Education about helping students find themselves, not grades: SIM Global Education CEO

SINGAPORE: As a late bloomer himself, CEO of SIM Global Education and President of the Singapore Association for Private Education, Dr Lee Kwok Cheong, has made it his mission to provide educational options for those who reach their academic peak later than others.

Dr Lee came to Singapore from Hong Kong after being headhunted by the then-National Computer Board, and has been credited with transforming Singapore’s IT sector since the 80s.

As a testament to his contributions, he received the Public Service Medal in 2010 for dedicating more than two decades to the advancement of technical education in Singapore. Today, his focus is on ensuring accessibility to high-quality private education here.

He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about the true objectives of education, what makes a good school, the discrimination that private education institution graduates face, and what drives him to continue ensuring that education provides for diverse interests and talents.

Bharati Jagdish: Tell us more about yourself.

Lee Kwok Cheong: I think I started too young. My family was quite poor and my father and my mother were busy so they threw me into kindergarten as a way of putting me into some form of daycare centre.

In Hong Kong, we were all refugees from China. My father ran a provision shop and my mother had to help, and there were six of us. So by the time I went to school, there were three or four other siblings, so they were always busy and we were left to our own devices. I think it’s probably quite a common experience among people of my age in Hong Kong, in Singapore and in many parts of the world.

So when I did PSLE, I was 10. I think the typical age for PSLE is 12, so I couldn’t really keep up. And in my home environment we all spoke Cantonese. So I couldn’t learn English because we didn’t use it at all. I didn’t have the right family support, so I fell behind and once you fall behind, it’s just harder to keep up.

Bharati: How did not doing well in school make you feel?

Lee: I actually didn’t feel too badly because perhaps in those days, there was no ranking of schools and I didn’t feel too much pressure. My parents were just happy I was in school. They didn’t have very high expectations. But the shock came when the results of PSLE came out.

So I remember I was called to the Department of Education. They told me that based on my results, I could go to so many schools. So I said: “You mean I did so well, I can go anywhere?” They said: “Yes, but after everybody else has picked their place. So you’ll get to pick from the leftovers.” So my father’s friend who was more educated than my parents gave them some advice and, in retrospect, that was probably the best advice given.

He said I should repeat my exams. So I repeated Primary 6 in a Catholic school and perhaps my development caught up. I did very well and I stayed in that school through Primary 6 and Secondary 1, and after Secondary 1, I was able to transfer to one of the top secondary schools in Hong Kong.

Bharati: We’ll talk more about standardised tests like PSLE and what a good school really is in a moment, but you eventually ended up in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). What stoked your interest in IT?

Lee: When I went to MIT, my dream was to become an astronomer. I didn’t know anything about computers at that time. My secondary school, like many good schools, encouraged students to learn new things, pick up a lot of hobbies, and this is something I try to do in the schools where I have management responsibility.

So I did many things in school: I became the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. was captain of the badminton team, and was active in the astronomers club.

I didn’t do too well in O-levels, but I didn’t do too badly either. Because I actually built telescopes and did all those things, I really wanted to be an astronomer. And I met a few seniors who managed to get into US universities. In my high school, everybody assumed you would just study and try to get into Hong Kong University. I could have gone there but somehow, after meeting people who studied overseas, I suppose as a young person who was a bit of a country bumpkin, I became really curious about the world out there.

So on my own, I just took the SATs and applied to a US university. I didn’t know better, so I just applied to all the universities I thought were top universities and I got into MIT. I’m sure I was not top, academically speaking, but probably because my involvement in badminton, the astronomers club, and all those extracurricular activities, it helped. These things probably meant something to a US university.

Bharati: You say your interest then was in astronomy. Why didn’t you make that your career

Lee: I soon realised my interest in astronomy was less science and more romance: The romance of the deep sky, the origin of the universe and all that stuff. Those are all very interesting, mysterious things.

But I found that I enjoyed computer programming. It’s a form of creative writing. You create something and the most fascinating thing for me as a young person was that you could write computer programmes to do anything. You could use a computer programme to run an aircraft, or control industrial processes, or to keep payroll records. And I was really interested in using computers to develop practical solutions for governments and companies.

When I joined the National Computer Board (NCB), I used computers to help Government departments run better. It was also a lot about people. Basically, we were a bunch of geeks who interviewed users to try and understand their requirements and then developed computer systems to run things better, more efficiently for them. To me, the link to education is how to give people the knowledge and the skills and the methodology to do these kinds of things.

So for me moving from IT services, which is very much based on human capital, to education seemed like quite an easy transition. I also served on the board of the Institute of Technical Education – a school considered “the end” and not a good place to end up in.

Bharati: Not prestigious.

Lee: But I saw with my own eyes that there are many students who might not have done that well academically early in life, they came to ITE, learnt useful things and many of them became very successful. To me, success is being able to do something you feel you are good at and you feel you are contributing. So you may not be doing the same thing as a Harvard graduate, but you still have a meaningful life. And I saw that many ITE students really achieved that.

I was lucky enough to have gone to elite institutions like MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, but my own experience told me that the quality of teaching in these top universities is not really that good. What happens is they get the top students, and the top students, of course, would do well because they were among the best in the cohort. So I look at ITE and I see that everyone should be given the opportunity to upgrade themselves, and they can all contribute in different ways.

I also saw so many polytechnic graduates who aspired to upgrade themselves, not necessarily in a typical research-oriented university, but maybe in a university offering more applied learning. So I got the idea that in Singapore, beyond our public universities, there’s a space for university-level programmes for polytechnic graduates, for people who may have joined the workforce before they had a chance to go further in academia. I feel that such institutions could make a lot of difference to people’s lives.


