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PUBLISHED BY: ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS • VOLUME 13 ISSUE 1 • JANUARY 2018 • MCI (P) NO: 107/06/2017 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434

Approaching Budget 2018:

Hopes

of A Community


CONTENTS JANUARY 2018

EDITORIAL BOARD 01

FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK

SUPERVISING EDITOR Abdul Hamid Abdullah SOCIAL

BUDGET 2018 02

05

09

A Budget to Address Emerging Concerns by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Major Education Reforms in 2017: Key Directions and Implications for the Malay/Muslim Community by Assoc Prof Jason Tan

The Plight of the Young: Leaving No One Behind by Nabilah Mohammad

17

Providing A Home for Children from Single Parent Families by Nooraini Razak

20

Families in Transition: Navigating Temporary Housing in Singapore by Nurdiyanah Mohd Nassir

23

Special Attention to Special Needs: The Roles of Community in the Early Detection of Developmental Delays by Dr Qu Li

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Changing Mindsets: Addressing Gaps in Mental Healthcare in Singapore by Dr Radiah Salim The Limits of Social Spending by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim

Religious Terrorism and Toxic Masculinity by Imad Alatas OPINION

37

Financial Aid for Students: An Invitation to Dream by Assoc Prof John Donaldson

12

28

34

How the Role of Fathers Has Changed by Edwin Choy

EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Nabilah Mohammad Nuraliah Norasid Nur Diyana Jalil Winda Guntor

PERSONALITY 40

Slow Hustle, Smart Growth: Pushing Boundaries with Adlina Anis by Nabilah Mohammad BOOK REVIEW

43

Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit by Diana Rahim

We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to: Editor, The Karyawan Association of Muslim Professionals 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457 T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E corporate@amp.com.sg

The Karyawan is a publication of the Association of Muslim Professionals. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Association and its subsidiaries nor its directors and the Karyawan editorial board. © Association of Muslim Professionals. 2018. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.


FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK

The Budget season is upon us once again, with the Ministry of Finance announcing that the Budget Statement 2018 will be delivered on 19 February. The Budget Statement provides a signal on what the national priorities are, which will allow businesses, organisations, and Singaporeans to plan the steps we need to take in order to align ourselves to these priorities. Last year's budget saw a two-pronged focus on the development of an innovative and connected economy, and building a caring and inclusive society. In anticipation of this year’s budget, we have invited academics and practitioners from various sectors to share their thoughts on what they thought Budget 2018 could focus on in the areas of education, social support, mental health, youth development, and the special needs community. The articles they have contributed to this issue of The Karyawan highlight gaps in these sectors that need to be met in order to ensure no group is left behind as Singapore rides the next wave of change. It is the writers’ “wishlist” on what they hope for in the year to come, so that Singapore can flourish as a nation. For me, my wish is to see the Malay/Muslim community keeping pace with the other communities amid the changes that the year will bring. This requires continued and persistent effort by Malay/Muslim organisations working together with each other and national agencies to help members of our community understand the challenges and opportunities that the future will bring and how they need to ready themselves to take them on. It is my wish that just as Singapore flourishes, our community too flourishes alongside the rest of Singapore. Happy reading.

ABDUL HAMID ABDULLAH SUPERVISING EDITOR


BUDGET 2018

A Budget to Address Emerging Concerns While 2017 has been a relatively “good year” for Singapore in economic terms, there were concerns expressed over some emerging issues. It is hoped that Singapore Budget 2018 will address these issues as Singaporeans strive to secure a more positive future. In February this year, the employment hurdle of fresh graduates was highlighted by a joint graduate employment survey by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU). 2016 saw a smaller percentage (80.2%) of fresh graduates from NTU, NUS and SMU landing permanent full-time jobs within six months of graduation, down from 83.1%the year before, the lowest since the 2012 cohort, of which 85.6% landed permanent full-time jobs.

BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM

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A month later, statistics released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revealed a sombre state of the employment market. Layoffs, which have been rising since 2010, hit 19,170 in 2016, up from 15,580 the previous year. Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) formed three-quarters of all residents who were laid off in the fourth quarter of 2016.


The figure for degree holders on long-term unemployment in 2016 was highest since 2004 at 1%, up from 0.8% in 2015.

Schemes targeting fresh graduates can be structured so as to link pre-graduation ones with post-graduation ones to ensure participants are on a promising trajectory. What makes the above developments Undergraduates should be encouraged to worrying is that analysts have attributed apply to schemes such as Spring them to the weak economic situation and Singapore’s SME Talent Programme for changes in the labour market, conditions Students. They help interns gain industry that are expected to prevail for an uncertain exposure and secure career opportunities period of time as Singapore negotiates with promising local SMEs through the uncertainties of the future economy structured internships. For those who are and factors influencing it, such as global unable to secure jobs, the Adapt and Grow geopolitics. At the micro-level, these Scheme should have a component that are emerging issues that may further undertakes the follow-up role of ensuring complicate the set of challenges faced by candidates are able to build on the households. experience they have acquired through internships rather than be forced to seek The Centre for Research on Islamic and employment in industries where the skills Malay Affairs (RIMA) recently conducted and knowledge gleaned during internship roundtable discussions with several cannot be applied. self-help organisations, social workers and counsellors to solicit views on what Apart from SMEs, such an initiative should Singapore Budget 2018 should include. This be expanded to include MNCs and the article highlights some of the points raised. public service sector, presenting prospective graduates with a range of choices to match FRESH GRADUATES their skills and interests. The government There are existing initiatives that fresh could allocate a budget for facilitating the graduates who are struggling to secure a entry of fresh graduates into the workforce. job after graduating could tap on. The Work Trial scheme, a part of the Adapt and AWARENESS OF SCHEMES Grow initiative, can help address a common Existing schemes – from training complaint: the lack of work experience. opportunities in growth industries to Jobseekers can gain experience through available funding – are many and diverse. a short-term work trial while at the same They are available to applicants of various time understanding job demands and levels of education and at various stages identifying a career path of their choice. of their career but awareness about For instance, those interested in them seems lacking, as shared by some biopharmaceuticals can consider the participants of the roundtable discussion, Attach and Train programme for the including those who work closely with Biologics sector. youths. It follows that many may not be familiar with the sheer number of However, what appears lacking is a industries and positions associated with the dedicated scheme for fresh graduates. programmes. The Professional Conversion Spending the initial period of their working Programme (PCP), for instance, covers an life hovering between jobs or going for gig array of industries – aerospace, electronics, economy employment like driving for Uber info-comm, tourism, healthcare, financial or Grab may undermine acquisition and services, retail and social service to name deepening of skills to boost their long-term a few. Prospective applicants stand a good employability. chance of finding a career path that is aligned with their interest.

While the government allocates budget for developing such programmes, it should not lose sight of the fact that outreach is crucial to the take-up rate of these initiatives and for prospective applicants to make informed choices. Thus, it is worth setting aside a sum for developing a robust outreach programme, involving a network of collaboration between government agencies, unions, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and self-help groups and industries. Such a multi-sector partnership serves the interest of all parties, raising the efficiency level of the process of reaching out to prospective applicants and matching them to courses and industries. PROSPECTS OF YOUNGER SINGAPOREANS IN LOW-WAGE JOBS For younger Singaporeans in low-wage jobs, they face a long and winding road towards better socioeconomic outcomes. As their liabilities increase over time – through marriage and having children, and home ownership – they risk being saddled with multifaceted problems with finance being the key factor. The Straits Times ran an article, “Growing Number of Young Singaporeans in Need, Relying on Government Handouts”, in April last year, pointing to a 40% jump in 2015 from the 4,016 young households who received ComCare aid in 2012. There are alternative explanations to this dramatic increase, such as a rising number of young people who are temporarily unable to work due to illness. However, it is worth noting that the plight of those with secondary qualifications and below can be aggravated in the context of an economy that is plagued by disruptive technologies since these thrive on innovation, deep skills and constant upgrading. While most may be employed, they are susceptible to poverty as changes in their income may not keep pace with increasing liabilities over time. Based on data from General Household Survey 2015, 16% of those aged between 25 and 39 among the

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BUDGET 2018

resident population possess only secondary qualification and below. The case for the Malay community is starker at 32%.

consideration. A participant recounted that a number of her low-income clients were not motivated to seek employment because they believed they would earn Based on his interactions with those in this a meagre wage, thus not justifying group, a participant found that many are foregoing caregiving for their dependants. resigned to remaining where they are and Conspicuously missing in their assessment do not have plans to upgrade their skills to of their situation is that there are prospects be more employable or boost their earning for them to pursue reasonably higher potential. This can, in part, be attributed to income by tapping on existing schemes and the lack of awareness and, for those who are funds, such as SkillsFuture Credit. What is aware, the bandwidth to process the needed is a plan on how to take advantage available information. Another participant, of these initiatives to be gainfully employed a counsellor, related that many of her and contribute to the household income. clients expressed a lack of faith in landing Most of the economically inactive women a higher-level job after investing in skills who participated in the focus group upgrading, citing the lack of formal expressed willingness to seek employment educational attainment as a major if their concerns could be addressed. stumbling block. For women who are former PMETs who Budget 2018 may wish to consider a had foregone employment for such comprehensive skills upgrading package caregiving needs, NTUC U Family and targeting those with secondary and below NTUC's e2i (Employment and Employability qualifications, which features mentoring Institute) offer The Returner Work Trial, as a means of helping them make sense a new scheme to facilitate the re-entry of of the information available, dispel economically inactive PMETs (“returners”) misconceptions about opportunities after back to the workforce, by providing upgrading their skills and chart a path employment opportunities. While this towards the career of their choice. initiative is designed to enable employers to assess the returner’s fit for the job EMPLOYMENT DILEMMA OF before offering a permanent position or CAREGIVERS IN HOUSEHOLDS WITH an employment contract of 12 months or YOUNG AND ELDERLY DEPENDANTS above, it implicitly allows the returner to Middle- to low-income households with evaluate whether the job fits their work-life both young and elderly dependants are arrangements. likely to face situations in which the females forego employment to tend to According to NTUC, returners can plug caregiving needs at home. For such gaps in their Curriculum Vitae (CV) and households, the alternative is to send the refresh the relevance of their skillsets and elderly dependant to day care centres for ease back into work. seniors and young dependants to full-day childcare or Student Care Centres (SCCs) The economic slowdown is expected to for older children. This would enable persist into the foreseeable future with women in such households to seek moderate forecast for 2018, raising concerns employment, which adds to the subsidies about job security. It is imperative that they receive for childcare or SCCs. households are at least dual income ones so that if the income of one earner is affected, A focus group that RIMA conducted and there is that of another to sustain living views shared during the roundtable expenses. In households with young and discussions suggest that merely outsourcing elderly dependants, caregiving often caregiving to care centres for the elderly constrains the household to becoming a and the young may not be the only single income one, which makes them 04 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

vulnerable to adverse socioeconomic outcomes. Hence, Budget 2018 may wish to consider an intervention package that encourages economically-inactive caregivers to return to the workforce, addresses the reservations they harbour and conveys the range of schemes available to them. A HOPEFUL BUDGET FOR 2018 When Budget 2017 was announced, it delved into areas that are critical to keep society progressing under harsh economic and social realities. These include deepening people’s capabilities, enhancements to the preschool sector, enhancements of bursaries for post-secondary education institutions and the Enabling Masterplan to better integrate Persons with Disabilities into the workforce and to give more support to their caregivers. Budget 2018 should continue this strategy of identifying at-risk groups and sectors that require intervention or new forms of support. Hopefully, the plight of fresh graduates, young workers trapped in low-wage jobs and employment dilemma of caregivers sandwiched between young and elderly dependants would be looked into.

is a Aboo Kassim Abdul Shariff ator with din or Co ts rojec Researcher/P amic and Isl on ch ar Rese ch the Centre for ar se re e (RIMA), th Malay Affairs tion of Muslim cia so As e th of subsidiary (AMP). Professionals


Major Education Reforms in 2017:

Key Directions and Implications for the Malay/Muslim Community

BY ASSOC PROF JASON TAN

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BUDGET 2018

As the local education landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative that parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders in education keep abreast of change. This article will highlight major education reforms in the year 2017 and point out how they are indicative of key policy directions. It will also discuss implications of these reforms and directions for the Malay/Muslim community.

potential to serve as powerful motivators for stakeholders to change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

