I did some rationalisation over the ‘new’ Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system and decided to delve into the ‘changes’ a bit more.
I had a chat on my Facebook with some people who disagreed with (parts of) my previous article – they felt that the old PSLE scoring system which is computed based on the bell curve would mean the ‘new’ scoring system is different.
In the previous article, I had written based on the assumed belief that the ‘government’ wants to continue to ‘entrench’ the elitism and class differentiation in the PSLE and education system. In this article, I explore the merit of this assumption a bit more.
In the charts below, I compare the old and new PSLE system.
Please note the limitation of the comparison – the current (old) PSLE scoring system is based on using a bell curve to compute the T-score (You can read more about it on the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s website here.)
Source: Ministry of Education website
As I do not have access to the data of the students’ results, the charts below therefore do not take into account the bell curve for the computation of the old PSLE scores. Therefore comparisons made with the old scoring system should not be taken as direct comparisons and should only be used as a gauge. Even so, they help to let us draw some conclusions.
Therefore, in the charts below, the computation of the PSLE scores for the old system are based on directly using the actual subject marks.
The computation for the ‘new scoring system’ are however accurate. They follow the ‘new’ scoring system that has just been announced.
As can be seen in the chart below, for the ‘new’ scoring system, the marks of each subject would give a corresponding point to each Achievement Level. If a student scores 90 marks in one subject, he or she would achieve an Achievement Level of 1 point. If he or she scores 85 marks, this would be an Achievement Level of 2 points.
The points for the Achievement Levels of all four subjects that primary school students have to take for the PSLE (English, Mathematics, Science and Mother Tongue) are then added together to obtain the total PSLE score (as shown in the chart below).
Students are streamed accordingly based on their scores, into the Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) stream.
In the chart below, the blue line represents the old scoring system and the red line represents the ‘new’ scoring system.
The red line’s computation is straightforward, based on the ‘new’ scoring system above.
For the computation for the blue line (old scoring system), I used an online calculator. Note again that this should only be used as a gauge as the PSLE scores have not been adjusted for the bell curve.
For the example below, I assumed that all subjects would score the same marks, and charted them at 5 marks interval on the horizontal axis – i.e. 5 marks, 10 marks, 15 marks, and so on.
If you look at the red line at the very top left hand corner, if each subject scores 1 mark, each subject would get an Achievement Level of 8 points. This would add together to give a PSLE score of 32 points.
On the bottom right corner, if each subject scores 100 marks, each subject would get an Achievement Level of 1 point and would add together to give a PSLE score of 4 points. The lower the score, the better, is the logic of the ‘new’ scoring system – which is similar to the ‘O’ Levels scoring format.
For the blue line, I used the online calculator. If each subject scores 100 marks, this would give a total score of 313 points (top right corner). If each subject scores 1 mark, this would give a total score of -44 points (bottom left corner). (Again, note that the scores have not been adjusted to the bell curve which might explain the weird numbers, and are therefore not representative and should only be taken as a gauge.)
In the chart below, I flipped the red line over so that you can have a more direct comparison.
Based on the old scoring system, a higher score is ‘better’. For the ‘new’ system, a lower score is ‘better’.
For ease of comparison, I turned the red line around.
What you can see immediately is that the old scoring system (blue line) follows a constant line (though not adjusted for the bell curve). The ‘new’ system (red line), however, is not a constant straight line.
Also, while the blue line is straight, the red line now looks terraced – this is so because unlike in the old system where marks are added up to give a total PSLE score, under the ‘new’ system, scores are banded and tiered.
The perspective some take is that by removing the bell curve and banding the scores, this is a ‘better’ system. Is it?
- Constant average 90 marks and above for each subject will give a score of 4 points.
- But for lower marks thereafter, the scores drop off very quickly.
The next chart gives you a better view.
In this next chart, I superimposed colour bands over the red lines – based on the ‘new’ system, to let you differentiate between the ‘new’ PSLE scores. Now, look at the next chart.
In the following chart, I changed the red lines into red bars, and superimposed the colour bands over them – based on the ‘new’ system.
In the far right of the chart, the most right band in red is labelled 1 at the top – for Achievement Level 1. The coloured bands are labelled 1 to 8 from right to left accordingly.
- As mentioned, for constant average 90 marks and above for each subject, each subject would get 1 Achievement Level point and give a total PSLE score of 4 points.
- But at 85 marks (constant for all subjects), this goes down to 2 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 8 points.
- At 80 marks, this goes down again to 3 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 12 points.
- At 75 marks, this goes down yet again to 4 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 16 points.
- Then only at 70 marks does it stabilise a little and gives 5 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 20 points, and which applies to 65 marks as well.
Next set of points:
- For an Achievement Level of 6 points and a total PSLE score of 24 points, this would mean that if each subject has the same marks, the marks in this range would be between 45 and 64 marks (as stated in the ‘new’ scoring system).
- For Achievement Level 7 and a total PSLE score of 28 points, this would range between 20 and 44 marks.
- Achievement Level 8 and a total PSLE score of 30 points would range between 0 to 19 marks.
Lets take a look at the next chart before we draw some conclusions from this.
The chart below have purple bands superimposed onto it based on the old scoring system.
In the far right band in bright purple, again assuming all subjects having equal scores, 91 marks and above would give a grade of A* (taking up 2 bars).
But the next grade – A – takes up 4 bars. B takes up 3 bars, C takes up 2 and then D and E takes up 3 bars each again.
You can see that the bands are more evenly distributed according to the marks.
Thus when you compare the old and ‘new’ system, what are some things that stand out?
- First, the PSLE scores for the ‘new’ system are divided even more finely than the old system.
- Second, the division becomes broader and broader as the marks go lower.
- As mentioned in the previous article, where 75 marks would give a grade of A, this time round it would only give an Achievement Level of 4 (which if based on the old scoring format, is a C). On first instinct, this therefore marks it more difficult for a student to do well.
- The ‘new’ scoring system might be viewed as being more challenging at first glance and might induce lower morale for a student who under the ‘new’ system would only have an Achievement Level of 4 when previously, this would be an A grade. (But of course, by 2021 when the ‘new’ system is implemented, no one would remember the old system and its format.)
Another question I ask is this:
- Where it might now be argued that the ‘new’ system no longer follows a bell curve, does the ‘new’ system instead differentiates the PSLE scores even more finely – at least for the higher marks – with the aim of still wanting to tease out the better scorers still?
- Has the ‘government’ seemingly given up on the bell curve but still want to retain the ability to identify ‘top’ scorers, and therefore the more refined differentiation system?
- “The 8 Achievement Levels (ALs) are designed to reflect broadly different levels of achievement. While it is not meaningful to differentiate too finely between students, we need a broad indication of their progress after 6 years of primary school, so that they can be matched to suitable academic programmes in secondary school.
- For example, while there may not be any difference between a student who scores 65 and another who scores 66 marks in a subject, there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75. We want to be able to recognise this difference.
- If there are too few ALs, there would be more students with the same PSLE Score, which would lead to more balloting in S1 posting. This would cause more anxiety for parents and students.”
But this raises some other questions:
- If the MOE said that it is “not meaningful to differentiate too finely between students”, then why did it differentiate the students among the higher scorers more finely?
- The MOE said that “there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75 (and they) want to be able to recognise this difference. Then, why does the MOE not differentiate between one who scores 50 and and another who score 60 – they have the same Achievement Level of 6, or why not between a score of 45 and 55, or between 30 and 40? – the logic does not flow. Why is the differentiation not consistent?
- The MOE said that one reason there cannot be too few Achievement Levels is that this would “lead to more balloting in S1 posting”.
- I offer another reason – the schools which require balloting have generally been the ‘top’ schools. The MOE does not elaborate further on the point but the concern with balloting seems to suggest that if the Achievement Levels are more evenly distributed, it would make it difficult for the MOE or ‘top’ schools to identify the ‘top’ scorers they want and which with balloting would also make it more difficult to identity the ‘top’ scorers – the thinking seems to be that it would dilute the ‘betterness’ of these schools – if so, this is a justification to allow the ‘new’ PSLE system to still entrench the elitism in the system.
- On the other hand, the Achievement Levels for the lower scores (see chart below – in lighter yellow portion) are broader in their coverage of the marks, which therefore suggest that the ‘government’ does not seem to be as bothered by the differentiation at the other end of the spectrum.
- Of course, there are other reasons. A practical reason is that students are scoring better and better over the years, and therefore there is a need to refine the differentiation to distinct the scores at the higher level. Indeed, the MOE said that, “The upper ranges are narrower because the PSLE is designed such that students are able to show what they can do and a large majority of students do well for the PSLE. On average, about half of the students will score AL4 or better.”
But this begs the question – if Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that the governments wants “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, then doesn’t the more defined and refined differentiation at the higher scores still induce competition, and go against such a claim?
Back to the perspective that without the bell curve, the ‘new’ system would be better, this reasoning might be weak because with the differentiation for the ‘top’ scores made even more stringent now, one assumption is that the government would have looked at the distribution under the old scoring system and the refining of the ‘new’ system at the top tiers would similarly follow a bell curve logic.
The fact that the bands are tighter at the top (differentiated by 5 marks for Achievement Levels 2 to 4) before the bands broaden thereafter is an indication of this.
However, without the planning parameters that the government had used to develop the ‘new’ system, it is not possible to say for sure. But let’s take a look below to make a further guess.
In the next chart below (and without the data available for the bell curve), if we could assume that if all subjects score the same 65 marks, under the ‘old’ scoring system and based on the online calculator, the PSLE score of 187 would be able to put a student into the Express stream (purple square at top right corner in chart below), based on the cut-off points for 2015.
Under the ‘new’ system, it is not different where the same marks would give a PSLE score of 20 points, which would allow entrance into the Express stream.
The ‘new’ scoring system therefore seems somewhat better refined and which corresponds more to the old system at the higher scores.
The situation seems different for the Normal streams (which without the benefit of the bell curve and results is difficult to carefully assess) – on first glance, it seems that the ‘new’ system might allow more students who did academically less well to move on to secondary school.
However, the statistics would dispel this notion. Last year, 98.3% of students who took the PSLE were eligible for secondary school. 66.2% qualified for the Express stream while 21.7% and 10.4% qualified for the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams, respectively.
If so, this does not mean the new system would allow more students to be eligible for secondary school. Rather, it seems that the bell curve might have caused some distortion to the PSLE scores under the current (old) system.
