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Singapore Tuition, O, A Levels

Thank you for visiting us! In addition to the information given on this website, we also blog regularly on education, society, life, faith, love, philosophy, human nature and all that make up what Plato and Aristotle called ‘the good life’. Beyond the mundane and material life that surrounds us, we hope this blog can serve as a little oasis to share a more excellent way of thinking, doing and living our lives. So starting from the most recent posts below, do follow us on this journey! And we hope you will drop us a comment or two at ask@irwins-study.com to let us know your thoughts or just to let us know how we are doing. =)

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(General Paper Resource) A fascinating insight into Singapore by DPM Tharman (Part 1)

I believe that General Paper (GP) can be a powerful platform to increase civic awareness and social conscience, so whenever we discuss current affairs during GP class, I always strive to bring Singapore’s issues, situations and perspectives into the conversation. In this way, students would at least be aware – and hopefully, more interested – in what’s happening in our own country. In my constant search for GP resources for my students, a transcript of a recent interview by our Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the 45th St Gallen Symposium early this month is a rare gem. So here are the highlights of the interview:

1. Advantage or Disadvantage?

When examining a nation’s rise (or fall), we cannot ignore the hand that a country was dealt in the beginning. Yet, DPM Tharman stressed that historical origins need not be straitjackets that proscribe our development. An attitude of mind, a force of will, and the struggle for survival can transform what he termed “permanent disadvantage into continuing advantage.”

An attitude of mind. We converted permanent disadvantage into continuing advantage. What disadvantage did we have? We were not a nation that was meant to be. A diverse group of people coming out of colonial migration patterns, very different origins, very different belief systems and religions. We were small, no domestic market, decolonisation had happened suddenly and the British withdrew their military forces quickly, and impacted a very large part of the economy. We were surrounded by much larger neighbours to our south, about 50 times the size of Singapore, and at the very outset, objected to the very formation of Singapore and Malaysia.

We had every disadvantage you could think of for a nation. We did not expect to survive, we were not expected to survive. But that, to (founding Prime Minister) Lee Kuan Yew and the pioneer team of leaders, was converted to advantage, because it forces you to realise that all you have is yourself. The world owes you nothing. And that mindset, thinking of yourself as not having the advantage of size or history and that you’ve got to create it for yourselves, turns out to be a phenomenal advantage.

2. Economic vs. Social

What is Singapore best known for around the world? Most would think it’s our standard of living and affluence, but DPM Tharman believes it is something else that is more fundamental and which underpins our economic success story.

People think of Singapore as an economic success — that’s what sort of catches attention easily — per capita gross domestic product and so on. But what was really interesting and unique about Singapore was social strategy. And most especially, the fact that we took advantage of diversity — different races, different religions — and melded the nation (to one in which) people were proud of being who they were, but were Singaporean first and foremost.

3. Government intervention in people’s lives

Successful multiculturalism doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires careful government management which may be seen by some as intrusive (even non-libertarian) but absolutely critical because if nothing was done from the outset of Singapore’s independence, “the natural workings of society would likely have led to mistrust, discomfort, bigotry and what we see in abundance in many countries in the world today.”

The natural workings of society would not have led to that happening. Not just in Singapore, but anywhere in the world. The natural workings of society would likely have led to mistrust, discomfort, bigotry and what we see in abundance in many countries in the world today. The most intrusive social policy in Singapore has turned out to be the most important. And it has a level of intrusiveness that doesn’t come comfortably to the liberal mind.

[An example is] housing estates. Eight-five per cent of Singapore live in public housing. Because when it’s 85 per cent, it covers the lower-income group, the middle-income group, the upper-middle-income group. These are middle-class housing estates. But every single block of flats and every single precinct requires an ethnic balance. That’s intrusive, because you’re constraining. So once a particular ethnic group gets beyond a certain quota in that block or precinct, the resale market has to adjust. You can’t just get more and more of the same people concentrating themselves in the same neighbourhood. And I’d say when this was first done, I don’t think we knew how important it was going to be.

It was intrusive. And it turned out to be our greatest strength. Because once people live together, they’re not just walking their corridors together every day and taking the same elevators up and down; their kids go to the same kindergartens, the same primary schools. Because all over the world, young kids go to schools very near to where they live. And they grow up together.

The lessons coming out of Baltimore, the lessons coming out of France’s large cities, the lessons coming out of all our societies, show that neighbourhoods matter, place matters, where you live matters. It matters much more than economists thought. It matters tremendously in the daily influences that shape your life and the traps that you fall into.

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General Paper (GP) Resource: Misunderstanding Cause & Effect

Besides teaching my GP students Content, Critical Thinking, Evaluative Strategies & Language Skills, I also aim to teach students about Concepts which they can apply across different situations in General Paper, society & ultimately, life. Concepts that I find useful to teach include price vs. value, managing tensions, making trade-offs, human costs etc. But one of the most fascinating -and easily misunderstood – concepts is that of cause-and-effect. Cause-and-effect may seem pretty straightforward but even experts do get it wrong sometimes, as a Wall Street Journal article points out.

In this article entitled ‘When Scientists Confuse Cause and Effect‘, renowned journalist and science book writer Matt Ridley writes about how we have a mental blind spot that can make us mix up which is the cause and which is the effect when explaining certain phenomena. Take for instance, the claim that elderly Taiwanese people who shop every day are 27% less likely to die over 10 years than those who shop once a week; and the claim that 16-year-olds who read books at least once a month are more likely to be in  managerial jobs at 33 than those who read no books at 16. Ridley observes that it would be tempting but rash to conclude that shopping prevents death, rather than that ill health prevents shopping; or that reading causes career success rather than that a scholarly aptitude causes both reading and career success.

Or take a GP topic that is highly popular – the environment. Some climate scientists see cause-effect confusion at the heart of climate modeling. Roy Spencer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration argues from satellite data that the conventional view has one thing backward. Changes in cloud cover are often seen as consequences of changes in temperature. But what if the amount of cloud cover changes spontaneously, for reasons still unclear, and then alters the temperature of the world by reflecting or absorbing sunlight? That is to say, the clouds would be more cause than consequence. Not many agree with Mr. Spencer, but it is an intriguing idea.

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