The Karyawan — January 2022 Issue

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PUBLISHED BY: AMP SINGAPORE • VOLUME 17 ISSUE 1 • JANUARY 2022 • MCI (P) NO: 010/07/2021 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434

2020 CENSUS:






FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK COVER STORY 2020 Census – A Community Perspective by Yusof Sulaiman


COVID-19 Lessons Learned: Business Owners Edition by Nabilah Mohammad


Two Years of the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Have They Meant for Education in Singapore? by Assoc Prof Jason Tan


Adab for Muslims when Using the Handphone Camera by Ustaz Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan


First Pregnancy at Advanced Maternal Age by Dr Suzanna Sulaiman


Role of Singapore Muslims during the Ottoman-Balkan Wars by Muhamad Syafiq Mardi

How People Think About Basic Needs by Assoc Prof Teo You Yenn and Dr Ng Kok Hoe



The Death of Expertise: Examining Anti-Vaccine Sentiments by Sheikh Mohamad Farouq Abdul Fareez



Bhaiyya, You Are My Brother by COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition


SCWO’s Report: Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development by Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations


The Evolving Role of Nurses with Afa Asmin by Nur Diyana Jalil Book Review: Hidayah Amin’s Sang Nila Utama & Tun Seri Lanang: Singapore’s Last Malay Schools by Zuriati Zulfa Roslee

SUPERVISING EDITOR Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion EDITOR Mohksin Rashid EDITORIAL TEAM Nabilah Mohammad Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Sheikh Mohamad Farouq Abdul Fareez Winda Guntor

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

The Karyawan is a publication of AMP Singapore. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of AMP and its subsidiaries nor its directors and The Karyawan editorial board. © AMP Singapore. 2022. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.



The Singapore Census of Population is done once every ten years to collect information on key characteristics of the population and households, with the most recent one being in 2020. Data from the census is key to the long-term planning and policy formulation for the government. Equally, it provides meaningful insights on the various communities in our society to identify societal or demographic trends. The Singapore Census 2020 offers interesting perspectives on the Malay community here. This includes the concern of an organic decline in the composition of Malays in the population, progress in educational attainment with a growing trend of those pursuing tertiary education, as well as the relatively high proportion of low-wage workers and those dwelling in rental flats. You can read more on the community perspective of the 2020 Census from one of AMP’s pioneer members, Mr Yusof Sulaiman, on Page 14. Between planning at the national level and efforts within the community, the years ahead will greatly shape the findings of the next census and their impact for decades to come. While the community has much to be proud of in terms of our progress through the years, we still have more work to do. If left unexamined, some trends from the latest census could possibly impede the progress of the Singapore Malay community. I hope this will give us some food for thought as we welcome the new year and renew our efforts in the community in the year to come. Wishing you an insightful 2022 ahead!




What Have They Meant for Education in Singapore? BY ASSOC PROF JASON TAN

In July 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization issued a joint press release calling for the reopening of schools across the world. The press release lamented the fact that over 156 million students were being adversely affected by the continuing closure of schools in 19 countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both organisations expressed concern that “the losses that children and young people will incur from not being in school may never be recouped”. In Singapore, the pandemic has created tremendous disruption in all aspects of education too over the past two years. The key events are shown in Table 1. These range from total school closures to suspensions in co-curricular activities and reduction in the scope of content coverage for national examinations. This article will summarise and examine the effects of the pandemic on mainstream schools, and ask key questions about the purposes of education that many of us may not have given a second thought to.



27 JAN

Leave of absence of 14 days for students and staff returning from Mainland China; home-based learning for students on leave of absence; daily temperature taking from 29 January


Suspension of large group and communal activities; staggered recess times; CCAs and after-school programmes in smaller groups


Suspension of external school activities and inter-school activities till end of March school holidays

19 MAR

Suspension of CCAs; fixed exam-style seating for Primary 3 students and above; wipe-down routines in classrooms; fixed group cluster seating for Primary 1 and 2; assigned seating in canteens; assigned play areas in reduced group sizes

27 MAR

One day of home-based learning a week beginning in April


Full home-based learning from 8 April to 4 May; all mid-year examinations cancelled

17 APR

Adjustments to GCE-level coursework submission deadlines

21 APR

Removal of common last topics from national examinations and year-end school-based examinations

19 MAY

Staggered resumption of classes in Term 3; resumption of physical education lessons; safe management measures; alternative ways to conduct CCAs

27 MAY

Online Primary 1 registration

The prolonged nature of the pandemic has raised questions about student well-being, especially in the light of safe management measures within schools and in the wider community, and the substantial reduction in CCAs.

23 JULY 21 AUG 7 OCT 29 DEC


Resumption of lower-risk CCAs in secondary schools and pre-university Special arrangements for national examinations Further resumption of CCAs in all schools Implementing blended learning at secondary and pre-university levels; personal learning devices for all secondary students by end of 2021


Resumption of selected sports for National School Games 2021


Reduction of group size across activities from 8 to 5 persons; suspension of remaining National School Games competitions; suspension of external CCAs; suspension of activities conducted in public spaces

14 MAY

Reduction of group size across activities from 5 to 2; all CCAs to be conducted online

16 MAY

Full home-based learning from 19 May to 28 May

20 MAY

Online Primary 1 registration

14 JUN

Staggered resumption of classes in Term 3

23 JUN

Removal of common last topics in PSLE 2021; resumption of CCAs

20 JUL

Suspension of in-person CCAs


Group size across activities allowed in groups of up to 5; resumption of in-person CCAs in secondary schools and pre-university

13 AUG

More targeted approach in order to minimise placing entire levels on home-based learning

28 AUG

Updated arrangements for national examinations

18 SEP

Home-based learning for Primary 1 to 5 from 27 September to 6 October

27 SEP

Suspension of in-person CCAs for secondary and pre-university levels


Staggered resumption of classes in primary schools; cancellation of year-end examinations for Primary 3 and 4

Key among the changes wrought by the pandemic are probably disruptions to classroom teaching and learning in all mainstream schools. When the first signs of COVID-19 began appearing in Singapore in January last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) suggested home-based learning (HBL) be put in place for students who had been placed on leave of absence. By the end of March 2020, the MOE took tentative steps towards a wider implementation of HBL by announcing that it would be carried out in all schools one day each week beginning in April. This was followed a week later by the imposition of two months of HBL. THE EFFECTS OF HOME-BASED LEARNING Before the arrival of COVID-19, none of the mainstream schools would have experimented with HBL on such a sustained scale. Probably all teachers, students and parents were caught off-guard. Teachers soon realised the premium placed on their adaptability and ingenuity, as online lessons could not be conducted in a manner identical to that for face-to-face lessons. In addition, there were pre-existing concerns about the dangers of excessive screen time, especially in the case of younger students. How could teachers continue to capture their students’ attention and conduct group activities when the students were no longer in the same physical space with each other and with their teachers? And how about assessment of student learning, especially in the case of those students preparing for national examinations? During HBL periods, schools have continued to remain open, in order to help students who lack conducive home environments, whose homes do not have access to Wifi, or whose parents are unable to provide adequate childcare arrangements. Some students also lack personal learning devices, a problem that the MOE attempted to alleviate through the loan of digital devices. Consequently, the MOE has accelerated its plans to provide every secondary student with a personal learning device. The periods of

Table 1: Key events in the Singapore education system related to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-2021




HBL in 2020 and 2021 have also placed increased responsibility on parents, especially in the case of primary school students, to help their children access online learning and stay focused during these lessons.

curtailed. The MOE website claims that CCAs “play a key role in students’ holistic development”. Not only do CCAs enable students to discover their talents and interests, they also help students to learn values and social-emotional competencies and skills. Next, they provide a means for When announcing the imposition of HBL students from diverse backgrounds to in March last year, the MOE acknowledged mingle and develop friendships, while that “HBL will not be able to fully replace promoting a sense of belonging to school the depth and variety of learning and the wider community. experiences that our students derive from being physically present in school”. The MOE’s repeated and sustained This point was exemplified clearly when attempts to resume CCAs as much as graduating cohorts in mainstream possible bear testament to the importance schools were asked to return to school for it attaches to them. The curtailment of extra lessons during the mid-year school these activities, as well as the resulting breaks last year and this year, and when consequences, reminds us that mainstream the MOE announced a reduction of schooling involves far more than curriculum coverage for the national classroom teaching and learning. A great examinations. These two policy measures deal of the value of mainstream schooling have added urgency since Singapore has lies in its socialisation function. In the decided, unlike some other countries, case of some students from troubled to continue with staging these crucial homes or disadvantaged backgrounds, examinations, instead of resorting to attending school also provides a safe school-based assessments as an alternative environment and a source of adequate means of assessment. Also, the MOE nutrition through school meal subsidies. announced the need for ‘curriculum recovery’ (or the re-teaching of topics) The prolonged nature of the pandemic has when Primary 1 to 5 students returned raised questions about student well-being, to school for Term 4, and the cancellation especially in the light of safe management of Primary 3 and 4 year-end examinations measures within schools and in the wider in 2021. community, and the substantial reduction in CCAs. In response to questions raised It is clear that HBL is far from adequate in on this matter in Parliament, the MOE the case of activities such as laboratory has recognised the possible detrimental practical lessons and physical education effects on students’ socio-emotional classes. HBL is probably not the first choice development and mental well-being 1. The either when it comes to helping students Ministry has therefore announced plans for a more targeted approach towards with special learning needs. Despite ‘ring-fencing’ cases and their close considerable advances in educational technology, face-to-face lessons in school contacts, rather than resorting to full HBL across all schools, or an entire level of are still likely to retain their dominant students within a particular school. role, with online learning playing a supplementary role. At this stage, it is important not to ignore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic SCHOOLS: A PLACE FOR MORE THAN on teachers. The Minister for Education JUST ACADEMIC LEARNING The MOE’s remarks about the inadequacies recently told Parliament that teachers’ workloads have doubled during the of HBL extend to the non-academic pandemic. First, teachers have had to aspects of school life too. Over the past prepare for online lessons and the two years, non-academic activities, such possibility of HBL being imposed, while as co-curricular activities (CCAs), conducting ‘curriculum recovery’ after inter-school competitions, learning periods of HBL. Secondly, they have also journeys, overseas trips and inter-school had to address issues related to their competitions, have been severely

1 Ministry of Education. Impact of HBL on students’ learning and development. 2021, October 4. Available at:


students’ well-being, and in some cases, help their students’ parents adjust to the periodic disruptions too. Thirdly, teachers have also had to ensure their students adhere to safe management measures and undertake the arduous task of contact tracing. In summary, the past two years have witnessed considerable disruption to the workings of mainstream schools in Singapore. In addition to changes in the way teaching and learning activities are conducted, the imposition of safe management measures have also had adverse effects on the non-academic aspects of school life. This article reminds us of the main purposes of mainstream schools, purposes that we used to take for granted prior to the sudden emergence of COVID-19. For one, the experiments with HBL have told us that while there is a role for blended learning, or the use of both online learning and traditional face-to-face teaching, we should think carefully about the centrality of face-to-face contact and exactly how online learning can supplement it. Secondly, schooling includes many non-academic experiences that cannot be replicated in an online setting. These experiences are a vital part of students’ overall development and it is regrettable that the pandemic has contributed towards their marginalisation. Thirdly, the past two years have helped foreground issues related to social and educational inequalities. Schools play a major role in helping students with special learning needs, and those from emotionally fragile or financially needy homes. As a final point, even while we consider the effects of the pandemic on students, due consideration needs to be given as well to teachers’ well-being.

Jason Tan is an Associa te Professor in Policy, Curriculum and Leadership at the National Institute of Edu cation, Singapore.

First Pregnancy at Advanced Maternal Age



Pregnancy, for many, is ideally a planned one and looked upon as a precious and intimate journey for a woman. Every pregnancy is different. The time, finances, and emotions invested are unique to every pregnant woman. This is even more so for those who are pregnant for the first time at an older age. Most times, it can bring about anxiety and worry amidst the excitement of the pregnancy. In this day and age, we do see a trend of women getting pregnant at a later age1.


2 3


THE DATA The median age of such mothers was 31 last year, higher from 30.5 in 2015 (Figure 1)2. With such data, there is worry about the impact of advanced maternal age in pregnancy outcomes. Society now may see the importance of being financially stable before embarking on any pregnancy for various reasons. The Report of Registration of Births and Deaths 2020 stated that among first-time mothers, 61.5 percent had university degrees last year, up from 53.5 percent in 20153.

Tan, T. First-time mums in Singapore are older, more educated. The Straits Times. 2021, July 23. Available at:; see also: Department of Statistics Singapore. Understanding Age-Specific Fertility Rate & Total Fertility Rate. 2021, June 4. Available at: Statista. Fertility rate in Singapore in 2020, by age group (per 1,000 females). 2021, July 5. Retrieved from: Ibid





100 90.8

Fertility rate per 1,000 females



54.6 49





2.3 0

15-19 years

0.5 20-24 years

25-29 years

30-34 years

35-39 years

40-44 years

45-49 years


helper to assist with the household chores, other social support when they are out to work, and the list continues. Naturally, once they have children, life priorities change. With good established support, career progression can be much easier.

some couples prefer to hold off their baby plans until the COVID-19 situation is more stable, as they are concerned about the risk to the mother and baby if the woman is infected. This is illustrated in the initial hesitation in many pregnant women in accepting the COVID vaccination as part of antenatal care. THE PANDEMIC This marked the awareness of the Academics interviewed in an article in In the same article, Singapore Management current situation which encourages The Straits Times on 23 July 2021 said as University sociology professor Paulin society to be on top of health issues more women have children at an older prior to getting pregnant. age, they are likely to have fewer children, Straughan mentioned the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fertility. Couples given that fertility declines with age4. may put off getting married and having The pandemic situation continues to It quoted more Singaporeans remaining children when the economy is bad and evolve and affect people financially. single as the main reason for the fall in things are uncertain. She noted that the We see many businesses, services and births last year. We see a possibility of number of marriages fell by 10.9 percent companies downsize or close during the the move towards independence from from 25,434 in 2019 to 22,651 last year, Heightened Alert phases. The financial parents. Hence, this leads to a need to be in the data released on July 7. In this stress affects relationships, the couple’s able to cater for self and to be able to do pandemic, Dr Mathew Mathews, head of goals and of course, their plans for well in their career before marriage and fertility. This shall continue as long eventually leading to planning for a baby. the Institute of Policy Studies' social lab, said that there is little doubt that the as COVID is amongst us. Many may In the current setting too, there may be pandemic would have made couples more remain hesitant to commit to such the issues of cost in raising children, cautious about starting a family. He said planning as they struggle to ensure childcare, cost of getting a domestic In fact, the number of women conceiving in their 40s has doubled over the past three decades in Singapore. Last year, there were 9 births for every 1,000 women aged 40 to 44, compared to 4.5 in 1985, according to figures from the Singapore Department of Statistics.


Tan, T. First-time mums in Singapore are older, more educated. The Straits Times. 2021, July 23. Available at:


The preconceptual period offers an ideal window to recognise and address underlying health issues, social issues and harmful lifestyle behaviours in order to optimise maternal health, ultimately reducing infertility and impact of advanced maternal age on pregnancy outcomes. Preconception tests should be clinically relevant, aiming to identify risk factors and address them to predict and prevent infertility and pregnancy complications.

5 6

that they are financially stable before considering a pregnancy. DEFINITION OF ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE Fertility starts to decline from 30 years onwards, especially after 35 years, making it harder for women to become pregnant. By 40 years old, only one in six of those who wish to have a baby will be able to do so naturally. However, even with such data, many women can still get pregnant spontaneously after the age of 35. There is definitely a huge difference in terms of probability of pregnancy between a 20-year-old and a 40-year-old woman due to the biological clock. Increasing age affects the number and quality of eggs.

react differently to the change in the hormones. For some, they may not be able to continue working and need to take unpaid leave as they feel giddy and nauseous most of the time. Weight gain may be more evident in more elderly pregnant women due to significant water retention. Early peripheral leg swelling may also be a common complaint. This may worsen as the pregnancy continues. Backache and difficulty in sleeping become a more common complaint as the pregnancy progresses. The emotions can easily be affected with all these changes. The support from their partner and family members is very important.

