Singaporeans and NS

In response to the many comments about NS not being tough enough and girls not being appreciative.

All Singaporean boys either dread or looking forward to BMT. Through all the stories we’ve heard about BMT and life in army we either accept the challenge or shudder in fear. However, sooner or later, we all turn 18 and take our first ferry trip to Tekong. I believe many other articles have mentioned many tough activities and moments that NSFs experience during their two years so I shall not give any more examples.

I believe that the “Singaporeans are weak LOL” comment was definitely insensitive and degrading. However, according to what the writer has explained, she made the comment without even reading the article about the most recent death in NS. This sort of trigger-happy comment was uncalled for and ill-timed. The LOL at the end of the sentence could be a manner of speech. In my opinion, since she has already apologised, let’s leave her alone and end all the personal attacks on her, her family and loved ones. I believe it has already turned ugly and the personal attacks have to stop. 

To all servicemen and women who have given their lives in the course of their service, rest in peace.

This post however has to be more incendiary than Singaporeans are weak LOL comment.

I always believed that if you make an accusatory post or comment, be prepared to defend it because the barrage of opposing comments are coming your way.

Before I enlisted, I was probably like the author, believing that if Singapore were to be attacked we would crash and burn with our citizen soldiers running away like hapless babies. Someone once told me that army would “psycho” you into believing that we would be able to win a war should it come to pass and that all army boys believe so when they ORD. It’s been two months since I ORD-ed and I firmly believe that Singapore has got what it takes to fight and win a war with an aggressor. Of course there are our limitations but yes, I’ve seen what equipment the SAF has and the fighting spirit of our men, we can win the war.

Perhaps this author has got the wrong idea when she hears NSFs/NSmen complaining about training. Yes it’s true we do run around in jungles with our rifles, get bitten by every insect unimaginable and get lots of injuries. But love it or hate it, it’s our duty. Singaporeans love to complain, it’s how we pass our time. Army guys love to sit together and complain about our Army days. It’s our national past time since our nation has created that common identity amongst all Singaporean men. From the lawyer to the taxi driver, NS is what they have in common.

But, do not treat our complaints as weakness.

When the siren sounds, I firmly believe that all active NSFs will heed the call to arms and our NSmen would not desert the country that we call home. For it is the time of war that Singapore would need its countrymen the most, not during a financial crisis or territorial dispute. 

On to my next point, yes enlistment is a law. Whether we like it or not, Singaporean boys have to go serve the nation. But should girls feel appreciative? I mean it’s a law after all. Maybe if all the men volunteered then the author would be appreciative? Let’s examine this in this fashion.

For example, Singapore is now at war with Country X. Our soldiers have fought Country X soldiers off our shores and brought the war to their shores trying to ensure that they cannot regroup and attack us again. I’m sure there would be scores of men who have deserted their comrades and fled with their tails between their legs.What of our women and children? I believe they would be supporting the war effort helping make equipment, food and supplies for our soldiers in another country. They would be praying day and night for their husbands, sons and bothers’ safe return. I don’t think there would be any “I don’t give a **** since it’s their duty anyway” attitude during these times. If your (the author) boyfriend/father/husband/son was off fighting the war, you would wish they gave their best during training so they would know what to do when fighting a REAL war.

To the author, I give the benefit of the doubt. The men of Singapore will valiantly defend the nation for our women and children, even for you. If you decide to leave Singapore during times of crises, remember the fallen soldiers when you return back to Singapore for they have kept your lands, culture, way of life, friends and family safe while you cowardly left us. Yes, it may have been their duty to fight the war but they did it so you could live.

For that matter, I believe that the Lim Bo Seng war memorial or any war memorial would have no impact on you because they did it for “duty” and there’s no need for appreciation. I tell you, not only the girls but even the guys should respect, remember and appreciate that they gave their lives for Singapore.

>>>To be continued.

 

IP or O levels?

Recently, there’s been quite a fair bit of talk about the Integrated Programme (IP) and how it measures up against the established O levels for secondary school students. Generally, there has been concern that parents are too quick to sign their children up for IP schools and are “gravely mistaken” that IP is the better choice for their children. Essentially, the question boils down to whether IP is for everyone.

As the 2nd batch of IP students from Victoria Junior College (class of 2006), I shall give my penny’s worth.  Since I can be considered “pioneer” of the IP initiative, I have been closely observing the transformation of IP in Singapore’s education.