It is therefore unsurprising that the past two decades have witnessed periodic changes to admission systems at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. For example, in 2014, the Education Ministry amended the Primary One admission exercise to allow for a minimum of 40 places in every primary The year 2017 saw a sustained push for school for students whose parents had no greater inclusivity and increased prior connections with the school in opportunities for all students in schools. question. In 2017, it announced the Among the policies that were reservation of 20 percent of places in announced were: changes to the secondary schools with affiliated primary annual secondary school, schools for students from non-affiliated polytechnic and Institute of primary schools. This latest move will Technical Education admission exercises; the broadening of subject- come into effect in the academic year based banding in secondary schools; 2019. Both of these changes, which widen admission criteria, have come in the wake and the amendment of compulsory of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s education legislation to include special expression of concern in 2013 about the needs students. At the same time, the Minister for Education (Higher Education prospect of certain schools becoming ‘closed circles.’ and Skills), Ong Ye Kung, announced the launch of the A further revision was announced in the SkillsFuture series secondary school Direct School Admission in local institutions exercise. From the year 2018 onwards, the of higher learning, exercise will be extended to include all in line with the secondary schools. Up to 20 percent of national SkillsFuture Secondary One places may be reserved for movement. Another major announcement students with non-academic talents. Furthermore, schools will not be allowed was about the to use ‘general academic ability’ as an expansion of the Ministry of Education’s admission criterion. Instead, school leaders are to focus on specific academic role in preschool or non-academic areas of interest. At provision. the post-secondary level, the Ministry Admissions systems are a announced increases in the percentages symbolic means of signalling of aptitude-based admissions at the polytechnics and Institute of Technical changes in official thinking Education. All of these various changes in and priorities to various admission systems at the secondary and education stakeholders such as post-secondary levels are part of moves for parents, teachers and students. over a decade now to lessen the dominance Changes in admission criteria send of academic performance in determining messages about the balance between academic and non-academic attributes, students’ access to various education as well as about the relative importance of various subjects. They thus have the

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pathways. These changes also represent a broadening of the definition of the term ‘merit’ to encompass non-academic criteria as well. Another reform aimed at expanding pathways and opportunities for students was the announcement by the Education Ministry that all secondary schools offering the Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) streams would implement subject-based banding beginning in 2018. Students in these two streams will now be able to take subjects at a higher level beginning in Secondary One if they have performed well in those subjects in the Primary School Leaving Examination. This announcement builds on the earlier policy of allowing upper secondary Normal (Academic) students to offer subjects at the General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) examination at the end of four, instead of five, years of secondary schooling. It also marks a continuity with the replacement of streaming with banding in primary schools. All of these reforms are trying to blur the previous rigidity of streaming and to provide greater flexibility and mobility for students. Besides reforms in mainstream schools, the Ministry of Education also made two key announcements about greater inclusivity and opportunities for special needs students. The first was the expansion of current compulsory education legislation to include special needs students beginning in 2019. The next was the starting of a High-Needs subsidy as part of the Special Educational Needs fund for full-time students in the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education with severe physical or sensory impairments. The fund had been established in 2014 to allow such students greater access to post-secondary education. Adult learners were also targeted when the Ministry launched the SkillsFuture series in local institutions of higher learning in 2017. The universities, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education will


increase the number of short courses in order to promote lifelong learning among working adults. The Ministry will also review the funding of master’s degree programmes by coursework at the six autonomous universities. The expansion of the national SkillsFuture movement was also evident in the conversion of the private Singapore Institute of Management University, or UniSIM for short, into a publicly-funded autonomous university, the Singapore University of Social Sciences. This university has as its primary target audience working adults hoping to enhance their academic and professional qualifications.

there are a few general areas of concern that can be identified in light of the community’s relatively poorer standing in terms of academic performance (for example, persistent gaps in mathematics results in the Primary School Leaving Examination) and proportional under-representation in autonomous universities.

First, efforts have to be intensified to inform Malay/Muslim parents about the numerous reforms. The education landscape has evolved in such a way that most parents would find it unrecognisable from the period during which they themselves were enrolled in Preschool education reforms announced school. More importantly, parents have in 2017 were an explicit acknowledgement to understand the reforms within the by the Education Ministry of the importance context of broader official policy of the preschool years in providing all direction in line with economic and students a firm foundation for primary social changes. Parents need more than school. It announced plans to expand ever to make well-informed decisions its pilot group of kindergartens, which and choices about their own, as well as were introduced in 2014, and set up 50 their children’s education pathways. kindergartens by the year 2023 in order The threat of technological disruption to enrol about 20 percent of children in has preoccupied policymakers for the the relevant age groups. All of these past few years and their official kindergartens will be located within responses need to be coupled with existing primary schools. Students parents’ awareness and active decisionenrolled in these kindergartens will making. be included in the Phase 2A2 stage of the Primary One registration exercise Secondly, these reforms highlight the next year. The year 2017 also saw the importance of Malay/Muslim parents announcement of plans to establish a actively strategising for their children’s National Institute of Early Childhood educational success. The Singapore Development. education system has seen the emergence in the past decade of Having outlined key policy announcements ‘parentocratic’ trends as some parents in the year 2017, the next section of this attempt to use their financial resources article asks the question: What are the and social networks to provide their implications of these key policy changes children an added competitive edge. for the Malay/Muslim community? Such parents are well aware of the One can see a continuity in direction over importance of educational success and the past decade in terms of expanding often react to official policy changes by mobility and opportunities; promoting restrategising their efforts to help their greater inclusivity; redefining the children. For instance, some of these definition of the term ‘merit.’ Even though parents are able to privately develop their none of the reforms are specifically children’s non-academic talents in line targeted at the Malay/Muslim community, with the requirements of the Direct School Admission exercise. Although the Ministry of Education is attempting to

More importantly, parents have to understand the reforms within the context of broader official policy direction in line with economic and social changes. Parents need more than ever to make well-informed decisions and choices about their own, as well as their children’s education pathways.

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BUDGET 2018

counter these parentocratic tendencies in order to better uphold its meritocratic ethos, there is little it can do to stop them completely. Therefore Malay/Muslim community organisations need to continue reaching out to parents who have been paying little interest to educational reforms or who are unable for various reasons to help their children plan and work towards achieving their educational dreams. The enhanced identification and nurturing of Malay/Muslim children’s full range of academic and non-academic potential is a huge step in the journey to reduce the community’s long-standing educational gaps.

his Assoc Prof Jason Tan completed and national Master of Education in education Hong Kong and development at the University of e education his doctoral studies in comparativ at Buffalo. at the State University of New York in policy He is currently associate professor nal Institute and leadership studies at the Natio of Education in Singapore.

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Financial Aid for Students: An Invitation to Dream

BY ASSOC PROF JOHN DONALDSON JANUARY 2018

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The budgets allocated to support students with financial needs increase annually. The Government provides financial aid through schools, Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), directly to needy students and indirectly by subsidising education costs. These increases supplement support from civil society, self-help organisations, social service organisations, caring neighbours and relatives to create a comprehensive level of support. Fortunately, these allocations are generally supported by society. Unlike other developed countries, Singapore lacks fundamental or widespread doubt over the justification for such social support. There’s a consensus that Singapore’s system of meritocracy depends on levelling the playing field, and that doing so requires supporting people with merit – merit of all kinds – including those whose families lack the necessary financial means. However, from time to time, people may wonder, given Singapore’s prosperity, is there a systematic need for this support? Are these funds worthy of our tax dollars? Does it make a significant difference? Lest anyone question the fundamental importance of such funds, our research is able to answer these questions in the affirmative. The Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) have teamed up with my students and I to collect evidence that shows that such support must be maintained and even deepened. Over the past year, we’ve interviewed nearly 100 adults who had the experience of going through the Normal Technical (NT) stream. From this research, we’ve unearthed insights into ongoing unmet social needs these adults face, as well as developed an understanding of what factors help some NT graduates succeed where others struggle. 10 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Among our conclusions, one is especially prominent: the importance of the aid, bursaries, subsidies and other forms of support appear in interview after interview. While these funds are virtually never, on their own, sufficient in fulfilling all of a student’s needs, , they have made demonstrable differences.

Financial assistance worked in much deeper ways. Another young respondent was adrift in his life until he was encouraged to apply for a scholarship to study marine engineering at ITE. To him, this represented not just financial assistance per se but a pathway to a promising career, being bonded as a maritime firefighter.

We found this from nearly all our interviews – from the youngest to the more The budding pharmacist related being mature, from all genders, and all races. supported financially to go to Cambodia on an overseas community service project. One young male respondent shared about This is what sparked his passion to make his experience of being brought up by a a difference, hence his interest in the single mother, whose father does not pay pharmaceuticals. child support. Although his mother works hard outside the home, resources remain More than one respondent described the tight. The four dollars he received daily support as making them want to help as a secondary student meant he would others in turn. They know how it feels to never have to skip that meal. It meant one not have, and what it means when those less thing his mother had to worry about. needs were met. When they are in a It also meant eating side-by-side with his position to do so, many will invest in peers, both poor and better off. This young helping others. man is now in Higher NITEC, studying chemical processes and is well on his way To be sure, financial aid is not a panacea. to a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Multi-pronged assistance such as mentoring, psychological help and caring teachers In another interview, we heard from a are indispensable – but financial aid is young man whose father is a gambling a crucial component of the mix. In most addict. In his primary and secondary cases, it was insufficient – but it was school years, he reacted to the violence absolutely necessary in nearly every and dysfunction at home by becoming the successful case we saw. “class joker”. His grades suffered. The financial aid he received was part of a mix – In addition, we talked to many respondents one-on-one support from teachers, and a who somehow fell through the cracks, well-timed role model – necessary but failing to receive needed financial insufficient. The father’s addiction hit the assistance. Some of these had to do with family hard but, thanks to bursaries, he’s their family. For instance, some families now in higher NITEC studying business were unaware of – or too stressed to find administration at ITE – and studying with out about –financial assistance. We talked a purpose. to others whose family pride – one referred to it as an ‘ideology of hard work’ – meant These are some examples among dozens turning down offers of much-needed who related how the financial assistance assistance. Some families are dysfunctional, helped to purchase textbooks, lunches, and barely taking care of their children’s needs, transportation, among other benefits. All let alone applying for assistance. Since the of this took pressure off the family. Young family often must apply for aid on behalf people who otherwise would have to of their children, it is these students who juggle part-time work and precious study suffer when their families fail to do so. time could instead concentrate on their studies and strive toward their futures.


To be sure, financial aid is not a panacea. Multi-pronged assistance such as mentoring, psychological help and caring teachers are indispensable – but financial aid is a crucial component of the mix. In most cases, it was insufficient – but it was absolutely necessary in nearly every successful case we saw.

Sometimes aid fails to cover hidden costs of education. For one post-NT student who is studying baking in ITE, the support she received did not cover equipment costs, a real burden on her family. Another, studying film-making in higher ITE, cringes every time she has to ask for her family’s help to buy film and other required – and expensive – supplies. Some faced systemic barriers. One young man’s family was turned down from receiving financial aid because she had working siblings, even though they were not in a position to support her. We talked to one young woman who escaped violence of the home, but was denied enough financial assistance because her family’s income was still part of the calculation. Sometimes financial aid is not enough to deal with fundamental family needs. One young female respondent from a workingclass family recalls how she had to work from Primary Four to support the family. Another male respondent had to work part-time to meet basic needs. His grades – and his esteem – suffered greatly, and he was tempted to drop out of school entirely. We were also reminded by one of our interviewees that although financial aid usually helps students get through school, “it did little to [promote] our social conditions.”

everything. Civil society and civic leaders, VWOs, religious groups and individuals with a generous heart, time and talent to share must continue and redouble their efforts. Nevertheless, we were impressed by the impact that financial assistance could bring. For the lion’s share of those we interviewed, financial assistance, both direct and indirect, represented an opportunity, an encouragement, and an opening door. A chance for a different trajectory. An invitation to dream.

ciate Assoc Prof John Donaldson is Asso Professor of Political Science at (SMU). Singapore Management University He also serves as a Senior Research l Fellow with the Lien Centre for Socia ge Chan SMU the with ing work , Innovation ative Lab to research and design innov rable solutions to unmet needs in vulne communities in Singapore.

In the impending budgetary season, let’s remember how supporting our students makes a significant difference in their lives. There is still room to change the structure of financial aid to plug remaining gaps. Moreover, many who receive financial aid need additional forms of help – opportunities for good educational programmes and role models, that is, people who believe in them. As we look forward to Singapore Budget 2018 with hope, we must also remember that it is not only the government’s job to help needy students. While we anticipate that the government will continue its support, we cannot expect the state to do JANUARY 2018

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The Plight of the Young: Leaving No One Behind BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD

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The rising costs of living, coupled with the recent economic challenges, are making low-skilled jobs more precarious with wages being pulled down. Last year, The Straits Times released an article on the increasing number of young recipients relying on ComCare’s Short-to-Medium Term Assistance (SMTA); a scheme which provides temporary financial help for individuals who are unable to work or find a job. The issue has since garnered attention, and invited debates on whether youth poverty is really a cause of concern in Singapore. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) points out that its assistance schemes typically cover the bottom 20th percentile of households. In the absence of an official definition of poverty in Singapore, the number of ComCare recipients could be a proxy measure of the extent of poverty here.