Advanced maternal age is a strong independent risk factor to first trimester (first 12 weeks of pregnancy or Week 1 With declining fertility, as a couple to 12) miscarriage6. The age group with decides to try to conceive, they would the lowest risk are women in their 20s require to have more regular sexual with an approximate risk of 8 to 10 intercourse. This is encouraged especially percent of first trimester loss followed during the fertile period. The fertile by a steep rise in miscarriage rates from period is defined as the period when the the age of 30. The rate of first trimester egg is released. The egg is thought to be loss for women aged 35 to 40 varies from released about day 13 to 15 in a regular 17 to 25 percent, for women aged 40 to 45 menstrual cycle. It becomes more difficult from 33 to 51 percent, and for women to predict when one has irregular or aged above 45 reaches 57 to 75 percent. infrequent periods. Few may consider An explanation could be that the quality seeing their own gynaecologist for of the egg may not be as good as we pre-pregnancy investigations. Such become older. The risk trend seems to investigations are not limited to the be the same for second trimester (second woman, but also for the man. The 12 weeks of pregnancy or Week 13 to 24) preconceptual period offers an ideal miscarriages. One of the most common window to recognise and address causes for early miscarriages is underlying health issues, social issues chromosomal abnormalities. and harmful lifestyle behaviours in order to optimise maternal health, ultimately With age, there is a risk of chromosomal reducing infertility and impact of abnormalities to the baby especially advanced maternal age on pregnancy with Down Syndrome. As one reaches outcomes. Preconception tests should be the age of 40, the risk of having a Down clinically relevant, aiming to identify Syndrome baby is about 1:100. There risk factors and address them to predict are currently various screening and and prevent infertility and pregnancy diagnostic tests available. These tests complications. are optional. Nevertheless, few tests can be costly. One can speak to their RISKS OF PREGNANCIES IN gynaecologist about this. Hence, early ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE antenatal care is important to manage Once one is pregnant at a later age, expectations and to look into resources the early pregnancy symptoms like throughout the pregnancy. hyperemesis (excessive nausea and vomiting), feeling lethargic or listless, In the advanced maternal age group, or change in appetite become more there is a risk of developing high blood extreme5. Every woman’s body will pressure. Few women after the age of 40

Gan, E. More Women in Singapore Giving Birth in Their 40s. SingHealth. (undated). Retrieved from: Frick, A. P. Advanced maternal age and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2021, January. Vol. 70, pp. 92-100. Retrieved from:




already have pre-existing high blood pressure problems. It is important to optimise the blood pressure so as not to have worsening problems throughout the pregnancy. There is a condition called preeclampsia, which is a life-threatening condition to both mother and baby in pregnancy. It is diagnosed with high blood pressure, associated with protein in urine, abnormal blood profile and symptoms like headache, blurring of vision and epigastric pain. Being aware of such conditions is important as early detection will bring about optimal care for both mother and baby. Another complication of pregnancy in advanced maternal age is diabetes at any stage of the pregnancy. This condition can be tested when risk factors are identified and also when one has repeated sugar in their urine tests. Routinely, apart from monitoring sugar in urine tests, we advise oral glucose tolerance test for all pregnant women as early as 20 to 24 weeks, earlier if there is any suspicion of the medical condition. Gestational diabetes mellitus is more common in older mums. Good control of sugar throughout pregnancy will ensure pregnant women remain asymptomatic. Poor control of sugar may affect the baby’s delivery outcome and weight. Poor control of sugar may also progress into long-term diabetes in the mum. Other risks due to medical conditions like preeclampsia or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can lead to the need to deliver early (preterm delivery). Babies, if delivered small, will need Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) care and a longer stay in hospital. This can incur more costs and other complications to the baby due to prematurity. Several older pregnant women who have pre-existing health problems (thyroid conditions or systemic lupus erythematosus) can either improve or deteriorate in pregnancy. Hence, it is important that one books early with a dedicated gynaecologist. The condition can be co-managed with the respective physician. Another important factor which contributes to the increased pregnancy complications and increased morbidity in advanced maternal age is placental


abnormalities7. Older gravidas are at increased risk for placental abruption (mostly related to high blood pressure issues), as well as placenta praevia (commonly known as low-lying placenta). Placenta praevia is the only placental disorder which is strongly and independently linked to increased maternal age. Nulliparous (first pregnancy) women aged more than 40 years have a ten-fold increased risk for placenta previa compared to nulliparous women aged 20 to 29 years, although the absolute risk is low (0.25 percent vs 0.03 percent, respectively). The rate of caesarean delivery nearly doubles with the increasing maternal age8. This increase is linear with advancing age without clear arbitrary cut-offs or threshold effects, consistently seen across healthcare settings. The risks of emergency caesarean delivery secondary to difficulty in labour for women more than 40 years is over twice that of the younger population. One theory behind the rise specifically in labour difficulty in older women is that the ageing uterus is less effective at generating uterine contractions, although in-vitro evidence studying the contractility of human myometrium is mixed. Nevertheless, this could also be a lowered threshold for intervention for older pregnant mums due to the patient preference or the gynaecologist’s advice. All pregnancies will end, some earlier than expected. Post-delivery is another milestone in the journey of a pregnancy. It is important to include post-delivery as part of the preparation process as this is the start of a commitment in raising a child. This process is dependent on the woman’s health prior to the pregnancy. If an older mum is healthy and fit, she may have better stamina and will recover from labour faster than a younger mum who is less fit or has medical issues. It is advisable to look into the mental wellness of the couple to enable them to manage the post-delivery journey better especially with issues like sleepless nights due to trying to adapt and attend to babies at any time of the night, fatigue, breastfeeding and colic for the baby.

ADVANCES IN MEDICINE Older mums are commonly more prepared and knowledgeable for the pregnancy. Even with existing medical conditions, older mums can see their gynaecologist early to ensure that the existing medical condition is welloptimised first before embarking on the actual pregnancy journey. As advances in medicine develop further, we learn how to support existing medical conditions in pregnancy with safe new medication, or intervention or procedures where relevant. There are also dedicated high risk pregnancy clinics in various hospitals to tailor to such needs. In view of this, older mums with existing medical conditions have a better chance at enjoying a smooth pregnancy. On the other hand, there is only so much that medical advances can do. While older mums may have medical advances on their side today, the emphasis is that the risks should not be downplayed. Improvements in screening methods and better ultrasound equipment also mean that abnormalities and birth defects in unborn babies are detected more accurately early in pregnancy. Medical advances have helped us to detect unborn Down Syndrome babies and other syndromic babies more accurately. Despite this, very little can be done to prevent them, other than conceiving at a much younger age. In the midst of the excitement of being pregnant, if the baby has been detected to have any abnormality, there is always the decision to terminate the pregnancy or to continue with the pregnancy. It will again go back to one’s faith, financial status and the ability to support a baby that may require life-long support. This can never be an easy decision, but it definitely will affect a couple financially and emotionally long term. Advances in artificial reproductive techniques like superovulation and in-uterine insemination (SOIUI) and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) have made it possible for couples to have babies later in life, especially for those with fertility problems. Age is one of the most important factors in determining whether fertility treatments like IVF

7 Frick, A. P. Advanced maternal age and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2021, January. Vol. 70, pp. 92-100. Retrieved from: Attali, E., and Yogev, Y. The Impact of Advanced Maternal Age on pregnancy outcomes. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2021, January. Vol. 70, pp. 2-9. Retrieved from:


Advanced maternal age is associated with a wide range of adverse perinatal outcomes, although the magnitude of risk for most outcomes is small. With good knowledge and support in many ways, one has the right to plan and decide when one is ready for that first pregnancy. Even if one decides to have her first child at a later age, with awareness of resources, an older mum can have the pregnancy just as well as a younger mum.



work out. Women below the age of 35 have a 30 percent chance of becoming pregnant through IVF. Those above 40 have a 10 to 15 percent chance of becoming pregnant through IVF. There are nevertheless potential risks of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, multiple pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage in such treatments. The government allocates budget to aid the financial aspect and allows IVF to boost a woman’s chances of conceiving. From 1 January 2020, up to two of the six cycles can be carried out when the woman is 40 or older, as long as the couple had tried IVF or SOIUI procedures before the woman reached 409. For those with genetic conditions, there is a service called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). This is a technology in reproduction used along an IVF cycle to reduce the risk of passing on inherited conditions. INCREASED COST With the estimated cost of raising a child in Singapore ranging from $200,000 to $1 million, juggling a child’s education funds and preparing for retirement can be a challenge10. Delaying motherhood also means that mums will be close to retirement by the time their child is ready for tertiary education. Although older mums are often deemed more financially secure, there may be a financial implication at the end of the journey of raising that very child. It is important to start saving early if one has made the choice to have a child at a later age. One can consider endowment and retirement policies early to be able to be comfortable at a later age. The financial status is also dependent on the lifestyle one leads.

The extended inpatient hospital stay and admission to Special Care Unit or NICU can add to the financial burden. THE WAY TO GO Advanced maternal age is associated with a wide range of adverse perinatal outcomes, although the magnitude of risk for most outcomes is small. With good knowledge and support in many ways, one has the right to plan and decide when one is ready for that first pregnancy. Even if one decides to have her first child at a later age, with awareness of resources, an older mum can have the pregnancy just as well as a younger mum. Optimising any medical condition before pregnancy is essential. Early booking, optimal screening and safe diagnostic procedures should be considered. Majority will do well in the pregnancy with the correct mindset and preparation. So with all this in mind, why not?

Dr Suzanna Sulaiman is the Head of Department for the Dep artment of Obstetrics and Gynaec ology in KK Women’s and Children’s Hospita l. She has delivered many babies from mothe rs of varied ages. Simultaneously, she edu cates patients, medical students, junior doctors and the public on the importa nce of good health while co-leading Temasek Foundation Achieving Res ilient and Inspiring Families Programme (Project ARI F).

Being a first-time older mum, antenatal visits may be a point of support and visits may be scheduled more frequently as compared to a low-risk pregnancy. This equates to additional costs. The cost for a caesarean is higher than a normal vaginal delivery. Hence, there can be the potential additional cost to the hospital bill. As stated earlier, the cost will also increase when interventions are required to deliver a baby which is severely pre-term.

Goh, Y. H. Govt to lift age limit, increase co-funding for assisted reproduction; more subsidies for child vaccinations. The Straits Times. 2019, August 28. Retrieved from: Gan, E. More Women in Singapore Giving Birth in Their 40s. SingHealth. (undated). Retrieved from:





What do people living in Singapore today need in order to meet basic standards of living? Over two waves of Minimum Income Standards (MIS) research1, our team conducted focus group discussions with ordinary Singaporeans to investigate this question. Our 2019 study reported household budgets for older persons: 55 to 64 years old, and 65 years and above. The 2021 study, which we recently released, determines the amount of money that households with children need for a basic standard of living in Singapore. It covers households with



single or partnered parents, who have one to three children of any age up to 25 years old. The total monthly household budgets required to meet a basic standard of living are: $3,218 per month for a single parent with one child aged 2 to 6; $6,426 per month for partnered parents with two children aged 7 to 12 and 13 to 18 years old; and $1,421 per month for a single elderly person. Using a consensus-based focus group discussion approach, our research also resulted in rich qualitative data that gives

us better understanding of how ordinary lives are lived, as well as people’s everyday concerns, anxieties, and aspirations. In this essay, excerpted from the 2021 report2, we draw attention to what the study reveals about how people think about needs, and in particular how they think about the needs of children. Studying households’ needs across different life stages reveals a few broad themes.

1 The Minimum Income Standards research is available at: and Ng, K. H., et. al. What people need in Singapore: A household budgets study. 2021. Available at:

First, as people move through the life course, priorities change and attentions shift. Older participants spoke more about health needs – invoking the importance of health when talking about food, leisure and even household goods such as non-slip flooring. They worried about healthcare costs and about “burdening” younger members of their families. In contrast, participants who are currently parents to dependent children brought greater attention to children’s education and their own work-life balance needs. Second, in speaking of basic needs, participants who are parents regularly prioritised the needs of children. In discussions of household goods, parents insisted on higher quality or specialised items in order to ensure the safety of children. For items which were typically contentious and hard to form consensus on, such as air-conditioning, the orientation toward wanting children to be comfortable meant that the conversations lingered for a longer time compared to when older persons discussed these as needs for themselves (participants ultimately left out air-conditioning from budgets). When talking about social activities for children, parents spoke of developmental and social needs as well as wanting children to be able to fit in and get along with peers. In general, they put higher emphasis on children’s social participation needs than their own. Conversations were especially animated when we got to the topic of education needs. Parents were quick to presume that everyone in Singapore cares deeply about children’s education. They spoke of the need for tuition to help children keep up in school. Notably, the needs around education are seen as not simply immediate and short term, but for children’s long-term good. Education needs form a significant part of household budgets and are seen as a major priority. Third, gender and marital status matter when it comes to people’s views and experiences of needs. In general, women more than men centred household needs on children’s needs. They were somewhat

Single parents, compared to partnered parents, expressed both a more pronounced prioritisation of their children and more anxiety around meeting children’s needs. Single mothers, in particular, expressed many anxieties. They talked about the difficulty of ensuring adequate income as single earners and of maintaining employment given the challenges of securing good care alternatives.

more knowledgeable about and attentive to children’s changing needs when growing up and the specific items necessary for meeting them. Both men and women made presumptions about women playing larger roles as caregivers and in housework (including cooking), and men as full-time workers. This came through in the ways they discussed kitchen items and food, childcare and education, as well as clothing. Single parents, compared to partnered parents, expressed both a more pronounced prioritisation of their children and more anxiety around meeting children’s needs. Single mothers, in particular, expressed many anxieties. They talked about the difficulty of ensuring adequate income as single earners and of maintaining employment given the challenges of securing good care alternatives. They also worried that if something happened to them, their children would have no one else to depend on. Single mothers among our participants were especially articulate in revealing their strategies for stretching limited budgets to meet their children’s needs. This included cutting things out of their expenditure even though they recognise that they are forgoing their own needs. These broad themes observed in focus groups are an important reminder that needs are complex and diverse. Therefore, budgets for basic standards of living must reflect and be inclusive of different parts of society. CHILDREN’S CARE AND EDUCATIONAL NEEDS As mentioned, groups were especially animated when it came to discussing children’s care and educational needs. The arrival of a child in a family changes parents’ lifestyles and schedules significantly. Professional infant care services are needed when mothers return to work after maternity leave. Parents agreed that early childhood is a critical phase in children’s lives and there is a need for childcare centres where children can learn and play. Parents also included some budget for outings, additional lessons and graduation events.




As children enter primary schools, the budget for after-school services and educational support becomes more critical. Parents need budgets for in-school student care services for primary school children, during school days as well as during school holidays. For both primary and secondary school children, a significant budget is needed for small-group tuition (i.e. fewer than 10 students per class) and enrichment classes. Parents also included a budget for assessment books. Notably, there was little contention among parents. We asked them to clarify why these are basic needs. They talked about these practices as norms and expressed anxieties about children not performing well in a competitive academic environment. Without tuition classes, parents said that children’s academic results would suffer. They mentioned that children themselves often ask for additional learning support. Among our respondents, both parents and young adults emphasised the importance of educational qualifications in Singapore. They said that obtaining a university degree in a general discipline has now become a need rather than an aspiration because this is the minimum requirement for many jobs in Singapore. A university degree provides more varied job choices and stable career opportunities. Even with a degree, young adults stressed the expectation that they will need to continue pursuing professional qualifications and certifications during their working life to gain new skills and keep up with changes in work demands. TRANSFERS AND SUBSIDIES FOR CHILDREN Given that children’s well-being is extremely important to society as a whole, most governments and societies recognise the importance of directing public resources toward their care and education. In Singapore, to what extent do these contribute to meeting needs? In our study, we compare transfers and subsidies for children to MIS budgets, taking into account universal schemes that apply to all children as well as major means-tested programmes.


