 years spent 4 years of that time in a HQ posting - She described her HQ posting as the darkest years of her life. Of course, to each his own and I don't deny that all of my personal bad encounters could be mere coincidences.

#6. A Culture of Mediocrity (?)

Every teacher's Current Estimated Potential (CEP) is assessed by her Principal from his/her first year in service. For teachers who do not wish to take up leadership positions but remain in the teaching track, you will reach your CEP in 15 to 20 years - what this means is that you will not be promoted further beyond that. Couple this with the following realities of teaching in Singapore: (1) promotion is slow but sure, (2) good work is rewarded with more work, (3) young/unmarried teachers or teachers without children are given more work and Voila! What you have is a class of mediocre, relatively senior teachers sailing along, doing the bare minimum and avoiding duties like a plague. I once encountered a teacher who refused to be involved in any school activities that fell on a Saturday - when queried, she retorted that 'surely there were younger teachers who could do it' and 'she had kids so she should be exempted'. What kind of logic is that? The most infuriating fact was not her statement but that her HOD agreed and assigned a younger, unmarried colleague for all subsequent Saturday duties instead. Seriously??

Most teachers in their late twenties/early thirties (across several schools of different levels) whom I have spoken to agree that schools generally condone mediocrity in their senior staff and school leaders assess them using a different yardstick. In our observations, this practice is especially prevalent in the civil service. Of course, this point is admittedly very subjective and open for debate. I'm sure such a situation is not unique to the teaching profession. (I welcome constructive comments and personal stories, and would not mind being proven wrong.)

#7.  Under the Media Limelight

This point does not require much elaboration, given how educators in general have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism from MSM and social media in the last couple of years. Noteworthy examples include:
The implication is clear. If you want to be a teacher, exercise extreme caution when handling students, parents and the media. Take a good look at your personal motives and reassess your suitability to become a teacher. Guard your personal life and keep your skeletons in the closet (if any) well hidden.

At the end of the day... 

Go into your teaching job (or any job for that matter) with both your eyes open. Be prepared to take the bitter with the better. The Ministry and its recruitment officers will only sell you the merits of the profession, often with touching stories and catchy phrases (eg "Teachers make a difference. What do you make?"). It takes an actual practitioner to cut through the propaganda and present the true merits and downsides of the profession. 

 A touching advertisement brought to you by MOE.

What are my reasons for writing this, you ask? Especially since I am no longer in the profession? The reason is simple: The teaching profession, which is key to nation building and sustainability, is often misunderstood. I have encountered too many Singaporeans of the following types:
  • current students vehemently against the profession without good reason
  • students who want to be teachers in the future because they are inspired by their teachers but do not have clear idea on what the job truly entails / only see the 'fun' side of the job
  • teaching scholars who have broken their bond with MOE / thinking of breaking their bond to MOE even before they begin the profession... why??
  • beginning teachers burnt out/resigning after teaching for less than a year due to incompatibility of the job with personal expectations
  • a general group of ignorant public who think that teachers have a fantastic deal in their jobs, especially with regards to school holidays
  • another group of ignorant public who think that teachers are essentially fools /'winners of consolation prizes' for choosing to teach
  • Parents/social media/students being reactive and quick to criticize teachers 
Studies in the UK have shown that the teaching profession remains the most unpopular profession among young people. I'm not sure whether this is the case in Singapore, though I have personally observed signs of teacher shortages in schools, as well as a notable increase in the number of teaching scholarships/bursaries offered by MOE. 

Anyway, feel free to drop your comments!

- A

SGFear - Part 1: The PAP, and Singaporeans' amazing paranoia

I have observed among some people I know, that fear is a strong incentive for them to vote for the PAP.

During the last GE, I actively rooted for the opposition. Any opposition. My rationale is that the PAP has shown itself to be arrogant, complacent, and at times, plain incompetent. Credit has been taken for how Singapore has been "developed" and "transformed" from a fishing village by a particular founding father of Singapore. It is shocking how little responsibility has been shown when things go wrong, and despite that, the leaders of the land continue to demand the highest salaries in the world.

People tend to believe what they want to believe, even when facts and cogent arguments are laid out in front of them. Arguably, I am no different. But this does not preclude an exchanging of viewpoints. The people I have talked to know what I stand for, and vice versa.