YOUTH BULGE: A DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDEND OR A TICKING TIME BOMB? According to population data from the Singapore Department of Statistics, in 2016, approximately 27% of Singapore’s resident population are youths. The same data also shows an increasing widening gap between the percentage of youths in the general population and the Malay community. While the percentage of youths in Singapore has slightly declined for the past decade, the number of youth among the Malay community has been Youth poverty threatens not only those living in hardship, but also to the nation’s increasing. stability, social fabric and economic In fact, an overview of the Malay future. If these young individuals at the bottom of the income distribution are left population pyramid depicts a bulge in the behind and find it increasingly difficult to youth cohort. Youth bulge is broadly defined as a peak in young people’s share climb, then we risk a perpetuation of poverty and a permanent group of people in a population. Extensive empirical who do not contribute productively to the research has connected youth bulges with nation’s economic prosperity. The impact political violence. Being born into a large will be more profound within the Malay youth cohort usually means being faced with heightened competition and fewer community because we have a large opportunities, which could in turn, lead proportion of youths. to a diminished self-esteem and escalating frustrations. According to the ComCare Trends Report, there was a 34% jump in young SMTA recipients from 2012 to 2016. Officials said that the growing number could be attributed to the tweaks made to the eligibility criteria. While that could have been the case, the same report revealed that the proportion of youth among the SMTA recipients remained constant during the same period, hovering above the 19% mark.

Indeed, the predominance of young adults can be a social challenge, one of which being the challenge of employment creation that can absorb the large cohort of youth that is set to enter the labour markets in the approaching decades. In the same vein, an excess of youth isn't necessarily a bad thing. A large youth population can be a huge boon for the economy. As the young adults enter the working age, the dependency ratio is expected to decline. If these working age individuals can be fully employed in productive activities, other things being equal, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. YOUTH EMPLOYMENT SITUATION IN SINGAPORE In the 2016 National Youth Survey conducted by the National Youth Council (NYC), it was reported that youths were uncertain about their future, and they lack confidence in having sufficient opportunities to have a good career in

P O P U L AT I O N O F Y O U T H I N S I N G A P O R E

35% 33.4%

30%

27.1%

25% 20%

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

PERCENTAGE OF YOUTH IN SINGAPORE

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

PERCENTAGE OF MALAY YOUTH IN MALAY COMMUNITY

SOURCE: SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, POPULATION TRENDS 2017

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M A L AY 2 0 1 6 P O P U L AT I O N P Y R A M I D

Years 85 & over 80 - 84 75 - 79 70 - 74 65 - 69 60 - 64 55 - 59 50 - 54 45 - 49 40 - 44 35 - 39 30 - 34 25 - 29 20 - 24 15 - 19 10 - 14 5-9 0-4

FEMALE

MALE

SOURCE: SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, POPULATION TRENDS 2017

Singapore. According to another ongoing small-scale study by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), a majority of the unemployed youths are facing few job opportunities and are more likely to accept employment that is not well-matched to their skills. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Labour Report 2016 depicted that the increase in resident unemployment rates was more pronounced among residents aged below 30 and youths make up about 34% among those outside the labour force (not working and also not actively looking for a job).

Youths need the right assistance to achieve economic self-reliance.

there a number of working youths who are below the age of 25 who might want to tap on SkillsFuture. According to MOM, LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND: about 30% of the employed youths are GAPS IN EXISTING SCHEMES under 25. In addition, a majority of the There are a number of schemes and ComCare’s SMTA recipients has secondary assistance to help the low-income group education at most, which means that they in Singapore. However, most schemes are may have started working at an earlier either generic or target the older group. age. With automation replacing an The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) increasing number of low-skilled jobs, and Workfare Training Scheme (WTS), the most impacted will be this group of for instance, caters to individuals above young individuals. If reskilling and the age of 35. The existing model of upgrading is key to tide the waves of workfare provides additional support economic restructuring, we have to to older low-wage Singaporeans who ensure that everyone gets equal access to continue working and training to improve opportunities. Undeniably, unemployment is bad at any their employability but there is currently age, but evidence shows that people who no equivalent for working youths. Other existing schemes that do cater to struggle to find work during their initial the low-income youths are slightly years in the labour market will be at a Another scheme that has unintentionally problematic. The Home Ownership Plus serious disadvantage for the rest of their neglected a group of potential youths is Education (HOPE) Scheme, for instance, careers. They are likely to earn lower the SkillsFuture. The SkillsFuture credit provides comprehensive benefits to wages and face a higher probability of begins at the age of 25 because it is young, low-income families that choose future joblessness compared to those who designed to target working individuals. not to have more than two children. How enter the workforce more successfully. The drawback to this age criteria is that, does denying help to families with three 14 T H E K A R Y A W A N Š ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


or more children lead to better outcomes for them, or even the economy? The SMTA scheme on the other hand, currently offers a higher cash quantum or extend the period of aid when recipients remain jobless. The problem with handouts is that it may create a perpetual cycle of dependence without actually making a difference. To continually give financial support to a capable but unemployed person may destroy initiative among recipients. As such, budgets should be devoted to creating more opportunities than offering handouts. The all too familiar quote “give a man a fish and he will eat for day but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime” seems to speak volumes. Mindset towards the lower-income should change and strategies for the youths should be attuned. We can start by having the Singapore Budget 2018

Continuing intervention is necessary during the youth’s employment life cycle. Long-term schemes may be expensive and rigorous, but inaction would be much more costly. orchestrated to empower young people in employment. This could include more youth-focused initiatives that enhance youth employability in the future economy. Investments should be tailor-made to the different employment needs of these youths.

consequences of youth training and job placement. The European Commission’s “Youth Guarantee”, for instance, is an effective youth-employment-package model that we can learn from. It is a commitment by all state stakeholders to ensure that their youths receive a good quality offer of employment, While job creation is key to tackling continued education, apprenticeship, and traineeship within a period of four unemployment, employment agencies months of becoming unemployed or should ensure that job growth does not come at the expense of lower-quality skill leaving formal education. matches. Strategies should not only focus on the immediate benefit of filling a job Continuing intervention is necessary during the youth’s employment life cycle. vacancy, but also the long-term

EMPLOYED YOUTHS IN THE L ABOUR FORCE

35% 34%

33.8% 33.2%

33%

32.4%

32.3%

32%

31.9% 31.2%

31%

30.5%

30%

29.8%

29.7%

29.6%

29.4%

2013

2014

2015

29% 28% 27%

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2016

SOURCE: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER LABOUR REPORT 2016

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Long-term schemes may be expensive and The first step is to ensure that young gig rigorous, but inaction would be much workers stay engaged and relevant. If more costly. these youths are not taking the initiative to become future-proof, perhaps PROTECTING THE YOUNG GIG policymakers should compel them to ECONOMY WORKERS reskill and upgrade before their jobs get The recent proliferation of online automated. The driverless technology is platforms has changed the freelancing already taking up speed in Singapore. It landscape and led to the emergence of could take ten to fifteen years for the the “gig” economy in Singapore. Much technology to be widely deployed here so has since been debated about the we should future-proof our youths while sustainability of the “gig” workers. One we still have time. sector that has attracted a growing number of youths is the private-hire car Budget could be allocated to incentivise services such as Grab and Uber through gig workers who take up industry its appealing idea of car-ownership, relevant skills or personal development work flexibility and low minimum courses, and also to compensate them for age requirement. According to both the time spent. They should also be companies, about 20 to 30% of GrabCar encouraged to conduct their own fiscal drivers, and a quarter of Uber drivers, planning, set up emergency funds, make are below the age of 30. voluntary CPF contributions, and buy basic medical insurance to safeguard The gig economy should not be a concern their future. Subsidised financial as long as these youths do it to supplement planning and management courses can their main income. Gigs are a great be conducted for gig workers within the cushion for youths to fall to, during a bad first few months of work, and made period such as job loss. The challenge mandatory just like the Private Hire Car however, is when youths are taking up Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL). these “gigs” full-time and fail to see the implications. The foremost concern is The “gig” economy is a reminder that we that, relative to standard wage and salary must continue to look at the world in a employment, the contingent workforce new way. Youths are less constrained tend to have sporadic incomes, fewer by institutional frames and are finding rights to social protection, receive less their own solutions to challenges of training, does not value-add to resumes, employment. They have demonstrated and often have weaker career progression. the ability to develop innovative solutions but they need support to help them gain As the nature of working life changes, it the power, knowledge and skills to seems fair to say that young gig workers achieve these goals. will need to be agile and ready for retraining and new opportunities. The young people entering the labour market with limited experience bear the brunt of this new reality and the associated risks, so addressing these risks is one core argument for some intervention. The gig workforce may be small for now but it is likely to get bigger.

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arch Analyst at mad is a Rese alay Nabilah Moham Islamic and M Research on elor of Science the Centre for ch Ba a s ld ho . She Affairs (RIMA) ist Diploma in and a Special in Psychology g. in Data Min Statistics and


Providing A Home for Children from Single Parent Families BY NOORAINI RAZAK JANUARY 2018

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Her story is not an uncommon one, however. It is time we re-visit this issue, or at the very least, raise awareness about it. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS Recently, Nee Soon GRC MP Mr Louis Ng had filed a parliamentary petition on 11 September 2017 that called for amendments to be made to the Housing and Development Act so that unwed and divorced parents will be able to have more access to housing – regardless of their marital status. Though the petition ‘failed’1, it allowed the community to have more conversations on I once encountered a issues related to the housing needs of young lady in the course of my work. single parents. Mr Ng passionately argued2 Juanita (not her real name) had a few that recognising unmarried parents and children, from several different men. She had been rejected by her family and had no their children as a family nucleus will allow them to be eligible for public place to call home. She needed help. Her housing schemes. children needed help. They needed a roof over their heads. It turned out that there Aside from MP Louis Ng, AWARE3 and was little I could do to help. other community stakeholders have also, Juanita and her children were not considered over the years, advocated for housing a family unit under the Housing and policies to change in order to allow unwed Development Act. She was under 35 years single parents and their children to benefit of age and was considered ineligible under from a roof over their heads. Currently, an the Singles Scheme too. She had no friends unwed single parent can only buy a flat or relations to take her in, no repository of under the “Singles Scheme” after he or she funds to tap into, and now, no roof over her turns 35. Recent news has also cast a children’s precious heads. spotlight on some unwed single parents who decided to ‘adopt’ their own child4 in order to form a ‘family unit’ to fulfil some

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4

DIVORCED PARENTS ARE AFFECTED TOO Unwed single parents might be the usual focus when we talk about issues related to single parents and housing. However, not known to many, divorced single parents also go through a lot of challenges in obtaining a house for themselves and their custodial children. MP Louis Ng also raised this concern in the petition as he proposed a removal of the debarment period (of 30 months) that bans divorced single parents from renting or owning subsidised flats from HDB, after they have sold their matrimonial flat (if it is a part of their divorce order). He argued that housing is a “basic right" and cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child to support his argument. Divorced single parents are also unable to own a flat for 3 years should their ex-spouse apply for and successfully own a subsidised flat (only one ex-spouse can own a subsidised flat during the debarment period). Having a $1,500 income ceiling for renting a unit from HDB has also been difficult for single parents, even if they are not subjected to any ‘debarment’ as above6. This is because many of these single parents could be earning more than $1,500 but are unable to afford any other means of accommodation aside from a subsidised rental unit from HDB. These ‘lower middleincome’ single parents need as much help as those from the low-income group as they struggle daily to provide for their children amidst the rising cost of living, and very high rental in the rental open market (especially if they have no family to accommodate them). Divorce is a difficult life decision fraught with multiple issues, causing the adults involved to struggle hard to cope with it.

1 MND REJECTS PETITION FROM SINGLE PARENTS FOR CHANGES TO HOUSING POLICY. (2017). CHANNEL NEWSASIA. , FROM HTTP://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/MNDREJECTS-PETITION-FROM-SINGLE-PARENTS-FOR-CHANGES-TO-HOUSING-9451794 HUI, K. (2017). PARLIAMENT: MP SUBMITS PETITION FOR INCLUSIVE HOUSING FOR SINGLE PARENTS. THE STRAITS TIMES., FROM HTTP://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/PARLIAMENT-MPSUBMITS-PETITION-FOR-INCLUSIVE-HOUSING-FOR-SINGLE-PARENTS 3 ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN FOR ACTION AND RESEARCH, AN ADVOCACY GROUP FOR GENDER EQUALITY HUI, K. (2017). UNWED MUM ADOPTS OWN BIOLOGICAL DAUGHTER. THE STRAITS TIMES., FROM HTTP://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/UNWED-MUM-ADOPTS-OWN-BIOLOGICAL-DAUGHTER 5 SINGLE UNMARRIED MOTHERS ADOPTING BIOLOGICAL CHILDREN | MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT. (2017). MSF.GOV.SG., FROM HTTPS://WWW.MSF.GOV.SG/MEDIAROOM/PAGES/SINGLE-UNMARRIED-MOTHERS-ADOPTING-BIOLOGICAL-CHILDREN.ASPX 6 ELIGIBILITY | HDB INFOWEB. (2017). HDB.GOV.SG, FROM HTTP://WWW.HDB.GOV.SG/CS/INFOWEB/RESIDENTIAL/RENTING-A-FLAT/RENTING-FROM-HDB/PUBLIC-RENTAL-SCHEME/ELIGIBILITY 2

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criteria set by some policies. However, the ministry has responded in Parliament that adopting a child will still not remove the debarment in owning a subsidised flat.5


Imagine how much more burdensome and challenging it is for the children, who are developmentally not ready, socially inept and emotionally unprepared to see their families torn apart.