They said that obtaining a university degree in a general discipline has now become a need rather than an aspiration because this is the minimum requirement for many jobs in Singapore. A university degree provides more varied job choices and stable career opportunities. Even with a degree, young adults stressed the expectation that they will need to continue pursuing professional qualifications and certifications during their working life to gain new skills and keep up with changes in work demands.

Households with children receive the Baby Bonus, a one-off transfer made up of a Cash Gift of $8,000 and a First Step Grant of $3,000 deposited into a Child Development Account that can be used to pay for childcare, kindergarten and other approved fees and expenses3. Since the stated policy intention of the Baby Bonus is to “defray the costs of raising a child”, we divided the monetary value of the Cash Gift over 12 years – until the child completes primary school – for the purposes of comparison against the household budgets. The same is done for the First Step Grant, since the Child Development Account closes when the child turns 12. As a lump sum payment, the Baby Bonus may be significant. But spread over 12 years, even the Cash Gift – which is more than twice the First Step Grant – is equivalent to less than 2 percent of the MIS monthly household budgets for the single and partnered parents. When calculating the costs of childcare in the household budgets, we assumed that the mother is working. For working mothers, higher care subsidies are available, including a means-tested component4. Both the income limits for means testing and amounts of support decrease for older children. The current household income limit to qualify for higher infant care and childcare subsidies is fairly generous, at $12,000 per month, or 1.9 to 3.7 times of the partnered and single parents’ budgets. Below this ceiling, household incomes also determine the amount of subsidy, with those on lower incomes receiving more. Monthly subsidies for infant care are equivalent to 4 to 36 percent of the single parent’s budget and 2 to 21 percent of the partnered parents’ budget. Subsidies for childcare are slightly lower, equivalent to 5 to 24 percent of the single parent’s budget and 2 to 12 percent of the partnered parents’ budget. Once the child reaches primary school age, the income limit tightens abruptly. To qualify for student care subsidies, monthly household incomes may not exceed $4,5005, equivalent to 1.2 times of the single parent’s budget but less than what the partnered parents need for a basic standard of living. Depending on their

3 Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). Baby Bonus Scheme. 2021, July 5. Retrieved from: 4 Early Childhood Development Agency. Subsidies and Financial Assistance. 2021. Retrieved from: Ministry of Education (MOE). Financial assistance information for Post-Secondary Education Institutions (PSEIs). 2021. Retrieved from:


incomes, households may receive subsidies equivalent to 1 to 8 percent of the single and partnered parents’ budgets. For children in primary and secondary school, the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme offers a fee waiver, free textbooks and school uniforms, and subsidies for transport and meals if they pass a means test6. The household income limit is 43 percent of the partnered parents’ budget and the total value of assistance for two children (each attending primary and secondary school) is $385 per month, or just 6 percent of the household budget. Bursaries are available for university students from households with incomes up to $9,000 (or $2,250 per capita)7, which exceeds the budgets for both the single and partnered parents’ households. Households with lower incomes receive larger bursaries. The range of bursary amounts is 1 to 10 percent of the budgets, comparable to the generosity of student care subsidies, but lower than the subsidies for younger children. In sum, the current regime of support for children’s education and care costs resembles a wedge: more generous for younger children, but tapering off sharply for older children. As these costs, before subsidy, are also generally lower as children grow up, the impact of the various schemes is to flatten the costs of education and care between birth and the age of 18. However, not all the costs associated with children in the household budgets decrease with age. Food, clothing and social participation are all more expensive for older children. These are areas which support schemes do not explicitly address. Because of this, financial pressures may become heavier for parents as their children grow older. To meet basic needs, people draw from different sources of income and support – work, public schemes and informal social support. In households headed by working-age adults, wages are usually the primary income source. But in Singapore, there is significant inequality in work incomes across the labour market, and wage protection is still rudimentary. Public provision is therefore critical, to

6 7

To meet basic needs, people draw from different sources of income and support – work, public schemes and informal social support. In households headed by working-age adults, wages are usually the primary income source. But in Singapore, there is significant inequality in work incomes across the labour market, and wage protection is still rudimentary. Public provision is therefore critical, to flatten out wage inequality and ensure that all households can meet their basic needs.

flatten out wage inequality and ensure that all households can meet their basic needs. In particular, how public services are funded in areas such as housing, healthcare, education and childcare can make a huge difference to household finances, as they are both costly and needed by all households with children. The greater the extent of state funding for these services, either through direct service delivery or universal subsidies, the lighter the financial burden on individual households. As they are currently organised in Singapore, these services account for significant proportions of the household budgets – 28 percent for the partnered parent household and 39 percent for the single parent household. Clearly, this is an area that demands greater attention. In our focus groups, we saw that even as participants agreed on basic needs, they were keenly aware of the many financial demands that parents face and of people’s unequal capacities to meet these demands. They observed that for some households, economic barriers may create a gap between goals and realities. Now that we have learnt what people need, as well as their concerns, the challenge we face lies in collectively ensuring that all members of our society meet these basic needs. This commentary draws from “What people need in Singapore: A household budgets study”, which the writers co-authored with Neo Yu Wei, Ad Maulod, Stephanie Chok, and Wong Yee Lok. The study is available at

Teo You Yenn is Associa te Professor, Provost’s Chair, and Hea d of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University. Ng Kok Hoe is Senior Res earch Fellow and Head of the Case Study Unit at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Pol icy, National University of Singapore .

MOE. Financial Assistance. 2021. Retrieved from: MSF. Student Care Fee Assistance (SCFA). 2021, July 5. Retrieved from:




2020 CENSUS:


2020 2010

Over many decades, the Malay community has generally been making good progress in almost all areas such as educational attainment, employment and income levels, and dwelling type as demonstrated in the latest Census 2020 released in June 20211. Of course, in meritocratic Singapore and where excellence is the byword, the other communities have also advanced and with their head start, disparity between them and the Malays remains a stark reality.

Some in the leadership circles both inside and outside the community have taken the pragmatic approach that the Malays should measure and compare their achievements over time on a longitudinal basis and be less preoccupied with inter-ethnic comparisons. While others have disagreed and advocated that progress should be benchmarked both over the years or decades and across other groups. This is in the spirit of recognising our achievements and at the same time,

addressing gaps to rectify the shortfalls vis-à-vis the national trends. This review of Census 2020 from the Malays’ perspective looks at key trends and issues of concern including those which are structural in nature. THE CMIO DEBATE Of late, categorisation of Singapore’s population by race in the census has been under scrutiny. A major bugbear of the

1 Department of Statistics, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Republic of Singapore. Singapore Census of Population 2020, Statistical Release 1: Demographic Characteristics, Education, Language and Religion. Available at:; see also: Singapore Census of Population 2020, Statistical Release 2: Households, Geographic Distribution, Transport and Difficulty in Basic Activities. Available at:


CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian & Others) system of categorisation is that such an approach may lead to reinforcement of racial differences and obstruct the development of a more diverse multiracial national identity. Other developments such as changes in demographic profile and increase in multi-racial marriages are other arguments against the model. For example, about one in five marriages in Singapore in 2020 is between people of different races compared to only 8.9% in 1997.

It interesting to note that Malays’ proportion of the population was 15% in 1970 compared to 13.5% in 2020, indicating a continuous decline over the decades due largely to higher rates of immigration of the other ethnic groups and lower fertility rates though impacting all communities. An AMP Singapore commissioned study by G Shantakumar titled Singapore Malays in the New Millennium: Demographics and Developmental Perspectives 4 flagged the possibility of a sustained decline in the future proportion of the Malays due to lower immigration and fertility trends. Although the study predicted a slightly At a media briefing on the release of lower proportion of Malays in 2020 Singapore’s population census on 16th June 20212, Minister in the Prime Minister’s compared to the actual figure of 13.5% in 2020, the concern of an organic Office Indranee Rajah, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division, decline in the Malays composition in the population remains valid. explained the importance of breaking down population data by ethnicity. She The Government position on ethnic clarified that such a breakdown helps composition has always been to maintain identify specific areas where certain the status quo but how and what basis ethnic groups may not be doing as well are these defined are not very clear, for as others and attention by way of policy example, which benchmark year is and societal intervention can be given. being used noting that the composition varies in the last few decades. While While there is a general consensus that immigration will continue to be an census data collected, presented and important lever for supporting Singapore analysed in the CMIO framework economic progress and in particular remains a valid and useful tool, the talent rejuvenation, what does this leave challenge is to manage the ensuing for the Malays considering that attracting discussions without succumbing to indigenous races within the region tendencies to stereotype and stigmatise has been difficult, if not futile? This is certain groups that can occur from such confirmed by the fact that only 3.5% of categorisation of data. For example, the resident population born outside differences in educational attainment Singapore are Malays in 2020. The may be better explained by differences decreasing fertility trends compounded in socioeconomic status (SES) rather by the aging population and almost than anecdotal factors such as lack of negligible immigration will very likely commitment and motivation. lead to a further decline in the Malays WHAT IS TRENDING FOR THE MALAYS composition in the population – an existential threat if nothing urgent is Demography While Singapore’s total population grew being done. by around 1.1% a year between 2010 and Education 2020, ethnic composition of the resident Malays’ unbroken progress in education population was 74.3% Chinese, 13.5% is well demonstrated in the Census data. Malays and 9.0% Indians in 2020. As Among Malay residents aged 25 and over, expected, the population is ageing with those aged 65 and older forming 15.2% of almost half had post-secondary or higher the resident population in 2020, a marked qualifications in 2020, compared with rise from 9% in 2010. For the Malays, the less than a third in 2010. Their proportion of university graduates doubled from figure increased from 6.1% to 10.3%3.

2 3


5.5% in 2010 to 10.8% in 2020. The other ethnic groups’ composition of university graduates also increased but their proportion is far higher – 34.7% and 42.3% for the Chinese and Indians respectively in 2020. From another angle, Malays comprise 4.1% compared to Chinese 80.5% and Indians 10.5% of the total university graduates in 2020. This gap in educational attainment at the highest level has remained persistently huge over the decades but the low base for the Malays may offer them more headroom theoretically speaking, assuming a statistical Normal curve can be applied. The increasing number of university graduates securing 1st Class Honors and those who went on to pursue post-graduate studies over recent years augur well for the community. The growing trend of diploma holders pursuing a university degree and the expansion of the tertiary education landscape provides a ready pool of potential university graduates for the future. Malays’ proportion of Diploma & Professional Qualification was the highest at 16.9% compared to 15.2% Chinese and 15% Indians in 2020. Can this be the booster for the future to an increasing university graduate pool and perhaps PMET group for the Malays? Another promising picture is the field of study Malay university graduates are in – a significant number of them are in new technology/sciences, for example, Health Sciences (10%), Information Technology (5%) and Engineering Sciences (11%) as Chart 1 indicates. This corresponds well with the distribution for polytechnic graduates – Health Sciences (9%), Information Technology (9%) and Engineering Sciences (35.8%). It is heartening to see more Malays venturing into new areas of study apart from the popular disciplines such as Business & Administration, Humanities & Social Sciences and Education. This perhaps can contribute to an expansion of the PMET group and higher participation of Malays in the digitalisation and high-tech driven Singapore economy.

Ong, J. Race-based data in population census needed for S’pore to help ethnic groups meaningfully: Indranee. The Straits Times. 2021, June 16 Department of Statistics, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Republic of Singapore. Singapore Census of Population 2020, Statistical Release 1: Demographic Characteristics, Education, Language and Religion. Available at:; see also: Singapore Census of Population 2020, Statistical Release 2: Households, Geographic Distribution, Transport and Difficulty in Basic Activities. Available at: Shantakumar, G. Singapore Malays in the New Millennium: Demographics and Developmental Perspectives. Association of Muslim Professionals, 2011





Field of Study of Malay university graduates


Business & Administration


Humanities & Social Sciences




Engineering Sciences


Health Sciences


Information Technology


Mass Communication & Information Science


Natural & Mathematical Sciences


Fine & Applied Arts


Architecture, Building and Real Estate







Religion Singapore’s religious landscape continues to maintain its diversity over the decade as indicated in Chart 2.



Buddhism 8.8


10.9 18.9 18.3

Christianity 15.6 14.7

Islam 5.0 5.1


Other Religions

No Religion

0.6 0.7





It is heartening to see more Malays venturing into new areas of study apart from the popular disciplines such as Business & Administration, Humanities & Social Sciences and Education.

The proportion of Muslims increased from 14.7% in 2010 to 15.6% in 2020. Chinese residents had a significantly larger proportion who identified as not having a religion (25.7%) than Malays (0.4%) and Indians (2.2%). In terms of age group, those in the range of 25-34 years old has the highest proportion, with 26.2% in 2020 (from 19.9% in 2010) identifying as not having a religion. For the Malays the overall figure increased from 0.2% in 2010 to 0.4% in 2020 which could be a trend to watch. Overall, not much can be interpreted from these figures except to say that there are no significant shifts in religious affiliations over the decade although with possible minor effects from immigration and religious conversion trends.

SOME POTENTIAL HOTSPOTS Income & Housing Over the decade, median household income from work rose across the board for all ethnic groups. In nominal terms, the median household income from work per household member for the Malays was $1,594 in 2020, compared with $2,603 for the Chinese and $2,521 for Indians with Malays having the highest growth (4.3% per annum, or 3% per annum in real terms). However, the gap remained significant and Malays’ figure of $1,594 is close if not lower than what is normally considered by scholars as the subsistence level to survive in Singapore5. Chart 3 shows the income distribution amongst the three major ethnic groups and depicts the high concentration of Malays in the lower income brackets.

CHART 3: MONTHLY HOUSEHOLD INCOME FROM WORK PER HOUSEHOLD MEMBER Monthly Household Income from Work Per Household Member $

Malay Chinese

9,000 & Over


8,000 - 8,999 7,000 - 7,999 6,000 - 6,999 5,500 - 5,999 5,000 - 5,499 4,500 - 4,999 4,000 - 4,499 3,500 - 3,999 3,000 - 3,499 2,500 - 2,999 2,000 - 2,499 1,500 - 1,999 1,000 - 1,499 500 - 999 Below 500 No Employed Person 0













Ng, K. H. et al. What people need in Singapore: A household budgets study. 2021. Retrieved from:




Based on Chart 3, the proportion of Malays earning less than $1,500 per household member at 46.8% is the highest compared to Chinese 31.5% and Indians 29.6%. Of this, about one third or 11.2% of Malays are not employed. Overall, this reflects the high distribution of Malays in low-paying jobs, for example, 10.9% are employed in the Cleaners, Labourers & Related Workers category and 14.4% in the Clerical Support Workers category, based on employment type. The low-earning power of the community has a significant impact on their ability to experience a better quality of life, accord better provisions for the family and afford bigger HDB flats. The dwelling type and tenancy distribution amongst the ethnic groups shows another dimension of the issue. A larger majority – 96.2% of Malay resident households were in HDB flats in 2020. The share of Malays living in one- and two-room flats rose from 8.7% in 2010 to 16% in 2020. This suggests some form of

downgrading from larger to smaller flats which can be attributed to many reasons, for example, retirees and families cashing out from selling their larger flats, lower income jobs and affordability.