As mentioned by MOE, the IP targets the top 10% of students that are clearly university bound and allows them to bypass the O levels, freeing up time for them to pursue other academic rigours. To be honest, this is a brilliant idea in theory. I think many secondary school students can empathise with the months spent nearing the end of their 4th or 5th year in secondary school drilling and preparing for the O levels. If we were to take away the O levels, up to half a year of time could be freed up for students. And this was precisely why I decided to take up the IP.

During my time, there were few “full-IP” schools. If I can remember correctly the only full-IP schools at that time was the Raffles family and Hwa Chong Institute among others. The IP was a very exclusive and somewhat prestigious course to be in. I had to take 3 entry tests and pass an interview before being offered a place in the VIctoria Integrated Programme (VIP). The number of applicants were overwhelming with up to 70 applicants vying for a seat. As of now, many other schools have taken up the IP initiative and become full IP. Meaning students from that secondary school would be exempt from the O levels with their PSLE scores being the entry criterion.

In my opinion, full IP schools using PSLE grades as a entry requirement is a disastrous idea. If I extrapolate the rigours of the VIP to other schools, I believe that many students would not be able to handle the demands of the IP. The IP was designed to stretch a student’s potential and push them to greater heights. In my batch, even the brightest felt challenged and “stressed”. And these students have stellar PSLE scores, scored remarkably for the 3 entrance tests as mentioned. I was not among the brightest, just a small fish in a big ocean. My point is that if IP was made too readily available to students, you have to “dumb down” the programme, to make it more manageable to weaker students but at the cost of not stretching the brighter students.

I am still in favour of making the IP an exclusive programme with stringent entrance tests and interviews not because I am “purist” or elitist but I believe this is the only way we can fully develop the brightest students in Singapore. On the other hand, schools that offer the tried and tested O levels should be value added. What separated the VIP from my other secondary school counterparts were many programs to develop self-awareness, social skills, financial literacy amongst many others. So if mainstream secondary schools were to offer these programs (which some already do), that will close the gap between IP and mainstream schools.

Another point raised in the papers was the issue of independent learning. The author of a forum article claimed that IP students got their smarts from tuition classes and thus discriminates students from less fortunate backgrounds who are unable to afford tuition and called for a survey of IP students as to whether they still required additional tuition classes. As per what the author mentioned, there indeed has been a proliferation of tuition centers and teachers offering IP-specific tuition. Back in the days, our IP teachers in school told us it was “futile” to search for “IP tuition teachers” as there were none. The VIP taught a very special curriculum for its languages, humanities and sciences that few, if not no tuition teacher can prepare a lesson for without foreknowledge of the VIP curriculum. And thus, only very few of us had tuition, with their tuition teachers helping where they can. However, I feel that the author’s point is somewhat invalid as many other O level students have tuition as well, not to mention for A levels where both IP and mainstream students end up studying for. Tuition is part and parcel of a student’s life, to seek extra help is normal. Even IP students are not exempt from needing academic help. Although I agree that tuition is costly and some may not be able to afford it, there are other ways of finding help, through school teachers, seniors in school or friends in their community (I know many friends who offer to tutor their younger counterparts for free). The misconception is that tuition = good grades. A student’s intellect does not depend on tuition but for his thirst for knowledge which brings me to my next point.

I believe that the IP isn’t all about grades, it’s about attitude. Of course, you require a certain level of intellect and smarts (which I mentioned above is not because of tuition) but the student has to be able to take charge of his own learning and continuously seek to improve himself. Students in the IP don’t always get flying colours for tests and exams even though they’re “smarter”. It’s how they pick themselves up from failing a test, finding out why he flunked and doing better the next time around. I dare say that this attitude is not common among students nowadays. With the whole emo culture and “sian-ness” going around, it has become the teacher’s work to motivate the students to do better in the next assessment. The IP student is expected to wipe his own tears, lick his own wounds and prepare to run harder for the next race, all by himself. Of course, the IP is not such a cold and dark place, there’re fellow friends and tutors to turn to if the student finds himself at rock bottom, somewhere I’m familiar with. 

And there’s the thirst for knowledge, a hunger to find out more about what was taught in the classroom. My bunch of friends and I joined competitions to test our mettle on top of our demanding curriculum out of love of knowledge. Although we did not win, we walked away with a wealth of information and skills gained from merely participating. 