As a Social Worker, I applaud and uphold the government's policies that honour family life, community living and national pride. Although the petition by MP Louis Ng failed because the ministry did not want to “undermine the prevailing social CHILDREN OF UNWED SINGLE PARENTS Let’s revisit Juanita. norm of parenthood within marriage”9, I am still heartened that the ministry is There was a case in which a young girl was able to reassure that “in relation to meeting in danger several times of possibly being JUANITA – REVISITED the housing needs of children with single taken advantage of sexually by the Juanita is an unwed single parent. Her unsavoury boyfriends of her unwed single family rejected her and her (first) pregnancy, parents, a range of government agencies mother or the house owners, due to the and thus began her downward spiral in life. work together to ensure that no child is without adequate housing, regardless of 'nomadic' nature of the family. This made She met a new love, who proclaimed he her mother keep moving with even more would care for her and her young child, but whether his or her parents are single or married”. alarming frequency. she was abandoned again when she was pregnant with his child, her second. LOOKING AHEAD Such a nomadic existence for years, and living out of your suitcase is not the kind of As much as we think that this is a girl who Entering 2018, I have every expectation stability that children can cope with at did not seem to be aware of the 'once bitten and hope that Singapore will be a society that builds social policies having children length. Children who do not have a place twice shy' saying, her life story was not in mind, and not only their parents (whom they call home will unfortunately be about being 'promiscuous'. It was a story profoundly affected socially, educationally about looking for real love, a father for her they have no control or choice over). and developmentally. A few local news children, and more importantly, a place to Regardless of the mistakes that their pieces have also been written on single call home. She could not find anyone who parents have made in their choices of life mothers having to share an overcrowded was able to house her and her children, and partners or in their decision to not have one at all, their children should not be house with their family due to this7. having a boyfriend meant not only were her emotions attended to, she was also able made to bear the brunt of this and should be given an equal head start in life. to have a roof over her children. BEING A PRO-FAMILY NATION The argument against creating exceptions I always wondered if she would be in such Let’s keep in mind what Pam Leo, in housing policies to allow unwed single a parent educator and author of the book a state if she had been allowed to rent a or divorced parents to rent and own HDB “Connection Parenting”, once famously said: room or buy a house after her first property is often couched in terms of preserving the sanctity of marriage and the pregnancy. Would her life have turned out “Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods.” differently? Would she have had more family in Singapore. than one child? Would her children have Like many Muslims, I hold dear to the idea fared far better? that society needs to have norms and rules, Manager at Ms Nooraini Razak is the Centre Even though the issues raised are worrying, one of which is that a family in its proper Divorce PPIS As-Salaam, an MSF-appointed years of sense is one where the parents are legally the situation was much more difficult Support Specialist Agency. In her 14 lios service, she has held multiple portfo married and the children were born after just a few years ago, when unwed single including coordinating Support Group marriage. mothers were unable to receive subsidies parents, programmes for children and single for childcare and kindergarten fees and training professionals. Being a Muslim and holding conservative and unable to get the Baby Bonus views of family life however does not mean and maternity leave too. I also note we should embrace guidelines that could the numerous revisions, changes and jeopardise the living realities of children introduction of new policies that have from single parent families, especially enhanced the lives of so many of my clients. children whose mothers are not legally The many changes to policies have also wed to their fathers. resulted in great progress for children of unwed parents8. 7

8

9

No matter how ‘unmarried’, promiscuous, socially deviant or irreligious the parents may be from our perspective, the children should not feel society’s scorn and be the unwitting victims of conservative policies.

HUI, K. (2017). ACCOMMODATE SINGLE PARENTS IN HOUSING POLICIES, URGES AWARE. THE STRAITS TIMES., FROM HTTP://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/HOUSING/ACCOMMODATESINGLE-PARENTS-IN-HOUSING-POLICIES-URGES-AWARE FAQ | BABY BONUS ->> CDA BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN OF UNWED PARENTS. (2017). IFAQ.GOV.SG., FROM HTTPS://WWW.IFAQ.GOV.SG/BBSS/APPS/FCD_FAQMAIN.ASPX?QST=HRHKP9BZCBKNT75R%2BL1BOPMAANXUYJSZ1XTCAVHH%2BG8UIFS%2FSSJBSGPVJZJZBCH7BGCJMA08%2BF 10V8N0FXRWPJYWLLNRJ3I5OJUNSSMJY7BRRKJDBESATSJOHNS2IRG56WVEOCI5ZEUK4KKDSAZHORDCNWFIKVEO#TOPIC_10126 MND REJECTS PETITION FROM SINGLE PARENTS FOR CHANGES TO HOUSING POLICY. (2017). CHANNEL NEWSASIA. , FROM HTTP://WWW.CHANNELNEWSASIA.COM/NEWS/SINGAPORE/MNDREJECTS-PETITION-FROM-SINGLE-PARENTS-FOR-CHANGES-TO-HOUSING-9451794

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Families in Transition:

BY NURDIYANAH MOHD NASSIR 20 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Singapore is illustrious for being a nation of homeowners, with an overall home ownership rate exceeding 90% since 2012 according to data from Singapore Department of Statistics. The national Public Housing Scheme (PHS) kicked off in the 1960s, with then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew promoting home ownership to all citizens. The scheme met with success as it allowed citizens to tap on their national social security savings plan, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), to buy new or resale Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. Based on HDB’s Sample Household Survey in 2013, more than 80% of Singapore’s population lived in HDB flats, of which 96.3% owned HDB-purchase homes. Today, there is an increase in the number of families who are unable to afford their own flats. To address this issue, the Public Rental Scheme provides housing at subsidised rates, determined by a family’s household income. Some households use these rental flats as a stepping stone to home ownership, while others live in them for longer periods of time. More than half of the low-income clients under AMP’s Adopt a Family and Youth Scheme (AFYS)1 live in rental flats due to a lack of CPF savings from unstable employment, the inability to pay the levy for the purchase of a second subsidised flat, or divorce leading to the sale of matrimonial flat with limited proceeds.

the need for HDB to ensure that help goes to those who truly deserve it, while being flexible in identifying “genuine hardship cases”.

require urgent accommodation. However, the cost of renting a single room from the open market is considered to be too steep for many.

While home-seekers go through strict means testing to ascertain whether they truly deserve public rental housing, there continues to be a limited supply, resulting in a waiting list that can last for months. In 2013, the waiting list for rental flats was 1,900 applicants long, with an average wait of 7.5 months per unit, according to the Ministry of National Development. Based on the accounts of our clients in AFYS, this waiting period varies greatly depending on the availability of rental flats, as well as each applicant’s efforts to prove the urgency and severity of their case.

Regardless of whether a low-income family is staying in an interim rental flat, a shelter, or even a room rented from the open market, they tend to be subjected to immense challenges in the form of financial insecurity, and a lack of privacy and security. This is due to the arrangement that requires them to co-share a 3-room or 4-room flat with another family. The challenges of living with a co-tenant are complex and their implications go beyond clashes of values and interests between co-tenants. As the availability of these alternative forms of housing remains limited, families have little say over who they end up sharing a home with.

ALTERNATIVE HOUSING, BUT NOT ALTERNATIVE HOMES Those who do not qualify for the public rental flats would have to consider renting on the open market or staying under the interim rental housing scheme. Among them are those who have sold their flats out of desperation due to financial hardship, or after a divorce. While the more affordable alternative to home ownership is public rental housing, sellers of HDB flats have to wait for 30 months before they can apply for a rental flat, based on HDB’s criteria.

Presently, there are three governmentfunded shelters that allow families to In an article by The Straits Times in 2013, co-share a flat for a maximum of six HDB announced its plan to boost its supply months, at a minimum fee of $50 per of rental units to 60,000 by 2017 to meet a month. Vacancies in the shelters are rising demand. While the construction of reserved for those who have been denied all more public rental flats might point other options and require urgent housing towards a significant number of people assistance. Meanwhile, those who do not who would otherwise be homeless, qualify for the shelters, or cannot wait for a Minister of State for National Development vacancy to be made available, can apply for Maliki Osman mentioned in Parliament HDB’s interim rental housing scheme – that more than half of the rental flat where they can get a room for a few applicants in 2011 did not actually meet the hundred dollars a month, after splitting the eligibility criteria. These applicants were flat’s rental fees between two co-sharing said to be able to afford a small flat or had families. Finally, a family may also rent a family support. Dr Maliki also emphasised room from the open market, should they 1

Apart from the less-than-ideal living conditions, families also face a lot of anxiety as they navigate through various systems and try to chart out their next steps towards home ownership. Evidently, securing a home requires more than just asking for help. Many of our clients in AFYS who have gone through periods of homelessness have had to show great perseverance in facing rejections for their applications for public rental housing, as well as in going through rounds of appeals through different organisations. A MOTHER’S STRUGGLE Sarah (not her real name), an AFYS client, single mother and sole breadwinner to three children, only managed to secure her own public rental flat after almost four years. Following her divorce in 2013, she and her husband sold their 4-room HDB flat and shared an equal portion of the sales proceeds. Due to the 30-month debarment period, she could not apply for a public rental flat and moved into her parents’ 1-room rental flat, where she lived with her children and an adult relative, for 3.5 years. Living in close quarters with six people

THE ADOPT A FAMILY AND YOUTH SCHEME (AFYS) ASSISTS LOW-INCOME FAMILIES BY ENCOURAGING SELF-RELIANCE AND PROVIDING ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT FOR WORKING PARENTS AS WELL AS SOCIO-EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT FOR THEIR SCHOOL-GOING CHILDREN.

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meant that everyone slept in the same place they cooked, ate, studied, played and watched TV. It also meant that recurrent arguments had to be painfully swallowed as part of the price to pay for shelter.

While living in the shelter, Sarah was informed that her application had finally been accepted, but that she had to wait 4 to 6 months before moving into her flat. It took less than a month for the family to find their new life intolerable.

She was rejected for the third time and was advised to rent a room on the open market. As Sarah was still struggling with her finances, this was not an option. She applied to the public rental housing scheme for the fourth time. Eventually, Sarah was forced to leave her parents’ home, after reaching a breaking point in one of her many heated arguments with her relative. Her FSC social worker then referred her to a shelter nearby where she resided with her children and her new co-tenants – a family of five.

HOMELESSNESS IN SINGAPORE According to the European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion or ETHOS, which was developed by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and the European Observatory on Homelessness, a home has three domains: the physical, social and legal. The physical domain refers to an individual’s ability to have ample space and exclusive ownership of it; the social domain refers to an individual’s ability to have privacy, and enjoy relationships with others; while the legal domain refers to one’s legal right to occupy the space.

Based on this framework, families living in transitional housing such as shelters and interim rental flats can be considered to be homeless, as they suffer from a lack of space and privacy for them to carry out their daily activities. While this is not the common When the 30-month debarment period understanding of homelessness in ended, Sarah applied for a public rental flat Sarah’s children could no longer play Singapore, it is important to acknowledge only to face rejection as she was told that or make noise at home as children do, such a definition in trying to understand she had enough savings in her CPF account without disturbing their co-tenants. As her the vulnerable state of families living in to apply for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat. co-tenants had moved in first, they assumed these temporary arrangements. However, her income of $1,200, as well a greater sense of ownership in the house, as her part-time employment status at treating it “as if it were theirs”. Sarah had to Through Sarah’s story, we see that the time, made her have doubts about cook before her co-tenants returned home homelessness is more than just a lack of qualifying for the HDB loan. Nonetheless, from work or school, and then her family accommodation, and that it takes grit and Sarah decided to apply anyway, seeing that either retreated into their room or went out sheer determination for families such as her application for a public rental flat had to spend the night at her friend’s place hers to survive. On top of these spatial already been rejected. nearby. Soon, her eldest son started having and environmental disadvantages, the “meltdowns”, like he did right after her complexity of the procedures involved in While waiting for the results of her HDB divorce and Sarah started falling sick easily, securing a proper home truly demands the Loan Eligibility (HLE) application, Sarah to the point that she could not go to work. support of social workers as well as other continued to stay at her parents’ home. She remembers this as the most physically organisations that provide avenues for On weekdays, Sarah worked part-time at a and emotionally tiring period of her life. empowerment for the homeless. hospital while on weekends, she volunteered with a charity organisation. Six months Desperate but undefeated, Sarah sought In the words of American novelist Toni after her application, Sarah received a letter help from her FSC and the charity Morrison, “if you are free, you need to free of rejection. Wasting no time, she applied, organisation that she was volunteering somebody else. If you have power, then once again, for a public rental flat. Once with. The two organisations worked your job is to empower somebody else”. more, her application was rejected. After together in writing a letter of appeal to It is time that the rest of us consider what realising that she needed a more convincing HDB, requesting for her waiting period to we can do to ensure that the voices and voice, she shared her plight with her social be shortened, and that she get a place close aspirations of the homeless do not get worker from the Family Service Centre to her parents’ home drowned out by the sound of a nation’s (FSC) and her constituency’s Member of paper chase. Parliament (MP) and got them to write an After a month in the shelter, Sarah received appeal letter to HDB. a call from HDB. Finally, she had a home.