Bharati: You said earlier that what makes certain institutions good in the public’s perception is that they take in students who are already good, and when these already good students continue to do well, they perpetuate the perception that these schools are good. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the schools are truly good in the sense that the quality of teaching is better. How do you think the larger repercussions of this, that include the unfair labelling of students and schools, can be dealt with? How can more people start seeing “value-add” as the measure of the quality of a school, for instance turning a C student into an A student, rather than the schools’ admissions criteria? This is part of the reason that PSLE is such a stressful exam.

Lee: Yes, I think the reason PSLE is high-stress is because of school rankings and the public’s perceptions of schools. If we had a different view of what a good school is, it would be less stressful. We mustn’t see it as No 1 or nothing at all. I think Singapore has been on this journey of having a new mindset for some years now, but it takes time for social norms to change.

Also, the important thing is that every school must be in a position to add value and as you said, take a C student to make him or her a B student and take a B to make an A. The best schools, because of reputation, bring in the A students and they will come out as A students. In fact, it’s easier to run an elite school because you have much better raw material to work with.

When I was at ITE, I saw the development of the NorthLight School and I think recently PM visited it. I really respect the teachers there. They have to think of all kinds of ways to teach very basic concepts. It’s a lot harder to add value to a student who needs more help. And I actually feel society should show more respect and support for the students and teachers who have to go through that.

Yes, I think we still need to compare schools, but perhaps, we should move away from “This is No 1. This is No 2. This is No 3.” We should say: “This school is good in perhaps a specific discipline. Maybe it’s good in Mass Communication. That one may be good in Computer Science.”

Importantly, we need to not just look at the university but to look at ourselves as a student. We all have our own strengths and weakness; we all have different learning styles. We have 10 university partners. Some are from the United States, some are from UK, some are from Australia, and I have seen some students, they just blossom in the US style of education, which requires a lot more participation in class, maybe not so much a model answer but your thinking and how you arrive at a particular solution.

Then there are other students who’ve done particularly well in our Australian-style programmes which require more project work. We’re all different and so there should be a diversity of schools and universities. And people should not be judged just because they learn differently.

What we need to do is think in terms of matching. In fact we’ve been doing this every day when it comes to marriage. All men don’t want to marry the same type of women and all women don’t want to marry the same type of men. So even in education, it’s a matter of finding the right match. I think we’re moving in that direction. Our schools provide more counselling now in terms of careers and in terms of what is right for you.


Bharati: In terms of admissions though, it seems like a lot more needs to be done in order to prioritise this.

Lee: Yes, I agree with you. I heard Minister Ong Ye Kung talk about this recently in Parliament and he mentioned universities and polytechnics are using more aptitude tests. In a way, that’s a form of matching. And again, I use my own personal example. My daughter is a nurse and I’d rather have a nurse who really has the heart and a way of working with patients than a nurse who scores A+ exam grades, but may not be the right person to take care of people. In a lot of the people-oriented services that actually are a growing need in our society, aptitude is very important.

But before we even talk about aptitude, there’s one fundamental thing that I try to do and that is to help our students find themselves. I think many young people, even when they graduate from university, don’t quite know what they want to do in life.

Now we say that you probably have to change careers many times in life, so it’s okay, but I think in Singapore more so than in some other countries, people have grown up in a very structured system. So very often, you don’t even need to worry too much about what’s next. You go to school, then take your exams, then you try to get into a good JC or poly. Actually, very often our young people don’t have to make a lot of choices. And when you don’t have to make choices, you don’t need to always look inside and say: “Why am I on this earth and what am I good at?”

So I feel in education, not just for working adults but for young people, even those maybe in the late teens and early 20s, we should go beyond just teaching them academic knowledge or competencies. But help them know themselves.

Bharati: How would you suggest this be done in the education system?

Lee: We need to create an environment where our students can take part in many different types of activities – things you do outside a classroom, ranging from artistic kinds of activity, sports, community services.

Basically, the way you find out more about yourself is to get involved in things outside the classroom and then you might discover your passion is photography, or something which is not an academic subject. Then you will find the academic subjects can actually help you, but they are just ingredients for you to do well in your passion. What we do is to create exposure, opportunities to be exposed. This will include internships, spending some time overseas. It’s not just teaching the academic subject matter, but really sharing experiences. When people are exposed to such things, they can discover more about themselves and make choices.

Role models are very important. There are many occupations or career paths that are not very popular and I find that it’s because people just don’t know about them. And they don’t know about them because they haven’t read about them and they have not seen role models. They need to be able to see that there are many different role models, even in jobs that are not considered glamorous but are important and fulfilling nevertheless. They need to see there are many different paths in life, and then they can figure out for themselves which role they want to take.


Bharati: You seem a big proponent of having students or individuals find themselves and figure themselves out and then work on it. And you’ve mentioned “passion” several times. Ultimately, though, people need jobs to survive and not every passion can be translated into a job that pays consistently. Might prioritising passion be misguided? It’s that argument again about whether education should be for utility rather than passion and interest. Of course, one must also acknowledge that the two aren’t always mutually exclusive, but in some cases they might be.

Lee: I am very conscious of this. It has to be tempered with realism. So we need to look at passion and also at what value you bring. You earn a salary and a business earns revenue because you deliver some value to some customer. So we need to combine this self-interest, self-actualisation or passion you want to follow with giving something back.

I think between the two, most of us should be able to find a career path. For some people, their calling allows them to make a difference, earn a lot of money and I say good luck to these people. But for some people, maybe their hobby or passion has no commercial value then perhaps they can keep them as a hobby or reinvent that sector and turn their passion into something of commercial value. In life, things are never black and white, so what I am saying is don’t chase jobs just because they pay well at the moment or just because it’s prestigious. You must consider what you’re good at, what you are really interested in, what society needs and out of that you make a choice.