There is also a concern that this trend may lead to the worsening of living conditions of dysfunctional families in the community. In response to this challenge, a new programme called Project DIAN@M3 7 has been initiated The number of Malay households in one- to assist these Malay families in public and two-room rented HDB flats more than rental flats by providing holistic support doubled in the past decade, from about through national and community 9,100 in 2010 to about 18,600 in 2020. initiatives, with the aim of guiding them Comparatively, Chinese and Indian towards owning their own homes. households’ increments are marginal. The doubling of Malays living and renting MORE HELP NEEDED in one- and two-room flats is a cause of Based on Malays’ relative high proportion concern which fortunately has been of low-income earners and their not identified as requiring urgent attention. insignificant share of those dwelling in In a media report, Minister-in-charge of smaller 1-2 room flats, with more of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told them renting these flats, one can surmise reporters on June 17 that “while the that this group falls in the strata of Government’s efforts to increase the Singaporean society with a low number of rental flats has enabled socioeconomic status, trapped in the more Malays to move out of cramped so-called poverty cycle. In fact, Table 1 conditions and live on their own, it has and Chart 3 clearly indicate that the also given rise to a worry that they might Malays are overrepresented in this lowest not wish to work towards owning their income group in Singapore society. own home”6.











Amongst a number of measures, the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) will be extended to more workers. The Ministry of Manpower is also studying ways to strengthen job protection and address work benefits of delivery workers and those in similar roles which offer little job protection, low remuneration with no CPF contribution. The plight of such workers has become a growing issue in Singapore, as more and more people join the gig economy which is an increasing trend. Although it would take time to implement, this initiative is an important step in addressing the issue for all those engaged in the gig economy including Malay youths and casual workers. 6


Baharudin, H. New scheme to help Malay families in rental flats own their own homes. The Straits Times. 2021, June 19 7 Ibid

Associate Professor Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) in an interview in July 2021 said that “based on conventional associations of smaller HDB flats with lower socioeconomic status, there should be concern over the Malay community being distributed more in these housing types”8. It is important to note that a lot of help has been extended through schemes such as Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) and Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) to assist low-income wage earners, with more on the way. In his National Rally speech held in August 20219, PM Lee identified helping lower-wage workers to uplift their incomes as one of three key strategies to enhance the well-being of Singaporeans. Amongst a number of measures, the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) will be extended to more workers. The Ministry of Manpower is also studying ways to strengthen job protection and address work benefits of delivery workers and those in similar roles which offer little job protection, low remuneration with no CPF contribution. The plight of such workers has become a growing issue in Singapore, as more and more people join the gig economy which is an increasing trend. Although it would take time to implement, this initiative is an important step in addressing the issue for all those engaged in the gig economy including Malay youths and casual workers.

becomes harder to achieve and society deeply stratified. This is not to say that Singapore is less meritocratic now but we are at the stage in the meritocracy cycle where the so-called “earlier winners and their descendants have become more entrenched in their own social orbits leading to more class-segregation”. Social scientists refer this as the paradox of meritocracy10 and the Malays, with much less social capital at the start, are in a disadvantaged position to the other ethnic groups who are better able to transfer these advantages inter-generationally and cumulatively over time. This can take the form of providing better living conditions conducive to children overall development, affording basic and sustained enrichment programmes, getting good and sustainable jobs and climbing career ladders. This is further accentuated by the increasing income inequality and the associated widening wealth divide in Singapore. Some academicians have suggested that census data should also look at how differences in wealth, education and other factors are transmitted between generations and the increasing role inherited wealth is playing in shaping people’s opportunities in Singapore.

including the Malays coming forward to assist those underprivileged members in ground-up initiatives such as reaching out to rental flats dwellers and lowincome earners and providing micro business training for those unemployed. The resolve and determination to take the challenges head on and carve out opportunistic pathways to secure a better future need to be reinforced. Thought leadership has played an important part in helping the community to further uplift itself. More can be done in terms of breaking new ground in selfhelp initiatives using new interventionist socio-economic upliftment strategies12 and the boldness to challenge widely held narratives that need changing such as the country’s social upliftment policy and even unfettered meritocracy.

Yusof Sulaiman is an Ass ociate Lecturer with Singapore University of Social Sciences and PSB Academy. He is a member of the Executive Committee of RIMA.

Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon speaking on the topic “An Inspiring Nation” at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Lee STRUCTURAL ISSUES Kuan Yew School of Public Policy11 in The whole-of-society approach July 2021 advocated a more enlightened complemented by the “many helping meritocracy. In essence, he proposed hands” model have improved the broadening and making it inclusive, socio-economic conditions of all our recognising the roles society and fortune low-income earners and their families over the years – the Malays have benefited play in an individual’s success. In terms of policy enhancements, the move towards from this as well. However, the Malays’ ability to take the next big leap in closing enhancing preschool subsidies to ensure preschool education is accessible to all the persistent gaps in educational attainment, employment and income, and Singaporeans and legislating guidelines on fair employment in the workplace are living conditions that we see in every census report may get more challenging. measures in the right direction. Singapore society has evolved from its humble meritocratic beginnings to one where inter-generational social mobility

8 9 10 11 12

At the grassroots level, it is heartening to see the more successful and better endowed groups in the larger society

Ong, J. Singapore population census: Of strata titles and stratification. The Straits Times. 2021, June 19 Kurohi, R. National Day Rally 2021: 7 highlights from PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech. The Straits Times. 2021, August 29 Littler, J. Against Meritocracy: Culture, power and myths of mobility. Routledge, 2018 Ho, G. Broaden and enhance meritocracy to give S’poreans hope and opportunity: MAS Chief Ravi Menon. The Straits Times. 2021, July 28 Teo, Y.Y. This is What Inequality Looks Like. Ethos Books, 2018






In the 18th century, the Baghdad-based Armenian merchant Owannis Moradian attempted to convince the people of Baghdad of the necessity of vaccination. His fervour for scientific developments and technology made him eager to spread the culture of vaccination in Baghdad as he was convinced that it would protect them from smallpox. However, he struggled in his initial attempts due to widespread misinformation based on religious convictions that made the people of Baghdad hesitant to accept this novel medical innovation. Moradian overcame these challenges by getting through to the chief Mufti of Baghdad, whom he knew could shape public opinions. He convinced the Mufti to be vaccinated in public in the presence of prominent luminaries and his family members. The example set by the Mufti helped to dispel preconceived notions on vaccination that the people had before. Consequently, as many as 5,400 children were vaccinated, and Moradian’s campaign expanded to another city in Iraq, Mosul, with the help of a local priest1. The story of Moradian provides valuable insights into the interplay between science and religion. Including religious figures such as the Mufti in vaccination campaigns was extremely important in building public trust. However, it could not have been possible if there was a lack of appreciation of scientific thinking and development both from the Mufti and the public. There was a recognition of expertise that provided space for science to flourish alongside religion to examine the possible benefits and harms of medical innovations.

Science is a way of thinking about things based on empirical verification. When one makes a claim about an empirical phenomenon that will harm people, science necessitates the backing of such claims by demonstrating that it is factually and empirically harming people. Likewise, if a thing is perfectly safe, one must demonstrate that it is perfectly safe. Having said that, it is not to say that science is faultless. The way in which certain strains in modern science today operate is devoid of its metaethical qualities. Thus, it should not stop us from questioning and accepting science uncritically. However, there is a vast difference between questioning and replacing science with unproven, misleading theories. Such anti-scientific thinking is dangerous not just to global security but, more importantly, it presents a serious threat to the future of human life.

The development of empirically safe vaccines has provided us with tools to fight the pandemic. With more than 8 billion doses already administered it is regarded as the most extensive vaccination campaign in humankind's history, which provides us with light at the end of a dark tunnel. However, the pandemic has also created a vicious trail of misinformation and conspiracy theories that mobilised strong opposition to vaccinations3. Although this resistance has not prevented countries from reaching high vaccination rates, the antagonism cannot be ignored. There have been reports of anti-vaxxers intimidating healthcare personnel and pressurising others to seek alternative treatments that are unproven and harmful The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and to prevent or treat COVID-194. This article exacerbated fault lines in societies globally. will attempt to briefly outline and One of them is the impoverishment of examine some of the main trends driving scientific thinking and education on the anti-vaccine movement. Accordingly, vaccination. In a period where we pride it will provide some recommendations to ourselves on the advantages of living in an reclaim the appreciation for critical age of science, the reaction of anti-vaxxers thinking and expertise. and its movement ironically shows the failure of our education system to think DEATH OF EXPERTISE critically. Science is not an inside job that We are living in a world mired in mobilises a group of people working in relativism and rejection of expertise. secret against the public good by creating Social media has democratised avenues and aggravating diseases for profitability2. of knowledge in a peculiar way that has


2 3 4 5 6 7

made almost everyone on an equal footing regardless of their background. Authority no longer belongs categorically to experts. Rather, it is now with those who have the most significant number of followers and shout the loudest on the internet. We are witnessing what Tom Nichols calls the “death of expertise”: the leveling of hierarchy between teachers and students, professionals and laymen, and knowers and wonderers5. To put it simply, there is no difference between those who spend years building scholarship in a field and those who did their half-baked ‘research’ on the internet overnight. Nichols clarifies that the death of expertise does not imply the death of actual expert abilities. Instead, it refers to the death of any recognition of expertise to augment the way we live. Laypeople, including anti-vaxxers, launch attacks on established knowledge, thinking that they know better, indicates an increasingly narcissistic culture and unfounded arrogance that cannot endure the slightest hint of a hierarchy of any kind6. Critics may argue that everyone has the right to participate in the public sphere, which is valid to a certain extent as the freedom to express is a fundamental human right. However, all discussions must be conducted within limits and include a certain degree of competence to discuss the subject matter. Unfortunately, competence is sorely lacking in the public sphere due to an information glut created by the internet that has penetrated every aspect of our lives, from the unmissable advertisements to the countless chain messages on our social media accounts. As a disclaimer, the article is not suggesting that the internet is to be blamed for the world's problems. In fact, the convenience of the internet has been an incredible boon. But when it comes to solving issues, the internet is designed for those already trained in research and have a clear idea of generating solutions for the common good7. More importantly, the deeper issue is that the internet is altering the way we read knowledge, the way we reason our arguments, even the way we perceive each other, and all for the worse. It is mainly

Ghaly, M. Islamic Ethical Perspectives on Vaccination: The Interplay of Science and Religion in the Age of COVID-19. 2021, February 14. Retrieved from: Blaskiewicz, R. The Big Pharma conspiracy theory. Medical Writing, 22:4, 2013. pp. 259-261. Retrieved from: Schmid, P., and Lewandowsky, S. How to fight COVID vaccine misinformation? Al Jazeera. 2021, October 22. Retrieved from: Misleading claims that Ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. 2021, October 20. Retrieved from: Nichols, T. The Death of Expertise. Oxford University Press. 2017. p. 3 Ibid, p. 4 Ibid, p. 110




because we expect information instantly to give the impression that we are well-informed and intelligent. In reality, it stems from the fear that the lack of information will make us redundant and disenfranchised from the broader society. This compounded ignorance is apparent in the arguments of the anti-vaccine movement. Proponents of this movement may have fallen victim to a cognitive bias known as the Dunning Kruger effect, in which they overestimate their knowledge of vaccines and underestimate how much they do not know. The lack of intellectual humility is dangerous as it makes us oblivious to the implications of our thinking. MAINSTREAMING FAR-RIGHT RHETORIC Research has shown that vaccine hesitancy sentiments are directly linked to a persistent decline in public trust in institutions and government policies. In recent years, this trend and the increasing political polarisation globally have moulded the anti-vaccine movement in its current form. Thus, it is unsurprising to see far-right movements latching on the anti-vaxxers’ vulnerabilities to stir mistrust in the government by spreading conspiracy theories. While in the past, the far-right rhetoric has always been on the fringes of society, the rapid rise of digital media over the past decade has changed the status quo by allowing such ideas to be accessible to anyone as long as they have a smartphone or computer8. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have allowed far-right movements to build ecosystems and feed users with misinformation. Facebook has defended itself by claiming that it is tackling COVID-19 misinformation in collaboration with the World Health Organization9. However, critics would argue that more can be done by these tech giants as falsehoods about the vaccine are still reaching millions of people10. The lack of inaction should be unsurprising as big tech companies cannot be relied upon to self-regulate disinformation because of their business model. According to a report by the Center for Countering

Digital Hate (CCDH), a UK-based organisation, it exposes how these tech companies power an anti-vax ecosystem worth an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue for social media giants. This revenue primarily comes from advertisers who want to reach users interested in antivaccine misinformation and expenditure on ads to reach a wider audience11.

response towards God and the realities of the world.

The modern world, increasingly mechanised and digital, necessitates the construction of theology based on the religious imagination. Nguyen explains this conception where scripture, reason, and imagination are brought into harmony. When faithfully organised, the imagination allows us to discover all that RECOMMENDATIONS would incline us to the Divine, whether it From conspiratorial paranoia to a emerges from the expanse of his creations theology of imagination or the depths of revelation13. As God Conspiracy theory is the belief that a number of actors join together in secret introduced Himself through the verbal agreement in order to achieve a hidden and non-verbal signs thus, it is our duty as goal that is perceived to be unlawful or His vicegerents to explore and discern malevolent. It can take many forms in these signs. In a tumultuous world shaped many different spheres of life. It is a by data and post-truth narratives, the defensive reaction to feelings of uncertainty religious imagination has much to offer to and fear, blaming dissimilar outgroups for the conversation in reclaiming humanity. the distressing circumstances12. Though conspiracy theories have existed for the The primacy of functioning intellectuals longest time, the digital revolution has According to Alatas, an intellectual is an congealed the ubiquity of these theories individual engaged in thinking about that turns this fear into paranoia. This ideas and non-material problems using the thinking is precarious as it is disengaged faculty of reason. As a collective, a from objective truths, and more worryingly, functioning intellectual group is necessary its volatility can cause harm to society at for nation-building. In its absence, society large. Conspiratorial paranoia has no place will not be in a position to 1) pose a in the Islamic intellectual tradition. As problem; 2) define the problem; 3) analyse Muslims, our theology is an active the problem, and; 4) suggest solutions for

Schroeder, R. Digital media and the rise of right-wing populism, in Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology, and Globalization. London: UCL Press. 2018. pp. 60-81 9 Ndiaye, A. Together against COVID-19 misinformation: A new campaign in collaboration with the WHO. Meta. 2021, March 10. Retrieved from: Paul, K. ‘A systemic failure’: vaccine misinformation remains rampant on Facebook, experts say. The Guardian. 2021, July 21. Retrieved from: 11 Centre for Countering Digital Hate. The Anti-Vaxx Industry: How Big Tech powers and profits from vaccine misinformation. 2020. p. 31. Available at: 12 Prooijen, J. The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories. New York: Routledge. 2018. pp. 5-12 13 Nguyen, M. Modern Muslim Theology. London: Rowman & Littlefield. 2019. p. 76 8


Research has shown that vaccine hesitancy sentiments are directly linked to a persistent decline in public trust in institutions and government policies. In recent years, this trend and the increasing political polarisation globally have moulded the anti-vaccine movement in its current form. Thus, it is unsurprising to see far-right movements latching on the anti-vaxxers’ vulnerabilities to stir mistrust in the government by spreading conspiracy theories.


the problem14. Although Alatas’ idea emerged from a specific social milieu, this intellectual process remains as relevant today as ever before. In the age of misinformation, a functioning intellectual class needs to serve as the voice of critique and truth against falsehood. It is essential to recognise that being critical of anti-vaccine does not mean dismissing their concerns entirely. However, it requires transcending confirmation biases and addressing the issue with evidencebased data from multiple vantage points. Against this backdrop, we should avoid celebrating anti-intellectuals. Alatas describes such a group as passive mentally, does not exert himself thinking about different problems, and cannot form an opinion beyond what is evident to most people15. The brilliant Jewish scholar Hannah Arendt argues that it was sheer ‘thoughtlessness’ which allowed the Nazi soldiers to commit atrocities on a massive scale16. Thus the absence of thinking will allow evil to flourish. We must ensure that there will always be a space for functioning intellectuals to build a humane society. According to the erudite scholar Naquib al-Attas, one of the main factors for the malaise of our intellectual heritage is the disintegration of adab. Al-Attas defines adab as an all-inclusive concept that encompasses man’s spiritual and material life and is conceptually linked with wisdom (hikmah) and justice (‘adl). Thus, the loss of adab would naturally create confusion and the prevalence of harm. Additionally, Al-Attas believes that this disintegration would undermine society's educational and moral fabric as society is incapable of recognising true leaders and putting false unqualified ones on a pedestal to determine matters of knowledge. It makes our knowledge erroneous and creates false leadership in every field17. The anti-vaccine movement, as explained earlier, is an example of this disintegration of knowledge where an influencer can be more powerful and authoritative than a doctor on scientific developments.