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aduated from ohd Nassir gr Nurdiyanah M apore (NUS) Si iversity of ng the National Un Social Sciences (with or of with a Bachel ently a case 14. She is curr 20 in s) ur no Ho and Youth ily m Fa a t Adop officer for the Muslim of n tio e Associa Scheme at th . P) M (A ls na Professio


Special Attention to Special Needs:

The Roles of Community in the Early Detection of Developmental Delays

BY DR QU LI

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Starting 2007, Singapore’s government has proposed three Enabling Masterplans with the commitment to constructing “a caring and inclusive society where persons with disabilities are empowered to achieve their fullest potential and participate fully as integral and contributing members of society”1. To achieve this goal, as stated in the Third Enabling Masterplan, four key thrusts have been recommended. The first key thrust is to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities. According to the Steering Committee, in addition to providing responsive and adaptable services and support as well as opportunities for development, education, and learning opportunities, one of the essential strategic directions is to “ensure timely and effective detection of developmental needs in children by enhancing the existing network of touchpoints2.”

This network of touchpoints in the community is established according to the Second Enabling Masterplan (2012-2016). It includes primary healthcare agencies such as hospitals, polyclinics, family medicine practitioners, and community partners such as childcare centres and the family service centres (see Table 1 below). The plan assumes that professionals at these touchpoints, equipped with appropriate skills, would be able to detect children showing developmental delays. Specifically, the child’s Health Booklet is used as the primary platform for caregivers, nurses, and doctors to screen children’s development in personal social, fine motor, gross motor, and language domains at age 1-2 months, 3-5 months, 6-12 months, 15-18 months, 2-3 years, and 4-6 years. Additionally, teachers of childcare centres empowered with professional skills could

help detect children with special needs. For those children from disadvantaged social backgrounds or dysfunctional families who may not attend childcare centres, the network of Family Service Centres (FSC) are expected to assess the children’s developmental needs, though mainly for families seeking help. These plans represent a good first step. Yet, there are still gaps to implement these plans fairly and effectively. The most recent roadmap, the Third Enabling Masterplan (2017-2021), reflects the challenges that come with early detection. To enhance this network, the third Masterplan suggests improving the accessibility of information on key developmental milestones and increasing the training of primary care doctors in areas such as developmental screenings.

TABLE 1: ANALYSIS OF THE EARLY DETECTION NETWORK BASED ON THE SECOND ENABLING MASTERPLAN (2012-2016)

Touch Points in the Community Healthcare Agencies with the Use of Health Booklet Age

Domain

Childcare Agencies Sources

Sources

Family Services Sources

Personal Social

Fine Motor

Gross Motor

Language

Parental Report

Doctor/ Nurse Comments

Parental Report

Teacher Observation

Parental Report

Child Resource Coordinator Assessment

1–2 months

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

3–5 months

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

6–12 months

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

15–18 months

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

2–3 years

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

4–6 years

Primary role

Secondary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary role

Primary/ Secondary role

SOURCE: COMPILED BY THE AUTHOR FROM THE ENABLING MASTERPLAN 2012-2016. 1

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THIRD ENABLING MASTERPLAN 2017 – 2012, CARING AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETY, (SINGAPORE: THIRD ENABLING MASTERPLAN STEERING COMMITTEE, 2016), 10. 2 IBID., 25.


On the surface, the plan appears to be comprehensive, strategic, and familyoriented. However, a careful analysis reveals some flaws which must be addressed. The first relates to how developmental delays are detected at primary healthcare agencies. The child Health Booklet, the primary developmental screening tool, provides information on multiple milestones across multiple dimensions at multiple ages. These are intended to assist doctors or nursing staff to evaluate children’s development in a relatively efficient manner. Nevertheless, this screening tool depends too much on the quality and thoroughness of parental reports3. The Health Promotion Board encourages parents to complete checklists and discuss the results with doctors if their child is unable to achieve a certain milestone at a certain age. If a parent does not read the questions, does not understand them, or has not been looking out for these milestones all along, the checklist will fail, and primary healthcare agencies have little chance to detect any developmental delay in children. The second flaw is related to how childcare teachers can detect developmental delays. Although in recent years, with the effort of the Early Childhood Development Agency, the quality and training of and standards for early childhood teachers have improved greatly, it remains unreasonable to expect childcare teachers to detect developmental delays without any concrete guidance. After all, a systematic and accurate assessment and diagnosis requires medical doctors, developmental psychologists, and educational psychologists.

3

A third flaw is related to how the FSC network can be involved in detecting developmental delays. FSCs focus on serving vulnerable and low-income families and individuals by providing information and referral, casework, group work, and community work. It can provide assessment and referral services if parents seek them for support. However, if parents do not report any concerns about their children’s development, the FSC will not have an opportunity to assess and detect children’s developmental needs. Many overburdened families may not even realise that their children need help, and thus fall through the cracks. Hence, this Early Detection Network, though complex and involving various agencies, still mainly relies on parental reports. Of course, family and caregivers play an essential role in detecting early developmental delays. However, some strategic measures can be adopted to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of primary healthcare providers, childcare providers, and the FSCs in their roles of detecting special developmental needs. First, for primary healthcare agencies, instead of asking parents to complete checklists, trained nursing staff or even a well-designed screening app can help guide parents to reflect on and answer these questions appropriately (it is important, for instance, that these questions are read aloud to parents and that the questions are clarified). Results showing signs of developmental delay can be brought to doctors for further assessment. Second, for childcare centres, straightforward checklists similar to those used in the child Health Booklet can help teachers record

The Health Promotion Board encourages parents to complete checklists and discuss the results with doctors if their child is unable to achieve a certain milestone at a certain age. If a parent does not read the questions, does not understand them, or has not been looking out for these milestones all along, the checklist will fail, and primary healthcare agencies have little chance to detect any developmental delay in children.

REFER TO HEALTH PROMOTION BOARD’S HEALTH BOOKLET (2014) FOR CHILDREN, PAGES 15 TO 17 (SCREENING AT 15 MONTHS TO 18 MONTHS), RETRIEVABLE FROM: HTTPS://WWW.HEALTHHUB.SG/SITES/ASSETS/ASSETS/PROGRAMS/SCREENING/PDF/HEALTH-BOOKLET-2014.PDF .

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BUDGET 2018

and evaluate children’s development routinely. Such checklists can serve as a general guideline, can simplify the screening process, and can further increase the chance to detect developmental delays without increasing teachers’ working load dramatically. Third, as the FSCs often provide free health screenings in communities, it can also adopt these checklists to provide free developmental screening for children. Instead of waiting for parents to go to the FSCs for support, in this case, the FSCs can help increase parental awareness, promote healthy development, detect developmental needs efficiently, and enhance public awareness and integration. While the Masterplans make a good effort to establish a more inclusive society, there are several steps as a community we can take to ensure that the promises contained in the Masterplan are fulfilled. Additional training for parents, childcare providers, workers at FSCs, and medical professionals, as well as new and better tools for early detection, are necessary to ensure that these goals are met.

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FACTS ABOUT SPECIAL NEEDS What is developmental delay? Developmental delay is a condition that an individual does not meet expected milestones in one or multiple domains of development such as motor, cognitive, language, and social development. Why is it important to detect developmental delay? With an accurate assessment, conditions of developmental delay (temporary or ongoing, one or multiple domains) as well as causes of development delay (e.g. harmful environment, malnutrition, heredity, or medical conditions) can be identified, and then appropriate intervention (e.g. safe environment, healthy diets, specialised training programmes, and compensatory strategies) can be provided to prevent further developmental delay and a vicious cycle of maldevelopment as well as promote continuous vigorous development. Why is it important to detect developmental delay and provide intervention during early childhood? During early childhood, children’s body, brain, motor functions, cognitive functions such as language and thinking, and socio-emotional functions develop rapidly. For example, six-month developmental differences may not be obvious for an adult but may have a considerable impact on a preschooler. Hence, it is important to detect developmental delays as early as possible. Additionally, during this period, children are very sensitive and responsive to environmental inputs. Intervention during early childhood, which is cost-efficient, can optimise outcomes for children, families, and society.


What are the areas of caution when diagnosing developmental delay? Accurate diagnosis is very important. Misdiagnosis is very dangerous. Case 1 a.

A girl was regarded as special. She received various diagnoses including learning disability, mildly autistic, borderline schizophrenic, and depression. In fact, her problem was due to her maldeveloped depth perception. A special pair of glasses which corrected her depth version solved her problems easily.

b.

Labelling a child with a developmental disorder may cause him/her to become stigmatised and devalued, even depersonalised.

Dr Qu Li is a deve lopmenta the foun l psycholo der of Qu ali gist, Researc h & Consu ty Development lting Pte lecturer Ltd, and with Nan a yang Tech Universit n y. She re ceived he ological Universit r PhD fro y of Toro m nto, Can of variou ad s grants , includin a. A recipient Ministry g those fr of Social om and Fam (MSF), E ily D arly Agency (E Childhood Deve evelopment lopment CDA) and (MOE), D Ministry r Qu’s art o icles have f Education publishe d in top jo been urnals. H have app er comm eared on ents C Straits T imes, Lia hannel NewsAsia nhe Zaob , ao, and T The ODAY.

Case 2 a.

Once we visited a childcare centre, we were told that a 4-year-old boy who participated in our study was autistic. The child behaved normally during our interaction with him. Upon our departure, the boy approached us to hug us and thank us.

b.

Developmental delay can be temporal. Follow-up assessment is needed. The label of developmental delay should be removed when appropriate.

Case 3 a.

A 13-year-old boy once was diagnosed as having global developmental delay due to his parents’ neglect. Once he stopped living with his parents, he developed relatively smoothly. He received the highest PSLE score of his class and did not show any further developmental delay. Unfortunately, he was still labelled as the child with global developmental delay.

b.

Developmental delay should not be an identity stuck to a person for his whole life.

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BUDGET 2018

Changing Mindsets: Addressing Gaps in Mental Healthcare in Singapore BY DR RADIAH SALIM

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is certainly a step in the right direction. The first DFC established in Chong Pang has certainly benefited the many seniors living in that neighbourhood. Where residents, businesses and services, and the community at large, are aware of dementia and understand how to better support persons with dementia (PWDs) and their caregivers; where resident PWDs feel respected, valued, and where help is within easy reach so that they can continue to lead independent lives; where the environment is such that PWDs are able to move around safely and with ease – surely this is one ideal that helps not only PWDs but also better support for caregivers of PWDs by helping to look out for their loved ones and thus, reduce the stress and fatigue they may face.

Mental health was one of the priority areas highlighted during the government’s Budget 2017 statement. With a commitment to equip Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) with the resources to set up more community-based teams to support people with mental health challenges and their caregivers as well as to educate the public on mental health issues, most existing gaps in services can potentially be filled. Examples of such teams include the Community Intervention Teams (COMIT) and the Community Resource Engagement and Support Teams (CREST). In tackling mental health challenges among the elderly population, the government’s plan to expand the number of Dementia Friendly Communities (DFC)

At the grassroots level, the training of Pioneer Generation Ambassadors (PGAs) is also a welcomed move. As more and more good initiatives emerge from the heartlands, we see a move away from referring to ageing trends as something disastrous (and hopefully the removal of offensive terms such as the Silver Tsunami). Retirement takes a new meaning as more join in the silver volunteers movement that play a crucial role in removing boredom, loneliness and isolation, and contribute to the betterment of society.

Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), those with addiction issues, those from broken homes, those from the lower socio-economic group and/or single parent families, and the elderly – groups that are not well-understood or accepted by the mainstream and hence, face the particular stress of community rejection. To a good extent, COMIT and CREST programmes, as well as the creation of more DFCs, help to target those from the lower socio-economic groups, single parent families and the elderly. For the other at-risk groups, more precise strategies are needed including the involvement of relevant institutions such as the schools, prisons and Family Service Centres (FSCs). As more students from schools come forward to seek help for their mental health issues, an earlier start to raising mental health literacy should be considered in all schools, not unlike compulsory sex education. It would be good to task vendors with this role but also important to ensure that the delivery is suited to the age and readiness of the young.