Bharati: Some feel that up till now, many in Singapore have been leaning towards seeing education through a utilitarian lens. People talk more now about passions and interests. But while our focus on the pragmatic aspect of education might mean that there are many people doing jobs they’re not really interested in, wouldn’t you say today’s economic climate calls for it. It raises questions about whether being pragmatic was such a bad thing. With skills mismatches and unemployment and underemployment growing, some might say we should just keep an eye on what skills are needed in the market and make sure we have them in order to stay employable. And that should be it. Doing something that we’re passionate about is a luxury few can afford.

Lee: There are two aspects to this. One is what the economy and what the country needs in the next five, 10 years. We should encourage more to go into that, but whether you call that utilitarian or meeting the needs of the nation and community, one would sound more positive, the other would sound a bit negative.

I think what I like about Singapore as we move forward is that we now accept a lot more diversity. We value people who become Olympic champions. We also value people who are very successful in business, people who do good in community service. So perhaps what we should aim for, and what education institutions should do is to promote that diversity.


Bharati: How do you think the challenges of underemployment and unemployment can be dealt with better, to prevent us from being sucked into this situation every few years, aside from re-skilling, etc? But also while maintaining a sense of personal gratification in our jobs.

Lee: That’s probably the challenge of our age. I think unemployment and underemployment are becoming a very prevalent problem in rich countries as well as in poor countries. It’s related to a more winner-takes-all kind of economy. You have people who are very rich and command huge salaries, or make a lot of money. And then there are a lot of people with basic skills competing for jobs in effect with people from all over the world. This is the whole globalisation and outsourcing phenomenon.

If we follow the capitalist model, it’s winner-takes-all. So the Government has to decide how much social transfers you can give to help those who need help. And education is generally accepted as one of those things that those from poorer families or modest backgrounds can use to lift themselves.

Bharati: It’s a great leveler, but during difficult economic times, even education seems to have its limitations.

Lee: Short term, there will be disruption. Look at Uber. I think that’s the example Prime Minister talked about. It could one day put taxi drivers out of jobs. In fact I was chairing a panel that talked about this, and then we said: “We are short of bus drivers and all these bus companies are looking for bus captains. Why can’t some of the taxi drivers train to be bus drivers?” On my panel we also had someone who represents the taxi industry, and he told me because some of the taxi drivers don’t want to get up too early in the morning. And they are used to only working when they feel like working, whereas when you work as a bus captain, you must go to the bus depot at 5am.

Bharati: Yeah, there’s a schedule.

Lee: So it’s about people’s expectations. I think Singapore is still better than most countries in that there are jobs.

Bharati: We were talking about underemployment. So using your example, if a university graduate has to go and be a bus driver, while it’s a respectable job, it would still be considered underemployment.

Lee: Yes, and if we cannot create jobs, then everything else is just false hope. We must not only invest in human capital, but put in place all the necessary things that would attract investment to come into Singapore, encourage entrepreneurship here, create new industries and all that.

The challenge I think for all of us now is many of these things will bear fruits, but it will take time. And during dislocation, there are always people who are underemployed or out of a job. So people are being trained and being helped to make transitions. But even graduates have to adjust their expectations in the short term. So maybe I go drive a bus for some time and in the mean time, study part-time and pick up some other new skills. Maybe some new industry will come up and then I can move back.

Bharati: Lately, there’s been a focus on skills acquisition, and let’s face it, a degree isn’t the only way to do this. So since you’re in the business of university education, I’m wondering how you are processing the debate on the relevance of degrees.

Lee: The degree is merely a representation of the fact that you have put in a few years to learn relevant things and develop as a person. But the degree as a paper qualification is not worth more than the paper it is printed on. So we must not confuse a degree as a qualification, with what you have to do to achieve that degree. So if you are able to get in an institution and get into a well-designed and rigorous programme, by all means go for it, because you will learn useful things. And it’s the things you learn that are useful to you, whether you get a degree at the end of it or not. The degree is, in a way, just a symbol that you have gone through, that you have passed the assessment and what not. So we think of professional qualifications like a certified accountant, or certified financial analyst – these are all in a way also qualifications. We all know people who get those qualifications have to study very hard, pass certain assessments, and have to have done enough hours of practical work. So we need to think of a degree along those same lines. It’s what the person has done, what the person has learnt on the way to achieve that degree. I think that’s what counts, not just the degree itself.

When it comes to employment, at the starting pay stage, there’s a differential between for example, degree- and diploma-holders. I suppose companies recruit people with different qualifications into different jobs. So perhaps they recruit degree-holders into a job with a bigger job size, and therefore pay the person more, which is correct. But if it’s the same job, I would at least advocate, that you really assess the person and pay the person based on the job, on contributions and performance.


Bharati: Speaking of pay, recently a survey showed that degree-holders from private institutions are paid less than those from public universities. This is in terms of starting pay.

Lee: I think this is linked back to this notion of ranking. We rank everything and we are so proud when we are No 1 in the world in this and that. This is good, something to drive us toward excellence. But sometimes when we focus only on No 1, we forget No 2, No 3 and No 4 can still be good enough. The rankings are also based only on certain criteria. So, the discrimination against private institution graduates – I think there are two elements to it. The first one is that if you are in a private education institution, it means that you didn’t have good enough grades to go into a public university.

Bharati: Some might say that’s true because most people prefer to go to a local public university than to a private education institution here as employers clearly value degrees from public universities more. Sso if a person goes into a private education institute, it’s probably true – it’s because they couldn’t get into the public university. Then again, are academic results an accurate gauge of a person’s competence and what constitutes a good university – one that takes in good students or one that manages to add value to an individual? That’s something we discussed earlier.