Some questions to ask are these:
- Under the current (old) system, when students are given grades and their respective T-scores, were they given lower grades than they would otherwise have scored? If they are, would this result in lower self-esteem, morale and confidence in our students?
- Also, how is the thinking behind the bell curve done? Are there students who have done relatively well but whose grades were adjusted downwards based on the bell curve and therefore entered a stream lower than which they would otherwise have gone to?
- Without the bell curve, would there have been more students who would perform academically better, and which would also mean more students who could have entered the Express stream, and then into university as well?
The question to ask is – does the bell curve unnaturally skew the academic performances of our students and which can psychologically create a disbelief in their own abilities?
I suppose these, and more questions, have been asked by parents. I am unaware as to whether answers have been given.
Some further fundamental questions to ask are these:
- What is the rationale behind deciding which grades/levels would allow students to enter into the Express or Normal streams? How do we decide what is academically more “Express” and what is more “Normal”?
- In order to have such a differentiation, the ‘government’ would need some working parameters as to how much marks they deem should be considered “Express” and what is “Normal”.
- Based on the ‘new’ scoring system, we seem to have an answer – the minimum to enter into the Express stream is if every subject scores a minimum of 65. So, is 65 marks the minimum to be in the “Express” queue”? But what determines that it should be 65 marks? Why not 50?
Of course, one response could be that the current system is working well – in how it distills students into the respective streams and there onwards into junior colleges, polytechnics or ITEs (for vocation training), and later on, universities – and therefore there shouldn’t be a need to question it.
But this exposes some other questions:
- Currently, there seems to be a fixed cohort of students who sat for their PSLE and who later enter junior college – 30%.
- There also seems to be a fixed cohort of 30% of the students who enter local public universities. According to WikiLeaks, Assistant Director of the Planning Division at the MOE Cheryl Chan was supposed to have said in 2007 that, “the government does not plan to encourage more students to get a higher education. The university enrollment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25 percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need everyone to get a four-year degree, she asserted.” This figure has not changed much – last year, it was about 30%.
- If so, this raises some questions – for the seemingly fixed percentages of how many students should be streamed into the different streams and institutions, how are these percentages decided upon administratively?
- The added concern is that the bell curve would then skew the results in favour of the government’s planning agenda – what effect does this have on the development of our students? Does this lead to an adjustment in the perceived academic abilities along the lines of the bell curve? Also, would the marking system (for examinations) that would follow a bell curve also skew the perceived academic development of our students?
For me, the ‘government’s lack of address for these issues raises even more questions. The planning parameters could have been planned on long ago, but this issue should be revisited now.
The question to ask is:
- Where Singapore’s academic development would have advanced today as compared to many years ago, why are fixed percentages still used to determine the academic streams or pathways that students should take?
- Where academic development should have become grown better and more students should have the ability to enter junior colleges and universities, but where the percentages are still fixed (or only slightly changing), this leads to the question – are Singaporeans being held down from their academic advancement based on the government’s fixed planning parameters?
Indeed, several ministers have already said that pursuing degrees are not important. Based on the above questions, this then raises many questions, doesn’t it?
- Is our education system intentionally engineered to produce fixed percentages for specific workforce targets and wage tiers?
- Is the education system planned with inequality as part of its design?
Now, if we again continue to use the same assumption that each subject would have the same marks, and 90 marks for each subject would give a PSLE score of 277 under the old system, students are likely to enter the following ‘top-tier’ schools (as listed in the next two charts below), which have cut-off points at around 277.
The question then is this:
- Now that the PSLE scores have become more refined under the ‘new’ scoring system, did the ‘government’ refine the PSLE scoring system with the secondary school postings in mind? – Meaning, did the government look at the percentage of students who would enter the ‘top’ schools and then work backwards to decide which marks should be used as the cut-off points, to allow the scores which would enter the ‘top’ schools under the old system, to still be able to enter under the ‘new’ system?
- Are the subsequent scores then also divided accordingly?
In order words, does the ‘new’ system do away with the computation based on a bell curve but use the bell curve in its design instead?
Of course, some might argue that there needs to be a finer distinction so as to be able to stream.
But then, wouldn’t this be the wrong question to ask?
- First, it was Ng Chee Meng who said: “Every school is a good school, a good fit for the child if it best matches the students’ needs.” But if so, if every school is supposed to be equally good, wouldn’t streaming go against the very idea of wanting every school to be equally good?
- By the more stringent scoring system, wouldn’t the unequal system continue to be persist?
We cannot on the one hand say that we want schools to be equal but on the other, continue to maintain and even further develop a system to entrench the inequality, can we?
Below is a clearer list on the ‘top-tier’ schools, as per the discussion above.
In the next segment below, I try to look at another way of comparing the old and ‘new’ PSLE scoring system.Instead of the horizontal axis representing the marks at a 5 marks interval, I decided to use a different range.
The chart below shows the mark ranges for the old and ‘new’ scoring system. I decided to use each of the starting and ending marks for each of the range for the horizontal axis (meaning for the marks range of 91 – 100 for grade A* of the old system, I used the marks 91 and 100 – I did this for both the old and ‘new’ system) for the charts below.
On why I used the starting and ending marks for each range, this is because I want to compare to see if there are any obvious differences under the old and ‘new’ scoring system.
Accordingly, below is the chart. Again, the blue line represents the old scoring system while the red line represents the ‘new’ scoring system.
In the chart below, I invert the red line again for easy comparison.
Below, I changed the blue lines to bars to make the comparison clearer.
Again, I also superimposed yellow and red colour bands over the chart, based on the ‘new’ scoring system to let you see better.
And for the chart below, I also superimposed the purple colour bands over the chart, based on the old scoring system.
These are the bands compared – in the chart below, for the old and ‘new’ scoring system.
Now, the questions.
If you look at the yellow circles in the chart below, within each circle are the two PSLE scores, based on the two marks that separate two grade levels. For example, grade A* ranges from 91 to 100 marks. Grade A ranges from 75 to 90 marks. 90 marks and 91 marks are the two marks that separate these two grades – and which are within the yellow circles.
Their respective PSLE scores, based on using the online calculator, are 277 and 280 points respectively. Why is this of note?
Under the old system, 277 and 280 does not differ greatly in points. Similarly, 219 and 223 in the next circle and 165 and 169 in the next, also do not differ greatly.
But under the ‘new’ system (and based on the assumptions laid out in this article), 280 points would now give a PSLE score of 4 points while 277 would give a PSLE score of 8 points – which is a big difference now.
Similarly, 223 would now be a PSLE score of 16 points while 219 would be 20 points – again, a big difference.
165 and 169 would both be PSLE scores of 24 points because of the wider band for lower scores under the ‘new’ system.
This again clearly shows that the ‘new’ PSLE system has been tweaked to make the score differentiation even finer for higher scores, doesn’t it?
- From here, you can see that competition is now even stronger at the higher PSLE scores (or in order achieve these scores). But for the lower scores, it seems to be more relaxed (again without the benefit of how the scores based on the bell curve are computed, is difficult to make a firm comparison).
- Again, if Ng Chee Meng had said that the ‘government’ wanted “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, the ‘new’ scoring system does not exactly do that, does it? In fact, it has now made it more competitive, hasn’t it?
But there is a caveat – based on the assumption of having similar marks for each subject, the competition would mainly arise in the yellow circles as indicated in the chart below – at the margins of each range under the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system.
So, if your marks are now 89, there is pressure to strive to get 90 marks, so as to be placed in Achievement Level 1 and score a PSLE score of 4 points.
If the marks are at 84, there is then pressure to strive to get 85 marks similarly. In between, at 86, 87, 88 and 89 marks, it might be thought that it is more relaxed. But does this logic work out?
Not really. At 89 marks, a person would still strive to get 91 marks. This would apply even at 86 marks. So, in truth, the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system would still make it very competitive.
However, the situation is very different for those who are high scorers (i.e. those who score 90 marks and above) – as indicated in the green circle in the chart below.
There was this person who made the following comment on my Facebook.
Under the old system, not only the 5 marks between 85 and 90 is competed for, every mark above 90 is competed for.
To get to iP school under the old system, you need at least 3 A stars and an A that is closer to 90.
You can get thru with 2A stars and 2 As …but the A stars need to be closer to 100 marks.
The fight amount the stressed young ones is always for the higher end of the grade…that is way above 90.
The new system wants to take away that.
He also said:
Under the old system, getting 90 for the A star is not enough. Reason being every point counts towards being better ranked than the competition. The T score is different for an A Star as it compares marks and not grade
Under the new system, there is no difference between a person scoring 90 and another scoring 100. They are both rated at 1 point. So there is no need to cramp and memorise for the exam. This is where the pressure lessens.
To get to a TOP school anywhere, one needs to be of a certain standard. Getting 4 points will gain one admission to a school of their choice. Even 5 will do the trick.
In this sense, it is way less stressful for the kids, especially those who can make it.
Low Chu Chong is supposed to be the Associate Director at DBS Vickers Securities. I suppose he knows what he is talking about.
Low Chu Chong also said this:
Children from families with good economic status will always have an advantage, be it in terms of tuition or extra help from parents who can spend the time to teach the. That is something no policy can change as most parents will try to give their offsprings a leg up.
This is the unfortunate thing about Singapore’s system where the inequality in the education (and economic system) has resulted in people believing that the inequality is natural and that “no policy can change” this.
In response to him, I said:
If we want to create an education system which is more equal, there are ways to do it. If we want to entrench a system where those with good economic status can benefit, then we will not change the system. It is a matter of will. Arguing that no policy can change an unequal system belies that the possibility that equality can be achieved, but when we do not try.
I also pointed him to an article on The Atlantic which explained how Finland changed its education system to become more equal – the article does a better job at explaining.
So you see:
- The ‘new’ scoring system has been refined to such an extent that it would seem to still protect the ‘elite’ schools and cause students to still be carefully sorted on an academic basis.
- Second, the ‘new’ scoring system would actually benefit the ‘top’ scorers as the stress levels are lessened for them. But such stress would still be present for every other student across the board.
Is this a better system? I do not think so, as it continues to induce stress and competition among our students?
Thus when Ng Chee Meng said that the ‘government’ wants “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, I do not think we can take these words at their face value.
The former Principal of Xinmin Secondary School Goh Tong Pak was also interviewed on his thoughts about the ‘new’ scoring system.