REMAINING CHALLENGES Although we have a larger number of people coming forward to learn about mental health, and to seek help for themselves or their loved ones, many remain unaware that recovery for people with mental health issues is not only possible but that they too can do well and contribute to the community. Hence, both social and self-stigma against mental health remain a major obstacle to appropriate help-seeking behaviour.

REACHING OUT TO PARENTS AND WORKFORCE No mental health literacy programme in schools would be complete without including parents of our young. Perhaps, during the biannual parent-teacher meetings or during enrolment exercises, parents are given briefings on not just the aspirations of the schools but also on healthy habits that help foster the mental health of the young, on how important it is to keep the channels of communication open before minor lapses escalate into major crises, and on how to work together towards the holistic growth and development of the young.

At-risk groups abound. They include students sitting for major exams, those with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention

Likewise, in all our workplaces, it would be ideal to conduct mental health literacy programmes, similar to the Work-Life Balance initiatives in the past. Everyone, JANUARY 2018

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both employers and employees, need to be mental health savvy so that mental wellness is promoted and encouraged, and the workplace becomes a more inclusive environment that looks out for those in need. CREATION OF HEALING SPACES As the number of those seeking help increases, the need for more ‘healing spaces’ has also increased. Club HEAL is one such space, in which those with mental health challenges feel supported and welcomed. It is a space where they can learn about their conditions, equip themselves with the necessary tools to improve and remain well; a place where they find hope and begin to accept their challenges. Here, clients are encouraged to find their strengths, develop their interests and formulate their own goals. It is a space where their aspirations are supported with concrete strategies being planned for their attainment. In Club HEAL, we have had clients progress to become our volunteers and eventually our staff, moving from being a service user to a helper and eventually, a leader. Diametrically opposite are stressful environments in Singapore that can contribute to the triggering of mental health issues in individuals. These can happen in our schools, workplaces and sadly, in some households. The culture in many schools and workplaces is such that a premium is placed on performance rather than development of the individual student or worker in realising their potential at a pace that they are comfortable at. While providing incentives that come with good performance may work for some, for others it may trigger an overly anxious response that can ultimately be detrimental. Expectations that people put on themselves due to pressures from within or without can raise stress levels that ultimately harm the individual. 30 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

PEER-TO-PEER MOVEMENT Another formula for healing utilised in Club HEAL is the adoption of the tried and tested peer-to-peer support. Having walked the mile in similar shoes, peers are in a better position to understand and empathise. Those who have been through recovery journeys and emerged confident, successful and ever ready to contribute can serve as wonderful role models for their peers. They pull their peers in an upward direction with regard to their health, vocational aspirations and eventual community reintegration.

acts, and enjoining good and forbidding evil. This, for a Muslim, if successfully carried out faithfully and consistently, would bring great success that guarantees individual happiness in both this world and the next.

These peer support workers or volunteers often also serve as excellent mental health advocates and in sharing their recovery journeys on a public platform, help to remove the stigma against mental health.

As in other faiths, success for a Muslim implies helping others and not just helping oneself. The satisfaction derived from serving others and doing good is something that money cannot buy.

A case in point is the story of Mdm Junainah Eusope – herself having been labelled with several serious mental health conditions – major depressive disorder, psychosis and severe anxiety. After 16 years of being mentally ‘ill’, today Mdm Junainah is one of those we may refer to as mentally ‘blessed’. She started as a board member in Club HEAL in 2013, became our Programme Coordinator in 2014 and today, she is a pillar of strength to not only our clients but also her peers from among our volunteers and staff – affectionately known as ‘Kak Junn’, she grooms suitable peers to be helpers and eventual leaders.

Redefining success has implications for the people in this little red dot, even as we seek to find out and agree to what truly matters to us as a community and as a nation.

REDEFINING SUCCESS Current concepts of success couched in material terms can place undue stress on individuals and communities. Reaching for the skies can result in many falls and injuries, sometimes fatal. Redefining success in spiritual terms such as that defined by Islam – to be a successful abd (servant) and khalifah (representative) of Allah would mean to faithfully follow Allah’s instructions. This includes performing regular prayers and compulsory fasts, paying of zakat for self-purification, the avoidance of all sinful

This then liberates the individual from being bound by material success which is not only stressful to achieve as it implies being in competition for limited resources in a ‘dog-eat-dog world’ but also, in most cases, does not lead to ultimate happiness, and instead in many, to feeling ‘empty’.

A good place to start would be to join in the simple but wise initiative of our first female President – to “Do Good, Do Together”. Doing good is a two-way act of love that benefits both the doer and the receiver of good, while doing together is indeed a powerful unifying force for the nation.

Dr Radiah Sa lim is the Foun der and President of Cl ub HEAL, an In stitution of a Public Charac ter formed in 2012 to help people with m ental illness re gain confidence in themselves an d others in their journey towards comm unity reintegration. Her experienc e as a residen medical officer t at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2008 and he r personal expe rience as a caregiver insp ired her to form Club HE AL.


The Limits of

Social Spending BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM

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Singapore’s changing economic and demographic landscapes are contributing to the complexity of Singaporeans’ social needs.

An article published on government website, Factually, on 13 August 2015, titled “Why doesn't the Government increase social spending?” clarified that “any increase in spending will have to be funded The city-state’s economic transformation – by taxpayers. Instead, our approach targets from one that is dependent on foreign help where it is needed, without imposing a direct investment and capital and labour heavy tax burden on all”. It added that the inputs to one that is driven by productivity lower tax burden enables Singaporeans to and innovation, local enterprises and take home more of their paycheck every private initiatives – has caused significant month, and save more. shifts in the skill sets valued in the job market. Moreover, the emerging geopolitical During Economic Society of Singapore’s and economic risks, and the onset of SG50 Distinguished Lecture on 14 August disruptive technologies are set to 2015, Deputy Prime Minister and undermine job security. then-Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shed more light on this, Employability would thus be increasingly explaining that support for the low- and dependent on remaining relevant through middle-income groups are calibrated such skills upgrading or acquiring new skills that it is applied in areas which help altogether to move from a sunset industry them most. This has enabled Singapore to a sunrise one. Invariably, there will be to maintain low-taxes, as opposed to groups who will progress slower than Scandinavian countries – often cited as others as they face steeper learning curves models of progressive and advanced social or struggle to adapt to new labour market policies – which impose significantly conditions, thus making them vulnerable higher taxes. Mr Tharman shared that socioeconomically. Denmark’s and Finland’s total tax burden as a percentage of GDP are 49% and 44% The challenges of entering a new economic respectively, compared to Singapore’s 16%. phase are compounded by problems that are long foreseen: Singapore’s aging However, on 19 November 2017, speaking population and declining birth rates, and at the People’s Action Party’s annual the infrastructure to accommodate convention, Prime Minister Lee Hsien immigration to make up for these, which Loong alluded to Mr Heng’s Budget speech brings with it financial and social costs . in February 2017, during which the latter indicated that rapidly rising spending on The above are examples of developments healthcare and infrastructure has to be that put upward pressure on social supported with “new taxes” or “higher tax spending. Finance Minister Heng Swee rates”. Keat revealed in March 2017 that the Government’s social expenditure in areas The position on social spending taken by such as housing, healthcare, education and the government just two years earlier left community development almost tripled, Singaporeans somewhat unprepared for hitting S$34 billion in financial year 2016, the eventuality that taxes may be increased. up from S$12.7 billion a decade earlier. The Foreseeing disquiet among Singaporeans, rising social spending prompted analysts to Mr Lee said that, "well before that time question whether it is sustainable under the comes, we have to plan ahead, explain to current tax regime, arguing that more taxes Singaporeans what the money is needed for, would be needed to fund social spending. and how the money we earn and we spend will benefit everyone, young and old".

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It is unclear, at the time this article is being written, what are the taxes that would be raised or when they would be implemented. Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah echoed Mr Lee’s concern about Singaporeans’ readiness for tax hikes. According to an interview with The Sunday Times (26 November 2017), she shared that the Government will take into account factors such as setting aside enough time for people to absorb the news, and ensuring the poor and needy have enough buffer against the impact. Speculations among economists are rife that Goods and Services Tax (GST), last raised in 2007 from 5% to 7%, is likely to be the one. The reason is that, considering the need for Singapore's economy to stay competitive, corporate tax is likely to remain untouched. Broad-based hikes in personal income tax rates are also unlikely as it is the Government's plan to keep taxes progressive. GST accounted for 15.8% of Government’s operating revenue in financial year 2016, the largest after corporate income tax (19.6%). The share of personal income tax is 15.3% of the total operating revenue. A layperson may wonder if raising taxes is the only way to finance increasing social spending. The Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) framework allows the Government to spend up to 50% of the expected long-term real returns (including capital gains) from the net assets invested by the Government Investment Corporation (GIC), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Temasek Holdings. However, given the rate at which Government’s expenditure is outstripping its revenues – contributed to a large extent by an aging population, growing complexity of social needs and the need to develop Singapore's infrastructure to cope with an expanding population – even this is deemed insufficient to ensure that future generations remain on a sustainable fiscal trajectory.


Singapore’s tax policies have come under scrutiny in the past, with critics seeing the republic as a tax haven or being too conservative with public spending. Oxfam International’s press release on 12 December 2016 ranked Singapore fifth in its list of “world’s worst tax haven”. The list is compiled by “assessing the extent to which countries employ the most damaging tax policies”, such as the slashing of corporate taxes as countries compete for investment. The consequence is that governments then try to balance their books by reducing public spending, for instance on healthcare and education, or by raising taxes such as value-added tax (VAT) – in Singapore’s case, GST – which it argues falls disproportionately on the poor. It described such an approach as “a reckless competition” and a “race to the bottom on corporate tax” as it aggravates social problems such as inequality and poverty.

The Government has disputed Oxfam’s report, arguing that Singapore is able to keep the headline corporate tax rate competitive at 17% because it is fiscally prudent and have a diversified tax base. The Ministry of Finance elucidated that tax policies are designed to support substantive economic activities in order to create skilled jobs and build new and enduring capabilities in Singapore. Local experts, like Mr Chester Wee of Ernst & Young Solutions, was quoted by The Straits Times (14 December 2016) as saying that “Singapore's tax incentive programmes come with strict substancebased conditions such as headcount requirements, local business spending and value-added activities”.

On the needs of current and future generations, and NIRC, Mr Heng, in his round-up speech at the end of the Budget On the issue of social spending, former debate in March 2017, reiterated the Government Investment Corporation (GIC) Government’s responsibility to ensure chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong, in a sustainability by striking the right balance Facebook post on 23 November 2017, between current and future generations. highlighted the Government’s focus on It has spent prudently to build its reserves, maintaining high levels of fiscal savings for and tapped on their returns judiciously. the benefit of future generations as a Thus, it is imperative that it remains problem. He pointed out that Singapore’s disciplined and prudent in spending the social spending levels are much lower than returns of its reserves so that they continue OECD averages as a share of GDP for to be a stable and sustainable source of healthcare, education and social protection revenue over the long term. and questioned the need for a conservative stance on the NIRC. He argued that the 50% The prospects of paying higher GST spending rule for NIRC is a “questionable appear inevitable. There are concerns for division of investment income from official groups that will be affected adversely by it, reserves and shows a strangely skewed mainly those from lower socioeconomic social time preference”. A more reasonable backgrounds. Budget 2017 announced time preference, in his view, would be to use a slew of support measures to help more of the investment income for the households cope with rising living expenses pressing problems of the present generation, amid the economic slowdown. For example, such as inadequate retirement finances, lack 1.3 million eligible Singaporeans were then of universal long term or primary chronic expected to benefit from a one-off GST healthcare, underspending in primary and voucher – Cash Special Payment of up to secondary education relative to OECD $200. It was an addition to the regular GST norms, inadequately funded industrial Voucher – Cash. policy and an underperforming public transport system. Taxes, in his view, should be raised only if found to be necessary after such measures have been adopted.

Going forward, as the government continues to make Singapore competitive and balance government spending for current and future generations, it is essential that policies remain inclusive in the face of changing demographics, slower economic growth and increasingly complex social landscape. It is hoped that Singapore Budget 2018 will announce measures the Government will undertake to cater to the financial needs of those most affected by higher taxes.

Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Researcher / Projects Coordinator with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), the research subsidiary of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP).

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SOCIAL

Religious Terrorism and Toxic Masculinity

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Former president of the American Sociological Association, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, remarked in 2006 “that the boundary based on sex creates the most fundamental social divide”. Therefore, scholars should take this divide into account when studying a social phenomenon. The statement was bold, and still is, as it suggests that gender is at the root of social ills (and hence the solutions to them). Nevertheless, I want to suggest that an extreme manifestation of this divide, toxic masculinity, can be used to explain a contemporary social malaise, that is (the mindsets of) individuals who commit acts of terrorism in the name of religion. A brief explanation of toxic masculinity would help set the tone for its link to religious extremism.

between Muslims and violence; this has to do with the politicisation of masculinities. The dictum “Knowledge is power” was certainly true during the colonial period. The colonial discourse on sexuality often involved an Orientalist appropriation of masculinity with an attitude of contradictions. As author Jasbir Puar noted: “Muslim masculinity is simultaneously pathologically excessive yet repressive, perverse yet homophobic, virile yet emasculated, monstruous yet flaccid”. Such a discourse conveniently (and dangerously) ignores the stereotypes Muslims have historically been subjected to so that they are viewed as prime suspects after a terrorist act (although these suspicions have time and again proven to be true).