Here are some interesting things that I have heard when party politics are discussed:

1. "PAP is superior. Their machinery enables them to run the country efficiently. This country has no hope under the hands of the opposition. Just look at the (lack of) quality of the opposition!"

As told to me by a Government scholar. This person's views and long-term plans smack of irony, but that's all I will reveal in order to protect the anonymity of the people I have spoken to.

2. "I don't like what I see in Singapore now, but I will migrate if WP takes over the government. That will be the end of Singapore."

Responses 1 & 2 demonstrate a fear of "poor quality" opposition.

3. "I am applying for a (civil service) job, and I don't want to jeopardise my application."

This, despite the job in question being a low-level one, and despite both PAP and Opposition clarifying that everyone's vote is secret. If that isn't convincing enough, then I don't know what is!
4. "I am in the military, and we must vote for PAP."

This is probably more attributable to ignorance than fear. But again, if you believe that your vote is secret, isn't this point moot?

Singapore is no Nazi Germany. But to those in the force: do you still have your own conscience and moral compass? Or does blind faith in your leaders suffice?

5. "I can't tell you who I voted for."

Sometimes, I don't know if these people are trolling me, afraid of revealing their vote regardless of who they voted for, or afraid of revealing that they voted for the opposition. I got some of these responses before we started our blog - NRSC - by the way. So it can't be a case of being afraid of becoming an example on this blog.

6. "I'm all for more opposition in Parliament for (insert myriad of reasons). But look at Hougang and Potong Pasir. I don't want my constituency to become like that!"

These voters want more opposition, but not in their backyard. For them, it's the fear of the unknown, rather like in point 1. One cannot discount the possibility that the recent hoo ha whipped up by the MSM over Aljunied could contribute further to this sentiment. Incidentally, I heard this in the past two GEs, and I guess it smacks of selfishness to a certain extent as well.

Other interesting examples of fear:

7. Well-meaning concern from friends in response to my posting on Facebook of a picture of me with Dr Chee Soon Juan. Apparently since I was with the SAF, such a picture is grossly inappropriate.

I had gone to kaypoh (be a busybody) at his Tak Boleh Tahan campaign a few years back. I must confess that back then, even though I was already aware of the biasness of the MSM, I thought that Dr Chee was insane, and thus I took a picture with him as an icon - a crazy politician, if you will.

I understand that the SAF is SUPPOSED to be apolitical. Never mind being on standby in the event of a "freak election result". I didn't see how posing for a photo with a politician amounts to endorsing his party's political beliefs. If that were so, then logically this issue should be equally salient when posing for photos with PAP MPs, no? 

The SDP still has an uphill task ahead of it in terms of its image. As a think-tank, I admire it. As a political party, IMHO it's still going nowhere. And no, I am not in this picture...

8. Well-meaning friends have told me to take this post down.

9. "ISD is tracking this conversation. I talk to you offline..."

I have no doubt that they could. But even if they are, what are they going to do about it? Unless of course we were plotting something really naughty... I'd imagine that if online chatter and SMS were being screened, it would be for certain trigger keywords like "bomb" and etc. I also assess that ISD or some related department monitors trending blog posts such as this, and deploys their Incompetent Internet Brigade to post bullshit comments in response. But what else are they going to do about it?

Well, they did let Mas Selamat escape, only for our friendly neighbours to 'help' us recapture him...

I'm not going to refute these nine examples of absurd claims and fears here, because any discerning person can see through them. What is worrying to me though, is that perhaps those we might assume to be more discerning don't seem to be. Most of these responses came from people who came from "good schools", and they are mostly people whom I generally regard as having above average intelligence.

Has anyone else encountered such comments from the people you know? What do you think the PAP's real "mandate" is, given some of the interesting reasons/excuses people have for voting for the PAP include job security. Do raw numbers (e.g. 60%) translate to an electorate trusting that the PAP is doing the right things?

In part 2, I plan to cover the mechanisms in which the PAP has instilled fear. In part 3, what We, the citizens of Singapore, can do to combat such irrational fears. Stay tuned! 

- S

Saturday, 20 July 2013

SGTeach Part 1: Why should you be a teacher in Singapore?