The new system does not have a great effect in reducing stress because students still have to focus on all (four primary school level) subjects. For example, he said that if a student scores over 85 marks for each subject, the four subjects would add up to 340 marks which under the new system, the student would have 8 points. But if two subjects scored 100 marks and the other two scored 70 marks, even though the full marks are also 340 marks, the total score would only be 12 points.
“In the end, you still have to work to do you best for all the subjects, and people would not stop “rushing (to get higher marks)” just because the system changed,” he said.
He also said that this might cause parents to focus more on Higher Chinese instead.
He added: “Even if the student scores 1 point for 3 subjects but does not score well for the 4th, the student still cannot go to a school.”
Based on what he explained, I drew up the chart below.
You can see the discrepancy – based on the ‘new’ scoring system, it can make a huge difference as to which band of schools students with the two different scores would enter.
But in such a situation, where one student has 100 marks in two subjects versus another with 85 marks in four, how do you determine who is the better student? Also, even if the ‘new’ scoring system grades the student with 85 marks in four subjects as being better, does it mean the student who who has 100 marks in two is not as good?
Herein lies the problem with a scoring system, doesn’t it?
In the next example in the chart below, I put together some more numbers.
Take a look at the example below – they are self-explanatory. (Remember the assumption I set out at the start where in the absence of the bell curve, the comparisons are not direct.)
In the examples below, it seems to suggest that where a student would otherwise have gone to a Normal stream under the old stream, the ‘new’ system could enable the student to enter an Express stream.
(Again note that I do not have the benefit of a bell curve analysis and the relevant data to make this comparison complete.)
This raises some interesting questions:
- The first, of course, is whether this illustration would be accurate. I would like to hear the MOE’s thoughts on this.
- Second, assuming the broad idea of this illustration can be accepted, would this be an actual practice that would enable students to advance into the Express stream if they achieve the PSLE score of 20 required?
I am personally actually in favour of this. Let me explain:
- Dr Pasi Sahlberg, is a renowned Finnish educator who was quoted by The Straits Times as having “asked why Singaporeans were debating T-scores and bands when they should be debating if the PSLE was needed.”
- So did Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who asked “whether it was appropriate for children to take a high-stakes examination at age 12. She also “noted that most school systems in the world do it at age 15 or 16”. She added that: “That’s when most youngsters are beginning to discover what they are good at and where their interests lie.”
- As such, I am in favour of allowing all our students to advance into secondary school – without examinations and streaming – until such time (at 15 or 16 years old) before they should be streamed.
In this instance, I do not think we should have streams and call them “Express” or “Normal” – everyone should simply continue to study and enjoy learning. Streaming and national examinations at the age of 12 should be removed.
Having said that, for the example above, I am not sure if the outcome is intended by the MOE under the ‘new’ system – but even if not, I hope that this practice (as highlighted in the example) would continue to happen.
The examples below also provide you with further permutations.
Do take a look at them – they are self-explanatory. (Again, take note of the assumption of the bell curve.)
I would like to think that the ‘new’ grading system would give wider opportunities for those who are academically less-inclined to be able to move forward in the education system.
As the education experts aforementioned said, streaming and examinations at the age of 12 is too early and cause undue and unnecessary stress for our children.
I do however think that the ‘new’ scoring system continues to promote an elitist system and even favours the ‘elites’ but if the examples in the last two charts would be put into practice, I do think it is a favourable expansion in the change as well.
On questions as to whether for the students who do not do as academically well at PSLE, would they be able to cope – I think this should not be the question, at least not at this point.
The question we should be asking is – how can we restructure the environment to better facilitate learning for our children?
As I mentioned in the previous articles (with links), class sizes should be reduced, as well as the syllabuses and teachers’ administrative workload, so that this will give teachers more time and space to develop customised programmes for each student, to help them learn in different ways and to also allow them to find joy in learning. This would not only improve their academic learning but would also allow them to find out what they would like to do and pursue it.
The MOE made this points:
- “As long as the child enjoys learning and does his best, the AL he receives will enable him to progress at an appropriate pace in the next step of his learning journey.
- We want to encourage parents to set balanced goals for their child. For instance, if the child scores quite well in certain subjects, instead of chasing the last point there, he could work harder on his weaker subjects or pursue non-academic interests that will benefit him in other important ways.”
But if it is indeed the aim that children “enjoy” learning and to allow them to “pursue non-academic interests that will benefit” them, shouldn’t the focus then be on that?
The MOE cannot on one hand claim that it wants children to enjoy learning, but yet puts in place stressful examinations and streaming, which curbs the enjoyment, and forces them to compete for good results.
The MOE cannot also on one hand say that it wants children to “pursue non-academic interests” but yet on the other, continues to put so much focus on academic results.
It is one thing to say something but do another. Singaporeans can see for themselves whether the ‘government’ means what it says or whether the words should only be taken at face value.
As it is, the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system does not fundamentally address the concerns of Singaporeans. The ‘new’ PSLE system allows the very ‘top’ scorers to reduce their stress and protects the ‘elite’ schools.
However, the ‘new’ system also creates more stress as it means that instead of fighting for every point now for the PSLE score under the old system, students would now need to fight even harder to enter the next band. The ‘new scoring system does not take the stress away, no matter how much rhetoric is used.
I started this article by mentioning that the charts used for comparison does not take into account the bell curve. But even when taking the bell curve out of the equation, the point remains that the ‘new’ scoring system is just as competitive and stressful.
Not only that, with the more refined and determinate computation of PSLE scores, it exposes more questions as to how the government would decide which marks and scores would qualify for each stream. Importantly, how does the government make these decisions as to the cut-off points, and as to which student should go into the Express stream, or to university for that matter?
Should the government be the gatekeeper as to which academic ability should be considered “good”?
At the end of the day, what did Singaporeans really want to change on the PSLE?
As a Straits Times poll showed, “only two in five Singaporeans think the PSLE is necessary.”
“One in four stated outright it was redundant,” it added.
Singaporeans wanted the PSLE abolished. Not tweaked and still cause more stress.
But what then are the solutions? Plenty. I have outlined them above and in the previous article. But don’t take my word for it.
Here is what the former chief economist at the GIC has to say:
The Singapore ‘government’ introduced the ‘new’ PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) scoring system yesterday and claimed that it is aimed at “moving away from an over-emphasis on academic results”. Is it true?
In the chart below, check out the old grading system on the left and the ‘new’ one on the right (to be implemented in 2021).
Under the old grading system, the grades were called, well, ‘Grades’. Under the ‘new’ system, they would be called, ‘Achievement Levels’. Old wine in a new bottle.
More importantly, check out the marks required in each grade/level.
The ‘new’ system would now make it even more difficult for you/your child to score a higher grade/level.
Under the old system, a score of 75 will give you an A. But under the ‘new’ system, you will only get a grade 4 (two levels down).
Also, under the old system, a score of 60 will give you a B. But under the ‘new’ system, you will only get a grade 6 (three levels down).
But with this change, it would mean that students will have greater difficulty scoring higher grades.
Take for example my grades – I scored A*, A, A and B which in numerical terms would be 1*, 1, 1 and 2. But under the ‘new’ scoring system, I would instead get 1, 4, 4 and 6 (or A*, C, C and E in alphabetical terms). You can immediately see the difference.
Under the old scoring system, the higher grades would give students more confidence. But under the ‘new’ system, the lower grades/levels is going to hit the morale of the students.
On top of that, why did the MOE decide to change the alphabetical grades into “Achievement Levels” instead? Even under the ‘O’ Levels, students are awarded alphabetical grades as well. Is the ‘government’ trying to mask the change in mark ranges by discontinuing the use of alphabetical grade levels, in the hope that Singaporeans would be made confused, and so that no one would notice this change?
So the question is, does the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system really “move away from an over-emphasis on academic results”? Or does it actually put more focus on academic results with the more stringent scoring system, and put more stress on our children?
The Ministry of Education (MOE) claimed that, “The current T-score system differentiates students very finely,” and that it wants to change that. But instead, the ‘government’ turns around and decided to differentiate the Achievement Levels even more finely than the previous Grade levels – why didn’t the ‘government’ talk about this in their press releases?
In other words, the ‘government’ seems to be thinking that since it cannot differentiate the T-score finely, it has to find a way to still be able to differentiate finely, and therefore it turned to the Achievement Levels to do so instead – this way, it can still distinct the higher scorers and move them into the ‘top’ schools (it looks like this is the intent since the lower scores are now more compressed together).
Doesn’t this still stress our children? Now instead of stressing over T-scores, they have to stress over getting higher grades to get higher Achievement Levels – still as stressful as today!
Well, becareful what you wish for. The ‘government’ already had an agenda and they were just making use of the grievances of Singaporeans to further refine the system to allow them to distill students even more elaborately into academic tiers and you fell for it.
If the ‘government’ would state matter-of-factly that yes, they wanted to refine the system further to distinct students according to their academic abilities, then I cannot fault the ‘government’ for introducing this ‘new’ system. But instead the ‘government’ claimed that it is to “move away from an over-emphasis on academic results”, which is clearly not the case. If so, can you trust that the changes made to the PSLE scoring system would lessen the burden for you or your child?
Now take a look at the PSLE scores and the cut-off points for each stream in the chart below. The cut-off points for 2015 are on the left and the cut-off points based on the ‘new’ scoring system, on the right.
The numbers are different but the segmentation is the same, isn’t it? You still have to get an overall score just like now, and then you still get streamed into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical), just like now. Then, what is the difference?
You still have to get as best a score as you can to enter as best a stream. And the ‘top’ schools will certainly still try to keep their cut-off points high to keep taking those with the best scores, so even if a student gets 20 points and can go to an Express stream, the likelihood is that the student will not be able to go to a ‘top’ school, because the ‘top’ schools will most likely only take those with 4 or 5 points – so still, not every school will be a good school (the government’s rhetoric). They will still be classed differently. I do not see the ‘top’ schools willing to do any differently, unless it comes from a government policy directive but it is clear that many of the policymakers who come from these ‘top’ schools would be unwilling to do so.
What will happen then? That means that when students choose and rank the secondary schools that they want to be posted to, they would still have to know the rough cut-off points of these schools – just like now, so that they can choose accordingly, which otherwise they would not get to go to a school listed in their choice. What is the difference from what is happening now?
