A-star scholar biting the hand that feeds her

From ‘Drop ungrateful scholarship holders’, 28 Nov 2014, ST Forum

(Estella Young): WHILE funding for the local arts scene is always welcome, it is disappointing to see Dr Eng Kai Er use her one-woman arts grant as a thinly veiled attack on her scholarship agency (“A*Star scientist starts arts grant in protest against six-year bond”; Tuesday). Depicting herself as the hapless victim of a scholarship bond and describing her scientific research as “narcissistic, masturbatory work” that she is not interested in show a shocking lack of appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on her doctoral studies, not to mention the academic and professional opportunities afforded to her.

It would have been far more honourable for Dr Eng to resign her scholarship once she had resolved not to pursue a scientific career. Remaining employed in the field while publicly sniping at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the scholarship system is simply biting the hand that fed her.

Eighteen is not too young an age to make a commitment for the next decade of one’s life. A six-year bond is hardly indentured slavery: The savvy scholarship holder who dislikes his job would use the opportunity to hone his professional skills and position himself for his post-bond career change.

Since Dr Eng is unlikely to remain in the scientific field beyond her bond, A*Star might be better off terminating her bond immediately and channelling the estimated $700,000 in liquidated damages to a more deserving party.

While Dr Eng was still studying at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, she and a fellow student paraded around Holland Village in the nude for kicks, probably at the peak of her artistic blossoming then.  A-star decided to let her off with a warning letter. Eng, other than an being an aspiring patron for the arts scene here with her ‘No Star Arts Grant‘ project, is no slouch in areas outside of the Infection expertise that she was groomed for. The Hwa Chong alumni was a national competitive ice-skater, MENSA member and more recently a dancer-director-choreographer for a play titled Fish. She also dances on the MRT in her free time. Not sure if anyone has called her side projects ‘narcissistic’ or ‘masturbatory'; her one-woman arts grant certainly RUBBED some folks the wrong way.

Are you A-star scientist, or Are you Dancer?

If Eng is ‘biting the hand’ that feeds her, then bond-buster Chen Jiahao, aka Acid Flask, must have chomped off an entire arm for accusing A-star of bribery and corruption in 2007.  A-star threatened with defamation, and Chen shut down his blog. Ironically, Eng published a paper that deals with a cellular process known as ‘autophagy’, or a ‘constitutive, dynamic, bulk degradation process’. The word in its original Greek means ‘self-eating’.

The notion that students should already know what they want in life by EIGHTEEN is subjective at best. I didn’t then, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure up till now. Which is why I’m writing a blog instead of paying people to do arty-farty shit. We’re not worker bees cemented to fulfil an ordained purpose till we die, and according to Cherian George, at this age we’re not trusted to vote or watch an R21 movie, yet are supposed to be ready to enter a contract binding us till we’re 30 years old (Bond-busters:Who’s to blame?22 Aug 1997, ST). Things change, people change. You could be working Semliki Forest viruses one day and decide you want to become Natalie Portman’s Black Swan the next.

Most scholars would swallow the bond despite losing interest in their jobs, driven by emotional indebtedness and fear of stepping out of line, but a rare few will react in the most extreme way possible. SAF doctor Allan Ooi reportedly killed himself in Melbourne over his unhappiness with his bond. A scholarship also doesn’t necessarily guarantee promotion success in the real world, with some switching to private after their pride was burnt by high-achieving non-scholars. For those who refuse to soldier on or pursue their other passions whilst giving their benefactor the middle finger like Eng has, breaking the damn thing appears to be the only other option.