14 15 16 17

That being said, it is equally important to make a distinction between those who are unvaccinated for underlying medical reasons and those who outrightly reject vaccination for unsubstantiated reasons and aggressively impose it on others. Additionally, being pro-vaccination should not make us blind to structural issues that have affected those on the margins. One of them is the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries, potentially resulting in thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in developing countries. It is a form of neo-colonialism that needs to be dismantled. At the end of the day, as Muslims and people of faith, we can either adopt a narcissistic attitude towards vaccines that can cause harm to others regardless of which end of the spectrum you sit on vaccination, or we can embrace reciprocity as a social ethic that is fundamental in developing an equitable and just society. One that recognises our human and civic duties.

eez is a q Abdul Far amad Farou entre for Research oh M h ik he C S the ). He Analyst at airs (RIMA Research d Malay Aff Islamic Thought an ic m la in on Is ter’s degree rest holds a Mas thics. His area of inte E d ion, human lig re ng and Applie ni er sues conc . involves is and ethics t en pm lo deve

Alatas, H. Intellectuals in Developing Societies. New York: Routledge, 2016. p. 15 Ibid, pp. 15-16 Arendt, H. Eichmann in Jerusalem A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin Books. 2006. p. 11 Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. “Arriving at the Problem of Knowledge”: RZS-CASIS Saturday Night Lecture 10th Series. 2020, August 7. Retrieved from:








Physiolog ical

On 7 April 2020, Singapore entered its circuit breaker period, a nationwide stay-home order or cordon sanitaire – aimed at stemming the spread of the nascent COVID-19 pandemic. A few months later, Singapore’s residents were once again able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures like dining out, jogging, or even simply meeting up at each other’s residences, as the republic gradually loosened the circuit breaker restrictions with reduced community cases. While restrictions still remain and new practices of living amidst the pandemic emerge, such as mask-wearing and TraceTogether scanning, most are still able to partake in the reopening of Singapore, despite frequent ‘re-tightenings’ due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases and its toll on public health. While all of this continues to progressively evolve, a demographic that remains cloistered in plain sight is the migrant worker community, beleaguered by soaring infection rates for the most part of 2020. At the same time, it is in the throes of the pandemic that the experiences of our migrant workers have been brought into sharp focus, perhaps even shocking some who may have been unaware.


MIGRANT WORKERS’ CHALLENGES DURING THE PANDEMIC Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the condition and livelihood of migrant workers in Singapore sparked spirited debate among various quarters across the island. For example, one need only scour the comments section on any news article spotlighting the community. Whether one sympathises with the workers and feels that the Government ought to do more, or that the workers already have it good compared to migrant workers elsewhere, there is no shortage of punditry and speculation on the matter. However, there remains a glaring silence when it comes to the perceptions that matter most: those of the workers themselves. With many of them hailing from Bangladesh, India, China, and a few Southeast Asian countries across mostly the construction, oil and gas, and shipping industries, their predicament is indeed a highly nuanced one.

address their concerns. In this regard, increased agency is granted to migrant workers through honest dialogue with such groups, to allow their voices to be better heard without having to be directly identified which may result in them losing their jobs. For this article, we hope to share the challenges that migrant workers continue to face during the pandemic through three verticals: physiological, mental (which also encapsulates emotional), and societal. It is also pertinent to note that the issues described under all three verticals tend to occur in tandem with each other, rather than being mutually exclusive. We will then look at approaches that we can take in addressing some of these challenges.

Physiological For many of us in Singapore, life comes with a wealth of creature comforts that we tend to take for granted. Our basic needs are by and large met without a hitch – and then some! It would therefore Through proactive and sustained engagement, groups such as the COVID-19 be quite jarring to hear of some migrant workers living in cramped quarters with Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) not unsanitary conditions, while some have only witness first-hand the issues and to contend with catered food that is either challenges that impact migrant workers unclean or lacking in nutrition. If these but also leverage diverse resources to

challenges facing workers in meeting their physiological needs had long been in existence, their impact was further exacerbated during the pandemic.

tangibly. Firstly, the very notion of a lockdown essentially means that workers are kept onsite in their dorms with no social interactions permitted outside the dorms, as well as measures to even With dorms placed under lockdown, exclude inter-block mixing within dorms workers were no longer able to go on and worksites – with all communal regular trips to markets for groceries. With facilities (if any) dorms cordoned off. This access to fresh fruit and meat cut off for brings feelings of severe isolation, them, even more, workers had to rely on loneliness, and even abandonment upon catered meals paid for by their employers. themselves, which has led to depression While many of these employers resort to among workers, not unlike how the rest low-quality catering in order to cut costs – of us felt during the circuit breaker period a predicament which was highlighted when we were cut off from interacting during the recent Jalan Tukang dorm with friends and relatives living outside incident1 where worms were sighted in of our primary homes. the workers’ meals – the economic fallout from the pandemic also meant that a The aforementioned economic fallout number of employers just did not have from the pandemic also means that many sufficient funds to provide adequately for workers are left in limbo with regard to the needs of their workers during the their employment. Even if they were lockdown period. ‘lucky’ enough to still have work, they would have been left idle in their dorms Workers were also unable to send money without any meaningful interactions to their families back home, many of whom with the outside world. This can impact would have counted on their once regular workers in several ways; losing one’s job remittances. Some also could not top up could severely affect one’s self-worth, their prepaid mobile balances, which especially when viewed through the combined with intermittent wireless lens of migrant workers leaving their internet reception at their dorms, families thousands of miles behind for prevented them from calling their loved the sole purpose of pursuing better ones overseas. Nevertheless, there were earning prospects. Consequently, it is on-ground initiatives aimed at boosting not uncommon to hear of workers digital literacy among migrant workers demonstrating depressive or even in order to avail themselves to various suicidal tendencies. online banking and e-remittance platforms, thus negating the need for trips While there are many efforts across to the bank, while donated data cards various sectors targeted at meeting helped alleviate some of the loneliness the tangible needs of migrant workers, felt by these workers. such as nutritious food, toiletries, and prepaid SIM cards, there is growing While there was some respite for the acknowledgment of the need to work workers through the energetic efforts of with migrant workers in tending to their various volunteer groups working in mental wellbeing. Groups such as CMSC tandem with the authorities, the reality and others have rolled out mental health was that access to necessary resources e-counselling platforms that allow was a challenge during the lockdown, workers experiencing mental health which possibly triggered other less issues to speak with trained therapists. obvious issues for migrant workers. However, we also noted that some of these mental issues are tied to the societal Mental challenges facing migrant workers here. While it is plain to see that the lockdown of dorms has impacted access to tangible Societal and important goods for migrant workers, The nature of dormitories in Singapore is there are just as many issues impacting such that they are located far away from the mental and emotional wellbeing of main population nodes and close to workers that begin to manifest themselves industrial zones such as Tuas and Senoko. 1

2 3

They are also close to key transportation points such as the Causeway and the Tuas Mega Port. A natural consequence of this arrangement is that migrant workers, while providing a vital source of labour for key economic sectors that local workers tend to eschew, become a largely unseen entity to most Singaporeans. With hardly any meaningful interaction between local residents and guest workers, other than the cursory glance when one walks past a construction area, inherent biases and misjudged perceptions combine to become an inevitable sense of reluctant tolerance, punctuated by periodic expressions of loathing. Is this societal stance a recent shift? Not quite, and if we were to take a stroll down memory lane to 2006, we see that Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) had announced that HDB flat owners were no longer allowed to rent their homes to migrant workers, in response to public dissatisfaction with having to live next to such workers2. In 2008, almost 20 percent of residents in the affluent Serangoon Gardens neighbourhood had vehemently opposed the Government’s plans for a new migrant worker dormitory close to the estate. In this textbook case of ‘not in my backyard’ sentiment or NIMBYism, the hustings ahead of the 2011 General Elections even saw certain political actors capitalising on this undercurrent of frustration3. Amidst a pandemic, it would therefore be a natural instinct for some of us to want to cleave these ‘deplorables’ away from the safety of our estates through excessive lockdowns and reduced interactions in public areas. Where does this leave our migrant workers? From interactions on the ground with them, we find that there is an understandable disappointment due to these misperceptions. Some are painfully aware of the racial undertones and wanton prejudice aimed at them in the form of pejorative phrases and churlish stereotypes. There are also many who, after having served in Singapore for many decades, have come to view this island as a home away from home, and look at the

Oh, C. and Tham, D. MOM investigates claims about COVID-19 health breaches at a Jurong dormitory; riot police deployed. CNA. 2021, October 14. Available at: Ng, J. S. Migrant worker housing: How Singapore got here. TODAY. 2020, May 9. Retrieved from: The Kopi Company. Explained: How Singaporeans Indirectly Caused the COVID-19 Spread in Dormitories (YouTube). 2020, May 22. Available at:




Ultimately, the pandemic has provided a teachable moment for us as a society in managing our relationship with the workers that toil to build our nation. We certainly hope that we have not missed out on any of these lessons, whether it is just coming to terms with this topic for a start or understanding what it means to really reach out and demonstrate care for others, as well as doing right by them. Otherwise, it would be a shame for our society to emerge from this tumultuous season unaffected and missing out on a more resilient and caring spirit.


is something that we keep a keen watch gleaming landmarks gracing our city – essentially the fruits of their own labour – of. While reaching out to meet the needs of our migrant workers is not a bad thing with immense pride. in and of itself, we need to be conscious of how we view these individuals: are RECOMMENDATIONS they pitiful, hapless folks in need of So what do we do then, as a society? hand-holding, or are they nuanced Where do we even start? Amid our own individuals with unique personal personal struggles in this pandemic, it may seem daunting to start caring about narratives? This is where dialogue plays a crucial role. the concerns of another person, let alone an entire community. Fret not, as there At CMSC, we have a Zoom learning are some simple ways to show care and exchange session called WeTalk as well concern for our migrant workers. as a penpal programme called WePals A first step would be to be aware as well as to encourage meaningful exchanges between Singaporeans and migrant stay constructive and action-oriented as far as possible. While it may be tempting workers. It is interesting to see that while we lack much knowledge about workers’ to chase clout with a woke-sounding lived experience, many of them also are Instagram post or a TikTok video on the not aware of Singaporean culture, despite migrant worker situation, creating awareness is only the start of solving any their very real contributions to building our cherished icons. Such platforms issue. Worse, while we may be content allow understanding and empathy to with patting our backs for a post well bloom, for it is only when we truly know done, virtue signalling does next to the person sitting across the table, that nothing about addressing the real-world we are then compelled to show real care. concerns of migrant workers, which are very much off-grid. Ultimately, the pandemic has provided a teachable moment for us as a society in However, volunteer efforts are not the managing our relationship with the only way of creating change, though talent, time and effort are always welcome. workers that toil to build our nation. We certainly hope that we have not missed All it really takes is an acknowledging out on any of these lessons, whether it is nod or a cheery “Hello!” that conveys a simple yet powerful message – or offering just coming to terms with this topic for a start or understanding what it means to a drink or meal to our worker friends. really reach out and demonstrate care for Through these simple acts of kindness, others, as well as doing right by them. we witness and affirm the migrant Otherwise, it would be a shame for our worker in our midst, thus nullifying the society to emerge from this tumultuous aforementioned point about workers season unaffected and missing out on a being unseen. more resilient and caring spirit. Then there are the bolder actions that spring out of genuine care and concern, like the 4-year-old child who used his birthday angpows to buy care packs for COVID-19 Migrant Sup port Coalition (CMSC) migrant workers in his estate4. It is indeed is a volunteer-led, volu nteer-run group that heartening to see many acts of kindness aims to help meet the needs of our migrant frie nds affected by COVIDfrom individual residents as well as 19, with the hope of fostering inclusivity passionate folks coming forth to volunteer for this demographic in Singapore. with groups such as HealthServe, CMSC and It’s Raining Raincoats, and we encourage many of you to come forward with your ideas, time and resources. It is also important not to diminish the agency and capacity of migrant workers through our volunteering efforts, and it

Siti Hawa. 4-year-old boy in S'pore uses birthday money to distribute 100 care packs to migrant workers. Mothership. 2021, June 22. Retrieved from:



Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development BY SINGAPORE COUNCIL OF WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS










The Ministry of Social and Family Development has declared 2021 the Year of Celebrating SG Women. In light of this nationwide review on women’s issues to bring about mindset change in cultural value systems to achieve gender equality, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO) has been one of the organisations leading the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development to identify issues concerning women in Singapore and gather recommendations accordingly. 1






Since October 2020, SCWO has organised four conversation sessions with its member organisations and members of the public to acquire insights on gender equality in Singapore. SCWO has since compiled a report1 on gender equality in Singapore via the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development. In addition to addressing the issues women and girls in Singapore face across their different life and career stages, this report also aims to provide recommendations to better support women as Singapore continues to work towards gender equality.

Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO). Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development – SCWO’s Report. 2021, September 18. Available at: 18SepConversations-on-Singapore-Womens-Development-SCWOs-Report.pdf




Since October 2020, SCWO has organised four conversation sessions with its member organisations and members of the public to acquire insights on gender equality in Singapore. SCWO has since compiled a report on gender equality in Singapore via the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development. In addition to addressing the issues women and girls in Singapore face across their different life and career stages, this report also aims to provide recommendations to better support women as Singapore continues to work towards gender equality. The report is divided into five sections, each reviewing a sector of achieving gender equity in Singapore. Post introducing SCWO and its engagement platform and resources, as well as the research approach relevant to the report’s craft and compilation, namely conversation sessions with our member organisations, Part I presents the views and recommendations of its member organisations on the development of women in Singapore in the four domains: home, schools, workplaces, and the community. Part II highlights long-term and short-term initiatives of SCWO and its member organisations to improve the status of women in Singapore in all fields. Part III includes a specific account of BoardAgender – an initiative dedicated to promoting gender representation in work sectors through helping more Singaporean women advance into seniorleadership roles and boardrooms – and its submission to Panel for Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development as a specific initiative to SCWO. Part IV details SCWO’s specific proposal to celebrate the Year of Celebrating SG Women. The


recommendations vary in degree, from public policy to legislative amendments, with hope to ease and lift particular barriers to the advancement of the female status in the realms of personal space, educational settings, workplace communities and the socio-cultural atmosphere in Singapore.