Finally, what are the ill effects of a student who lacks the calibre but joins the IP? No doubt he will benefit from the additional non-academic modules as mentioned but what he will lack is the firm academic base that he will need before moving on to A levels. When this student starts his JC education, he will end up being at a greater disadvantage than his O level counterparts who have been drilled and well versed in their academic base. Imagine the IP education as a very long treadmill where all the students start running in the middle. After awhile, the bright students start running up the treadmill, the “okay” students stay where they are, matching the pace of the education but weaker students start sliding down the treadmill and some even get thrown off. These weaker students are the ones who jeopardise their A levels with a shaky academic foundation.

At long last, I conclude that PSLE may be an indicator of a student’s intellect but the IP is more than just grades and brains, it’s about attitude too and that’s something no amount of tuition can give you. Therefore full IP schools are a bad idea unless there are stringent selection processes. Parents shouldn’t blindly chase the IP dream because it may seem “prestigious” and jeopardise their children’s A levels. 

IP or O levels?

Recently, there’s been quite a fair bit of talk about the Integrated Programme (IP) and how it measures up against the established O levels for secondary school students. Generally, there has been concern that parents are too quick to sign their children up for IP schools and are “gravely mistaken” that IP is the better choice for their children. Essentially, the question boils down to whether IP is for everyone.

As the 2nd batch of IP students from Victoria Junior College (class of 2006), I shall give my penny’s worth.  Since I can be considered “pioneer” of the IP initiative, I have been closely observing the transformation of IP in Singapore’s education.

As mentioned by MOE, the IP targets the top 10% of students that are clearly university bound and allows them to bypass the O levels, freeing up time for them to pursue other academic rigours. To be honest, this is a brilliant idea in theory. I think many secondary school students can empathise with the months spent nearing the end of their 4th or 5th year in secondary school drilling and preparing for the O levels. If we were to take away the O levels, up to half a year of time could be freed up for students. And this was precisely why I decided to take up the IP.

During my time, there were few “full-IP” schools. If I can remember correctly the only full-IP schools at that time was the Raffles family and Hwa Chong Institute among others. The IP was a very exclusive and somewhat prestigious course to be in. I had to take 3 entry tests and pass an interview before being offered a place in the VIctoria Integrated Programme (VIP). The number of applicants were overwhelming with up to 70 applicants vying for a seat. As of now, many other schools have taken up the IP initiative and become full IP. Meaning students from that secondary school would be exempt from the O levels with their PSLE scores being the entry criterion.

In my opinion, full IP schools using PSLE grades as a entry requirement is a disastrous idea. If I extrapolate the rigours of the VIP to other schools, I believe that many students would not be able to handle the demands of the IP. The IP was designed to stretch a student’s potential and push them to greater heights. In my batch, even the brightest felt challenged and “stressed”. And these students have stellar PSLE scores, scored remarkably for the 3 entrance tests as mentioned. I was not among the brightest, just a small fish in a big ocean. My point is that if IP was made too readily available to students, you have to “dumb down” the programme, to make it more manageable to weaker students but at the cost of not stretching the brighter students.

I am still in favour of making the IP an exclusive programme with stringent entrance tests and interviews not because I am “purist” or elitist but I believe this is the only way we can fully develop the brightest students in Singapore. On the other hand, schools that offer the tried and tested O levels should be value added. What separated the VIP from my other secondary school counterparts were many programs to develop self-awareness, social skills, financial literacy amongst many others. So if mainstream secondary schools were to offer these programs (which some already do), that will close the gap between IP and mainstream schools.

Another point raised in the papers was the issue of independent learning. The author of a forum article claimed that IP students got their smarts from tuition classes and thus discriminates students from less fortunate backgrounds who are unable to afford tuition and called for a survey of IP students as to whether they still required additional tuition classes. As per what the author mentioned, there indeed has been a proliferation of tuition centers and teachers offering IP-specific tuition. Back in the days, our IP teachers in school told us it was “futile” to search for “IP tuition teachers” as there were none. The VIP taught a very special curriculum for its languages, humanities and sciences that few, if not no tuition teacher can prepare a lesson for without foreknowledge of the VIP curriculum. And thus, only very few of us had tuition, with their tuition teachers helping where they can. However, I feel that the author’s point is somewhat invalid as many other O level students have tuition as well, not to mention for A levels where both IP and mainstream students end up studying for. Tuition is part and parcel of a student’s life, to seek extra help is normal. Even IP students are not exempt from needing academic help. Although I agree that tuition is costly and some may not be able to afford it, there are other ways of finding help, through school teachers, seniors in school or friends in their community (I know many friends who offer to tutor their younger counterparts for free). The misconception is that tuition = good grades. A student’s intellect does not depend on tuition but for his thirst for knowledge which brings me to my next point.