Ex-Singaporean blogger Limpehft recently posed a question on his blog "Why don't you want to teach in Singapore?" and questioned if the Singapore education system has put young Singaporeans off a teaching career. Glancing through that post and having spoken to a couple of teacher-wannabes recently, I have decided to pen down some objective thoughts on why one should or should not pursue a teaching career in Singapore. In order to do this topic justice, I have decided to split it into 2 parts - one post on why you should consider a teaching career and another on why you should not

A little background on the professional history of your humble writer: I joined the teaching service in 2009 after I graduated from NIE. For the last 4 years, I have played all of the following roles in school: classroom (subject) teacher, form teacher, CCA teacher, project mentor, coach, NIE CT, School Staff Developer (for about 6 months when my school was in need), Human Resource manager (for about 2 years) as well as served numerous school committees as either a member or chairperson. I have handled a very large range of school operations on several levels, ranging all the way from taking attendance of students at morning assembly to crafting policies/representing the school at networking conferences / participating in international school trips. As the one in charge of staff recruitment, I have interviewed dozens of teaching candidates interested to join the school/teaching fraternity. I also work very closely with my school's HODs, VPs, P as well as MOE HR for HR related matters. This self-description is by no means to blow my own trumpet, but to provide credibility in the discussion points I am about to raise in my subsequent posts.

On to the main question for this post: Why should you consider a teaching career in Singapore? 

#1. For the students who will make a difference in your life because you have made a difference in theirs.

As cliche as it may sound, most of us who join the teaching profession do so in the first place because we want to make a difference in the lives of our charges. For those (albeit few, at times) students whom you have impacted deeply and postively, some in turn make a big impact on you as well. I'm not simply referring to Teachers' Day cards, or gifts from students ranging from red pens to stuffed toys to (inedible) baked goods (though these do give us a warm fuzzy feeling especially when we least expect them) - I'm referring to the overwhelming sense of pride when you witness your student receiving an award from the President / Education Minister, the tears of joy as you read the words from your graduating class/previously failing student, as well as the laughter as you watch your students perform goofily on stage. 

Being a teacher is a life-changing experience. No simple description can fully articulate the emotions of a teacher when you know you have made a genuine difference to a young person's life. If you are a caring educator, your students (or future students) are the only reason you need to motivate you to pursue a teaching career and to persevere year after year.

#2. The PGDE (Postgraduate Diploma in Education) from NIE is recognized internationally.

There's little doubt that Singapore's education system is recognized as one of the world's best, especially in producing top-notch academic results. In the Global Education Survey held in 2012, our education system has been ranked 5th in the world, behind Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. You can find out more details here.

A large majority of teachers in Singapore hold the PGDE or equivalent, as MOE requires its full-time teaching staff to be trained. The PGDE course conducted by NIE is benchmarked with international teaching standards, so it is generally recognized by most educational institutions across the globe as a valid teaching diploma. Using Australia as an example, I had no problems at all getting my teaching skills recognized by Australia's assessing authority, AITSL. Personally, I also know of Singaporean teachers who landed teaching jobs in the US, UK and New Zealand.

#3. Job Stability

Jobs in the Civil Service are colloquially described as  铁饭碗 "iron-rice-bowl" for a good reason - they are very stable. Given that education is an industry that is will continue to thrive and teachers will always be in general demand regardless of the economy, teachers should generally have little or no fear of being fired or retrenched. 

#4. Time-based Promotions and Merit Increments

By and large, promotion within the civil service is time-based. Having said that, some may argue that there are many individuals in the service who are accelerated in their promotion based on performance. There are also some who believe scholars / individuals who take on several portfolios or projects are promoted ahead of others.

A clarification: I didn't say promotion is fair, I said it is largely time-based. As long as you meet the basic expectations and do not step on too many toes, you can expect yourself to be promoted in due time even if you do not outperform your peers, simply because the appraisal system in the civil service is structured as such. An annual salary increment known as the merit increment is also granted to all teachers each year (typically every April), so even a mediocre teacher can expect their salary to increase slightly each year. 

From what I understand, promotion and salary increments are much more uncertain (possibly due to the economy) and highly performance-based in the private sector. Retrenchment can also be relatively high in certain private industries. Therefore, if job security is VERY high on your priority list, consider a job in the civil service (especially MOE, as education officers constitute more than half of the civil service).

#5. Professional Development Opportunities

Generally, the Ministry of Education is interested in developing teachers professionally. In fact, each teacher is encouraged to attend 100 hours of training every year. To facilitate this, the Ministry provides free teaching resources, a teachers' library, an individual learning development fund (known as LDS) as well as a large variety of courses for teachers to attend for free / a nominal fee. 