Through conversation sessions and immense research, SCWO was able to identify the concerns surrounding gender equity in Singapore. In terms of ingrained social and cultural values, the underlying problem lies in what Singaporean society perceives of men and women. Singapore’s patriarchal society translates into all aspects of daily life, from gendered expectations to inherent roles. Gender equality arguably cannot operate on a fundamentally flawed foundation – that is, the entrenched societal values on gender roles and norms in Singapore. Namely, young girls and women are grilled with the notion that their duties belong at home that include basic household chores, caregiving for infants and elders, etc. This occurs within the community, at schools and at home, proposal details a recommendation to which has filtered into the work place too. name and/or re-name certain public There is a significant lack of confidence spheres and locations in Singapore, after in a woman’s ability to perform in women who have been inducted into the professional spaces due to her perceived Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (SWHF). abilities in those settings, and that she Part V concludes the report. would be treated as valuable only when her duties surround servicing the SCWO engaged with over 300 participants community or at home, as opposed to in from more than 60 organisations across workplaces. As such, SCWO and its various sectors and industries over the member organisations have derived that four conversation sessions. Member educating young minds, through both Organisations provided insights and academics and parenting, is a start to feedback as well as recommendations generating social change. regarding the four separate issues concerning women in Singapore at home, Another significant issue is the lack of equal schools, workplaces, and the broader opportunities for women in Singapore. Singaporean community; ingrained This is due to the disproportionate levels societal values on gender norms; unequal of caregiving-related responsibilities that opportunities; protection and safety of women are expected to maintain, and this women; and financial insecurity. Views issue starts from within the educational and specific arguments are supported by sector – there is a sheer unequal research and/or data collected over time representation of what young girls and that evidence the obstacles young girls boys are working towards in life. The fact and women have had to endure. Beyond that women are often indirectly pressured that, SCWO and its member organisations into choosing their families or their provided specific recommendations, careers ultimately limits their potential associated with the mentioned in the society. One of the most universal challenges, for the government. These problems with gender equality is the

protection and safety of women. In Singapore, specifically, cases of voyeurism, psychological and emotional abuse, and family violence maintains a concerning prevalence. As society becomes increasingly technologically dominated, young girls and women are much more prone to sexual harassment online. There is a strong need for digital safety coaching to prevent all women from becoming victims of sexual misconduct, which can leave long-term physical and/or mental trauma. Domestically, too, there is concern over the under-reportage of cases of sexual harassment or misconduct particularly due to entrenched stigmas within the community. Therefore, it is vital to consider unreported and/or undisclosed cases of sexual misconduct. Ultimately, only when the courts impose proportionate punishments as deterrence can there be true safety and protection against sex-related crimes for women in Singapore. Finally, a large concern raised is that many women in Singapore often feel financially insecure. This is due to a combination of the economic nuances that spans across all four domains. From the wage gap to retirement adequacy, certain public and private policies inherently place men at a standing of greater significance than women, which limits women’s ability to reach their full financial potential. Using these issues as a vantage point, SCWO and its member organisations also hope to tackle them. The report follows to acknowledge and address SCWO and its member organisations’ initiatives in promoting the status of women in Singapore. The mentioned initiatives range from specific policy promotion programmes to community-centric projects that are either for the short-term or long-term. These initiatives touch upon issues, which are specific to the missions of each member organisation, reflected in the four large sectors: home, schools, workplaces, and the community. SCWO has also included its proposals of projects it plans to recommend the government into enacting to promote symbolic and tangible change for the status of women in Singapore. Broader and more details

A large concern raised is that many women in Singapore often feel financially insecure. This is due to a combination of the economic nuances that spans across all four domains. From the wage gap to retirement adequacy, certain public and private policies are inherently place men at a standing of greater significance than women, which limits women’s ability to reach their full financial potential. pertaining to all initiatives are revealed in the appendix of the report. SCWO uses the report to detail two projects, large in scope and scale, to help shift the status quo concerning gender equity in Singapore. Both initiatives focus on the role of women. The first initiative introduces BoardAgender’s Submission to Panel for Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development from August 2021, an evaluation of how gender equality and specifically the status of women may progress in Singapore. It also provides recommendations and feedback

surrounding the pipeline, process, principles and partnerships. The second initiative is a proposal of SCWO, which aims to celebrate the achievements of important Singaporean women that will, in turn, create a symbolic and tangible impact on the societal view of women in Singapore. SCWO proposes that concrete and physical changes in the public sphere will create mindset shifts within the public itself. To do so, SCWO hopes to dedicate a public space to Singapore women, collectively or individually, to honour them for their contributions in nation building. In collaboration with government agencies and community partners, SCWO believes that developing spaces dedicated to women who have made an impact in any aspect of the country’s development will serve as an active and emblematic pursuit of elevating women’s position in the country. SCWO closes the report by emphasising a need to taking both small and large steps in order to help women in Singapore advance within the society. The conclusion includes Appendices that provide great and full-length details regarding SCWO’s and its member organisations’ present and future plans to achieve their short-term and long-term goals. The evaluation, of course, also acknowledges and celebrates the changes both the government and the community have collaborated to make over the course of the country’s history in social justice activism. Changing public discourse is not an easy task. SCWO is hopeful that, with the right amount of time and effort, the nation will be successful in its review and campaign for gender equity in Singapore.

The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) is the national coordinating body of wom en’s organisations in Singapore. SCWO has more than 60 Member Organisations, representing over 600,000 women in Singap ore, seeking to promote the ideals of ‘Eq ual Space, Equal Voice, and Equal Worth’ for women with its members.




COVID-19 Lessons Learned: Business Owners Edition BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD NEW WORLD, NEW RISK The year 2020 saw a tremendous shift in the business world and almost every industry across the globe was affected. While businesses often expect to be affected by waves of economic recession, part of the challenge this time is the fact that the pandemic has lasted much longer than what many businesses are normally used to in an economic crisis. Businesses were at the point of decimation, with many ending up shutting their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. While some may never reopen, others are ramping up their business hoping that they do not have to shut down. The outbreak has forced business owners to reengineer their business plans as the traditional manner of conducting business is becoming more and more irrelevant. The spread of COVID-19 has brought a great deal of uncertainty to our world, and it certainly has not been easy for business owners. In this article, the Karyawan team met four business owners in Singapore to learn about their challenges, how they are navigating this unchartered territory, and the invaluable but painful lessons learned during these very challenging times. While quite diverse and all serving different consumer bases, the four business owners interviewed in this article all reflect the realities the business community is struggling with during this unprecedented disruption.


Here are a few lessons we can learn from them.

and lifestyle company, Tosh provides motorcycle-related services including custom services and bike detailing. He 1. Diversify and Enhance Company shared that the automotive industry Branding was not spared from the shock of the After the pandemic, many businesses have COVID-19 crisis. Sales were weak, realised that they cannot rely heavily on especially with the implemented one source of business as it makes them regulations. Even when restrictions were vulnerable. Some businesses have had no lifted, consumers were still forgoing choice but to find new ways to generate services because of concerns of physical contact with others. In addition, many consumers are now focusing on spending less and saving more.

Tosh, founding director of Bubblehead Company Pte Ltd

revenue, when lockdowns and quarantines rendered their original business plans impossible. The 33-year-old founding director of Bubblehead Company Pte Ltd, who wishes to be identified Tosh, had to shift gears to navigate the pandemic’s bumpy road and to handle what lies ahead. As a motorcycle

“The pandemic has been very disruptive to my business entirely. It has forced me to re-strategise the entire business model. For instance, during Phase I and II, there were restrictions on how we were able to run our business. I know we will not be expecting to see the usual number of customers we were getting pre-pandemic. Despite getting approval to operate for ‘essential services only’, the shop was still empty on most days due to the restrictions and regulations on social distancing. Business was almost zero from day to day,” Tosh shared.

Through the pandemic, Tosh saw the need to devise novel solutions and improvise existing ones to make the best of the evolving situation. The pandemic had forced him to accelerate his initial plans to diversify his business so that his sales were not coming from one specific customer base. Although he had to close his barber shop and leather workshop, which were operating pre-pandemic, he has since diversified his business to offer apparel, LAN gaming, and also opened an art studio after the pandemic happened. “There is a need for multiple back-up plans, be it small or big. It is essential in order for the business to survive and fight on,” Tosh shared. If there is one thing this current crisis has taught him, it’s not to put all your eggs in one basket. According to him, it is imperative to have several income streams and a diverse customer base so that if something happens to one ‘basket’, you still have other ‘baskets’. Diversification brings security and stability to your businesses.

2. Digitalisation is the Trump Card As Mirza Shah, 21, director of Studio D Perhaps the most important lesson the Event Production shared, pandemic taught businesses is the need for digitalisation and how it helps in “During this pandemic, our business has building agility and a quick response to faced a lot of challenges like transitioning the unexpected. While this digitalisation into a virtual setup. Instead of doing a lot of drive is not new, the pandemic has outdoor events, we have to plan and accelerated the paradigm shift towards restructure our operations. We are still digitisation, making those affected running and sustaining the company, but scrambling to migrate their operations to we definitely have to deal with difficult a virtual environment to stay above water. choices to keep the income coming.” Physical touch points have been converted As an event-based business dealing with the audio-visual and lighting systems, and supporting everything that a physical event needs, Shah, who is currently undertaking a diploma in audio production, was nevertheless quick to react to the unanticipated challenge. To deal with changing customer behaviour brought on by the pandemic, Shah had to reallocate his resources to build a better digital interface. He shared that he immediately started engaging with their clients to shift their events to the digital realm. “We have had to accommodate to the COVID-19 measures and comply with the needs and wants of our clients, which include changing some systems to virtual ones and investing in new equipment for virtual setups,” Shah said.

Tosh shared that he also worked towards upgrading himself and his business professionally by getting accreditation during the pandemic to increase his business competitive edge and improve the business’ branding so that his current and potential customers can place their trust in his brand. “When my business was not doing well and I did not have many customers during the pandemic, I used the time positively to upgrade the shop, the brand, and even myself. I bought another unit to accommodate my expansion plans and renovated my shops to make them look more aesthetically pleasing. I also worked hard to get my company BizSAFE Level 3 certified to assure my customers that my services are delivered by staff who work in a safe and healthy environment, as well as to improve my company’s corporate branding,” he shared. In fact, despite a rough year, Tosh shared that his company has been awarded the prestigious commercial status of a Singapore 500 SME company for the work year 2021-2022.

While the process of pivoting to the virtual space has been challenging, Shah realised that going virtual has uncovered opportunities for change and growth. Mirza Shah, director of Studio D Event Production

into digital touch points and today, online presence is essential for any provider. Digital tools and virtual collaborative platforms have created a new framework of processes. Naturally, one of the worst affected by the pandemic was the events industry. In an effort to slow down the spread of the virus, the pandemic saw the cancellation of many prominent festivals, sporting events, exhibitions, concerts, and even private events such as weddings. Many event industry leaders had to quickly shift their events from physical to virtual because, despite mass cancellations of events due to COVID-19, the appetite for organising events during the pandemic remained high.

“We have discovered many digital aspects of the business, especially live-streaming events. We approached business coaches for guidance to sustain the business. We also have a crisis plan that we have to switch to, which may cause us to lose some income, but still be able to sustain the business,” Shah said. 3. Do More with Less The pandemic has also forced some business owners to look more closely at their numbers and learn to do more with less, in times of uncertainty. Nur Muhammad Hidayat, 35, director of a media company called 2fly Production Pte Ltd, shared that besides equipping and transforming their office space into a digital-ready space, tightening budgets and cutting down costs where necessary were critical for his business to sustain.




“We had to make difficult decisions like temporarily suspending our business and relying on just the two directors as full-time staff to ensure the company kept moving forward. I believe cutting down on manpower costs and shifting our business operation were the toughest decisions we had to make,” he said. Hidayat shared that his company started out as a wedding photography and video service provider but eventually ventured

Hidayat who has been involved in the media and arts industry for over ten years now shared that he is still learning to cope with the impact that the pandemic has caused. “The challenges it presents are unique, so playing by ear and always keeping up-to-date with the changes in regulations were important. Personally, I have joined various Facebook groups where I immerse myself in healthy discussions and threads about how fellow creatives are handling their challenges and tackling the impact,” Hidayat shared. “I did not approach anyone for help. I personally do not know how to ask for help for matters that are really beyond anyone’s control, such as job cancellation. The experience has, however, taught me to always have a crisis plan. The thought-provoking questions presented in this interview have also led me to reflect on these challenging times,” he added. 4. Seize New Business Opportunities during Adversity Before the pandemic, many businesses relied on big social events to generate revenue. These businesses found themselves behind the curve when the pandemic hit because these traditional lead sources were compromised.

Nur Muhammad Hidayat, director of 2fly Production Pte Ltd

into the world of corporate videos, advertisements, as well as creativecommissioned works a few years later. He shared that cutting down costs has helped him sustain ongoing operations and facilitate recovery, albeit at a lower capacity.

Food caterers were among those battered significantly by the pandemic because their strength is in doing food receptions at a large scale. Their bread-and-butter events like weddings remain cancelled, postponed, or scaled down, in line with crowd-limiting safety protocols.

“Apart from being adaptable and being open-minded, I strongly believe that knowing when to cut losses are as important. This pandemic has taught me that if I value my ego more than what the reality is, I would never have survived up till now. I think knowing when to take a step back to refocus is important. So, always take time to take a step back and refocus and never be ashamed to cut your losses,” Hidayat added. Muhyideen, owner of Briyani Catering Pte Ltd


The 33-year-old owner of Briyani Catering Pte Ltd, who wishes to be identified as Muhyideen, was among those who were greatly hit. Previously a police officer, Muhyideen left his job to venture into his own business. “2019 was promising and we secured a few leads for 2020. However, due to the pandemic, our events were mostly cancelled, and others were downsized significantly. Challenges include suppliers increasing their prices which left us in a dilemma, deciding if we should impose the price hike on the customers. Large-scale weddings were also changed to small intimate weddings and the cost incurred was higher. We had to refund our clients and had to open small orders to get through the month. Of course, the profit margin was so much lesser,” Muhyiddeen said. Muhyiddeen, whose business focus was in serving authentic dum briyani for weddings, shared that unlike many other businesses which could move their services online, holding a digital wedding would not address his problem. “In fact, when weddings went online, we lost even more as there were fewer orders. We did suggest delivering food to clients’ houses instead, and although the idea was accepted, many were reluctant to pay the delivery fee,” he shared. After struggling to stay afloat and having even considered closing his business, Muhyiddeen, who started his business in 2018, decided to hang on and look for new opportunities. That was when he pivoted to selling murukku. He realised that to ensure business continuity, it was crucial

processes streamlined for speed and Rapid change of the efficiency, and quick execution are what sets you apart from the rest. sort we have seen “The media industry moves very fast – will only continue, what’s in trend today may no longer be in trend tomorrow; therefore, it is always and the ability to crucial for us to be ever ready and timeefficient in executing our projects and plans,” evolve in the face of Hidayat shared. such changes will Tosh shared similar sentiments when it be integral to the comes to swift risk-taking in business. worked as a licensed aircraft success of businesses. Having engineer for over 12 years before jumping the entrepreneur bandwagon, he is Some changes have onto no stranger to making high risk decisions. shared that, like the aviation industry, been radical, others He it is imperative to make prompt and risky decisions in business in order to succeed. more subtle and “I did not only have to make difficult choices. nuanced, and I had to make high-risk ones. The decisions could either help the business recover, or business owners are I could lose everything at once. My advice is to never lose hope and run business as spending every day usual. You just need to work extra hard,” rethinking and fineTosh said. tuning their strategies. Our interviewees all took a leap of faith by

continue, and the ability to evolve in the face of such changes will be integral to the success of businesses. Some changes have been radical, others more subtle and nuanced, and business owners are spending every day rethinking and fine-tuning their strategies. For most companies, it won't be back to business as usual. Those who get it right will survive and even succeed but there is little room for complacency in the near term. It is thus important to learn from the pandemic and embrace new ways of thinking so that we are better equipped to deal with future scenarios. These lessons can be hard to learn, and in some cases, even harder to implement. The pandemic is a wake-up call for many business owners. As illustrated by our interviewees, the challenges posed by the pandemic have highlighted the importance of recognising one’s business strengths and weaknesses, as well as identifying and mitigating risk. The future of business lies not in the formulas of the past, but rather in the relevance of moving forward. If nothing else, COVID-19 has shown business owners like our interviewees, how resilient and adaptable humans are as a society when forced to change.

taking the risk to revamp their business plans. As company leaders, they shared for him to realise the fluctuating market of that they have a responsibility to do their the catering industry and to seize the new best to ensure that their company survives. opportunity when it came despite dealing Risk-taking is inevitable in business. As a Indeed, lives come first during these tough with adversities. matter of fact, avoiding risk might even times, but livelihoods also matter. lead to missed opportunities. As our “We had to continue hustling amid the interviewees have demonstrated, difficult pandemic. A friend called to ask if we could times are the best times to take a risk accept a corporate order for Deepavali because unlike good times, the risk is the snacks. Thanks to that, we have now same, but the reward is much greater. Nabilah Mohammad is a Senior Research ventured into Indian snacks. Currently, we Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic are one of the murukku distributors in THE ROAD AHEAD and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor Singapore. Unlike the rest, our target As the coronavirus situation continues of Science in Psychology and a Specialist market is not only the Indians, but Malays to unfold, one thing is clear. These Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining. and Chinese too. We designed our product business owners are on the frontlines to appeal to everyone,” he shared. of the fight against the pandemic, exemplifying exceptional agility and Muhyiddeen’s response to grab new innovation to stay alive. opportunities during adversities has kept his business humming. His advice to other We can expect a bumpy ride ahead with business owners who are struggling, uneven and weaker economic growth, “Always have a backup plan, never give up, coupled with increased global uncertainties and have a strong support system.” as we battle the invisible and persistent enemy. The pandemic is proving to be a 5. Be a Decisive Risk-Taker catalyst for change and has forced Risk taking is inherent in entrepreneurship, companies to face the facts – all hands on but as our interviewees shared, the key deck are needed to be able to weather this takeaway from the pandemic is to also be major, unforeseen disruption. Rapid swift at it. Accelerated strategic planning, change of the sort we have seen will only




Adab for Muslims when Using the Handphone Camera BY USTAZ DR MUHAMMAD HANIFF HASSAN

Today, the camera has become available in almost everybody’s hand due to the wide use of smartphones. Even a primary school student possesses a camera that comes with a mobile phone given by the parents for easy communication between them.