In fact, breaking a bond may be the best thing that ever happened for some Singaporeans, like ex PSC scholar Brandon Wade for example, now US-based and millionaire founder of a ‘sugar daddy’ dating website. Hector Yee, doomed to slog at the National Computer Board, broke free and got himself a job at Google. A-star chairman Philip Yeo called his act of defiance ‘bullshit’, this coming from a man who once said he wants ‘hungry leaders, not boring drones‘. ‘National Computer Board’, incidentally, is the kind of boring, ‘droney’ name that summons retro images of clunky, grey computer monitors and floppy disks. The only time you hear someone actually say ‘computer’ is in an 80s sci-fi movie where you’re asking some artificial intelligence behind a screen to summon data for you. Like ‘Computer, set coordinates for Lamda Galaxy’, or ‘Computer, find this rogue scholar and terminate her contract now’.

While originally intended as a mechanism to harvest talents with the ‘moral obligation’ to contribute to nation-building,  the ‘Programme’ has been deemed by some as an ‘instrument for converting free Singaporeans to indentured serfs‘. In a world where we routinely encourage our local brains to venture overseas, ‘dream big’ and hone their skills, the expectation that scholars should return home to serve the glorious motherland after their stint and contribute locally in a stifled work environment seems outdated, even naive.

A ‘bond breaker’ no longer has that stigma of ‘brash ingrate’ tied to it anymore, when ‘staying hungry’ and ‘breaking the rules’ has become the hip work ethic these days. Even if they did stay on to serve obediently as ‘promised’, there’s no guarantee that may even be model workers. Some government drones fall prey to sex corruption, others get caught for child porn and underage sex. Nobody accuses them of being ungrateful brats or depriving others of the chance to succeed, though we the taxpayers pay for their education, training AND their jailtime.

Eng has already been let off the hook once for going full frontal and the dancer-artist seems prepared to bear the consequences after some serious bitching about how her day job sucks ass. If all else fails, a rewarding career of MRT pole-dancing beckons.

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Qiaonan and Griffiths merging to form Angsana Primary School

From ‘Griffiths and Qiaonan alumni upset over new name for merged school – Angsana Primary’, 23 Nov 2014, article by Pearl Lee and Ho Ai Li, ST

What’s in a name? Plenty of history and memories, say former staff and pupils of Griffiths Primary School and Qiaonan Primary. They are upset that the two pioneer schools, which together have been around for 145 years, will be merged to form Angsana Primary School – a name with little connection to its predecessors.

“Why Angsana? Why not something like Griffiths-Qiaonan?” asked 86-year-old Eunice Tan Khe Tong, a retired principal, who was there for Griffiths Primary School at its start, and its end.

…Primary 6 pupil Lim Jiexin, who was Qiaonan’s vice-head prefect this year, shook her head when asked what she thought of Angsana, which will occupy the Griffiths building. “Why do they have to use that? They should choose a better name.”

The name ‘Angsana’ is the brainchild of MOE’s Schools Naming Committee, but speaks nothing of either school’s history. It also has no relation to Casuarina Primary, another school named after common trees in Singapore. The SNC probably ran out of ideas since ‘Changkat’ (where Qiaonan is currently located) and ‘Tampines’ are already taken. This lack of creativity is apparent when you have primary/secondary schools named Bedok View, Bedok Green and Bedok South within the same constituency. Some schools make an extra effort to remind us of their roots, such as the FIRST TOA PAYOH Primary School (To be more precise, it’s in Potong Pasir).

If renaming a school after where it’s located is ‘insipid’ and renders it ‘devoid of character’, why not that of a common tree then? With Singapore’s birth rate likely to decline further, we may see more schools closing, merging and given other tree names such as ‘Yellow Flame Primary‘, or ‘Saga Primary’. If not an actual tree, then how about something related to the Garden City theme, like ‘Woodgrove’, ‘Fernvale’ or ‘Orchid Park’. It seems that the first thing that comes to mind when naming new schools is something leafy, green or flowery, not whether the final selection ‘resonates’ with the students or the alumni. That would take some, well, imagination.

It’s not the first time that current and former students have protested against schools merging or changing names, citing the severing of a vital link to history as the main reason.