Teachers who have served for more than 3 years can also apply for sponsorship from the Ministry if they choose to further their studies. Those who have served for many years (typically at least 6 years) can apply for paid Professional Development Leave to pursue external work-related interests while they take a sabbatical from teaching. While I am not certain if any MNCs offer an equivalent type of leave in Singapore, I must say (based on my interactions with other HR personnel) that any form of paid sabbatical leave is very rare in the private sector.

#6. CONNECT Plan

This is basically a loyalty payout plan that encourages teachers to remain in service. The Ministry deposits a fixed quantum (around S$6.3k) every year into every Education Officer's connect plan account, and the officer is allowed to withdraw a fixed lump sum from their connect plan after a pre-determined period of time. Details can be found here. This sum of money granted is on top of other annual bonuses and the long service awards. This plan serves as a loyalty bonus and was probably introduced to replace the pension scheme offered to teachers in the 1980s. 

I have listed some other common reasons below (based on my interactions with educators for the past 4 years). The reasons below are not as 'universal' as those listed above though - so take them with a pinch of salt, as some may not apply to you.

#7. Leave during School Holidays (?)

Mention this as a possible 'benefit' to a teaching career and immediately you will face much skepticism from existing teachers. Objectively, your 'entitled' duration of leave during school holidays depends largely on your school's holiday policy which can vary across different schools, as well as your holiday duties. Generally, schools do try to provide a 'protected' period of at least 1-2 weeks during the June Holidays and 2-3 weeks during the Nov/Dec period for teachers to go overseas for personal holidays.

School Holidays = Long break for Teachers? That's a myth.

If you are considering a teaching career in Singapore, do speak with existing teachers to find out what a realistic holiday schedule is like and how much 'holiday' you can expect. The assumption that the general public have of teachers having a long break during school holidays is largely a myth, since holidays typically coincide with additional 'supplementary' lessons, additional CCA training, school camps and student overseas trips.

Personally, the longest period of holiday leave I have taken thus far is 10 consecutive days. I do know of individuals taking up to 4 consecutive weeks of overseas leave though. 

#8. Overseas Opportunities and Work Attachment Platforms (?)

Unknown to many current teachers, MOE also provides Work Attachment opportunities for teachers to broaden and enrich their learning. This can include attachment to other schools, private organisations as well as institutions of higher learning.

With the increased awareness that learning should take place outside the classroom in the past decade, more schools are also organising educational school trips overseas, and these typically require teacher chaperones/facilitators. In my 4 odd years in service, I have travelled for work-related purposes to Malaysia (Malacca), Thailand (Bangkok), Indonesia (Bali) and the UK. 

I spent 2 weeks in the UK with my students in 2011... will never forget that wonderful experience.

I will acknowledge, however, that such opportunities are not unique to the teaching service nor to the civil service. Furthermore, depending on the resources available in the various schools, not all teachers will be granted the opportunity for work attachment or to go overseas.

#9. Becoming a Jack-of-all-trades (?)

Typically, when someone is hired for a salaried job, the employer is obliged to provide a list of duties to the worker as part of the contract. This list is known as the JD (Job Description) and it details the scope of work for the individual employee.

Teachers in Singapore, however, are not provided with a JD when we sign our contract. There is an implicit understanding that the role of an educator is so complex, it cannot be confined to a simple list. On top of delivering the curriculum, teachers also play the following roles (varies for different individuals of course):
  • Coach/Trainer or equivalent
  • General Administrator aka Form teacher
  • Event Organizer / Camp Commandant
  • Logistics Officer
  • First Aider
  • Driver 
  • Chaperone 
  • Mentor/ big brother/big sister/friend / 'cher'
  • Volunteer for school events
  • Salesperson 
  • Public Speaker 
  • Disciplinarian (from reprimanding students for long fingernails to handling truancy)
  • Janitorial Supervisor (for classroom cleanliness)
  • and many more besides.. you get the picture
Invariably, a good teacher becomes a jack-of-all-trades. This sounds good if you are a multi-tasker or thrive on an all-rounded job. The downside of a jack-of-all-trades is of course, that you are generally considered a master of none (except your primary teaching function).

Used to have students who called me 'Ms Octopus'. Wonder why.