There are countless benefits of the camera in today’s context and its potential for good is undeniable. However, reality also informs that the camera could also be and indeed has been abused for sinful purposes. To avoid the latter, Muslims are to observe the following adab.

Unlike in the past, photo taking and video recording have now become easier for everyone, at any time or place.

First, Muslims should avoid busying themselves with photo taking and video recording at the expense of helping people in need during incidents i.e. road traffic accidents, a fire, a fall or a case of drowning.

Muslims, however, must know that Islam commands them to observe adab (etiquette) in every aspect of life. In this regard, Muslims are to observe certain adab when using their handphone cameras for photo taking or video recording. This article highlights eight adab to be observed so as not to fall into sinful acts when using handphone cameras. It must be highlighted that the majority of contemporary Muslim scholars view using cameras for photo taking and video recording as, in principle, permissible in Islam, against a small minority who considers it impermissible to take photos of human subjects.


Muslims must know which is the more pressing need of a situation (as compared to the usage of their camera phones or cameras) and strive to attend to it first. At the very least, Muslims should be sensitive to the feeling of the unfortunate in a given situation. This adab is in line with a hadith that says, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to people. The most beloved deed to Allah is to make a Muslim happy, or to remove one of his troubles, or to forgive his debt, or to feed his hunger. That I walk with a brother

regarding a need is more beloved to me than that I seclude myself in this mosque in Medina for a month. Whoever swallows his anger, then Allah will conceal his faults. Whoever suppresses his rage, even though he could fulfil his anger if he wished, then Allah will secure his heart on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever walks with his brother regarding a need until he secures it f or him, then Allah Almighty will make his footing firm across the bridge on the day when the footings are shaken.” (Hadith al-Mu‘jam al-Awsat 6026, rated Sahih by Al-Albani) Although the hadith speaks about helping fellow Muslims, its application is to the human community in general. Second, Muslims should avoid busying themselves with camera phones to record disorderly behaviour in public such as a quarrel or small fight between individuals, for their personal pleasure only. This is based on a hadith that says, “Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue. If he is

unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.” (Hadith Muslim) Third, Muslims should not take photos or record videos of injured or deceased people for distribution on social media. This is against the teaching of Islam that protects Man’s privacy, modesty and dignity. This is based on the established fiqh maxim, la darar wa la dirar (do not cause harm or return harm). Also, the Prophet has said in a hadith about the important characteristics of being a Muslim, which is not to cause harm to anyone: “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hands the people are safe, and the believer is the one who is trusted with the lives and wealth of the people.” (Sunan Al-Nasa’ii) Responding to a question on the matter, the Jordanian Office of Mufti rules, “Such act is forbidden because it violates the sanctity of others while Islam has preserved it… Not only that, but Islam forbids taking pictures of others, while going about their daily life, without seeking their permission. Any person who witnesses an accident where there are dead victims should cover them.” (General Iftaa’ Department, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Islam Forbids Taking Pictures of Victims in a Traffic Accident, Fatwa no.: 2948, 24 July 2014) Fourth, Islam’s protection of Man’s privacy, modesty and dignity also forbids Muslims from recording a person without his permission for trolling purposes such as recording a video of a tired migrant worker sleeping in MRT in an awkward position or a lady with an unzipped skirt. If a Muslim is not in a position to offer help to such persons, he should not take advantage of their predicament even if it is for their personal pleasure only i.e. not circulating it online. Such acts are more shameful in Islam than the very situations that such persons are in. The Qur’an has warned against making fun and insulting others which includes

the act of trolling and pranking others in today’s context, “O You who have attained to faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets: evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has attained to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers.” (Surah Al-Hujurat: 11) This should be avoided even if the identity of the person involved remains anonymous because such acts could fall under “all that is frivolous”, that Muslims should “turn away” from, as mentioned in Surah Al-Mu’minun, Verse 3. Fifth, Muslims should not take sensual images of themselves for public distribution, even if it does not disclose the person’s identity. Islam prohibits exposing one’s awrat or exposing the awrat of others to non-mahram (close relatives) be it in real life or via technological means.

Often voyeurism is committed via a hidden camera, which falls under the prohibition mentioned in the Qur’an: “and do not spy upon one another” (Surah Al-Hujurat: 12). Seventh, Muslims who want to take photos or videos of a wrongful act in public i.e. parking offence or vandalism, can do so for the purpose of reporting it to the authorities for proper investigation and action, not for trolling. When there is a necessity to share it to the public, it is advised that the identity of the person involved should be made anonymous to protect the person from being mistakenly or disproportionately punished by netizens. Eight, it is important for Muslims to understand that not every person likes to be captured in photos or videos by others. Thus, one should not be presumptive when taking photos or videos. A better adab is to always seek permission first before taking photos and/or recording videos that involve others, even if it is not wrong under the law. Muslims should try to observe empathy and be sensitive to the feelings of others.

The eight above mentioned adab are not exhaustive. However, beyond these This falls under the prohibition of a hadith adab and those mentioned elsewhere, that says, Muslims should always remind themselves to act responsibly at all “Every one of my followers will be times. In this case, a Muslim ought to forgiven except those who expose (openly) consider whether he or she would like their wrongdoings.” to be treated the same way by others, (Hadith Al-Bukhari and Muslim) before using the camera phone. Even if it is done for a permissible reason i.e. married couples recording videos of their intimate acts for private viewing only, prudence dictates otherwise due to the real risk of the footages being leaked via hacking or the device falling to others due to the device being misplaced or a security breach when the device is sent for repair.

Ustaz Dr Muhammad Han iff Hassan is a Fellow at S. Rajaratna m School of International Studies, Nan yang Technological University , Singapore.

Sixth, it is impermissible for Muslims to use their camera phones to fulfil their voyeuristic desires. This act is not only theologically abhorred but also illegal and a crime under section 377BB of Singapore’s Penal Code.





In the early 18th century to the end of the 20th century, with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, colonial powers such as the Great Britain, France and Russia started to expand their power to other regions such as Asia and Africa through colonisation. Their main goal was to search for wealth abroad and extract the resources there to expand their economical markets and influences on other regions. Due to these reasons, the world was facing several challenges as wars and uprisings erupted frequently in order to put an end to the old political and social systems, which were deemed to be oppressive. This can be seen clearly from the French Revolution in 17891. When the French successfully achieved this goal through uprising against the monarchy, the idea of nationalism also spread rapidly across Europe, the Balkans, as well as the Middle East in the hope of achieving the same result of equality and prosperity as France. Today, the Balkan Peninsula is made up of 11 countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Most of the Balkan Peninsula was under the control of the Ottoman Empire since the 14th century2. The Balkan Peninsula finally achieved their independence in the early 20th century. However, this article will not discuss the political aspects of the situations which occurred in the Balkan in the early 20th century. Instead, the article, firstly, aims to share the effects of the political tragedy in Europe towards Singapore. Secondly, it also attempts to shed light on the reaction of the Southeast Asian Muslims towards the Ottoman Empire, especially Singaporeans, during the Ottoman-Balkan Wars in 1912-1913. Thirdly, the article will discuss the role of the British colonial government in Singapore in helping the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan War.



3 4 5 6 7 8

BALKANS’ PAN-SLAVISM AND OTTOMAN’S PAN-ISLAMISM As mentioned earlier, between the 18th and 20th century, colonial powers started to expand their influence on other regions. One way to gain support of local people towards their expansionist policy was to support ideologies which benefited them. In the case of Balkan Peninsula, Russia gave their support towards the spread of nationalism there. Thus, pan-Slavism ideology spread among them with the aim of protecting the Slav ethnicity in the Balkans, and uniting the Slavs ethnicity in Balkans under the Russian Empire3. In response to the spread of nationalism ideology in the Ottoman lands including the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire spread the idea of pan-Islamism, or also known as Ittihad-I Islam, to counter this ideology and protect its control over the Balkans. The main goal was to gain support and unite Muslims all over the globe under the Ottoman Caliphate in order to fight against the colonial powers. To achieve this goal, the Ottoman Caliph, Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) changed the Ottoman’s constitution, stating that he was the Sultan as well as the Caliph for all Muslims around the world. Thus, he assumed responsibility towards protecting all Muslims and as the protector of Islam4. SPREAD OF PAN-ISLAMISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA During the same period, pan-Islamism ideology started to spread in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Firstly, through the appointment of Kamil Bey as the Ottoman Consul General to the Ottoman Embassy in Jakarta, several projects were launched to promote this idea in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore5. This idea also spread with the rise of Islamic journals and newspapers such as Neracha, Al-Imam and Al-Mizan. These publications spread in Singapore and Malaysia, thus local Muslims would be able to read news and follow closely on the Balkan wars and

other wars which the Ottoman/Turks were facing in those periods. The general reaction among the Southeast Asian Muslims was that they were supportive of the Ottomans. With the spread of pan-Islamism together with anti-colonialism sentiments, these journals launched donation campaigns and encouraged readers to donate at least a dollar for the Turkish soldiers to buy weapons and ammunition including all other necessities during the Balkan Wars. To further encourage their readers to donate to the Ottomans, they used rhetorical arguments to remind Muslim readers that it is part of their responsibility as Muslims to support their Muslim brothers and the Caliphate in Istanbul6. SINGAPORE INDIAN MUSLIMS AND THE BALKAN WARS The effects of Turkish pan-Islamism ideology did not only affect Southeast Asian Muslims but also had a deep impact towards the people of India especially Indian Muslims. During the Balkan wars, Muslims in India supported the Ottomans by setting up several fund raising projects to collect funds for the Ottoman armies and also buying Ottoman bonds to support the economy7. During the Balkan Wars, the Indian Red Crescent Society contributed a large amount of money for humanitarian purposes including sending doctors to help injured soldiers8. The Indian Muslim society in Singapore also had collected funds in order to contribute to the Ottoman Empire. During that period, Muhammed Idrisullah was the president for the Indian Muslim society in Singapore. The Ottoman state archives showed that on 24 April 1913, Idrisullah had sent a letter to the Ottoman Red Crescent society. He had sent the letter from an address in Singapore, 24 Sungei Road, to the president of the Ottoman Red Crescent, Mahmud Syevket Pasha, to inform him of the transaction he had made to support the humanitarian purpose of the Ottoman Red Crescent. In the letter, it

The French revolution started in 1789. There are various reasons which led to the eruption of the French revolution such as economic problems, as well as inequality among the social classes in France. See: Doyle, W. The French Revolution, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, USA, 2001, pp. 19-27 The Turks of the Ottoman Empire started penetrating the Balkan Peninsula in the early 14th century with Orhan Bey (1326-1359), the grandson of Ertugrul Bey, moving towards the Balkan region through Gelibolu. This peninsula was vital for the Ottoman Empire as it provided them with all the necessities such as economic benefits, and acted as defence for the Ottoman Empire, as well as agricultural needs for the people. See: Sancaktar, C. Balkanlar’da Osmanlı Hâkimiyeti ve Siyasal Mirası. Ege Stratejik Araştırmalar Dergisi Cilt 2, Sayı 2, 2011. pp. 28-31 Keleş, E. Rusya’nın Panslavizm Politikasının Balkanlarda Uygulanmasına Dair Bir Layiha. Muğla Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi (ĐLKE), Sayı 21, 2008. p. 126 Özcan, A. Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, The Ottomans and Britain (1877-1924). Brill, Leiden/New York/ Köln, 1977. pp. 40-47 Reid, A. Nineteenth Century Pan-Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Journal of Asian Studies 26, no. 2, 1967. pp. 267–280 Othman, M. R. The Middle Eastern Influence on the Development of the Religious and Political Thought in Malay Society, 1880-1940 (unpublished Ph. D. thesis). The University of Edinburgh, December 1994. pp. 181-197 O’Sullivan, M. Pan-Islamic bonds and interest: Ottoman bonds, Red Crescent remittances and the limits of Indian Muslim Capital, 1877–1924. The Indian Economic and Social History Review, LV/2, 2018. pp.185-186 Kerimoğlu, H. T. Trablusgarb ve Balkan Savaşlarında Hint Müslümanlarının Osmanlı Devleti’ne Yaptıkları Yardımlar. Türk Dünyası İncelemeleri Dergisi,12, 2012. pp. 176-179




The editor of the Singapore Free Press, Colonel A. W. Sinclair, decided to set up donation funds in order to help both the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans for humanitarian purposes. They encouraged Muslims in Southeast Asia especially Singapore, Malacca, and Penang, including Turkish sympathisers, to donate towards the Balkan Wars. The donation funds were then transferred through telegraph.

when diplomacy fails. Thus, before the actual war started, an ideology was spread to gain support from the locals. In this case, the pan-Islamic ideology was spread to Singapore and Southeast Asia for the Ottoman to gain support among Southeast Asian Muslims. As a result, several donations were being made by the local BRITISH COLONIAL GOVERNMENT IN Muslims in Singapore to the Ottoman SINGAPORE AND THE BALKAN WARS Empire. Although tragic events such as the Balkan War and World War I did not When the Balkan Wars erupted, Great affect Singapore directly, from the Britain remained neutral. They had historical accounts, it has been proven no political interest in the Balkan Peninsula and it was important for them that Singapore had contributed monetary support to the Ottoman Empire. Though to protect Egypt. Thus, Great Britain the Singapore colonial government was issued The Proclamation of Neutrality on neutral during the Balkan wars, Muslims 21 October 191210. in Singapore had a different perspective on the Balkan Wars. For this reason, Through the proclamation, it affected the funds which were collected by the the policy of the British colonial government in Singapore. For this reason, Singapore colonial government through Singapore Free Press were used for the British colonial government in humanitarian purposes, while the Singapore also frequently spread news funds which were collected by İslamic to locals in Singapore through the publications such as Neracha were used Singapore Free Press newspaper. The to purchase weapons for the Ottoman editor of the Singapore Free Press, soldiers in the Balkans. Muslims in Colonel A. W. Sinclair, decided to set up donation funds in order to help both the Singapore and Southeast Asia remained loyal and supported the Ottoman Ottoman Empire and the Balkans for humanitarian purposes. They encouraged caliphate until WW1 erupted and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Muslims in Southeast Asia especially Singapore, Malacca, and Penang, including Turkish sympathisers, to donate towards the Balkan Wars. The donation funds were then transferred through telegraph. arch Muhamad Syafiq Mardi was a Rese According to the Ottoman State Archives, d Assistant at the National Library Boar relations. the Singapore Free Press newspaper had Singapore on Ottoman-Singapore ding collected as much as 7,500 sterling for the His role was to collect archives regar Singapore and Southeast Asia in the Balkan Wars. in Turkey. He holds is also mentioned that on behalf of the Indian Muslim society in Singapore, they had collected around 30,310.30 Francs and donated to the Ottoman Red Crescent society by transferring the money through to the Banque Imperiale Ottomane Costantinopale9.