1) 1976 – Stamford Girls’ School to San Shan Integrated School (which later merged to form First Toa Payoh Primary School)

2)2001 – Swiss Cottage + Moulmein Primary to Balestier Hill. The geocities petition website still exists. Meanwhile the ‘Swiss Cottage’ brand lives on in its secondary school. The only Swiss cottage I’ve ever seen is the one on a Ricola box.

3) 2005 – St Michaels to SJI Junior. The reason for this renaming was not so much poor enrollment, as it was to ‘thicken blood ties’ within the Lasallian religious order.

4) 2005 – Thomson Secondary to North Vista (in Sengkang). Thomson was supposedly the name of a colonial architect. A Vista is what you call a HDB estate that’s not a ‘Green’ or a ‘View’.

All these complaints fell on deaf ears, naturally. It’s interesting how we place so much sentimental value on old schools and their names, more so than the history of other buildings or amenities which tend to hold a less special place within our hearts, such as temples, swimming pools, libraries or mum-and-pop coffee shops. Part of the reason, I believe, is because our primary schools are where most of us made our first best friends, got into our first fights, and of course, where we had the damned mother of all exams, the PSLE.

I’m proud to say that my own primary school, Mayflower Primary (an AWESOME name too, I must add) still exists. The fact that I remember the first line of my school song is the best indicator of how its history and memories ‘resonate’ with me after all these years. One can only wonder what’s going to happen to the school songs of Qiaonan and Griffiths. Any school song with the lyric ‘Angsana’ in it just sounds terrible and I wonder why the SNC didn’t even consider that in their name selection. For one, you can’t pair it to rhyme with anything other than ‘Banana’.

Teacher using criminal force on boy with ADHD

From ‘Ruling may instil fear in teachers’, 22 Nov 14, ST Forum

(Trent Ng Yong En): A COURT has ordered a primary school teacher to do 60 hours of community service for forcibly dragging an 11-year-old boy with behavioural issues out of class for not following instructions (“Teacher who mistreated boy gets community service”; yesterday). While the teacher’s actions could have been more appropriate, given that the boy suffered from neuro-developmental disorders, the court ruling will likely instil fear in teachers when dealing with insubordinate students.

The teacher may have used force to drag the pupil out of class, but how could this sensibly constitute “criminal force”? Section 350 of the Penal Code reads: “Whoever intentionally uses force to any person, without that person’s consent… knowing it to be likely that by the use of such force he will illegally cause injury, fear or annoyance to the person… is said to use criminal force to that other.”

The court seems to have taken a broad interpretation of this provision to find the teacher’s act of disciplining the pupil amounting to causing “injury, fear or annoyance”. This interpretation, taken to its extreme, could cover all acts of school discipline where a teacher or discipline master physically handles an errant student in the slightest way.

Clearly, this is not a school culture we want to encourage, where insubordination is condoned and educators live in fear of the students and their parents. While the law may have decided that educators must take care when disciplining students, such that their acts do not amount to criminal force, what should be discussed is whether educators should be given more discretion to discipline their students, so long as it does not amount to a gross violation of their bodily integrity – for example, slapping, hitting, or throwing projectiles.

If you’re a teacher resorting to physical force to keep an unruly child in his place, you’re accused of assault. Will the old lady who pummelled a helpless child on the MRT with an UMBRELLA be slapped with the same charge of  ‘criminal force’ then? Or what about an angry father slapping someone else’s boy to avenge his own bullied kid? If a parent running out of ideas wrestled his own nuisance kid to the ground in public, few would intervene. If it’s a teacher doing the same in the classroom on the other hand, we demand for his dismissal. Today, teachers are supposed to rule not with an iron fist, but a benevolent caress. You can no longer discipline a child for ‘his own good’ at the expense of your ‘own job’. The problem worsens when parents are not doing theirs. Granted, the child had neurological issues, but it would have been the same outcome had it been a child without ADHD/autism or any other illness that explains disruptive behaviour.