Lee: It may be true, it may not be true – but society needs everyone who can make a difference, and sometimes the person could well be able to get into a public university but they cannot get into the course of their choice, so very often we get very good students coming to SIM.

The other element, I think, is because Singapore is very restrictive in terms of who can issue degrees, so we work with foreign university partners. We work with people like University of London, University of Sydney, Manchester University. These are good universities but because we work with a foreign university, people use old terms like “distance learning” and once it is “distance learning”, people feel like it’s not the “real stuff”.

Dr Lee presenting Professor Sir Adrian Smith, Vice-Chancellor, University of London, with a memento to mark the 30th year of partnership between SIM Global Education and University of London at an event this April.

But I can assure people that good private education providers, when we work with a good foreign university, they will make sure the quality is the same as the quality as what it would be if you studied in London, in Manchester, in Sydney because they also need to protect their own reputation. These are some of the perceptions we need to turn around.

Maybe a student doesn’t have the grades to get into NUS, but that doesn’t mean the person cannot upgrade himself or herself to a degree programme or whatever education programme. It doesn’t mean this person cannot do well in life. It doesn’t mean this person cannot contribute to society. Judge a person based on work performance, not on which institutions they come from.

Bharati: People might say that at the beginning, when you come in for a job interview for an entry level position straight from school, what else can they judge you on besides which university you went to, what grades you got and things like that.

Lee: And I am very sympathetic to HR professionals who receive hundreds and hundreds of applications and they cannot interview them all and they have to do some shortlisting. So obviously they would use what I call signifiers: Good university, top grades. And these individuals are likely to have a certain quality of mind or whatnot. By all means, use these signifiers. But also perhaps look at the student’s other achievements, and this is where my colleagues in the private education sector know we have to work very hard at. We have to work against some negative perceptions and it’s our job to change those perceptions.

One thing we must do, and this is related to my earlier point – we must create opportunities for our students to do stuff outside the classroom. This can be something that can be captured in their resume. I have one student who got SIM to start a windsurfing club because he was into windsurfing. It sounds like no big deal. It was just his hobby. But the fact that he convinced an institution to set up a club and he got it organised and found sponsors – those are skills that are very relevant in the working world, and he got a good job. I understand the interviewer very quickly looked beyond his degree and his grades and asked what else he had done in life and he talked about that, and he was recruited into the banking industry and he has done well.

So private or public education institutions – we must allow our students to find themselves but in that process, also create a portfolio of things that they have done. And I think in certain professions, the portfolio is much more important than A or B in certain academic subjects. So we must allow our students to build that portfolio and show the potential employer their abilities.

Bharati: MOE and the Council for Private Education have said they’ll work on measures to address discrimination against private institute graduates. But on your part, how would you convince HR professionals to do this?

Lee: It was not too difficult when we had full employment in Singapore because companies were always short of talent and when you’re short of talent, you look beyond the traditional sources, the few universities in Singapore. But now, the employment situation might not look as rosy as it was a few years ago and there are probably a lot more candidates for the jobs available. So I can see in the next few years, my colleagues and I really have to work very hard. And my philosophy is this: you cannot change the world in one go. You have to take it one step at a time. And I think telling them if they have never recruited students from us, why don’t you take a few students from us just to do internships? It would help. It’s not very high-risk, and we make sure we provide all the necessary support.

Bharati: What about the pay issue?

Lee: We cannot force employers to pay everybody the same or they might end up not taking in your students. But what I have been very encouraged by is that most employers, public or private sector, only look at your job performance once you are in. So our graduates might start at a lower staring pay, but those who do well will catch up and soon, some of them will do better than public university graduates.

In the end, it’s about the individual’s ability, drive and motivation. So I think it’s important for us to accept that right now, on average, graduates from private institutions are paid a lower starting pay. So either you accept it and focus on performing well at work and move up, or you complain and complain, but in the end you are not going to improve the situation. So we need to work on that. We must look beyond the starting pay.

Bharati: Of course, we must also acknowledge that there have been black sheep in the private education space over the years. These have certainly hurt perceptions.

Lee: The private education space now is quite well-regulated. Perhaps before the Council for Private Education came in, anyone could set up a school, and it was easy money. But right now, there are many safeguards and standards to meet. I can say to any business person that if you want to make easy money, don’t go into education because you need to invest in order to meet the minimum standards. So the days of cheating unsuspecting people through paper mills are over. So the last few years, it was a painful process but the number of private schools have come down from 2,000 to around 300 today. Those black sheep schools have been closed down.


Bharati: Nevertheless, there have been accusations over the years that for private education institutes especially, the focus is money, nothing more. What do you have to say to that?

Dr Lee (middle) with overseas delegates at the London School of Economics and Political Science Institutions’ Symposium 2016 held at SIM headquarters in May.

Lee: Our students are a lot more savvy than perhaps 20 to 30 years ago. You can easily find out about the reputation and the track record of a school just through the Internet or word-of-mouth. Higher education is a significant investment for most families, so I am sure they will do their due diligence.

On your comment on if education is run as a business – the best universities of this world run their school as a business. They make very good money. You pay tons of money to attend executive programmes in Harvard or Cambridge. And they really generate a lot of money for the university. So I would argue, institutions can command a good price for a good product and if there is a willing buyer, don’t begrudge them. Let them make their money, and let the money go to subsidise a maybe not-so-popular part of the university like some of the art programmes. Some schools will generate more money than others but as long as the money is channelled back to the university rather than paid out to some greedy shareholder, I think that’s a good thing.

In Singapore, Singaporeans get Government subsidies for education. But what’s important is that if universities were run as a business, with efficiency and the ability to face competition, it would probably mean, if they were a public university, that they are more efficient and they would need less taxpayers’ money.