Then isn’t this exactly like the ‘O’ Level examinations? All secondary students who score 20 points and above in the ‘O’ Levels qualify to go to a junior college – just like how primary school students who score 20 points and above in the PSLE would qualify to go the Express steam in a secondary school. And then, the ‘top’ junior colleges have high cut-off points. For example, Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution both have cut-off points of 4 points (as shown in the chart below). Similarly, will ‘top’ secondary schools then have high cut-off points of 4 points as well? And like the ‘O’ Levels, will they be able to even reduce their points further to 3 points for the PSLE scores, by taking in students with relevant Co-Curricular Activities which could cut off another point or two?
How does this make every school a good school?
If so, the ‘government’ aren’t really changing the PSLE system, are they? They are just replacing the PSLE scoring format with the ‘O’ Levels scoring format. Backend, the technical aspects work all the same, under the old or ‘new’ system.
How does this remove the excessive focus on academic results? It still puts excessive focus on academic results, doesn’t it?
Do you remember how the ‘government’ said that it would remove the rankings of junior colleges in 2004 because it also said that it wanted to move away from an over-emphasis on academic results? Today, we still have the rankings. Today, we still have an excessive focus on academic results. Nothing has changed.
So what should you expect to change with the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system? Nothing.
In fact, if you look at it, what the ‘government’ has really done is to entrench the academic segregation by pulling it backwards into the earlier years of education. Already, there is a sense that students who go to the Express stream are more likely to enter junior colleges, and then to university and later on to earn higher pay. Last year, 66% of the PSLE cohort entered the Express stream. About 30% of each PSLE cohort go on to a junior college and a similar 30% go to local public universities. Replies in parliament already show how there are very few token polytechnic students who go on to university.
Also, the salaries of university students are de facto pegged to Employment passes while that of polytechnic students are pegged to S Passes which therefore institutionalises the wage differences of the different academic tiers into their wage classes – and which explains the large wage gap among the different academic levels. But by now paralleling the PSLE scoring system with that of the ‘O’ Levels, it looks even clearer the distillation system that the ‘government’ wants to create to demarcate Singaporeans of differing academic levels right from young.
But such a refined distillation system to segregate Singaporeans from young cannot surely be a healthy system, which later on would have social and psychological consequences – and from anecdotal evidence, shows that those in the higher academic levels are likely to view themselves in more self enhanced (proud) ways while those at the lower levels would face self esteem issues and insecurities, which again research in inequality affirm, in how Singapore’s highest inequality among the developed countries have therefore produced a people who are more likely to see themselves in self enhanced (and self-centred) ways and high inequality also produces more mental health issues among the populace.
Question is, why does the ‘government’ still want to protect an elitist system and refine the ‘scoring’ system to further institutionalise such a system? The rhetoric that the ‘government’ says, to claim that it wants every school to be a good school, is then just face value and means nothing, isn’t it?
Finally, do you remember the ‘enhancements’ that the ‘government’ made to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension fund last year? Those changes work the same way as the ‘enhancements’ to the PSLE scoring system.
For the CPF, the ‘government’ changed the name for the CPF Minimum Sum to the Full Retirement Sum and made it look like it is a brand new thing. But it is not – the Full Retirement Sum is the CPF Minimum Sum, but just in a different name. Indeed, a “brand” new thing.
Also, the ‘government’ also came out with new names – the ‘Basic’ Retirement Sum and the ‘Enhanced’ Retirement Sum (which is really just ‘half’ the CPF Minimum Sum and ‘twice’ the CPF Minimum Sum, respectively).
But what changes? Nothing fundamentally. Except for the elderly above 65 who would have slight improvements, the majority of Singaporeans would still not be able to have adequate retirement savings – because the general CPF interest rates and wages have still not been increased, and so the CPF still cannot grow faster, and Singaporeans still cannot have enough to retire on.
What changed? Nothing.
How are the changes to the PSLE ‘scoring’ system similar to that of the CPF? For the PSLE, the ‘government’ changed the Grade levels (A*, A, B, C, D,E and U) to Achievement Levels (1 – 8).
But students will still be streamed into Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) at similar marks as today. ‘Top’ schools would most likely still take in students with the highest scores.
Worse still, students would now get lower grades/levels than under the old system and would face lower morale.
So what changed? Nothing. In fact, it got worse.
Nothing Changes with the ‘New’ PSLE Scoring System
When Singaporeans asked the ‘government’ to change the PSLE system, parents said that it was because their children were becoming too stressed and needed reprieve. Instead, the ‘government’ said that it would only change the ‘scoring’ system without fundamentally changing the primary school education system or the transition into secondary school, which should be what should be done to reduce stress levels at the root causes. So, alright, Singaporeans thought that changing the PSLE ‘scoring’ system might actually have the effect of reducing stress. But from the looks of it, it does not seem likely. Stress looks set to continue.
I hope I am wrong about this. MOE said that, “The PSLE changes are significant, so we will not rush the implementation.” It also said that, “The next few years will be used to test the new exam scoring and posting systems thoroughly,” so that as Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said, that the ‘government’ can make “Every school … a good school, a good fit for the child if it best matches the students’ needs.”
Honestly, I am not keeping my hopes high. I have just become too disappointed and jaded with how the Singapore ‘government’ works that I no longer really trust the ‘government’ to do what it propounds to do, but only on the surface.
I wonder all the time why this ‘government’ is not bold enough to make the fundamental changes required to kickstart our education system again, and our economy for that matter. But for whatever reasons, the ‘government’ does not dare to make major reforms and therefore we see ‘enhancements’ made which are like plasters placed over cracks, but without healing the cracks mean that the bottle will still break at some point anyway when it cannot handle the stress.
But how can the ‘government’ keep coming out with ‘solutions’ or ‘enhancements’ to problems when these are nothing more than repackaged (or worse still, just renamed) initiatives which do not fundamentally address the problems at hand? Then, aren’t we just kicking the problems down the road? Who does the ‘government’ expect to pick up the pieces later on, except for a government which would have a harder time trying to reverse bad decisions and which might just carry on making ‘enhancements’ (as is happening today) because the problems would be too deep to resolve by then or no one simply has the wits to do it?
Of course, if the question is to maintain an elitist and segregated structure, why change a system that works for the political elites, but except to modify it on the surface to appease those who are ruled and who are happy to have wool pulled over their eyes?
What are the solutions, you ask?
As I have written before, if you truly want to make every school a good school, you have to reduce class sizes (Singapore has the highest class sizes among the developed countries) and the administrative workload of teachers so that they will have the time (and energy) to focus on the development of each and every child. Teachers would also be less stressed and less likely to lose their temper with their students which we are increasingly hearing reports of. The syllabuses should also be reduced, and then school hours reduced as well, which together with reduced class sizes, will allow teachers to have the room to not only develop the potential of each child to their fullest but to allow them to do more creative activities to develop children’s critical thinking skills. Once this is done, where teachers could bring out the potential of each child more effectively, you would see students who are even more academically-effective (and all-rounded as well) and where schools would become more levelled academically and all schools would gradually become truly good schools. Finally, the government needs to ensure that education is free (or at least heavily subsidised – Singaporeans pay one of the highest childcare and university fees in the world today and Singaporeans receive very low scholarships compared to their foreign counterparts in local public universities), so that all children have equal access to higher education and will not be hindered by their lack of income or resources (where Singapore has one of the most unequal resource distribution in schools among the developed countries). Otherwise, the government should equalise wages so that the parents of these children would be able to earn higher wages to support their children through school – as it is, Singapore has the highest rich-poor gap and highest wage gap between the different education levels among the developed countries. Enrollment into higher education has to also be increased and more universities have to be built, so that our children would not be denied a chance simply because they cannot get a place in a local public university (Singapore’s university enrollment is considered low as compared to other developed countries). And if the government is sincere about upscaling the skills of polytechnic and ITE (vocational education) students to prop them up, then it has to institutionalise wage increases to again, level up the wages of polytechnic and ITE students so that they would be able to earn higher wages (and higher longer term wages) and not be trapped in poverty. It is estimated today that 30% of Singaporeans live in poverty – 30% of Singaporeans earn less than S$2,000 and the starting pay of polytechnic students is S$2,000. It is even lower for ITE students, at about S$1,200 to S$1,300.
But as it is, I do not see the ‘government’ do any of these. It removed the rankings of secondary schools and junior colleges only for them to make a comeback and to continue to stress our children. It changed the PSLE ‘scoring’ system but in essence, nothing changes. So fundamentally, the system does not really change to alleviate the stresses that our children face, and which they will continue to face.
Moreover, the solutions that I outlined above would make every school truly a good school, when there is greater equality in the accessibility to education and distribution of resources, but would the ‘government’ want to do that when this would threaten the very structure that the political elites have built for themselves?
I do not see the ‘government’ have the determination or will to do otherwise, but to keep with a system that produces enough workers for its low-cost foreign investment-fuelled rental market, and the political elites’ profit-motive.
Anyway why do I bother to speak up when the ‘government’ will keep persecuting me and Singaporeans would not even bat an eyelid. So, it really doesn’t matter now.
I am just writing because I thought that you might want to know. Just maybe. For you or your children’s sake, perhaps?
Photo taken by me at the 2016 New Year Countdown at Marina Bay Singapore
Among the People’s Action Party (PAP) supporters are people who subscribe to the PAP’s ideology of “self-reliance”. Among some opposition supporters are people who believe in “equality” and who want to see the system improved to protect a larger swath of the population.
(If you do not know, the PAP – Singapore’s ruling party for more than 50 years – had in its constitution abolishing inequality as a value when it first began but removed this and replaced it with the concept of “self-reliance” in 1982.)
In wanting people to be “self-reliant”, the PAP government started to reduce government health expenditure in 1984. It introduced Medisave at the same time to get people to pay from their Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension fund into a form of health insurance – to get people to “self-rely” on themselves for their healthcare needs.
However, you would assume that if the PAP wants people to be “self-reliant”, it would also increase the CPF interest rates to allow people to save more, so that they can “self-rely” on their savings for retirement (instead of on the state). But this did not happen. Instead, from 1986, the CPF interest rates started dropping until 1999, when it became only 2.5% to 4% and had stayed at that low since.
Not only are many elderly Singaporeans unable to accumulate enough to “self-rely” on themselves to retire today, this also means that the CPF component which goes into Medisave grows slower as well, making it more difficult for people to save enough and to “self-rely” on themselves for Healthcare, having to pay tens and thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for hospital bills.