If these same charges were applied to teachers in the past, we would have at least half the education workforce doing ‘community service’ for slapping or spanking rowdy kids for ruining class, the only difference being they’re not on Ritalin or other psychostimulants to keep their ‘naughtiness’ at bay. My own primary school teacher walloped my knuckles with a wooden ruler and nobody was around to call the cops for this blatant act of physical abuse, nor did anyone send her away for 60 hours to do the janitor’s job. When I told my parents they simply laughed and added fuel to the fire by saying ‘Obi Good’. I mean, it’s not like I went home in crutches, an arm in a sling, or had one eye dangling out of its bloody socket. Thanks Mom and Dad, for letting a stranger half beat me to death because you love me too much to do it yourselves.

Children with ‘issues’ in school these days are protected by euphemisms and medical jargon. You’re not ‘naughty’ but ‘hyperactive’ or suffering from ADHD. If you’re the aggressive sort, you’ve got ‘oppositional defiant disorder’. Sometimes this outcry over physical duress may lead to otherwise capable leaders losing their positions. 10 years ago, the principal of Nan Chiau High stepped down after parents called the police on him for hitting their lying daughter with a SOFT COVER BOOK. If this ADHD child abuser were otherwise an excellent educator capable of bringing out the best PSLE scores in the school, it would be a loss not just the ‘punishee’, but the ENTIRE class, if he quits because his reputation as a bully who exercises CRIMINAL force has been cemented by overprotective parents who can’t do anything about their own unruly children themselves.

But the fact is you don’t even need to touch the flesh of a problem child to get into trouble with the police, or hate your job forever. You could get hauled up for questioning if you CUT HIS HAIR, or if you even say to a kid: ‘I don’t want to see your face!’, which amounts to ‘verbal abuse’. One teacher resigned after being accused by a rich and influential parent (who contributed to school funds, naturally) for abusing Daddy’s Boy. She merely ‘reprimanded’ him for BREAKING FLOWER POTS (Time for corporal punishment in schools, May 6 2014, ST Forum). Don’t say I didn’t warn you if Junior grows up to be a serial vandal.

In 2003, a RJC GP teacher verbally crushed a student for sloppy work and dramatically tore up his essay in front of class.

Not sure what happened to the kid, or the teacher after this. Although it gives some idea of what a horrible subject GP is, it’s also a masterclass in breaking down a student or his ‘insolence, laziness and apathy’ and being a ‘sly crafty old fox’. The insult of all classroom insults. Maybe parents should take notes about disciplining their own child, rather than write complaint emails to principals whenever their kid gets pinched in the ears, or being told to get out of class in a tone and volume beyond that of a gentle whisper.

Tuition in Singapore is a billion-dollar industry

From ‘$1 billion spent on tuition in 1 year’, 9 Nov 2014, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

Singapore’s tuition industry is now worth more than a billion dollars. The latest Household Expenditure Survey found that families spent $1.1 billion a year on tuition – almost double the $650 million spent a decade ago and a third more than the $820 million spent just five years ago.

The Department of Statistics, which polled more than 11,000 households between October 2012 and September last year, released the latest survey in September. The average household spending on tuition rose from $54.70 a month 10 years ago, to $79.90 in the latest survey.

The department told The Sunday Times that along with spending more, there were also more households in the latest study – 1.2 million compared with 993,000 a decade ago.

Some parents are known to pump in almost $6K a month on tuition for their kids. That’s more than what the average household spends on food ($1188/mth), transport($811), clothes/shoes ( $156) and recreation, including holidays, ($292) COMBINED in 2012-2013 (12 interesting trends about Singapore household income and spending, Sep 18, 2014, ST). Now a billion dollar industry that has naturally spawned copycats and scammers,  this amount speaks volumes about how tuition has taken precedence even over some of the bare necessities of life for some Singaporeans. We are no longer just a Tuition Nation. We are tuition JUNKIES.