At the other extreme is the fact that education is a public good and should be funded, etc. We have seen in many countries public universities that are very bloated. There’s no competition so they don’t need to worry about profit. They don’t need to worry about where the money comes from because it’s a government grant. This is also not a good outcome, so I think between funding universities purely as a public good or just running a university as a business, there is a middle ground somewhere.

Bharati: You have said in previous interviews that the education landscape is changing and today, short skills-based courses are more in demand. What do you see as the trends to watch in education in the next few years?

Lee: Education should be for life. It should help a person to get a meaningful job or start a company, but it should also allow people to live a life and learning beyond worrying about employment. And for that, I think we all have to move to a mix of online and classroom learning. Also, we need to move more towards a sophisticated modular system and don’t force entire programmes on students. For example, a student may want to just do one or two modules from a specific course at one university and another module from another course at another university. We should allow that if that’s what the individual wants.

Think about it this way: In the past, we used to buy the whole CD even though we just wanted one song. Now you can download whatever songs you like from different albums. You don’t have to buy the whole CD. So I don’t see why education shouldn’t be like that. With this, even rankings could go out the window, because you might take one course from MIT, another class from elsewhere and you take it because it’s relevant to you or it’s relevant to your job.

And in the end it will just be about what you can do and are capable of and not what school you went to. I think we should move towards that, rather than brand a person based on whether they went to RI or Harvard.

Bharati: We talked earlier about turning your passions into your vocation and the possibility that if one followed their passions, they might not be doing what they are doing today. In your case, if you had followed your passions, what would you be doing today? Or is this really your passion?

Lee: Someone just said this to me this morning at a business meeting. He said: “If you cannot marry the one you love, love the one you marry.”

Bharati: Is that what you have been doing? Loving the one you married?

Lee: Well, I think in an ideal world, you know what you love and you do what you love. I try to do that. But I look at my own life and very often, I discovered I loved something only after I had been exposed to it. I mentioned I went to MIT planning to become an astronomer, and I happened to take a programming course which everyone in MIT seemed to take. And I discovered I loved programming. But later, I found out that I was not really into computer science, but into using computers to do something else.

Life is a discovery. And as you discover more, you probably know more, you have more choices. And among those choices, there are some you like more than others. You have a natural affinity to do well in some. So let’s look at it as not a big choice you make at one moment in your life. For example, you say: “I want to be a doctor.” Then you pursue that for the rest of your life and you become a doctor. For many people that’s how it works and it works out fine. But for most of us, life is a series of choices. So always be open to new possibilities.

If we use the analogy of marriage, don’t marry the first man or woman you meet. 

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Existence on Camp Growl: SAF soldiers&#039 household in the bushland

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia: What is daily life like for the 4,600 or so Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops having part in Workout Wallaby at the Shoalwater Bay Education Location (SWBTA), about 6,000 kilometres away from Singapore? 

Channel NewsAsia’s Xabryna Kek frequented the wide facility in Queensland and saw the soldiers’ household away from household in the dense bushland – as effectively as what they ate and wherever they slept and showered. 

Sep 28, 7am: I arrived at Warriors Camp at about 7am on Wednesday, a stone’s toss away from my apartment at Victoria Parade in Rockhampton. The weather in the early morning was slightly chilly, but normally will not final as a result of the working day. It receives sultry scorching in the afternoon and temperatures can rise to 31 degree Celsius.

Warriors Camp is wherever the air crew rest, have their meals and keep meetings. RSAF’s CH-forty seven Chinooks, AH-64D Apaches and AS 332 Tremendous Pumas are also parked right here, ready to just take for their respective missions for the duration of Workout Wallaby. 

9am: Just after a media briefing long lasting about two hours, we remaining for the SWBTA, which is about an hour and 50 % experience from our place. To give an strategy how wide the land is at SWBTA, it is around four times the dimensions of Singapore.

10.15am: At last! Just after dozing off for the duration of our experience, we arrived at SWBTA at about 10.15am. A military services law enforcement personnel took the wheel and drove us even further into the teaching area – one more 10 to 15 minutes, he stated.

Below, I was appalled by the sandy, bushland disorders that the SAF personnel have to experience. Dust particles had been flying just about everywhere and kicking up a sandstorm. These particles soon coated our windscreen and the military services law enforcement personnel who took in excess of our car or truck sometimes experienced to use the wipers to crystal clear the windshield.  

Sandy disorders in Rockhampton, Australia. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

11.30am: We had been taken to a part of the SBWTA wherever we located time to marvel at SAF’s land assets, these as the V-two hundred and M113. We had been also supplied a demonstration of the SPIKE Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) simulator. In accordance to Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the ATGM is one of the most technologically superior anti-tank weapons offered in the industry today. The body weight of the SPIKE technique is about 27kg, even though a missile weighs 13kg. The most array that the SPIKE can fireplace is 4,000m.

I also experienced the possibility for a fingers-on session with the weapon. It will work like a digital camera, with extremely sharp photos demonstrating in the viewfinder.

Don’t mess with her: Channel NewsAsia’s Xabryna Kek with the SPIKE Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) simulator.

1pm: Time for a rest room break! On our way to one more part of the SWBTA around the Workout Command Write-up  – wherever we are to have lunch – we passed by Camp Growl and I experienced a sneak peek into the life-style of these soldiers.

During lunch time, some of the personnel had been found resting on makeshift beds in the sheltered tents, even though other folks had been out on missions. In this no-frills atmosphere, I saw soiled apparel that had been washed and hung to dry exterior their tents.