Weirdly too, the PAP started inflating university fees by increasing fees by as much as 400% in a few years from 1986 and in 1987, it started including land costs into HDB public housing flat prices, thereby jacking up prices.
But all these could have been reasonably dealt with, if wages increase as well, so as to offset the increasing prices. However, wages started to be depressed since the 1990s, first for the low-income and from the 2000s, for the middle-income as well.
If the PAP so believes in “self-reliance”, all these policy manoeuvres would instead make it more difficult for Singaporeans to “self-rely” on themselves, wouldn’t it?
For “self-reliance” to take place, you would expect that people should be paid adequately, so that they could then “self-rely” on themselves to pay for their own healthcare, education, retirement and so on. Instead, wages were depressed and prices on these increased – which in turn makes it difficult for people to be “self-reliant”.
Today, Singaporeans pay the most out of their own pockets for healthcare in the world (purchasing power parity) and pay for one of the most expensive university fees and housing prices while having one of the least adequate retirement funds in the world. Low-income Singaporeans also earn the lowest wages among the rich countries (Portugal upwards) while the highest-income earn the most, and Singapore is still one of very few countries in the world without minimum wage and unemployment benefits and have the least adequate employment protection legislation among the developed countries, after America.
And which is also why poverty has risen to as high an estimate as 35% today – the government still refuses to define an official poverty line.
But for the supporters of the PAP who have bought into the PAP’s ideology, they have bought into the belief that ‘I should rely on myself. I should not rely on the government.’ Some of them look at the rest and wonder – why do you guys want the government to do more to help Singaporeans, why can’t you rely on yourself?
There is no right or wrong to the different mindsets. For those who subscribe to “self-reliance”, they believe they have to fight for themselves. So perhaps from young, they would fight to do ‘better’ than the other person, to score ‘better’, to get ahead, to go to a ‘better’ class, a ‘better’ stream, a ‘better’ school. Eventually, they might want to get a ‘better’ job, ‘better’ pay, a ‘better’ career and ‘better’ reputation, perhaps.
Again, no right or wrong to this. My main bugbear though is that in trying to do ‘better’ than the other person, this means that someone else has to be left behind or pushed back. In a country like Singapore (or how it has developed politically), there is only a small basket of things that can be shared by those who can become ‘better’ and be seen as to have ‘made it’.
There are not that many ‘better’ jobs which pay ‘better’ salaries. So you really have to fight to get to the ‘top’, in that sense.
Of course, things did not naturally become like this. The PAP government made a policy decision to restrict the percentage who can go to university. The PAP government also rigged the pay of graduates from the different levels – university, polytechnic, ITE and so on – at fixed levels, with the artificial pegs to the Employment Pass, S Pass and work permit respectively. (It is also widely believed that children of the elite class are also given preferential treatment in the education and work system).
These inequalities therefore means that if you do not get to the ‘top’, not only do you not ‘make it’, you simply cannot earn enough. And the consequence of that? – You cannot be “self-reliant”.
Therefore, this concept of “self-reliance” can be unhealthy. But according to a research I read just last week – for people who fight for themselves to get ahead, they are likely to become more successful. Why, the research did not say. But if you look at Singapore’s system, you get a contextual idea.
First, there is of course preferential treatment for those link to the ruling elites (those whom we call white horses, for example). But we also know anecdotally that those who ‘made it’ through their belief of their own “self-reliance” are more likely to think that they have done it through their own means, and therefore some (not all) would judge that if others cannot ‘make it’, it is because they did not try hard enough.
But to take the view that others did not try hard enough might be unfair in a system that is rigged for the elite class (though there are people who really do ‘make it’ through their own hard work). Such an entrenchment of a view based on the self-centre can also result in the designing of the system which favours rewarding those who have ‘made it’ – a self-perpetuating loop. It means ‘better’ schools created for those who study ‘better’ and ‘better’ pay for those who ‘make it’.
And this makes the system more and more unequal.
Indeed, a study that was done showed that the more unequal a country is, the more likely people are to take a more “self-enhanced” view of themselves. And this has indeed happened in Singapore – Singapore is today the most unequal country among the developed countries and Singaporeans are also more likely to believe that they are better than someone else.
The pitfalls of a system that advocates “self-reliance” is that it makes people fight over one another, it makes people believe that they are better than someone else and that another person is not as good or not good enough. It makes people judgemental and it makes people selfish. It also entrenches such an unequal system as people who ‘make it’ to the top and who also become government administrators develop the system further to reward those who have ‘made it’. This keeps the system in a cyclical loop which entrenches the inequality and self-centred mentality, and judgementality.
And as research has shown, with Singapore’s status as the most unequal among the developed countries, we also have very high levels of distrust. Unequal countries also have higher rates of mental health and crime, as people are forced to fend for themselves. The anger on the streets and the honking of the cars in Singapore is also symptomatic of the mental stress and frustrations that Singaporeans increasingly face.
Inequality has negative social consequences. And as such, so does “self-reliance”.
But does “self-reliance” and “equality” have to be mutually exclusive? It does not have to be.
One reason why “self-reliance” has become a problem in Singapore is because of how the system became engineered to be one that is unequal. As I mentioned above, where wages are depressed for the low- and middle-income, while prices across the board are increased, you have to fight to become among the top economic tier in Singapore to be able to adequately “self-reliant”. For the rest, it is difficult or impossible to be “self-reliant” at all.
This is where the politics played by the PAP rear its ugly head. On the one hand, the PAP says that it wants people to be “self-reliant”, but on the other it does not allow people to earn enough to be “self-reliant”. For some people, they believe that such a hypocrisy between ideology and practice is by design. First, some believe that the PAP in wanting to allow the elite class among them to get ahead, they have changed the system to benefit themselves, to let them to ‘get ahead’, to go to the ‘better’ schools, to get the ‘better’ jobs, to get ‘better’ pay.
Second, some believe that because the PAP also owns the largest companies in Singapore, the latter would want to increase prices and depress wages to earn higher profits, so as to allow themselves – whom they have put themselves in leadership positions in these companies – to earn higher pay and allow (at least) themselves to be “self-reliant”. This does not mean that do not subscribe to the notion of “self-reliance” but as the practice has shown, people who thread along this logic also have a tendency to first and foremost think of their own self-interests and to reward their efforts first. But in doing so, this reduces the share that others get downstream.
It also means that the political elites would therefore craft policies which would allow themselves to be “self-reliant” but inadvertently makes it difficult for others to do so. Yet, to assuage their conscience, they would develop the notion that people who are poor are poor because they do not work hard enough for it – this again backed up by research.
As a result, the policy makers among them would then make the calculations on how much minimally people need to be “self-reliant” and therefore give that little back in social assistance to Singaporeans. This is why Singaporeans on ComCare (social welfare) are only given S$350 every month (and only if they absolutely have no job and live in low-income housing). This is also why only the poorest 20% to 30% of elderly Singaporeans are only given S$100 to S$250 every month in supplementary public pension, because this is how the policy makers from the political elite believes is what the low-income deserve – the very minimal amount for “self-reliance” and if this is still not enough, it must be, it is believed, because these people do not work hard enough. (As a gauge, it has been estimated that Singaporeans would need to earn between S$1,500 and S$2,000 to minimally have a basic standard of living.)
But the fundamental reason as to why social assistance is not enough? People aren’t paid enough in the first place. And also, where the system pays unequally for the well-off to be paid too much while the low-income are paid too little, the lopsidedness drives up prices, fuels the poverty at the lower spectrum and which low taxes therefore mean low social assistance for the poor and middle-income which thereby exacerbates the income inequality further.
So all these are interconnected.
And of course, the “self-reliance” mentality has created self-perpetuating policies that further widen the rich-poor gap.
But is it “self-reliance” that is the pitfall for the unequal system? Yes and no. It has perhaps become the scapegoat to be blamed upon.
On the one hand, “self-reliance” causes people to fight for themselves against one another and makes them more selfish and judgemental. But this struggle also resulted because of an education system in Singapore that became more segregated by academic distinction, as well as an income disparity that became wider and wider by policy rigging. With prices that shot up, all these combined, forces people to learn to think selfishly for themselves so as to stay ahead of others, and so as to be “self-reliant”. If they do not fight for themselves, they cannot be “self-reliant” – so if you buy into the PAP’s logic, you will practice such behaviour.
What then is another way to look at the equation? – Equality.
Assuming that in the 1980s, if wages continued to increase at healthy levels and where healthcare costs, university fees and HDB flat prices were not sharply increased, Singaporeans would be earning adequate wages to sufficiently fund their healthcare, education, housing and retirement needs (if CPF interest rates were also not driven down) and “self-rely” on themselves. In this way, Singapore would have developed our own basic income model where everyone would be paid adequately to fund their own expenses without the need for high government social spending (assuming people who are unemployed also receive unemployment benefits).
On top of that, if the education system did not become as segregated into the different academic streams and if we work to reduce the segregation, as well as to bring wages to parity (where the consistent wage increases would have also increased wages for the poor and reduced the rich-poor gap and income inequality), Singapore would have become a much more equal place.
Some people said that Singapore was in our golden period in the 1980s and 1990s. I agree. We had a good economic and social balance at that time but due to what I deem as policy missteps (due in part to greed of the political elite), the balance is lost today and our system has become heavily unequal, undoing the reductions in inequality that Singapore achieved from independence in the 1960s to 1980s.
The resultant effect is that the entrepreneur spirit has also been driven out of Singapore because of high costs and rents, but also because of low wages which in total make risks too high for people to take. An unequal environmental and political fear and the indoctrination of political propaganda has also caused Singaporeans to become too docile and compliant a population to form an entrepreneur core.
Where the Nordic countries reformed their system in the 1990s after the economic crisis to encourage even more entrepreneurship, Singapore went the other way instead. There was reason for then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong to be optimistic that Singapore could have a Swiss standard of living. It did seem that Singapore was supposed to go in that direction.
But a greedy political class which started enabling the economy to benefit themselves and a regressive economic strategy which sank back into the approaches of the 1960s and 1970s, to promote Singapore as a low-cost investment hub (and therefore depressed wages) threw Singapore backwards and which reversed both the social and economic growth in Singapore.
I might have some slight sympathy for Goh Chok Tong when he cried out on his Facebook a few years ago that Singapore needs to reduce its inequality. Is it a sign that he acknowledges that the Singapore that he had oversaw in the 1990s is unravelling in front of his very own eyes? I would like to think that he would have the hindsight to recognise it, and is worried about the country’s long term progress, or regression, if we could call it so.