According to the Ottoman State Archives, the Ottoman empire had also received 1,106.13 Ottoman Lira from the Muslim society in Singapore. This donation was transferred to them through the Ottoman Bank in London on 1 December 1912, and then was recorded by the Ottoman Finance Ministry on 8 December 191211.

Ottoman State Archives nt of a Master degree from the Departme Islamic History and Arts at Çukurova of University in Adana, Turkey. His area g history, interest involves issues concernin ent religious harmony, human developm and arts.

CONCLUSION Wars and conflicts between countries and nations do not occur instantaneously; rather they are the accumulation of other factors which lead to the war. War occurs


See: Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (BOA), Bâb-ı Âlî Evrak Odası (BEO), 4175.313098; Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (BOA), Hariciye Nezâreti Tercüme Odası (HR.TO), 599. 57; Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (BOA), Bab-ı Âlî Evrak Odası (BEO), 4180.313430 10 Chadwick, E. Neutrality’s Last Gasp? The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Journal of Armed Conflict Law, 4, no. 2, 1999. pp. 170-190 11 See: BOA, BEO.4122.309125.2; BOA, HR.SFR.3.731.16.3






The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of healthcare workers, especially nurses, who are needed not only in the hospitals but also in the community. In Singapore, a rise in interest in the profession has led to a nearly 50 percent increase in applications for Workforce Singapore’s nursing-related professional conversion programmes this year1.

Polytechnic in 2012 and ever since then, I have been growing my nursing career, specialising in general medical and rehabilitation.

However, prior to the pandemic, 29-year-old nurse Afa Asmin often felt that people viewed nursing as a lower tier occupation, and nurses were not as respected as other healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, she knew the opportunities of working in different clinical settings would be endless when she started her career ten years ago.

Afa: As a nurse, you’re expected to juggle multiple roles: as an administrator, a delegator, a doctor’s right hand man, an advocator, a cleaner, a counsellor, etc. Like the majority of Singaporean nurses, some of the challenges I faced were the expectations and judgement of the public towards us nurses. Unfortunately in Singapore, this pandemic has largely magnified the ugly bits of this.

She shared her journey and experiences as a nurse in the rural city of Mildura, Australia with The Karyawan team. Q: Could you tell us more about yourself? Afa: Brought up in a typical Malay/ Muslim household in Tampines, I did my O-levels in one of Bedok’s most notorious neighbourhood schools and barely made it to Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Currently, I am working as a senior practice registered nurse at a medical clinic in rural Victoria, Australia. Prior to this, I worked as a registered nurse in one of New South Wales’ rural 20-bedded hospitals catering to the general medical needs of the rural and aboriginal communities around it. I’ve been working as a nurse since I was 19 years old, when I started as a graduate nurse at Changi General Hospital and then Tan Tock Seng Hospital, before moving to Australia and gaining permanent residency here not long after.

Q: What were some challenges you encountered in your line of work as a frontliner, especially during the pandemic?

The blatant rudeness and disrespect that I’ve encountered during the course of my career was nothing compared to what I had to face during the pandemic. Faced with fear and uncertainty, someone can turn into an entirely different person especially if it involves their loved ones. Furthermore, burnout among nurses is common and I cannot remember the number of times I’ve been asked to put in overtime work as some of my co-workers were too exhausted from their normal shifts.

Q: How different is the healthcare system in Australia compared to Singapore? Afa: Vastly different. As a Singaporean, you’ve gotten used to consistency and the seamlessness of the healthcare system. No matter which hospital you go to in Singapore, your medical records follow you. Everything is quick and easy in Singapore (really!). Here in Australia, each hospital has its own way of doing things and for the majority of them, they have different medical systems in place. Furthermore, patients can wait months (or years!) to get a planned surgery done or see a specialist. There is always a long wait time for everything, even getting your own medical records. The major hospitals that have bigger and better facilities are all based in the city due to population density so this poses a problem to those who live in rural areas because of the distance especially during an emergency. This results in patients falling through the cracks of the healthcare system due to medical needs not being met. Q: You moved to Australia alone without your family. What were some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

Afa: For one, I had to figure everything out on my own. I moved to Mildura not knowing a single person or the area. It was my first time renting as previously I was living with my parents. In the first week Afa: I’ve always wanted to work overseas I arrived, I stayed in a motel for a week ever since I was young. Growing up, I’ve always heard great stories about migration while house-hunting. I remembered crying to my mum in the first couple of days, and living overseas. Furthermore, I’ve always been curious about other cultures questioning if I made the right decision moving to a place where I did not know and their lifestyles which motivated me anyone or anything. I finally moved into a further to work overseas. property surrounded by vineyards (a lot of Q: What drew you to the nursing free grapes!) with a housemate I found on profession? As Singapore is a bustling city itself with an Australian rental website. little to no work-life balance, I opted to Afa: Helping people live their best life work in the suburbs because of the I did not know how to go about buying has always been a goal of mine ever since difference in scenery and lifestyle. Being I could remember. As the eldest child in born and raised in a city, I did not want to a car as I’d always either taken public the family, I was always taught to help have to undergo heavy traffic while on my transport or ridden a motorbike to work. In the first few weeks, I rented a car to get to those in need and was always given the way to work or deal with tight spaces in role to lead or assist other family members public areas. I wanted to breathe fresh air work and back, and Google Maps became in their daily activities. This naturally led and go back to how life was 10 to 20 years my best friend. Every day, calls were made me to study nursing after completing my ago, where you knew who your neighbours to car dealerships as I tried to find the best O-levels. Suffice to say, everything else were and be part of a tight-knit community. car based on my budget and it finally paid off. I owned my very first car at 27 years old. was history. I graduated from Ngee Ann 1

Q: Why did you choose to develop your career overseas, and in the suburbs rather than the city?

Begum, S. Singapore needs more nurses amid Covid-19 pandemic and ageing population. The Straits Times. 2021, August 1. Retrieved from:


I’ve had the pleasure of meeting amazing people along the way; one of them is a 92-year-old woman who still lives alone and independently travels around Australia as and when she can. She imparted important life advice while I was caring for her in the hospital.

Drinking alcoholic beverages is also a very common way for Australians to kick back and relax (‘TGIF’ is a huge thing here!). Bars litter the streets, be it in the city or suburbs. Because I grew up in a conservative Muslim family, most Australians in the suburbs gave me a puzzled look when I told them that I do not drink alcohol or eat pork. This is especially uncomfortable during work events or private functions. Some are even surprised when I told them that I am Muslim as my physical appearance do not tally with what they’ve seen or heard on the television. Q: What are some of your memorable experiences working or living in Australia so far?

Afa: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting amazing people along the way; one of them is a 92-year-old woman who still lives alone and independently travels around Australia as and when she can. She imparted important life advice while I was caring for her in the hospital. I’ve travelled Thirdly, as a Singaporean, you grow up along the coast of Victoria from South in a multi-cultural and multi-racial Australia, and savoured the freshest environment which means communication oysters from Coffin Bay. But I think, just is always a mixture of your mother tongue waking up and living the Australian life (Malay for me), English and the occasional is the most memorable one for me. Singlish. It was hard for me to communicate using proper English to get my points across Q: What are your plans after your without using any Singaporean slang. What nursing contract ends? Do you plan to made it even harder was that Australians return to Singapore? had their own lingo and I had to navigate my way around it by clarifying things as Afa: I love the life I’ve created for myself much as possible. here and I’m already in the process of buying my own house. Of course, I will Q: How different are the culture and return to Singapore once or twice a year to lifestyle in Mildura compared to visit my family and close friends to catch Singapore? up. I’ve always dreamed of building my own house surrounded by white picket Afa: Australians are very laid-back people. fences so my future kids can play in the They are hardworking but they do things grass while I sit on the veranda, watching at a casual pace, even at work. I remember them. That dream is possible here in in the first week at my job, I was in-charge Australia and I am working towards of seven patients and I managed to juggle making that dream come true. As there is serving medications to my patients while a small Muslim community in Mildura, also assisting the other nurses with I feel safe knowing my future kids will showering their patients. Apparently, most have a place to learn more about the religion. Australian nurses work within their scope of practice and rarely take up anything Q: What is your advice to Malay/Muslim outside of them. For me, I was taught to youths who aspire to develop a nursing always help out my colleagues as much career overseas? as I can back in Singapore. Not only that, being fast-paced and trying to get everything Afa: Never be afraid to take the first step. done before my shift ends got me looking In my line of work, I’ve come across like an ‘alien’ to them as they normally patients with regrets on how they lived hand things over to the next shift to do. their life. To some degree, we all carry a

bag of ‘what-ifs’ and worry; however, nothing good comes from negativity. The best part of going after what we want is that we achieve what we want and if we don’t, it is another lesson life throws at us so we can learn from it. My second advice is always do extensive research in the industry or area you want to work in and persevere when things get hard. The harder the process, the sweeter the results. Life’s too short to be living someone else’s dream.

Nur Diyana Jalil is an Executive at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), managing its social media, events and publications.






Sang Nila Utama & Tun Seri Lanang: Singapore's Last Malay Schools by Hidayah Amin is a narrative about Singapore’s last Malay schools, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School (SNU) and Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School (TSL). The book shares more than just the history of the two schools. It includes the experiences, feelings and stories of students who had attended the schools and how their time there had shaped them to become who they are today, including the challenges that the schools faced. Both of the schools obtained their names from Southeast Asia’s historical personalities. The book was published to retain the memories of Singapore's last Malay secondary schools and aid past students and future generations in revisiting the lost world of the Malay schooling experience. The author has nicely put the structure and sections of the book together. The first section, ‘Education for the Malays’, uncovers how education had evolved throughout the years. The book also discussed the events that led to the opening of Malay schools. Before this, the Malay community received informal Islamic education from the Arab and Indian Muslim traders and missionaries. However, when Sir Stamford Raffles arrived, he sought to formalise the learning of the Malay language and provision of education for the Malays. Originally, he wanted to set up a Raffles' Malay College, where one of the objectives was “to collect the scattered literature and traditions of the country with whatever may illustrate their laws and customs and to publish and circulate in a correct form”1. However, due to mismanagement and other related events, the opening of the college was suspended. Nevertheless, it had significantly impacted the establishment of Malay schools. With that, Protestant missionary Reverend Benjamin Keasberry paved the way by setting up a Malay school that he financed with his own money. Consequently, more schools were established and the education system was influenced by the British primary and secondary school system. The book also explained how the education experience and the significance of the Malay language impacted the community. It was also through the acceptance of Malay as the national language of Singapore that brought the opening of the first Malay secondary school, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School. The following four chapters bring forth the accounts of past students, teachers and workers who had attended SNU and TSL. The chapters are structured in a way whereby the historical personalities, Sang Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang, were shared first before bringing forth stories of the schools. This is also a learning point for many who might not know Sang Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang. Moving forward, the stories shared on SNU and TSL mainly surround the challenges and conflicts faced: how the students and teachers overcame the lack of Malay secondary-level textbooks, scarce materials and no official guidelines from the Ministry of Education’s curriculum department. Apart from sharing the challenges faced, the chapters also included the visitation of notable personalities 1


Amin, H. Sang Nila Utama & Tun Seri Lanang: Singapore’s Last Malay Schools. Helang Books. 2021. p. 34

and personal anecdotes of both the compared to decades ago, more young make just to receive an education. students and teachers that described how Meanwhile, students today may not have Malays do not use the Malay language as the schools benefited and shaped their lives. to overcome similar challenges to get basic their primary language of communication. The percentage of Malay children aged education in Singapore with the many The next chapter, ‘The Southeast Asian between five and fourteen using English assistance schemes available. The book Connection’, discussed how SNU and TSL also shared that some TSL students had to at home has risen to 63 percent in 2020. became educational bridges connecting The Malay language symbolises a form of take a small boat to reach the school, Singapore to Southeast Asia. Both SNU identity, culture, and heritage amongst which students today cannot relate to as and TSL were popular amongst Malays in schools are often located within walking the Malay community. Dr Maliki said, neighbouring countries like Brunei, distance from their homes or accessible by “When you lose a language, you lose a Malaysia and Indonesia. Most of those community.” This worrying issue has also public transport. However, they were who studied in SNU or TSL would return been highlighted by both Malay teachers never once late as all of them were eager to their home countries and became key and enthusiastic to learn. One more thing and Malay community leaders2. personalities or held significant positions, that caught my eye was the inclusion of such as becoming a member of the mysterious events that occurred in SNU. Not only that, with the increasing Singapore Cabinet, Singapore’s First The book shared that there was once a importance of the English language and Gentlemen, former President of the female student studying alone at the third the varying levels of Malay language Muslim Missionary Society (Jamiyah) floor of the school, quite a distance away competency amongst students, Associate Singapore, and those who represented from her friends, when she suddenly Professor Roksana Bibi Abdullah from the Singapore at the International Quran screamed loudly. When her friends rushed National Institute of Education’s (NIE) Recital Competition, among many others. to her, they were shocked to see that her Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Moreover, about 80 percent of the face and hands were scarred by cuts and Group said that it is a challenge to teach Bruneian students completed their covered in blood. When asked what the Malay language as some cannot speak secondary school education and pursued had happened, the student said that she or write in Malay3. Hence, I hope this book their tertiary studies in Singapore, the UK, had fallen asleep and woke up like that. can serve as a reminder to the Malay the US, or Egypt. This reflects how SNU After an investigation was conducted, it community that the Malay language is and TSL played an essential role in was concluded that it was unlikely that just as important as other languages. nurturing students. One heartwarming someone had hurt her. The event remains factor about this chapter is that the author a mystery. If you have stumbled upon this review, did not forget to include the international I strongly recommend you read this book. students’ experience in SNU or TSL and The book is also a light read. It contains With the current primacy of English shared that some of them had gone out of elements of humour as the alumni shared and Chinese languages, it will be helpful their way to search for long-lost friends their experiences and views on a few of to revisit the sacrifices and challenges across borders, even after decades had the challenges they encountered. I believe that the Malays faced in upholding the passed, showing how much they treasured that this is also a suitable book to quickly language. Moreover, the book also included the friendships they developed back then. understand the extensive history of Malay a list of past Malay schools. Personally, education in Singapore. The author also I think it would be fun to ask your parents The last two chapters of the book, ‘Malay inserted a comprehensive yet straightforward or grandparents if they attended any of Schools: Of Demise & Destiny’ and ‘The Grand timeline on Singapore’s education system. those schools! Reunion’ share the factors and events that Additionally, I particularly like how the led to the closure of the schools, and the author arranged the chapters of the book, reunion of SNU and TSL alumni. I like that where before the two schools are introduced, the author included the momentous event the history of Malay schools, Malay Zuriati Zulfa Roslee is a final year of the reunion of SNU and TSL students, education, as well as the history of Sang student majoring in Psychology at Internatio as it acknowledged SNU and TSL as vital Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang are nal Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). institutions that have contributed to explained first. This definitely helps in shaping the Singapore's education system. understanding the importance of both the historical personalities and schools. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. Not only did I learn about the extensive history Finally, the book’s publication is also of Malays’ education development in timely, especially in the era that we live Singapore, I got to read how impactful in today where the use of the Malay SNU and TSL were to not only the students language amongst children has decreased but also the teachers. Personal excerpts, significantly. In an article published by challenges, and conflicts made me reflect The Straits Times in 2021, Dr Maliki Osman, on the efforts people in the past had to Second Minister for Education, said that 2


Elangovan, N. As English becomes the dominant language in more Malay families, some are reversing course. TODAY. 2019, October 25. Retrieved from: Ng, C. Efforts to be intensified to improve bilingual abilities of Malay children: Maliki. The Straits Times. 2021, July 10. Retrieved from:




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