Current teachers, what do you think? Feel free to share. And for those who feel I am too one-sided in my post, please be reminded that this is only the first part of a 2-part series. Stay tuned!

- A

HDB (un)affordability: What YOU can do about it.

Singaporeans are (in)famous for being a nation of whiners and complainers. Even the dear Gahmen is no different. We complain about anything and everything. In turn, Gahmen complains about us complaining about them, be it through the MSM or the PAP internet brigade bombarding blogs and forums with detailed-but-rubbish rebuttals.

This post is not to slam anyone. Not HDB, and not the Gahmen. Let's focus on the here and now, and what some of you could do right now to buy a HDB flat that serves your basic needs.

A and I live in a three-room flat. We bought it for under $90k about six years back. It was from the HDB's Sale of Balance Flats scheme, which is still available at time of writing. As you can see for yourself, flats were much cheaper back then, and I remember that for our round, there were probably double the number of three-room units (henceforth abbreviated as "3R") as there are today. The upper price limit which I saw back then was in the low 100s, which is currently the cheapest for the 3Rs available. Woodlands back then had quite a few going for around 80-85k, next to the old CIQ complex.

Fast forward six years, and HDB's asking price of a 3R in our area has increased by about 2.3 times of what we paid. Ridiculous? Sure. Unaffordable? I wouldn't say that. Assuming a combined household income of $2000 (yes, I know some people earn less than that) and some savings, you can have basic renovation and furnishing, minimal outlay of cash for your home installments, and be done with home repayments in just 20 years. However, there are some conditions you'd have to fulfill, and it really doesn't have to be so difficult depending on how you see things.

Limit yourself to 3R

In this world, you can't have your cake and eat it. If you don't earn that much, want a five-room (5R) in a good location, want to pay off your home loan in 15 years, own car, want kids, and want to blame the government for not being able to have it all, I think you should stop dreaming and wake up from LaLaLand.

Life is all about compromise, and there are too many people I know who don't seem to understand the meaning of compromise. If you are willing to compromise on your commute and personal security, among other things, I know of one security guard who owns a landed property in JB and makes a 50km motorbike commute to get to work. He probably earns not more $1.5k a month, but that arrangement works beautifully for him.

Not all of us wish to compromise on our safety, or beauty sleep, or security, in order to live in a 'big house'. Perhaps for you, living in Singapore is still the way to go. As mentioned above, 3Rs are still affordable and if you must have kids and can compromise on space, I do know reasonably well-off friends (as in, families who could afford 5Rs) who live with their parents in 3R. It can be done, and it has been done.

With 3R still selling for as low as $148k without grant, and $113k with grant, what are you waiting for?

Moving in quickly, good choice of flat, good price. Choose ONE

You have the sale of balance flats scheme with flats ready to move in. Among these, you can choose between 'mature estates' and 'non-mature estates'. The prices are there for you to see. No prizes for guessing which is cheaper. You cannot have everything your way.

If you are willing to wait, then BTO is for you. A plus side about BTO is that you get everything spanking new (although I've heard a thing or two about the newer projects which I presume were built by construction companies using inferior materials) and you get the full lease (minus just a couple of years for construction, etc).

Our flat was built in the year we were born, so we had over 20 years of our 99-year lease 'used up' from day one. We can still see the cinder block/brick outline in the walls. The floor was supposedly done up by HDB as it was an ex-rental flat, but the quality was (and of course still is) inferior. The tiles are uneven, and when we moved in, it wasn't an inspiring sight.

This isn't a complaint per se, because our budget was tight then, so we just lived with it. A few hundred dollars of our reno budget went towards re-plastering the hall, so that the walls and ceiling looked nice and smooth. The bedroom had one wall plastered, where our bed and lighting was. The study was au naturale, and doesn't look too beautiful. With furniture, the imperfections became less obvious, and it was a compromise we were happy to live with. "Were", because we are planning to ship out soon. But we still like our current flat!

What we got was a place less than 10 minutes brisk walk from the MRT, and somewhere we could move in within a few months (HDB seems to promise around six months for Sale of Balance Flats, and delivers early). So we are very happy with what we got. Had we about $20k more for reno, all the issues could have been sorted out perfectly too!

Children or space. Choose ONE first

See my reasons for not having children, and A's. It did factor into our buying decision. A 3R is plenty for two, and we have stuff like scuba dive gear, two mountain bikes, and at one point, up to 30 hamsters.