When a NASA-funded study explained that unequal societies eventually fall apart because of worsening poverty and a political class which are immuned to the growing social and economic problems until it is too late when the problems hit them in the face, and there is very little else they can do to undo the situation, I am inclined to believe that this is what is going to happen to Singapore.
Some people might not believe it, especially for those who support the PAP and the political elites among the PAP. I do not know, for I am not a psychic. But do I think the growing poverty is a problem? Yes, I do. Do I think the lack of local companies to ground Singapore’s economy on, due to the high costs of entrepreneurship, is a problem? Yes, I do. Do I think the dwindling consumption ability of Singaporeans is a problem, as it reduces domestic consumption and economic growth? Yes, I do.
But on the other end of the equation, the PAP government and its supporters believe that Singapore’s GDP is high and that should be celebrated in spite of the comparative low wages and share of GDP that actually go back to Singaporeans. They also believe that they have amassed a high amount of reserves from the savings (and CPF) of Singaporeans and this would tide the political elite through ruling Singapore and that is fine, even if Singaporeans are the ones to shoulder the burden with the inability to save enough for consumption and retirement, and whom many have to work until their deaths to pay for the national debt. Of course, the political elite have paid themselves high enough salaries to be immuned to the worries of the common man and are therefore able to blame Singaporeans as being lazy. Make more money to sustain my self-reliance, you ungrateful peasants, they almost seem to say. Does this only confirm what the NASA-funded study have found? I would like to think so. Therefore my prognosis of Singapore is not a good one at its current development.
For the PAP, it would like to think that for those of us who advocate for equality, or who speak up or protest on related issues, such as on the lack of transparency on the government’s management of the CPF, that we are troublemakers or that we are seeking to unravel the wealth that they have created for themselves.
Well, for me, I do want to fight to reduce their wealth, because of the arguments that I had laid out above. Singapore’s high inequality and a political elite which rewards themselves while punishing the majority of Singaporeans is simply not a sustainable model to govern Singapore, both economically and socially – and which will eventually turn around and bite the political elite in their own bums. Research has already shown that worsening inequality reduces economic growth.
As I was discussing with a friend yesterday (and which started the impetus for this article), there are fundamentally different approaches on how to fight and what to fight for, for people who believe in the PAP’s ideology of self-reliance versus that of those who believe in greater equality.
On the former, people who fight to be self-reliant are fighting for themselves, against others, so that they can get ahead and strive for themselves. In a system which is narrow at the top, few succeed while the rest languish.
For those who fight for equality, we fight for the masses (or so we would like to believe). We fight together and for everyone, for more redistributive policies and greater equality in wage distribution and resource access, so that everyone can get ahead – so that the level-playing field is made more equal and everyone gets a chance to get ahead and succeed together. This is at least what we hope to achieve.
Is this dangerous? Perhaps it is, to the political elite who see their political power and wealth threatened.
But it would benefit the greater population, and not only that, would be a more sustainable economic and social solution for society and the country.
Does such a model already exists? It does – the Nordic countries and to some extent, Western Europe, Japan and Taiwan exemplify such a model.
In the end, in a country as Singapore which has a democratic structure (but hijacked by authoritarian rule), change in Singapore will be determined by those whom have been bought over by the PAP’s ideology of self-reliance vis-a-vis those who believe in equality for all.
But the main impediment is the fear by those aligned to the PAP that they would lose what they believe they have fought for, and for the rest that they would lose what they never had in the first place – protection for healthcare, education and retirement etc – and the fear that causes them to lose their ability to envisage a different form of society, or a more equal one. It is also the fear that the ruling elites have that they cannot manage a reformist change that they fear would bring them out of power (and their wealth) that makes them too fearful to change.
To that end, as long as the PAP continues to make regular persecutions against Singaporeans who dare to envision a different form of future, this the PAP believes will act as the necessary impetus to continue to sustain the fear among Singaporeans.
In Singapore, fear is the mother of all of our problems. And if there is a lesson for the world to learn, it is that an obsessive-compulsive Virgo-perfectionist(-Lee Kuan Yew) desire to control will only stifle your populace which in the short term consolidates your power but in the longer term prohibits change and will result in lower economic growth, and your own wealth and the eventual downfall of your power. Democracy is not just an ideal because it is a hip Western concept. The West dealt with different models of governance before they finally stumbled back onto democracy which was used by ancient Greece. Problem with the West is that they seem to believe that democracy is their idea to own that it has turned the rest of the world away from it, partly due to the rest having corrupt leaders and still undergoing their own evolution of governance. It does not help that the West also practices hypocrisy in the democracy and human rights that they preach which does not lend credibility to democracy as a governing fundamental.
But there will come a time in Singapore when the balance is tipped, either when a confluence of factors – the PAP’s growing ineffectual governance, growing poverty and economic woes, and the resultant reduced fears – come together to force Singaporeans to decide to vote for calibrated change, or when the inequality in the system bogs it down to the extent that the system collapses on itself.
Only time will tell how Singapore will shape or if an enlightened leader will also emerge to bring about the change so urgently required for Singapore right now. SG50 was the turning point opportunity that looks set to be squandered away.
But “self-reliance” or not, this was never really the issue. A political elite which has become greedy and hijacked government for its own purposes has created the facade of “self-reliance”, and a compliant populace who have become complicit in their unwavering adherence to this ideological concept further entrenches the political elite’s hold onto power and the worsening inequality, and its economic and social effects further consolidating the elite’s power is what has taken root in Singapore.
Singapore’s future requires Singaporeans – the government and the people together – to take a good, hard and honest look at the situation and to decide for themselves that if they want a more economically and socially sustainable future, what steps they are willing to take to achieve it and to protect this place that they call home, if it is still what it is.
(This post was originally written as a Facebook post but it got too long, so I decided to publish it on my blog instead.)
Temasek Holdings revealed two days ago that its portfolio plunged 9%.
Temasek also posted the following chart on the source of funds that it manages.
Temasek stated that it does not manage Singapore CPF (pension) savings and Singapore Government reserves.
I drew the chart below to show how the CPF is connected to Temasek.
You can see the orange circles numbered 1 to 5 – please refer to the relevant numbered quotes below for further evidence.
The quotes are extracted from government websites and officials, and academics.
(3) Singapore Ministry of Finance websites:
(4) Singapore government’s ‘Factually’ website (2016):
(5 also) Albert H. Y. Chen and Hongyi Chen’s ‘Constitutionalism in Asia in the Early Twenty-First Century’ book (2014):
(A) Note that Temasek said (in the chart above) that it does not “manage government reserves”.
(B) But this was what the government said on the Ministry of Finance’s website: “Our reserves are managed by … Temasek Holdings”.
(C) The Singapore Ministry of Finance also said that “the Government is the sole equity shareholder of Temasek Holdings”.
So anyway, I am just presenting the information here. You decide for yourself if Temasek Holdings uses Singaporeans’ CPF monies.
All I am asking for is for the government to be transparent with how it uses the funds of Singaporeans, so that we can jointly decide how to manage our nation’s and Singaporeans’ monies.
Moreover, it was Temasek CEO Ho Ching who said: “we recognise that the ultimate shareholders of Temasek are the past, present and future generations of Singapore.”
Ho Ching is the Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, who is also the chairman of Singapore’s only other investment firm, GIC.
Singaporeans’ CPF is also channelled into the GIC (look at the brown line below).
Today, on this date 2 years ago, I received the demand letter from the prime minister to sue me – 10 days after my birthday.
The prime minister sued me for an article that I had written on the Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension funds of Singaporeans. I have to pay the prime minister S$180,000.
This is the latest update on the funds raised for the defamation suit with the Singapore prime minister.
As of the last update, S$10 was raised via my POSB bank account (130-23068-7 Ngerng Yi Ling).
Another S$125.60 was raised via my PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A man gave S$100 on my birthday on May 9 and sent this note – thank you, sir!
Two days ago, a man also visited my dad’s stall and gave S$300. The man ate two plates of black and white carrot cake. Thank you for this, my friend.
My dad sells carrot cake in Ang Mo Kio at Block 107 in Ang Mo Kio. He is opened on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from about 4pm to about 11pm/midnight.
Thank You for Your Support for the Fund Raising
As of today, $$31,146.31 has been raised. I still have to pay another S$149,800 to the prime minister.
If you would also like to help to defray the costs and damages, you can also fund raise to the bank account at POSB Savings Bank Account 130-23068-7 (Ngerng Yi Ling) or PayPal at email@example.com. Thank you.
The funds coming in have slowed down. For transparency, I will continue to update on the funds raised and used, on this blog.
I have also attached my LinkedIn profile here. I was fired after I was sued – the hospital that I worked at and the Singapore Ministry of Health sent out press releases to support the firing, with the hospital alluding to the defamation suit.
I am looking for a job, scholarship or fellowship. Please contact me on my LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are any opportunity.
Background: In 2014, I was sued by the Singapore prime minister for defamation. The judge ruled in a summary judgment that I have defamed the prime minister. I have apologised to the prime minister. I was ordered to pay damages of S$150,000 to him. In an agreement reached with the prime minister, I am to pay an additional S$30,000 in costs. In total, including the previous payment that I have made to the costs of the summary judgment (S$29,000) and application for the Queen’s Counsel (S$6,000), I would have paid/will pay S$215,000.
I have paid the first tranche of S$30,000 (of the S$180,000) to the prime minister in March 2016. From April 1, 2016, for the next 5 years, I have to pay $100 every month. Thereafter, from 2021, I have to pay $1,000 every month until I finish paying.
You can read the previous updates here: [One] [Two] [Three] [Four] [Five] [Six] [Seven] [Eight] [Nine] [Ten] [Eleven] [Twelve] [Thirteen] [Fourteen] [Fifteen] [Sixteen] [Seventeen] [Eighteen].I would also like to thank the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Safenet for releasing statements in support of me, as well as iMediaEthics, Hong Kong Free Press and Norway’s NRK (here and here) for interviewing me.
You can also read a previous update on the funds raised in 2014 and its usage. Thank you to The Straits Times and Mothership.sg for reporting on the fund raising. There were inaccurate online rumours spread that the funds were used to pay overseas trips. This is untrue. You can read more about these in the update here.
These are the photos and messages from Singaporeans who believe in Dr Chee and hope that he will be their voice in parliament.