I believe that the IP isn’t all about grades, it’s about attitude. Of course, you require a certain level of intellect and smarts (which I mentioned above is not because of tuition) but the student has to be able to take charge of his own learning and continuously seek to improve himself. Students in the IP don’t always get flying colours for tests and exams even though they’re “smarter”. It’s how they pick themselves up from failing a test, finding out why he flunked and doing better the next time around. I dare say that this attitude is not common among students nowadays. With the whole emo culture and “sian-ness” going around, it has become the teacher’s work to motivate the students to do better in the next assessment. The IP student is expected to wipe his own tears, lick his own wounds and prepare to run harder for the next race, all by himself. Of course, the IP is not such a cold and dark place, there’re fellow friends and tutors to turn to if the student finds himself at rock bottom, somewhere I’m familiar with. 

And there’s the thirst for knowledge, a hunger to find out more about what was taught in the classroom. My bunch of friends and I joined competitions to test our mettle on top of our demanding curriculum out of love of knowledge. Although we did not win, we walked away with a wealth of information and skills gained from merely participating. 

Finally, what are the ill effects of a student who lacks the calibre but joins the IP? No doubt he will benefit from the additional non-academic modules as mentioned but what he will lack is the firm academic base that he will need before moving on to A levels. When this student starts his JC education, he will end up being at a greater disadvantage than his O level counterparts who have been drilled and well versed in their academic base. Imagine the IP education as a very long treadmill where all the students start running in the middle. After awhile, the bright students start running up the treadmill, the “okay” students stay where they are, matching the pace of the education but weaker students start sliding down the treadmill and some even get thrown off. These weaker students are the ones who jeopardise their A levels with a shaky academic foundation.

At long last, I conclude that PSLE may be an indicator of a student’s intellect but the IP is more than just grades and brains, it’s about attitude too and that’s something no amount of tuition can give you. Therefore full IP schools are a bad idea unless there are stringent selection processes. Parents shouldn’t blindly chase the IP dream because it may seem “prestigious” and jeopardise their children’s A levels. 

ORD LOH!!!

This is a long overdue reflection of my days in Army. But here it is!

I can remember vividly the first day of my enlistment. The night before, Tammy and I were packing what extra stuff I would need in BMT, writing my name on all my barang. I was writing T. KWOK but she was writing THOMAS. K and we were discussing which would be better. The next morning, my parents, Tammy and I were in Tekong and I handed over my pink IC, never to be seen for 1 year and 10 months. And so my Army journey began.

I was in PEGASUS company and I had such wonderful memories there. BMT wasn’t like our father’s days where they beat you down and mould you up. But these days, it’s more of learning from experiences. The people in my section and platoon were awesome. I think my buddy Qing Fa deserves a special mention. I call him Raf, short for Raphael, his Christian name. We shared crazy times together, being punished together for some one else’s mistake, covering each other’s asses. He saved me from guard duty once by leaping onto my rifle and I saved him from a huge centipede crawling on his helmet. They say that in BMT, or Army in general, your buddy will become the most important person in your life for that 2 years. It’s true. Without his encouragement and support, I wouldn’t have made it through the tough times in BMT. Of  course my section was there for each other too. I’m glad that we all turned out ok and had awesome postings after POP. It was a joyous and sad moment, to finally complete our BMT phase but leave your friends for different pastures. I was fortunate and privileged to go to OCS after BMT, much to the joy of my girl. But I owe it to my friends in Pegasus platoon 4, and more importantly, platoon 4 section 2.

My 4D number in pegasus was 4209.