Makeshift beds at Camp Growl. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

I also saw a troop of soldiers marching on the tracks – in the center of the camp – when I stepped out of the rest room. Talking of bogs, the facility at Camp Growl was a lot cleaner than I would have considered. There had been good cubicles, a operating flush technique and wash sink.

one.15pm: Shortly immediately after our rest room break, the military personnel who took in excess of our car or truck turned to us. “There are bumpy road disorders forward. For your security, you should buckle up,” he stated. Somewhat petrified, I swiftly belted up. And for the rest of our experience about the SWBTA, sand particles ongoing flying just about everywhere, even though our military services driver coped with the minimized visibility.

2pm: Just after a twenty five-minute experience, we arrived at the other facet of the camp. I was anticipating battle rations, but hey, we had been handled to neighborhood delights comprising sotong balls, sweet and bitter fish, curry hen and veggies!

No flavor like household: It is sweet and bitter fish, curry hen, and sotong balls on the menu. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

Wolfing down my foods beneath the tent, it felt virtually like a household away from household for me. I was relishing my curry hen until eventually a team of uninvited attendees – a swarm of flies – turned up. Swatting them with my remaining hand, I polished off my foods with the other hand and received all set for our up coming activity.

Journalists have to consume too.

4pm: Again to Camp Growl! This time, we had been officially brought right here on a media tour. The initial halt in our itinerary was the initial assist area, wherever soldiers who truly feel unwell can seek treatment. In accordance to the professional medical officer who took us about, soldiers participating in this exercising generally practical experience flu-like symptoms, owing to the harsh weather disorders in Rockhampton.

4.20pm: “Ladies, you might come in too, this area has been cleared,” an military personnel advised me. He was referring to the “infamous” shower facility at Camp Growl. A full of sixteen buckets had been lined abreast each and every other, that includes an “open concept” no-partition shower facility that can accommodate up to 70 folks at one go. To bathe, soldiers pour two to 3 pails of water (scorching water is offered too, not to fear) into the bucket, increase it up and turn the “shower head” on.

The “infamous” open up-strategy shower facility at Camp Growl. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek) 

This is how soldiers shower at Camp Growl. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

4.30pm: Foodstuff, superb foods. To the cookhouse!

A cook dinner prepares evening meal for hungry soldiers at Camp Growl. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

On the menu tonight: Fish and chips. It seemed tempting enough for me to toy with the strategy of “taste-testing” some.

Yum: Fish and chips for evening meal. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

The dining corridor at Camp Growl. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

5pm: The sunshine is setting up to set, painting the Rockhampton sky crimson gold. Heading again to our car or truck and finding all set to bid farewell to the SWBTA, I caught glimpses of soldiers having shelter in their tents as they related with their liked types on their mobile telephones, even though other folks did amazing-down workout routines prior to evening meal.

Dusk falls at Shoalwater Bay Education Location. (Photograph: Xabryna Kek)

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Tan Cheng Bock requires issue above cancelled Access forum

SINGAPORE: Previous presidential applicant Tan Cheng Bock has taken issue above the cancellation of a general public forum on the Elected Presidency (EP).

The forum, which was set to be the very first in a series of general public Access dialogues on the EP, was slated to get position on Thursday evening. It was, even so, cancelled by Access citing “poor response” from the general public. Minister for Property Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, and Minister of Condition for Overall health and Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat, were because of to get component in the forum.

“I was wanting forward to attending a Access general public forum on the Presidential Election set for nowadays,” mentioned Dr Tan in a Facebook write-up. “Minister Shanmugam was because of to discuss and I preferred to hear what he experienced to say. I registered my attendance final 7 days and was joyful to acquire a affirmation for my attendance. I was arranging to go to with a few buddies and family.”

Dr Tan added that the forum would have been a “fantastic system” for Singaporeans to seek out clarification on the EP, and urged additional Singaporeans to “actively participate in conversations on this and other critical countrywide problems”.

Community remarks afterwards emerged on the write-up, suggesting that the forum experienced been cancelled as a end result of his registration to go to the celebration.

In a Facebook write-up, Access mentioned that it experienced determined to terminate the forum on Sep 28 because of to lousy general public reaction. Access added in the write-up that it did not acquire any registration under the title of Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Having to Facebook once more, Dr Tan mentioned that he experienced registered for the celebration under his alias Adrian Tan, putting up a copy of the forum acceptance letter and his identity card.

He wrote: “I did register under my alias Adrian Tan which is in my NRIC, the registration also asked for my NRIC range, cell, deal with, and occupation which I supplied. My acceptance letter is hooked up, as effectively as my alias in my NRIC.”

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Right after 37 years, Cathay Pacific calls time on the 747

HONG KONG: Cathay Pacific is retiring its Boeing 747 passenger fleet after 37 years. The moment a ubiquitous existence at main airports all over the environment, the plane approaching has now turn out to be a scarce sight.

For aviation geeks collected at the Hong Kong International Airport, soon they will only be ready to location the Hong Kong flag carrier’s passenger jumbo jet in a record e-book. The remaining 747 flight to Tokyo is scheduled for Oct one.

The initial double decker jet was crucial to Cathay’s progress into a main world wide carrier. The airline received its first jumbo jet in 1979 when it was nonetheless a tiny regional carrier traveling to a handful of Asian locations and Australia.

It only definitely became world wide in 1980, when it began traveling to London’s Gatwick with the second 747 plane on its fleet.

Right after Oct one, Cathay will keep on to fly the jets in its cargo fleet, but it determined earlier not to adopt the new generation 747-8 for travellers.

“It is simply just just also significant for us at the instant,” Mark Hoey, Cathay’s Normal Supervisor for Functions, explained to Channel NewsAsia. “People want far more flights and flexibility, and they want to go direct in all places. So we are employing the 777 or the A350. They are scaled-down, but we are likely in all places direct.”