In academic parlance, toxic masculinity describes negative socially constructed attitudes towards the male gender role. ‘Toxic’ refers to the effect this strand of masculinity can have on men (and women for that matter). It may be emotional damage in the sense of having to suppress interests and emotions traditionally seen as feminine such as being taught that “men don’t cry”. Then of course there is the physical manifestation of this toxicity where the man resorts to violence to demonstrate his masculinity which also helps to keep feminisation at bay. The whole point of toxic masculinity is to show that masculinity is exclusive and exclusive at all costs to the individual. It offers no alternative discursive space for men who enjoy baking or cry easily. It encourages emotional distance and can lead to physical violence in one.

One needs to move away from this colonial mindset and from excessive attention towards Muslims as the perpetrators of terrorism. Apart from the fact that there are non-Muslims who commit violence in the name of religion (one may think of the Christian fundamentalists in the US), there is one common factor among these terrorists’ acts: the perpetrators are almost always men. Other than religion, gender needs to be another social category studied to understand why men commit such violence. There has to be something wrong with the way these men are raised in their families. They may be indoctrinated to view women as inferior so that violence is seen as a naturally masculine form of expressing this superiority. It is an extreme form of patriarchy that normalises violence against women, which then sets the precedent for violence against anyone who is seen to possess deviant religious beliefs.

The link between toxic masculinity and violence committed in the name of religion is unmistakable. Unfortunately, Muslims today dominate the headlines when incidents of religious extremism transpire. It is then common for innocent Muslims to have to explain to non-Muslims why these terrorists do what they do. There is in fact a historical backdrop to this convenient linkage

It is also noteworthy to consider how women are implicated in the discourse of toxic masculinity. Though toxic masculinity initially does concern men, women themselves have established a significant foothold in various terrorist networks. The phenomenon of women joining such networks is a complex one;

scholarship is divided on whether such women are liberated from traditional gender roles or whether they’re merely pawns in a masculine chess game. Whichever view one is inclined to take, the fact is that women who do join terrorist networks under the guardianship of their male counterparts are being trained to think and behave like men, not to mention to handle weapons and machinery like men. In short, there is a process of normalisation initiated by men so that female liberation is tied to violence at all costs, just as how toxic masculinity is tied to violence.

While it isn’t accurate to describe all women who join these organisations as simply passive individuals who fall under the trap of patriarchal control and hence the frame of toxic masculinity, there are women who are indeed recruited (by ISIS, for example) to embark on traditional masculine roles of moral policing. An example is the Al-Khanssaa brigade which was an all-women police unit in ISIS used to morally police women’s dress and behaviour, much like how it is done in Saudi Arabia or even Iran. Whether these women embark on such a role because of divine duty or feminist causes, the fact is that such activities do fall under a patriarchal framework of subjugating women to patriarchal authority through the use of force if necessary, thus the link to toxic masculinity. A good example of this process can be found in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Women were recruited into the LTTE under the guise of female liberation. Making this type of liberation synonymous with JANUARY 2018

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national liberation (for their homeland) was a strategy employed to further LTTE’s cause of a violent struggle for their homeland. This could be seen in their tactics involving suicide. The most notorious LTTE suicide attack was done by a woman named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam when she assassinated then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She was useful in propagating LTTE’s toxic masculinity due to the fact that as a woman, she was unlikely to raise suspicion of being violent since women were traditionally viewed as weak and submissive. Toxic masculinity affects both men and women, whether they are the perpetrators or the victims. Women in this case only further emphasise toxic masculinity as normative. The link between toxic masculinity and violence, whether committed in the name of religion or not, can also be seen in attacks where the victims are male individuals who do not conform to the heteronormativity that the perpetrator espouses. The Orlando night club murderer Omar Mateen shows how toxic masculinity promotes inequality by literally getting rid of deviant men, in this case, homosexuals. For an attitude that is so destructive, toxic masculinity is also very basic as its roots go back to the household; there are news reports explaining how a significant number of men who kill have committed domestic violence. Toxic masculinity espouses the absence of empathy in men so that taking someone’s life is routine behaviour, if not honourable.

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The reality is toxic masculinity knows no race nor religion. While extreme interpretations of religion can be used to explain why an individual commits a terrorist act (one done in the name of religion), it is not enough. Instilling religiosity and a thirst for religious knowledge in young men should not be divorced from efforts at instilling attitudes like chivalry and empathy in these same individuals. A nation reacts only when toxic masculinity is manifested publicly through a terrorist act committed by a zealot. Yet, this panic is a late reaction to the men who already feel entitled from young. Even then, the panic revolves around a moral policing of how these individuals should interpret their religious scriptures. This is not enough. Counter-terrorism strategies and rehabilitation measures should take into account the individual’s perception of religion and manhood. Ideally, this would have been taken care of from young. At the end of the day, toxic masculinity begins at home. If we realise this fact, we can start changing the way we raise boys to be men. There are two ways we can react to acts of terrorism committed usually by men. We can continue to react with a moral panic and further criminalise such males and their acts. Legal action can only do so much. They can only serve as deterrents and hopefully prevent future incidents of terrorism from happening. Another alternative approach would be the soft approach. That is, redefining what masculinity really is, or at least, promoting ideals of masculinity that are devoid of using violence to assert one’s manhood. This effort can only begin at home and in schools.

Imad Alatas is currently an Executive at the Middle East Institute (ME I) in NUS where he co-manages MEI’s pub lications and social media. He enjoys writing on the topics of gender and religion in society. He plays football during his free time.


OPINION

How the Role of Fathers Has Changed BY EDWIN CHOY

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OPINION

Families have evolved. There was a time when the life of a family revolved around a plot of land, a home, and a farm for work. Even the final resting place of the family was on the same property. Subsequently, society experienced industrialisation and a man’s identity was attached to an occupation instead of a home. Women also fought for their rights to be educated and started building established careers outside of the home1. This led to a society that began working away from their families. Fast forward to today – parents are still considered the primary caregivers of their children, but their involvement has diminished, given the way society has transformed. With both parents working, families are often under stress due to competing demands for their time. Divorce rates have consequently increased. Studies by the Singapore Department of Statistics show that seven percent of marriage cohorts of 2005 and 2007 dissolve their marriage before their fifth anniversary2. This figure is close to the eight percent for the United Kingdom, and noticeably higher than the older marriage cohorts in Singapore. Time issues aside, the isolation of the parent due to work commitments have also contributed to new family trends. In the past, most families lived close to their relatives. This meant better support from the community to start and raise a family. Today’s young families are largely nucleated with dual-earning parents. Separated from their extended families and both being busy at work created a new challenge for young families raising children. As more mothers focus on their careers, the need for active father involvement becomes more pronounced. Couples find creative solutions for these challenges, including outsourcing some of the household chores to others. Unfortunately, child-raising cannot be left

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solely in the hands of domestic helpers or caregivers without consequences of inadequate bonding with their own children. Parents still need to be involved in providing for and nurturing their own kids.

empathy, cognitive competence, and be less susceptible to peer pressure. In Singapore, teenagers that succeed typically have warmer and more involved fathers, with more interactions with their parents5.

One way to relieve the tensions of urban family life is through shared parenting. Having both fathers and mothers share the upbringing of their children is the foundation for healthy, functioning families. When fathers get involved in child-raising, some of the pressures are eased for time-starved mothers. Times have changed. In my father’s generation, if a dad brings the bacon home, he has done his honoured duty. In this day of dual-income families, such a practice is insufficient.

These findings prove that children need their fathers more than ever. But while society has prepared mothers for the workforce through education, it has not prepared fathers to turn their hearts toward their children. Before the existence of Centre for Fathering, there were no courses on fathering in Singapore. Fortunately, many involved fathers do so instinctively, especially when they have good role models in their lives – but not all of us do.

For those of us who are not blessed with a good role model or father-figure, the best place to begin is to realise the impact our own father had on us. Some of our fathering habits are the result of a good legacy our dads left for us, while other habits are formed as a result of overcoming what we do not like about our dad’s ways. Either way, our father has impacted 1. Children from fatherless homes are us tremendously, even without our four times more likely to be living realisation. Many of us will be amazed at in poverty. how we are either very similar or different 2. Fatherless youths have significantly from our dads. Our own fathering habits higher chances of being incarcerated. will also impact our children greatly. This 3. Girls who are fatherless are more is the power of fathering, and its valuable likely to experience teenage expertise passed down from generation pregnancy and ill-prepared marriages to generation. 4. Students with involved fathers had a higher likelihood of scoring This realisation will help us appreciate the distinctions in school. depth of our children’s need for us to be involved fathers. While our desire for a In Singapore, research on parental styles better relationship with our dads may not and their effects on children show that be fulfilled, our children’s desire for their teenage delinquents tend to come from fathers can be met with our commitment homes with neglectful and authoritarian to connect with them.How our children fathers, absent father involvement, poor perceive our involvement when they are father-adolescent interactions, and single grown up can be changed now. or step parent families4. On the other hand, studies from the US show that children Before we blame our dads for everything from homes with involved fathers are that is wrong in our parenting, we also more likely to possess higher self-esteem, need to realise that our fathers are also So why is involved fatherhood important? There is now a large body of literature and research that point specifically to the importance of involved fathering in children’s lives. Studies in the US have highlighted the ill effects of fatherlessness on children3, which include:

1 HTTP://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/LET-US-NOT-TAKE-GENDER-EQUALITY-FOR-GRANTED HTTP://WWW.SINGSTAT.GOV.SG/DOCS/DEFAULT-SOURCE/DEFAULT-DOCUMENT-LIBRARY/PUBLICATIONS/PUBLICATIONS_AND_PAPERS/MARRIAGES_AND_DIVORCES/SSNSEP15-PG5-9.PDF 3 HTTP://WWW.FATHERHOOD.ORG/FATHER-ABSENCE-STATISTICS 4 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DIFFERENT PARENTING TECHNIQUES AND THE SOCIAL ADJUSTMENT OF ADOLESCENTS, VIVIEN HUAN & ESTHER TAN, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, SINGAPORE 5 PARENTING BEHAVIOURS AND ADOLESCENTS' PSYCHOSOCIAL ADJUSTMENT, DR ONG AI CHOO, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION


someone else’s son. He too is a product of his own circumstances. It will help us to reconcile with our own dads if we understand that our fathers have done their best with what they knew about fathering. We must discover our own fathering ways that will be best for our children. I find it helpful to think about fathering as our greatest contribution on earth. While most of our endeavours in life don’t last, fathering is one that impacts not only our children’s generation, but their children’s as well. In raising a son, our love for him will influence how they become fathers in future, and in raising daughters, our love for her will also influence them as mothers in future. Consequently, we are not just raising sons or daughters, we are raising future fathers and mothers who will shape the next generation.

Some of our fathering habits are the result of a good legacy our dads left for us, while other habits are formed as a result of overcoming what we do not like about our dad’s ways. Either way, our father has impacted us tremendously, even without our realisation. Many of us will be amazed at how we are either very similar or different from our dads. Our own fathering habits will also impact our children greatly. This is the power of fathering, and its valuable expertise passed down from generation to generation.

Edwin Choy is the co-founde r and director for Ce ntre for Father ing in Singapore. He is also a train ed Solution Focused Ther apist & Coach and has been conductin g workshops in parenting and fathering for the last 16 years.

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PERSONALITY

Slow Hustle, Smart Growth: Pushing Boundaries with Adlina Anis

BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD

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The fashion industry is increasingly catching on to the needs of Muslim women looking for modest and chic clothing. Modest fashion, design, and stylists are now coming to the forefront of society and markets. All around the world, important economic discussions are starting to include modest fashion. In fact, according to the latest Global Islamic Economy report, the global modest fashion market is forecasted to be worth USD327 billion by 2020. Given Singapore’s small Muslim population, modest fashion is largely seen as a niche business here. However, several local modest fashion entrepreneurs have recently made media headlines, drawing attention to the potential of the modest fashion trade, including Adlina Anis. Having graduated with a Diploma in Apparel Design & Merchandising from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design in Singapore, Adlina actually took a longer route in her academic journey, going through a course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) first. However, it was this alternative pathway that made it possible for her to discover and earn the relevant skills and experiences she needed today. After getting several years of experience through internships and working in the publishing industry, Adlina took a leap of faith and ventured into the world of entrepreneurship. She founded Adlinaanis.com, an e-commerce store that stocks her beautiful collection of hijabs (headscarves) and clothing line. The establishment has since grown to become one of the leading players in the modest fashion industry in the region. The brand recently made waves internationally when the entrepreneur shook the industry after launching a series of genius innovative hijabs including the Ninja Echo, which allows wearers to conveniently plug in their earphones through slits in the hijab, and the Vizi Shawls which allows wearers to conveniently slide in their glasses through the hijab.