Thank you everyone for sending these in and thank you to Dr Chee.
Dr Chee has fought the hard fight. Together we can be the change we believe.
(I am still compiling the photos. Please keep your photos and messages coming in. I will be uploading them until tomorrow. If I have missed out on your photo, please let me know!)
“The following are my well-wishes:
I’m sending in my support via email in this way, as pap has also taken action against me too. My facebook account is first blocked, followed by termination, little thanks to pap smears and their internet brigades.
I believe in God, and that we need to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves. The strong may yield, but the weak need to fight for their rights at times.”
“I believe in Dr. Chee. He us one man that refused to be cowed by the PAP bullying tactic. Although he is financially destroyed by the PAP and demonised, he continues to fight on. That is the strength of his character and no amount of character assassination by the PAP can stop him. Whatever mistake he committed, he has been penalised in full..
No Minister or MP from the PAP can stand up to him and debate him openly in Parliament. So, by hook or by crook, the PAP will keep him out for as long as they can. He has the courage to ask tough questions and demand answers. No PAP Ministers or MP will dare to do that.
Here are some of the questions I want Dr. Chee to ask if he got elected into Parliament:
1) Why is the Government giving out so many scholarship to foreigners when Singaporeans need to pay?
2) Why foreign scholarship holders are guaranteed a job and not Singaporeans?
3) Why are we giving away PRs/Citizenship like a piece if cake to foreigners?
4) Why Singaporeans do not have priority for jobs?
5) Why are Malaysian bus drivers granted PRs?
Good luck, Dr. Chee!
I just made the second installment for the defamation suit. Drew and Napier – the prime minister’s lawyers – sent me the receipt of acknowledgement yesterday.
I still have to pay the prime minister S$149,800.
As a background, I was sued by the Singapore prime minister in May 2014 in relation to an article that I had written on Singaporeans’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) pension funds. I then lost my job for political reasons and was charged in relation to a protest.
I was asked to pay a total of S$180,000 to the prime minister. S$30,000 (for the costs) has been paid in March 2016. And I have made two installment payments.
I have to pay monthly installments to the prime minister for the next 17 years, until 2033.
Funds Raised to Date
To update on the funds raised, I have received S$120 via my POSB bank account (130-23068-7 Ngerng Yi Ling) since the last update.
I have also received another S$50 via PayPal (email@example.com).
A few days ago, some customers at my dad’s stall also passed him some funds – a total of S$400. My dad said that an uncle and his wife passed S$150. Three friends gave S$100, S$50 and S$50. Also, a young couple gave S$50.
Three supporters also passed me S$50, S$30 and S$10 at the third Bukit Batok by-election rally that SDP held – a total of S$90.
In total, S$30,710.71 has been raised. Thank you for your support. I am grateful.
Thank You for Your Support for the Fund Raising
Thus far, a total of $$30,710.71 has been raised. I still have to pay another S$149,800 to the prime minister.
If you would also like to help to defray the costs and damages, you can also fund raise to the bank account at POSB Savings Bank Account 130-23068-7 (Ngerng Yi Ling) or PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
My dad sells carrot cake at Block 107 in Ang Mo Kio. Some people had visited my dad’s stall to pass him some contributions. Dad’s stall is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from about 4pm to about 11pm/midnight.
The funds coming in have slowed down. But for transparency, I will continue to update on the funds raised and used, on this blog.
Meanwhile, I have also attached my LinkedIn profile here, if it might be of interest. I was fired after I was sued – the hospital that I worked at and the Ministry of Health, Singapore sent out press releases to support the firing, with the hospital alluding to the defamation suit.
If you have a job opening, scholarship or fellowship, please feel free to contact me on the opportunities. I would be grateful if you do so. I am open to working overseas as well.
Background: In 2014, I was sued by the Singapore prime minister for defamation. The judge ruled in a summary judgment that I have defamed him. I have apologised to the prime minister. I was ordered to pay damages of S$150,000 to him. In a settlement reached with the help of my lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, I am to pay an additional S$30,000 in costs. In total, including the previous payment that I have made to the costs of the summary judgment (S$29,000) and application for the Queen’s Counsel (S$6,000), I would have paid/will pay S$215,000.
I have paid the first tranche of S$30,000 (of the S$180,000) to the prime minister. From April 1, 2016, for the next 5 years, I have to pay $100 every month. Thereafter, from 2021, I have to pay $1,000 every month until I finish paying.
You can read the previous updates here: [One] [Two] [Three] [Four] [Five] [Six] [Seven] [Eight] [Nine] [Ten] [Eleven] [Twelve] [Thirteen] [Fourteen] [Fifteen] [Sixteen] [Seventeen]. I would like to thank Mothership.sg for reporting about the fund raising.
I would also like to thank the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Safenet for releasing statements in support of me, as well as iMediaEthics, Hong Kong Free Press and Norway’s NRK (here and here) for interviewing me.
You can also read the previous update on the funds raised in 2014 and its usage. I would like to thank The Straits Times for reporting about it. There were also inaccurate online reports that the funds were used to pay overseas trips. This is untrue. You can read more about these in the update here.
I believe in Chee Soon Juan.
Today is Cooling Off Day. Dr Chee has stood up for Singaporeans. Let us back him up too.
If you would like, upload a photo of yourself on Facebook in support of Dr Chee and tag me, or you can send it to me via Facebook or at my email at email@example.com.
I am thinking if there are enough photos, to compile them and upload as a Facebook album and on my blog tonight.
If you have a message to Dr Chee or Singaporeans, send it to me as well and I will post them with your photos.
When I first read about Singaporeans who were sued, charged or detained on fabricated charges by the PAP, I did not think to much about it.
Like most Singaporeans, I was concerned about bread and butter issues. I was concerned about the cost of living, about whether I can pay for my hospital bills, afford to further my studies or to be able to save enough to retire.
It was only when I was persecuted and charged later that I understood what it meant.
When you are the one to face such attacks, you live each day listening to the lies they say about you.
All of a sudden, I was “deranged” and a “troublemaker”. I was labelled terms which are not who I am.
When I wrote the articles on my blog, it was because I wanted a better Singapore, and a more equal society where our people would be taken care of.
So I was shocked when month after month, the government and state media turned against me and falsified my character.
It was not easy. How to you live with the untruths that people say about you?
Some of you would understand when rumours or gossips were spread about you. Already, it was hard for you to deal with.
Imagine that multiplied several times on a national level.
At times, I became depressed.
But you keep telling yourself to remember who you are and what you really set up to do. You keep picking yourself up and focusing on the goodness of why you do what you do.
And this is why I admire Dr Chee. I spent 2 years and it has already been a tedious journey.
He spent more than 20 years and all this time, having to be strong for his family, wife and children. And all this time, teaching his children the right values.
None of us can understand the pain and hardship that he has to go through except maybe great men and women like Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was only when the government kept attacking me that I realised that the government does not want me to talk about social issues in Singapore and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) – because if I kept exposing the problems in Singapore, the government would have to deal with them.
For a government where profits and high salaries matter to themselves, to increase wages for the people and increase expenditure on health and education, and retirement for Singaporeans, mean lesser for themselves. Why would they do that?
This is why they wanted to persecute me.
Someone told me – you exposed them and threatened their wealth. Of course they would come after you.
But I told her, they took our money and our CPF to use without telling Singaporeans. It is they who are wrong. Shouldn’t I write about it?
In Singapore, it is a constant struggle to want to be true to yourself and to be honest, or to suppress your feelings out of fear.
I chose to be true.
So has Dr Chee.
He gave up the career he could have in America to fight for a Singapore he believes in – one which Singaporeans can live in justice and equality.
How many of us dare to do that? Or are willing to do that?
It has not been an easy road for Dr Chee. But he persevered.
But he believes. In a new vision. In Singaporeans.
We might not have the gumption or strength that Dr Chee has. But the least we can do is to admire the grit and courage that he has.
It is because of Dr Chee that right now, we still can hope for a different future.
It is because of Dr Chee that today we can hope that this by-election will bring us a new hope and a new future.
Dr Chee believes that one day things will get better for Singapore and Singaporeans.
Dr Chee trusts in Singaporeans.
And for this, he has my confidence.
I believe in Dr Chee.
I believe in the vision he has for Singapore. I believe in the hopes and dreams he has for Singaporeans.
I believe that he will fight for Singaporeans, as he has.
In him, I trust.
In him, I have hope.
In him, I dare to dream again.
I believe in Chee Soon Juan.
Singapore will be holding a by-election at the Bukit Batok constituency this Saturday. The opposition candidate contesting from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is Dr Chee Soon Juan.
Dr Chee Soon Juan has been fighting for Singaporeans for the past more than 20 years. The ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), for the past 50 years made him lose his job and in spite of offers from American universities to teach there, Dr Chee chose to remain in Singapore to fight for Singaporeans.
The PAP had once invited Dr Chee to join them but Dr Chee declined because he believed in a more progressive and equal Singapore.
The PAP today has been running a smear campaign against Dr Chee Soon Juan. A petition started by actress Neo Swee Lin and a group of activists, lawyers and other artists, and signed by thousands of Singaporeans, say that they “do not condone the personal attacks and character assassination made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, against Dr Chee Soon Juan of the SDP”. Ex-prime minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin have also waded in with their remarks against Dr Chee.
“We are deeply saddened at the manner in which the campaign is run, having deteriorated to a level that undermines our Singaporean values. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when people who have been entrusted with positions of power and leadership perpetuate such unbecoming behaviour,” the petition also says.
I have signed the petition. You can sign the petition here too.
Neo Swee Lin also spoke at SDP’s rally on Tuesday. She said: “In a perfect future, we will have a true democracy in Singapore, with more balanced views represented in parliament.”
She also said: “Residents of Bukit Batok, I envy you. You are so lucky. You have a chance to vote for Dr Chee Soon Juan this time. I urge you, Bukit Batok residents, please vote for Dr Chee so that he can be our voice in parliament. So he can be an alternative voice, someone who will ask all the questions that we want to hear. He will be your full time MP. What more can you ask for, right?”
I was at the rally to take photos. You can see some of the photos here.
These are the volunteers who work tirelessly with the Singapore Democratic Party.
Here’s Dr Wong Souk Yee, who wrote the book, ‘Death of a Perm Sec’. She also ran in the 2015 general election with the SDP in the Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
This is one of the audience members who came very early for the rally and who quickly smiled for me.