Analysts have extensive argued that Cathay needs to make the change from becoming a hub carrier to traveling far more stage-to-stage. They reported the retirement of 747s at Cathay is extensive overdue.

The airline recorded an 82 per cent drop in income for the first half of 2016, as Chinese and Middle Japanese carriers lured absent its clients with reduce fares in a tough financial system.

But for Hong Kong plane spotters, it is really hard to say goodbye to the Queen of the Skies. The Association of Hong Kong Aviation Photographers reported it is placing with each other a photograph e-book to commemorate the occasion. Its member Daryl Chapman took an iconic photograph of a Cathay 747 attempting to land at Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport.

“Everybody knew what a 747 was, even men and women that failed to know anything about planes. When you say 747, they go, ‘oh yeah I know what that is, the one with the upstairs’,” he reported.

Plane spotters photographing one of the previous couple of Cathay Pacific 747 planes landing in Hong Kong. (Photograph: Wei Du)

Tugged concerning a mountain and a densely populated household neighborhood, Kai Tak was regarded as one of the most technically tough airports to land in the environment until it closed in 1998. In Chapman’s photograph, the descending jumbo jet appeared like it was crashing into a household developing prior to it securely landed.

Hoey may possibly extremely well be the male piloting the jet in Chapman’s photograph. He joined Cathay in the late eighties, later on rising to turn out to be the Chief Pilot of its 747 fleet. He reported that to a pilot, helming of the double decker was viewed as a badge of honour. 

“Between pilots, it is generally a little of ‘the larger it is, the greater it is’ supposedly,” he reported. “That is not essentially true, but the larger the plane, the inertia and everything, it helps make it far more complicated when you had been maneuvering in Hong Kong on the old runway,” 

Till just lately it was also a badge of honour amid neighborhood buyers to personal the Cathay inventory, but the carrier’s shares have declined 22 per cent in a 12 months. It now has the lowest analyst score amid airlines all over the environment, in accordance to information compiled by Bloomberg.

“Financial markets would almost certainly like to see a capacity minimize simply because that would enhance the posture in the shorter phrase,” reported Will Horton, a senior analyst at the Centre for Aviation (CAPA). Cathay at the moment operates five everyday flights to London and 4 to New York.

But  Horton, like several diehard Cathay admirers, is versus the strategy. He reported a lot of the money drag on the airline now stems from its plan to hedge oil selling prices, which expenditures the business revenue when oil is low-priced. He reported the wanderlust of the increasing center course in Asia signifies Cathay will nonetheless have a place in connecting Asia to the environment. 

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Pakistani rebel chief suggests would welcome assist from arch-rival India

ISLAMABAD: The elusive chief of a big rebel team fighting for independence in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province said he would welcome cash and other assist from India, phrases possible to alarm Islamabad which accuses New Delhi of stirring difficulty there.

In his initially video interview in 5 years, Allah Nazar Baloch, head of the ethnic Baluch team Baluchistan Liberation Entrance (BLF), also vowed additional assaults on a Chinese financial corridor, sections of which operate by way of the source-abundant province.

The prepared US$46 billion trade route is envisioned to connection western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea by way of a network of streets, railways and energy pipelines.

An undated photograph reveals Allah Nazar Baluch, the chief of the Baluchistan Liberation Entrance, at an undisclosed locale in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. (Photo: Reuters) 

“We not only want India really should assistance the Baluch national wrestle diplomatically and fiscally, but the full earth,” said Baloch, a health practitioner-turned-guerrilla believed to be about 50, in filmed responses to inquiries despatched by Reuters.

Baloch’s charm for Indian assist might deepen Pakistani suspicions that India has a hand in a decades-aged insurgency in the extensive southwestern province.

Historically fraught relations concerning the nuclear-armed neighbours deteriorated this thirty day period right after 18 Indian troopers in Kashmir had been killed in an attack on an military base that New Delhi blames on Pakistan. Pakistan denies the accusation.

In the buildup to the raid, Pakistan had voiced outrage more than the crackdown on protests in India’s part of the Muslim-bulk area, and Indian Key Minister Narendra Modi hit back again by accusing Pakistan of atrocities in Baluchistan.

Baloch, chief of just one of three most important armed groups fighting for Baluchistan’s independence, said that when he preferred assistance from India, the BLF had not been given funding from Modi’s govt, or India’s spy agency, the Exploration and Examination Wing (Uncooked).

“We welcome the statement that Narendra Modi gave to morally assistance the Baluch country,” additional Baloch, clad in a conventional beige shalwar kurta outfit, with an automatic rifle throughout his lap and ammunition hanging from his belt.

Pakistan’s navy had no comment on Baloch’s interview.

Information Coverage Constrained

Baloch is the only chief of a sizeable separatist team who is believed to be waging a guerrilla war from within Baluchistan the other two leaders are in exile in Europe.

Safety analysts say his fighters phase most of the assaults in the province and have borne the brunt of military operations towards the insurgency. Reuters has not been able to establish the scale of the BLF marketing campaign.

Pakistan has lengthy suspected India of stoking the Baluchistan revolt. These fears grew in March when Pakistan arrested a male it said was a Uncooked spy in Baluchistan, and accused him of “subversive pursuits”. India denied he was a spy.

Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-dependent chief of the Balochistan Republican Social gathering, yet another big separatist outfit, very last 7 days advised Indian media that he prepared to search for “political asylum” in India.

BLF chief Baloch claims to have “hundreds” of fighters. Domestic information protection of the Baluchistan conflict is uncommon and foreign journalists are broadly forbidden from traveling to the province.

Baloch answered inquiries in a video recording, which was despatched electronically.