Once in OCS, I realised that BMT was just the appetiser. OCS made the tough times in BMT look like a stroll in the park. It was there that I was stripped down to nothing and treated like dirt. It was there that I made a foolish mistake, I committed a Negligent Discharge, which resulted in a 14 RCP (cadet version of SOL) right after my 10 day field camp. So essentially I couldn’t go home for about a month. And Tammy was leaving for London 2 days after my RCP ended. Those were trying times for me. Being stuck in camp gave me time to think about my existence in Army, ponder about my sufferings in OCS. I never had a conclusion then. But again, I had the support of my wonderful section mates. GOLF Wing Platoon 1 Section 3. And my buddies Yao Hui and then Josh. Both of whom has helped me greatly.

In OCS, there’s a saying that goes: When you’re suffering, look left and look right, your buddies are suffering with you; you are not alone. Without my buddies, I would never have completed OCS service term, got my first GOLD for IPPT, dug the cursed fire trench, navigated in the jungle and most importantly, reach the glorious commissioning day. It was in Golf wing that I saw the best in a man. How self-sacrificing my buddies can be, how they stick their necks out for their friends, how they bounce back from adversity stronger than before and their fighting spirit to achieve what has their goals. Never had I felt camaraderie as strong as this and my only wish was that I were half as good as the men they were.

My 4D numbers in OCS were 1309 then1301

After service term, I was lucky to enter the artillery formation. A new twist to all the infanteering that we had done since BMT. New relationships were forged and lessons learnt. Here in FAOCC (Field Artillery Officer Cadet Course), I saw, again, the best in a man but also the worst in a man. I will not describe the ill things I have seen. I have learnt many new skills and values but the most important of all was integrity. Be true to yourself and be true to your friends. In artillery, we had tough times and joyful times. Never had I taken a longer exam in my life, a 4 hour planning exam beats the longest A level paper hands down. Fast march with at least half our body weight. But we had fun times in the officers mess too.

My 4D numbers were X301 then L101

Finally the awaited day came. We received our swords and our graduating certs but my proudest moment was marching into the parade square during the commissioning parade. My parents and Tammy were there. Tammy came back from London for my commissioning. All the blood, sweat and tears and memories condensed into that 1 bar that I will wear on my chest till the end of my service as a NSmen.

Yes, blood, sweat and tears. Blood, sweat and tears that my buddies and I have shed for 9 months, finally came to an end.

Now being an officer is a whole new ball game. I was posted to 21SA as the Dy S3. Life was very eventful and again, many lessons were learnt. My upper study was very helpful and experienced and he taught me the ways of the Dy S3. Gone were the days trying to shirk responsibility, every morning when I come down from work, that bar on my chest reminds me that it’s time to start performing, living it up. Again it all boils down to responsibility and integrity. Responsible for my work and the guys in the branch and integrity to hold myself together. I have learned that command and control is not only outwards and directed to your men, but also inwards to command and master yourself.

I would like to thank the guys in my branch for teaching me so much, all the precious lessons I’ve learnt, I shall never forget. Gary, Isaac, Desmond, Teng, John, Kai Sheng, Kuan Wei, Chang Lok, Ryan, Rong, Beng, Heng Sui, Roy, Ananda, Fabian, Xerxes, Chee Kiong, Kelvin and of course my beloved Dy S2, Boon Bin and understudies Philbert and Suresh. Not forgetting my batch of officers: Ian Yang, Erusha, Mervin, Rakesh, Zong Ye, Nicholas and BSO Zhide. Thank you for making my life a joy in 21 SA.

During my life in 21 SA, I’ve been to Wallaby and Thunder Warrior. A rare privilege that I am most thankful for. ORD was bittersweet, I’m finally out of a regimented organisation, free to pursue my fancies but also to leave my friends behind.

Finally, for those who would say that Army is a waste of time, I beg to differ. I have learned so much and gained much more out of Army than I would in 2 years in any other organisation. When pushed to the extremes, the true colours of people will emerge and trust me when I say I have seen the best and the worst in people. There are many role models that we can find in army but also many negative examples. Army is what we make of it. Everyone is faced with the same 2 years, you can only gain as much as what you put into it. For those who have yet to enter Army, go in with an open mind and seek to learn new knowledge. For those who are still in Army, try to learn as much as you can and to try new things. For those who have come and gone, don’t forget the things that you have learned back in your glory days.

As of now, my days in Army has drawn to a close and a chapter of my life come to an end. I regret nothing and I am proud to say that I am no longer a boy but a man.

ORD loh!