An elderly man also came with his wife (below).
You can see the look of confidence in this man’s eyes.
Speaking was Neo Swee Lin (or more affectionately known as “Ah Ma” in Phua Chua Kang).
A sign language interpreter was at the rally to interpret the speeches for a group of people.
The people who hold a torch for Dr Chee.
The people who listen intently to him.
And the Singaporeans who clap for Dr Chee.
And our very own Dr Chee Soon Juan.
SDP has also come out with several policy papers on healthcare, education, housing, ministerial salaries, their town council plan and for the Malay community, among others. You can read more about the policy papers here. Dr Chee has said that he will debate on these policies when he is voted into parliament.
Once upon a time, two hundred years ago, some lions decided to set up a farm. They sent out a notice to invite all the animals of the land to come and settle at the farm.
When the lions came, there were already some chickens on the land. The lions were tempted to eat them but it decided that it needed workers on its farm, and it needed to attract other animals to the farm, so it decided to keep the chickens.
The lion signed a treaty with the chickens that it would not eat the chickens as long as the chickens would give a portion of the eggs they lay to the lions for food.
Soon, foxes from the neighbouring towns of Macca and Penan also came to the farm to work.
The foxes were sly and quick-witted. The foxes were bright red in colour and they travelled in red junk boats to the farm. They brought with them red poppy and wanted to grow poppy farms.
They started growing poppy in a small corner of the farm but soon, more foxes were coming to the farm and the poppy business became lucrative. The lions who ruled the farm saw how money could be made and started collecting rent from the foxes on where the red poppies grow.
The foxes were unhappy but they grudging paid. But the foxes knew that if they did not want to pay, then they had to do something.
One day, the most influential fox went up the the head lion and told the lion that the foxes could help the lion control the chickens. Both the lions and foxes ate only meat and the chickens were afraid of them. The lions thought that it was a brilliant plan and made the foxes commissioners to set rules on the farm.
Very soon, the foxes grew very rich. They had many chickens working on their poppy fields. Horses, pigs and sheep from far and wide also came to work at the farm. The wolves and dogs also came.
The foxes also found some precious metals in the ground and realised they could make rubber from trees. With the new discovery, they wanted to expand their business to also ship the red poppy, metal and rubber to the other farms.
But the foxes needed more money and went to the lions for help. The lions were operating banks but they did not trust the foxes and would not lend money to the foxes to help them.
Spurred, the foxes decided that they had to set up their own banks. The foxes set up one bank, then another, and another. The banks were bringing in money. Seeing how successful the foxes were, the wolves and dogs also set up their own banks but theirs never grew as big as the foxes’.
But one day, drought hit the farm. The lions and foxes lost money as the farm could not produce enough things to sell. The foxes decided to merge their banks into one and they survived.
All was well for a while. The foxes continued to vy for power and expand their businesses.
Word soon came that the foxes in a nearby farm were fighting the elephants. The elephants had invaded that farm. The foxes in the lion’s farm started raising funds to support the foxes in the other farm in their fight. This made the elephants unhappy and they held a grudge.
So one day, the elephants also came to the lion’s farm. They started trampling all over the farm. The elephants were too big. They ran into the lion’s den and used their tusks to haul the lions up and throw them into the mud ditch. The lions were stuck and were held prisoners.
The elephants then turned against the foxes and started crushing the foxes beneath their feet. They also pushed some of the foxes to the mud ditch. Some of the foxes died. This scared the other foxes very much.
A group of foxes went to the elephants and told them that the foxes would do anything the elephants wanted, in exchange for their lives. The elephants also needed money so they agreed and let these foxes continue to operate their banks.
A few years later, the tide turned and the river washed away the mud. The lions were freed and chased the elephants away.
Meanwhile, the foxes decided that they were doing alright by themselves and decided that they did not need the lions to support them. The foxes in the other farms had also started taking over their farms.
The lions knew what was coming and decided that the wise thing to do was to slowly let the foxes take over and leave.
In the neighbouring farm, there were some tigers which continued to live with the foxes. The lion’s farm – now the foxes’ farm – wanted to merge with the foxes in the neighbouring farm so that they can expand their banks and business.
But the tiger was too smart for them. It kicked the foxes out.
That was 50 years ago.
The head fox felt that since he could not rule the tiger’s farm anyway, he was more than happy to be ruler of his own farm. He pretended that he was sad to leave and shed crocodile tears. But truth was, the head fox was overjoyed – the sly and willy one.
But he had a smart fox wife – whose extended family was controlling the banks. Without the fox wife, the head fox would be nothing.
He knew he had to do something.
When the head fox first ruled the farm, he had gotten the dogs on his side, so that he could convince the other animals to support him.
He said that all animals would be equal.
But the dogs knew the foxes were sly and would never keep to their word, so they decided to split from the foxes. The dogs wanted the animals to choose between the foxes and the dogs to rule the farm.
But the head fox was having none of it. He threw the dogs into the mud ditch. He also took some wolves, chickens, horses and pigs and threw them inside, to set an example.
But what did we do?, the animals shouted in unison.
The head fox barked at them – you are conspirators!
The animals were stunned. They did not know what they did to invite such anger. Didn’t the fox said that all animals would be equal under his rule?
But unbeknownst to the animals, it was power and control that the head fox wanted. He was not going to let go of it so easily. So he kept them in the mud ditch until they decided to do his bidding.
But it wouldn’t be the first time he sent the animals to the mud ditch. Everytime he became insecure with his power, he would fabricate stories t find a reason to throw the animals into the mud ditch.
Later, the head fox set up his own bank and made his friends the owners of the bank. He was afraid that the bank of his fox wife’s family would not support him. And wanted to set up his own to have control.
He then set up two holding banks and made all the animals on the farm give their produce to his banks to own. The animals had no choice. They would otherwise be eaten up.
But the head fox was still wary of the wolves and dogs who had their own banks. So the head fox went up to the wolves. Without a word, the wolves bowed to the head fox and said they would do anything he wanted.
And the head fox went to the dogs. But the dogs barked and chased him away. Angered, the head fox decided to use his own bank to buy over the dogs’ bank.
But the dogs would not go down without a fight. They ran to the wolves and begged the wolves to take them in. Taking pity on them, the wolves took over the dogs’ bank instead.
The head fox let it go on the account of the wolves’ loyalty to it. But he stripped some dogs of their residency. Without a place to stay, some dogs had to leave.
With everything in his control, the head fox started asking all the animals to give him 50 percent of their produce into his Central Produce Farm.
Again, the animals had no choice. They were too scared to do anything. They did not want to be thrown into the mud ditch.
But the head fox was not satisfied. To secure his foothold on the farm, he decided that he had to bring his son into the fold. The head fox put his own relatives into key positions of power and made his son the deputy head fox.
The head fox then made the animals give more of their produce to him so that he could pay higher salaries to the fox ministers.
There was to be no end in sight for the animals.
Disgusted, one animal asked, “where is our money?” And in one blow, the head fox put the sledgehammer down and took the animal’s money all away. And then another animal. And another.
That will teach him to speak up, the head fox thought to himself.
But the foxes’ desire to make more money got into their heads. They controlled the banks. They ruled the land.
They also controlled the rents. They decided to make the animals pay more for the land. And the barn the land sat on.
But the foxes were still not contended. They wanted to earn more profits. They decided that they could bring in rats to work on the farm. The rats were known to be cheap and fast. So the foxes brought them in.
But the rats started stealing the animals’ produce. They took the chicken’s eggs. And they razed the grass the horses ate.
Sensing their livelihoods at stake, the animals protested to the foxes.
But the foxes turned a blind eye and continued to drink their red wine and played golf on the side.
The son of the head fox which has since taken over – the new head fox – told the animals that they needed to learn to be as hungry as the rats, or else their food will be stolen away.
To show he means business, the new head fox sent more money to the rats to bring them into the farm.
All this while, the new head fox (and his father) told the animals to learn to be self-reliant.
But even as the foxes told the animals to rely on themselves, they continue to take the produce from the animals for themselves and lived lavishly.
The chickens were angered. Their eggs were stolen. And so were their land. They kept quiet in frustration. They were the smallest animals on the land, after the rats, and they felt they could not do anything to change the situation.
The horses decided that they would continue working hard because the foxes told them that if the horses worked hard, one day they would become the foxes and live a life of luxury. The horses believed the foxes, not realising that horses can never become foxes.
The pigs continued to roll in their mud. They were becoming complacent and apathetic. The pigs thought to themselves, that if they did not disturb the foxes, the foxes would not disturb them and they could roll quietly all day long.
Meanwhile, the wolves kept to themselves, not willing to rock the boat since they were doing quite well on their own. The dogs were scared stiff by the foxes and they did not dare to speak up. But they felt more and more suppressed and started barking at one another.
Soon, all the animals were started to feel the pressure and started barking at one another, even the rats.
The sheep, well, they remained sheep.
After a while, many of the horses grew weak and tired. They had worked hard all their lives and decided that it was time to rest. The horses went to the foxes and asked to retire.
But the foxes told them that there was no money. What about their Central Produce Farm, which they could feed on to retire? But lo and behold, there wasn’t enough.
So the horses had to continue to work. One by one, they worked until they all died.
Next, it was the pigs’ turn. The pigs went to the foxes. They have been rolling in the mud too long and they were getting rashes on their bums. They needed to see the doctor to get healed.
But the foxes told them that there was no money. What about their Central Produce Farm, to see the doctor with? But lo and behold, there wasn’t enough.
So the pigs could not see the doctor. One by one, they fell sick until they all died.
The wolves were the first to see the sign of trouble. They had made enough money to leave the farm, so one by one, they packed their bags and left.
The dogs were too scared to do anything still. And they got scared to death.
The chickens were still on the farm. They revolted and threw their eggs at the foxes. So the foxes killed the chickens and ate them for breakfast. Some of the chickens escaped to the neighouring farm.
But the foxes were still hungry. So they ate the sheep for lunch. But the sheep remained oblivious even as they were being eaten alive.
There were still some rats left on the farm. The smart ones had already ran away. Without the chickens to lay the eggs, the foxes ate the rats for dinner.
With no more animals, the foxes had no more Central Produce Farm to feed on. Their banks closed down. So did their holding banks.
With no food, the foxes preyed on one another and engulfed each other until almost no one was alive.
Then, the tigers strolled in from the neighbouring farm and ate the rest for supper.