All this despite PM Lee’s assertion that the PSLE is not the be-all and end-all in 2012, and after the Ministry ceased announcing top scorers in the exam. This year, PM Lee again reiterated that there’s ‘too much tuition’ going on in Singapore, quite the understatement really. In 1981, tuition was already a million-dollar ($52 million) goldmine, with parents spending up to $125 a month. A 2009 survey revealed that 85% of students between 13-19 spend FOUR HOURS per week on tuition, that’s excluding hours spent on CCAs.  The number of tuition/enrichment centres also jumped from 750 in 2012 to 850 this year. And that’s counting only those registered with MOE (Tuition seen as ‘necessity’ for students to do well, 2 Sep 2014, ST), and excluding private tutors.  How many are out there under the Ministry’s radar operating out of a house in Lentor? How many are earning big bucks like millionaire super Physics tutor Phang Yu Hon? ( The other lucrative subjects taught by super-tutors are JC economics, Math and General Paper). If you’re an aspiring tutor aiming to bank on this national addiction, you’ll never get anywhere teaching Geography or, god forbid, Literature.

In fact, there are so many centres business owners have to resort to bad spelling to differentiate themselves, like Beautyful Minds . Some are not even just ‘classrooms’ anymore. We have ‘STUDIOS, HUBS, LABS and MUSEUMS’, and there are centres that even decide the career path of your kids before they complete primary school, like Little Professors. Or those that promise to groom you into a business powerhouse through ‘leadership skills’. Some parents even go out of their way to attend courses themselves on how to get their KIDS to ace the PSLE. You’d be a total disappointment to your tuition-happy parents if you grew up to be a ‘hawker-preneur’, boy.

But it’s not just the traditional subjects (Mandarin, Maths, Physics) that require tuition. We have tuition for pre-school,  tuition for sports, and tuition for ABACUS. I mean, who needs a calculator or a smartphone if you have magic BEADS to perform your daily practical arithmetic, like finding out how much Mommy spends a month sending you to enrichment classes, or counting the number of precious hours of your miserable life slipping away when you could be out there in the sun learning how to ride a bike or knowing what flowers really smell like. Or if you’re the kind who actually begged your parents for tuition, the hours wasted in that useless institution known as SCHOOL.

Focus on the Family’s workshop promoting rape culture

From ‘Christian charity defends workshop which Hwa Chong student called sexist’, 7 Oct 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Christian charity that conducts sexuality and relationship education workshops in schools has defended its programmes, after a student said it promoted gender stereotypes. Student Agatha Tan, a first year junior college student at Hwa Chong Institution, had on Friday attended a workshop in school, run by Focus On The Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity.

…She referred to a booklet given to students, which said girls need to feel loved, can be emotional and have a “deep need for her boyfriend to find her beautiful”. The booklet also said boys are “visual”, and that a “guy can’t not want to look”, and they have a desire to “visually linger on and fantasise about the female body”.

Ms Tan said the booklet “paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys”. She called it an “extremely sexist view” that “trivialises girls’ problems” and “serves as a foundation for the further boosting of the male ego”.

…But Focus On The Family Singapore – approved by the Ministry of Education to run sexuality education programmes in schools – said on Tuesday that the workshop that Ms Tan attended is not a sexuality education programme. “It is designed to be a relationship programme to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships,” said its head of corporate communications, Ms Vicky Ho.

In Agatha’s lengthy rant about how sexist the FotF booklet is, she accuses the programme of ‘promoting rape culture’ in school, and detests the use of the word ‘gal’, which makes the intelligent, modern woman sound like a dim-witted floosy. Agatha comes across as a worthy candidate for AWARE membership, a young, aspiring, independent woman who would intimidate the average jock who’s enslaved by raging hormones and makes dick jokes all day long. Alas, mainstream media is full of gender stereotypes, from men losing their minds over a woman’s perfume in TV ads, to ‘gals’ in sexy sports attire seducing men in a SAFRA club. Surely it’s an exaggeration to cry ‘rape’ everytime the female form is objectified to sell a product, whether it’s a gym membership, a sportscar or a Christian workshop for young adults.