Indeed, the path to the winners’ stage is not always a fast or direct one. It is this long ride that pays you dividends and grants you the skills you need to hang on to the success you earn. Eventually, you will be in a better position for more sustainable, enduring success, just like Adlina.

I’ve always had an affinity for fashion since young and my parents have always been supportive of my decisions, especially my mum. I found out that I really loved fashion and magazines when I was in ITE, and my mum sent me to sewing classes during the school holidays because I wanted to learn.

Q: Could you tell us about yourself?

Q: How did your business start and what steps did you take to get things going in the beginning?

Adlina: I come from a family of six, and I am the third of four children. I’m 35 this year and happily married. Growing up, I attended Ngee Ann Primary School and later Greenview Secondary School. When I received my ‘O’ levels result, I realised it wasn’t enough to get me to my preferred course in polytechnic, which was Mass Communication at that time, so I decided to take the longer route via Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Bishan. I did quite well there and managed to advance to Temasek Polytechnic where I pursued fashion design in their School of Design. It turns out that a slower pace was better in the long run for me. Q: What was growing up like for you? Adlina: We weren’t really well off. My parents worked very hard to raise all of us. Back then, my family was living in a one-room flat. But as a child growing up, I never felt that life was tough or that anything was insufficient. We didn’t live particularly luxuriously, but we had enough. My dad, though juggling three jobs at that time, always came through for our family when we needed him, and he always found a way to provide for us. My dad was working in the bowling industry and sometimes, he would even bring us to work. I’ve always been very close to my dad. Growing up, he was always around for his family despite his busy schedule. I don’t remember him not being around. He worked hard to make sure we didn’t struggle. We had the best of everything. My dad, though not very well-educated, has always been self-sufficient, and he taught me to be the same too.

Adlina: When we first started, it was just me, my partner and my husband who ran the business. We didn’t start off really well. We didn’t have much capital and we weren’t too keen on taking loans. The whole thing started in December 2012, when we came up with the idea of setting up a booth in a bazaar in Geylang selling brooches, just to earn the capital. We really started from scratch and grew from there. Q: What should people know about the brand, Adlina Anis? Adlina: Our brand is built around the idea of consistently delivering innovative and quality products. Our products are expensive for a reason. We don’t do mass production so we can ensure the quality of our products. As of now, Adlina Anis has a total of 15 staff and we try to make sure that each and every team member is well taken care of. We also take extra measures to ensure that they have a healthy and positive working environment to work in. I have my own production facilities in Jakarta so I have employees there. I make sure they work and live comfortably. I also have a single mum working in our local office and we try to assist her in every way possible. In terms of the product, I am in charge of coming up with new creations and ideas as we have product launches every week. I am also the model and take charge of the editing of the photographs of the product.

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PERSONALITY

“Have courage in everything you do. You have to commit to being more courageous in both your professional and personal lives. Do not be afraid to make changes or you risk holding yourself back from opportunities and experiences that could be wonderful for you.” Q: What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers? Adlina: It used to be easier in the past when the industry was not as saturated as it is now. We gained popularity through YouTube and depended on roadshows and pop-up stores. Roadshows are a great way to spread awareness of a brand in an in-person, interactive format and reach potential customers you may not have been able to otherwise. Q: What is your competitive advantage and why can't it be copied? Adlina: We try to create and innovate all the time. To make it more relevant and up-to-date, we ensure that there is a new product launch every week so customers can always expect new and fresh items.

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We are continually looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve to provide added value to our consumers. Our products often stem from the consumer’s needs and we try to listen to what they want. In addition, as an extension of our business, I also have a YouTube beauty and lifestyle channel that stores videos demonstrating numerous ways to style the hijab as well as videos on make-up. Q: How do you find inspiration for your work? Adlina: Opportunities for inspiration and greater creativity can be found around me every day – from travelling, to talking to customers to anything that stands before me. I get inspiration everywhere I go, by being very inquisitive. Everything is intriguing and different. Inspiration, truly, is everywhere. You just need to open your eyes to see it all around you. Q: What is your biggest professional accomplishment to date? Adlina: To be able to sustain the brand for five years now. Q: Who would you say is an influential figure to you? Adlina: In terms of the business and fashion industry, I don’t have a specific person that I look up to because there are so many people who inspire me. Everyone is unique and different, and has their own way of inspiring. Everyone we meet has something to teach us. But above all, the most influential figure for me personally would have to be my dad. His work ethic, determination and selflessness are just a few of the inspiring qualities he has. He has sacrificed so many things just so I can have the life that I do today.

Q: What’s next for Adlina Anis? Adlina: We are looking at diversifying our business and offerings. There are a few things in store for Adlina Anis, but we are taking it slow so as to ensure we keep within our financial capability. We are not looking into taking loans or investments. We also want to make sure we are sustainable so it is okay for the company to grow organically. I also have a few other personal projects but the direction of every project eventually, is set to develop the Adlina Anis brand further. Q: What advice would you give to Malay/Muslim women who want to start a business? Adlina: Have courage in everything you do. You have to commit to being more courageous in both your professional and personal lives. Do not be afraid to make changes or you risk holding yourself back from opportunities and experiences that could be wonderful for you. It may be a bit challenging as a woman, but take risks. Have courage to push the boundaries and make decisions. We’ll never know what’s in store until we try.

arch Analyst mad is a Rese d Nabilah Moham on Islamic an for Research at the Centre s a Bachelor ld ho e Sh . A) (RIM Malay Affairs d a Specialist Psychology an of Science in ta Mining. Da d atistics an Diploma in St


BOOK REVIEW

Book Review:

Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit BY DIANA RAHIM What does it mean to lose a place? In a capitalist city-state like Singapore where economic interests supersede sentimentality, nostalgia, or even history, where heritage sites are mowed over or revamped for a highway or a new shopping district, what does it mean to remember a place, except to participate in a kind of mourning?

poems on places would be reductive however, as one would realise as the book progresses. Additional considerations had also been “to include voices that spoke of loss, nostalgia, identity, problems, dreams and aspirations.” A considerable number of the poems are meditative, caught in a rumination of a place in a past era, recounting its now vanished sights and sounds, such as “Silent River” by Mohd Khair Mohd Yasin, “Geylang Serai” by Yatiman Yusof and “Bukit Timah Sidewalk (memories from the 60s)” by Nordita Taib. Some are more experiential than descriptive or prescriptive such as poems “Bus 67” and “Haji Lane” by Isa Kamari, while some are odes to specific places, or a recounting or retelling of a historical episode. For the most part however, a sense of nostalgia does pervade the collection of poems, regardless of the voice or form it takes.

rumination is a telling one. It is as if one cannot speak about these certain places without invoking the ghost of its former streets, its former people, and the memories that the poets associate that place with. It is no small fact that a considerable number of the poets in the text lived through and remember a developing Singapore, and some even remember a pre-independent Singapore, before the split with Malaysia.

Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit is an “Song of Tebrau” by Juffri Supa’at for anthology of poems edited and translated example is an almost loving ode to the by Annaliza Bakri. The poems, placed in Tebrau Strait that one can’t help but their original language and their translation to read in parallel with Singapore’s side by side, are focused on specific places relationship with Malaysia. Mourning in Singapore written by Malay poets both the absence of intimacy and warmth that award-winning and established, as well as was once felt, he asks “Is this…/ because more contemporary, younger voices. we were once / disappointed and failed in These poems were selected based on their love?” Similarly, “Tebrau Strait” by rumination of specific sites in Singapore, Mohamed Latiff Mohamed is also a loving, such as the poets’ individual kampungs, even an almost erotic ode, at the end of Orchard Road, Tebrau Strait (or commonly which he presents the Straits as a place known as Straits of Johor), and perhaps the subjected to the political wills of men, area most associated with the Malay This heavy tendency to speak of places in while she herself is indifferent – “and you community, Geylang Serai. To simply a tone of wistful, or even mournful remain silent / calm and gentle / letting reduce the anthology as a collection of JANUARY 2018

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BOOK REVIEW

clams and cockles / rodents roaming about / moving on with life / without thinking / who will earn profits / who will carry the burden.” Positing these places as innocent victims to development, bearing the cost of capitalist economic imperatives of profit, is something we see throughout the text. The spectre of development is never far, and often spoken of as a kind of violence, as a tide, a wave, that has swept over these places, changing them so completely that the poets are at a loss to comprehend the fact that they are no longer the same. As Yatiman Yusof writes in “Geylang Serai,” “Now the wind blows / and everything is gone.” This sense of standing unnerved, helpless to only watch as the changes happen in a blink, is a familiar sentiment often heard by those who have lived through the rapid development of Singapore. Part of the pain of development is the way in which their former prized places, often seen as places of peaceful natural respite, a kind of pristine slowness, is helpless before the violence of development. In “Geylang Serai” by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, we are given the following image: “A distance away / a bulldozer roared madly / flattening the attap houses / the old mosques.” This image appears again in Norashikin Jamain’s “Kampung Melayu” where she writes “your chest is scoured / by lorries and bulldozers.” Interestingly, even the very air is mentioned in several poems, to mark perhaps the corruption that development brings – with Jamain describing “the freshness of the morning / disturbed by the stale vapour from vehicles’ fumes,” and Ahmad Md Tahir in “Shenton Way” writing “The air gets viscous / as it dissolves in monoxide.” Corruption is an interesting concept to turn to at this point. To point out that the air is corrupt, or to look back at a place and remember it as a place of natural simplicity, is perhaps something only truly done in 44 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

retrospect, when compared against the current tide of development. Corruption isn’t only spoken of in the physical and literal definition but also through a lens of morality and value-judgement. Development is seen as a corrupting, almost immoral force. When combined with the strong presence of Islam in the lives and words of these poets, we can see how the language of religion is employed to further reiterate the sense of loss felt. In “Wak Tanjong Will Continue to Stand Here,” Suratman Markasan writes an ode to the madrasah that stands in the face of moral and religious degradation – “there are many signs everywhere / that made us confused and the ulama sorrowful” – with the students being the ones “who know the real truth.” The mosque especially is important in our discussion here. The mosque for the Malay/Muslim community is a religious place, but its value extends beyond its practical purpose and it also functions as a place where the community gathers. The aspect of community, one which is contrasted against the alienation and isolation that is replete in capitalist city-states like Singapore, is important for us to keep in mind when understanding the totality of loss felt. In “Kampung Race Course Mosque,” Faridah Taib writes: “what is left is just history / no more kalima / the rhapsody of the prayer call / can I buy a nostalgic past? / can the unyielding tears be its replacement?” Masjid Al-Falah makes a couple of appearances in the book as well. In “Saturday Night (In Orchard Road)” by Juffri Supa’at, we read the following line - “From a corner / the call reverberates from Al-Falah / audibly fading / in the midst of roaring / vehicles and city dwellers.” This line perhaps is one of the more elegant, quiet expressions of insecurity and loss in the face of development. The mosque, a place that represents spirituality, communal gathering, and the Muslim community, is not only in the corner, but audibly fading, drowned out by the sounds of deafening progress.

National narratives often present the speed of development Singapore went through after independence as a success story. One that proves our miraculous and meteoric rise from “third-world to first.” But of course, it is imperative to understand that this is a national narrative, a constructed one, or at the very least, a kind of wilful selection and shaping of facts. The poems in the collection present a different narrative: one where the speed of development that people bore witness to was experienced with a sense of longing, mournfulness, loss, and even a sense of disassociation and dislocation. More importantly, it is a kind of resistance against the speed of forgetting that accompanies the kind of development we are caught in, where places are destroyed and rebuilt faster than our memory and recording can cope with. For a moment, these poems throw us into the personal narratives and memories of these places. In just another decade, perhaps this book would provide the only lasting piece of existing memory left to remember some of the historical images and memories recounted. Who else will remember the smell of a river so many decades back, or the call of the birds? Who else might remember that a place once had another name, and that for a long time, nobody had called it any other way? Perhaps this anthology of poems can be a call for us to also participate in the act of slowness and remembering; to write our own kind of poems to fossilise what would be taken so quickly by the wind of nationalist development.

a master’s Diana Rahim is currently pursuing as an editor for degree in Literature. She serves al cataloguing Beyond The Hijab, an online journ n. Her stories of Singaporean Muslim wome rights, Islam interests revolve around women’s and race.


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The Karyawan — Volume 13 Issue 1  

© Association of Muslim Professionals. Permission is required for reproduction.

The Karyawan — Volume 13 Issue 1  

© Association of Muslim Professionals. Permission is required for reproduction.

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