A smaller flat obviously costs less to renovate, takes much less of your precious time to clean and tidy, and can be done up nicely and cosily. I've known a family of four to live reasonably comfortably in a 3R, so it's really about mindset. Having lived in a really large executive HDB and a three-storey terrace house, I'd much rather have holidays and other luxuries, but less living space, than the other way around. And I have been there, done that. So I know what I am talking about here.

Of course, either way, it's a personal choice. It's perfectly fine to choose a very frugal existence in a bigger flat, instead. Just don't expect to be able to have everything, unless you are of 'ministerial caliber'.

You actually can have children AND space. If your income grows

It sounds bloody obvious, but it isn't. Not to everyone I know. In the past, my parents had nagged me to buy a large flat. In fact, they advised me to start with a 5R. I might even have settled for a 4R straight up, until faced with the reality of having to move out there and then, without having much finances. That period of my life is a story for another day.

But the reality is that you can only buy twice directly from HDB, and the second time has to be an upgrade (unless you are divorced or widowed, and a parent). If you have no problems affording the bigger flat from get-go AND you want or need the space, go right ahead! For the rest of us, starting small gives us the option of upgrading. The fact remains that selling your first flat from HDB still produces a tidy profit, which can be used to cover a large chunk of the upgrade cost if required. To put things in perspective, our flat could be sold for close to four times the initial purchase price, six years after we bought it. Conservatively, one could assume a 1.5-2x profit even with the cooling measures in place. Do your math, instead of being fixated by pipe dreams of having your dream home as your first home.

Starting small is also about keeping options open. If you start big and want to encash your flat, your only option is the resale market. Under normal circumstances, you can't buy a 'subsidised' larger flat from HDB and buy a smaller flat subsequently. We all wish we could do that but it doesn't work that way, and I think the reason is fair.

Problems with income ceiling

A post purportedly by someone who used to work at HDB offers some good suggestions. Separately, I have corresponded with people who have 'circumvented' the income ceiling legally by simply having one half of the couple go on course during the time they wanted to qualify for a 3R. On course = no income, in that case anyway. Use your imagination. Since the income ceiling was raised, I think it should not be an issue for those who live within their means.

Ballot number

We got a good number. This one, obviously depends on your luck/blessing. But do your homework, so that you have an idea of which of the remaining flats are suitable.

What we did was visit all the sites offered by HDB to assess the estates and rank them according to preference. Call it blessing or whatever, but we somehow managed to secure our first choice, although our number wasn't good enough to secure it. Somehow, the person who had chosen our unit backed out and we were next in line.

Do note that HDB probably releases units bit by bit, instead of all at one shot. Our neighbours had bought their flat at an earlier Sale of Balance Flats exercise, for about $3k less. So if you miss out this time, you may not have to wait too long for the next exercise, because HDB just might have more flats in the same area. In fact, you can miss twice or thrice, it's still faster than waiting for BTO. Of course, if there are units leftover but you reject, then good luck. You cannot expect to be fussy AND have HDB grant you the increased priority for first-timer applicants or second-timers who didn't even get to choose a flat on their first try.

If you do a detailed recce and speak to residents, you may be able to have a feel of how many more units HDB has in store for subsequent release. No harm trying.

Now, to demonstrate affordability with some numbers...

I tried to demonstrate zero cash outlay with my $2k combined income example, but failed. So I amended my earlier claim to "minimal" cash outlay.

Demonstrating loan eligibility for our $2k couple. Assuming $1k each, for a couple born in the 80s.

That's a total of $434 per month from the OA, with which to pay home installments.

Cash outlay is slightly over $100 per month, for a 20-year loan.
If the example couple increases their loan tenure to 30 years, which is IMHO rather ridiculous:
Voila! 'Zero cash'!

Of course, assumptions were made that the income remains stagnant, no bonuses whatsoever, neither husband nor wife loses their job, interest rate remains at 2.6%, only the 10% minimum downpayment was paid, etc.

And other questions could be raised, like what kind of a life can one have at $2k combined income? Is such an environment conducive to having the 2.1 kids that the Gahmen wants us to have? There is no end.

As Vivian famously said:
"How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?"

My point is that, sometimes we have no choice. Just 'eat at a hawker centre first'. And if you have a problem with that, just remember why this is so.

- S