We hardly take such distortions of gender identity seriously, that is until an organisation like FotF claims to be one of the leading authorities in adolescent relationships and starts to drill into innocent young minds a half-baked, pseudo-scientific account of what today’s young women, and men, want. Instead of admitting that their material is mostly a sweeping, lazy generalisation of how boys and girls behave, FotF has the cheek to maintain that what they’re dishing out are the actual TRUTHS of love and dating, when these are in fact tired cliches masked as sage advice, stuff which read like rehashed Aunt Agony columns right out of the 60s, when young ladies are supposed to curtsey before a line dance and boys only grow testicles after learning how to ride a horse like a swashbuckler.

Here’s my breakdown of the relationship ‘tips and tricks’ which FotF advocates for a ‘healthy and meaningful’ relationship:

1. Reverse psychology always works if you’re a woman. If  she says ‘sure..go ahead’, you walk away at your own risk. If she says ‘I’m not upset’, she actually refraining from kicking you square in the balls.

2. Shouting gets your point across. e.g the interrobang in ‘ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME ?!’ It’s OK if you’re a girl, you’re supposed to be an emotional, needy creature with the privilege to boss your man around.

 3. Believe everything a man says. Especially when he says ‘I love you’. Because he means it. Obviously.

4. A girl will NEVER EVER go after you just for your money, because ‘emotional security’ and ‘closeness’ are far more important than financial security. So stick to that greasy fryer and shift work, young man, your woman still loves you so long as you spoil her with sweet words and attention.

5. Guys are just as complicated and fickle as girls. One moment they like girls with good ‘personalities’, the next moment they like ‘all types of girls’, then they like those who’re confident being ‘themselves’.

6. Guys are goddamned sex maniacs who can’t wait to lay their hands on your naked body. Only you, girl, have the POWER to put an end to his irrepressible lust once and for all.

I think FotF should stick to doing what they do best, like, focussing on the FAMILY and babies, and leave the troubled teen crap to people who live in the real world, because reading this patronising hokum is like consulting the love horoscope, or a literal version of the cheesiest Beverly Hills 90210 episode ever. Prepare your acceptance speech for the ALAMAK awards, FotF!

NUS assistant professor faking academic credentials

From ‘NUS probing work of ex-medicine faculty member’, 14 Sept 2014, article by Linette Lai, Sunday  Times

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has opened an investigation after reports that former faculty member Anoop Shankar had faked his academic credentials. “In view of the media reports on Anoop Shankar, NUS has initiated an internal investigation into his research publications when he was at NUS,” a university spokesman said yesterday.

According to his resume, the former assistant professor at NUS graduated from India’s top medical school when he was 21 and had a doctorate in epidemiology. However, a review of his work by West Virginia University in the United States found that Mr Shankar had only a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina and did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

In addition, some publications listed on his resume were either authored by someone else, or did not exist.

Mr Shankar was at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 2005 to 2008, where he was part of the department of community, occupational and family medicine. There, he wrote several papers on topics such as diabetes, and was also part of a research programme looking into eye diseases in Singapore.

Dr. Anoop Shankar, if that is in fact his real name, was part of a team of researchers involved in the epidemiology of eye diseases in Singapore, according to the 2004 Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine annual research report. Ironically, it is NUS senior management who were too BLIND to realise they have been supporting a fraudster’s work with research funding all this time. Some of his outlandish claims can be easily refuted with random background checks or maybe a few calls (courtesy of NBC news):

1. He was never a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

2. He supposedly wrote a paper in 1976 (the year after he was born), not 1996 as claimed in his resume. It turned out that none of the papers listed were actually written by him.