Despite the fact that the correct day of the recording could not be confirmed, he was responding to inquiries despatched by Reuters 6 weeks back. His responses contradicted govt claims that he had been killed very last year.


China’s expense in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has introduced contemporary aim on Baluchistan, which is endowed with abundant but mainly unexploited reserves of copper and gold.

Quite a few prepared CPEC routes will snake throughout Baluchistan to its deep-sea port in Gwadar.

Continual instability in the province, which has seasoned waves of revolt by Baluch nationalists since it was formally incorporated into Pakistan in 1948, is a source of worry for China, which has appealed to Pakistan to improve protection.

Baloch, talking from an undisclosed locale, referred to as CPEC a Chinese “imperialistic plan”, and vowed to attack streets, protection staff and construction crews linked with it.

Authorities officers say protection has improved.

They stage to freshly-paved CPEC streets, constructed at breakneck speed irrespective of Baluchistan’s rugged terrain, as proof of success.

To allay Chinese fears, Pakistan is also raising a drive of fifteen,000 staff, generally serving military troopers, to safe the corridor.

Risky Perform

But dangers keep on being. Frontier Is effective Corporation, the military-operate firm constructing most of the CPEC streets in harmful spots, said forty four employees had been killed and about 100 wounded in assaults on its CPEC web sites more than the earlier two years.

“We are attacking the CPEC challenge every single day. Due to the fact it is aimed to flip the Baluch population into a minority. It is looting, plundering and using absent our resources,” Baloch said.

Baloch and other separatists fear that indigenous Baluch people today, who are approximated to selection about seven million people today out of Pakistan’s one hundred ninety million population, will turn into an ethnic minority in their ancestral lands if other groups flock to the area to operate on exploiting its normal resources.

The rebel chief alleged that a hundred and fifty,000 people today had been evicted from the route of the trade corridor by protection forces to crystal clear the way for streets and other infrastructure.

Pakistan’s navy, which manages protection for most of the province, did not comment on the selection.

Human legal rights activists say that hundreds of people today have been killed or arbitrarily detained in Baluchistan by the navy, a demand Pakistani protection forces deny.

Fees of abuse have also been levelled at rebel groups, together with the BLF, which are accused of focusing on non-Baluch citizens as part of their revolt.

Baloch denied BLF killed civilians, but said his team did go right after “traitors”.

Questioned if he would be open to negotiations with the Pakistani condition, the rebel chief was crystal clear: there would be no dialogue with what he regarded as “the largest terrorist region”.

“There will be no negotiations with Pakistan with no national independence and with no the presence of the United Nations,” he said. “Our spot is independence.”

(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Drazen Jorgic)

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Hong Kong marks 2nd anniversary of &#039Umbrella Revolution&#039

HONG KONG: Hundreds of Hong Kong professional-democracy supporters keeping yellow umbrellas held a few minutes’ silence outside the city’s federal government offices Wednesday (Sep 28) to mark the next anniversary of mass protests tough Beijing.

The anniversary of the “Umbrella Revolution” comes as tensions continue being large in the semi-autonomous metropolis, with fears growing that China is tightening its grip.

Hong Kong professional-democracy supporters held a few minutes’ silence to mark the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. (Photograph: Wei Du)

Enormous rallies in 2014 demanding completely free leadership elections and other democratic reforms for Hong Kong brought areas of the metropolis to a standstill for additional than two months.

Those calls for were snubbed by Beijing, but since then former Umbrella Movement protesters have received seats as metropolis lawmakers.

Some of them are now pushing for a total split from China as the fledgling independence motion gains guidance.

Hong Kong marks the next anniversary of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. (Photograph: Wei Du)

Former Umbrella Movement protest chief Nathan Legislation, 23, grew to become Hong Kong’s youngest legislator in the new citywide elections. He now advocates self-resolve for Hong Kong and was due to address crowds later on Wednesday.

At five:58 pm (0958 GMT) all those collected held a few minutes’ silence to mark the time two yrs in the past when law enforcement fired tear gasoline at scholar-led professional-democracy protesters.

That galvanised tens of countless numbers to come onto the streets in guidance.

The largely tranquil demonstrations spawned sprawling protest camps, with tents and artworks set up on highways and procuring streets.

The motion acquired its identify from protesters’ use of umbrellas to shield them from tear gasoline, pepper spray, sunlight and rain alike.

Hong Kong professional-democracy supporters mark the next anniversary of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. (Photograph: Wei Du)

Supporters Wednesday reported they felt the rallies experienced adjusted the metropolis for the better.

“The Umbrella Movement remodeled lots of in the metropolis to care about the group, so we ought to make an effort and hard work to remember this incident,” reported faculty scholar Joy Chan, 14.

Chan reported she experienced taken part in the protests in 2014 – lots of faculty-age protesters joined the demonstrations and makeshift classrooms were set up so they could keep on their experiments.

Housewife Claire Weber, 42, reported she was at the web page two yrs in the past when law enforcement fired tear gasoline at the crowds.

“No make any difference what, or how messy the political ecosystem receives, we ought to persist,” she told AFP.

The ambiance Wednesday was carnivalesque, with souvenirs together with miniature yellow paper umbrellas – the image of the motion – handed out to all those having part.

Metres-tall indications reading “I want true common suffrage” were exhibited, an echo of the slogans of 2014.

Legislation reported the motion experienced led to additional political awareness for all those who experienced been associated.

“It is pretty important for them to preserve reminding them selves why they came out … and preserve the religion in the long term and stand for all the Hong Kong folks,” he told AFP.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 below a semi-autonomous “1 place, two methods” deal, which assured its freedoms for 50 yrs.

But there are deep issues all those liberties are below danger in a range of parts, from politics to education and the media.

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