3. He wasn’t among the top 3 graduates of the All India Institute of Medicine in Delhi.

4. The university where he claimed he got his doctorate in epidemiology from doesn’t even have a department of epidemiology.

5. He had photos online pointing to him being a graduate of Kottayam Medical College, not the ‘Harvard’ of India.

It all seems like a sloppy yet preposterous act of forgery to me, and ever since he charmed his NUS employers into hiring him despite the phantom qualifications, not a squeak of suspicion emerged from 4 years in the university. Some of his latest work with VWU were not even directly related to his ‘specialty’ in NUS. In 2013, he suggested a link between a chemical in popcorn and heart disease. This guy is either incredibly charismatic or has a knack for spinning scientific yarn, the academia equivalent of conman Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in the film Catch Me if you Can.

But it’s not the first time that we let a liar boasting illustrious credentials weasel his way into a senior position in the NUMBER ONE university in Asia, and then only wait for someone else to ferret him out. In 2011, former NUS don Dr Alirio Melendez was hauled up by the University of London for research fraud, when his paper published in the Nature Immunology journal was retracted due to ‘inconsistencies’. NUS soon launched their own battery of investigations, uncovering more than 20 cases of alleged fabrications and plagiarism. He was found guilty earlier this year.  Prior to the fiasco he had been working with a team on a new potential drug which may treat septic shock. I thought this discovery would have been sufficiently ‘shocking’ for NUS to tighten their employee screening and audit processes, yet no one in NUS bothered to snoop on Anoop. How many more ‘world experts’ like these have slipped through the cracks? How many bogus articles are floating out there in scientific publication universe? Quite a few apparently. Some folks have even done it as a PRANK.

Fake professors writing fake articles don’t just waste research funds which could have been put to better use. Imagine if Shankar had fabricated his way into establishing a causal link between popcorn and blindness, and a ‘respected’ medical journal is taken in by this doyen of epidemiology’s gobbledegook and made it the health scare of the century, we’d all be stuck with soggy nachos at the movies, while hailing the man as the hero who saved humanity from poison pop corn.

ACS chartering 5 MRT trains for rugby match

From ‘SMRT acknowledged prior approval should have been sought: LTA’, 27 Aug 2014, article in Today online.

Transport operator SMRT has explained to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) why it let Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) charter five of its trains to transport students and staff to a rugby match yesterday (Aug 26) at the National Stadium. SMRT has also “acknowledged that prior approval should have been sought”, said an LTA spokesperson in a statement today.

“The operator is required to obtain LTA’s approval to run trains for non-public transport purposes because as regulator, LTA is responsible for ensuring that train services to the public are provided as scheduled, and that any additional trips in the network do not adversely affect such services,” the spokesperson added.

ACS(I) had chartered the trains to transport 3,000 of its students and staff to the Schools National C Division rugby final match, which was the first school final to be held at the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub. Yesterday, the LTA said it was looking into the appropriate action to take against SMRT after the public transport operator failed to seek the necessary approval from the authorities before letting the school charter its trains.

They've got a ticket to ride

They’ve got a ticket to ride

When asked about why they supported this private entourage, SMRT said that they believed in ‘supporting local education’ and ‘national initiatives’ without compromising core service delivery (Rugby: ACS(I) to charter five MRT trains…25 Aug, ST). This was a rugby championship match between rival schools, not a mass deployment of martyrs to the battlefront. It’s MRT playing host to a private event, where instead of your favourite restaurant or theatre being closed off for some company party, it’s 5 entire trains. I doubt LTA would have said NO anyway even if SMRT had asked for permission. The alternative would be 80 buses clogging up the roads and this is one premier school which is more than able to afford hiring a Zeppelin or cruise liner if they wanted to. Better to inconvenience some lowly train commuters than aggravate those car-drivers, eh?

Still, when you see ACS’s motto being flashed on the LED scroller in the image above, you can’t help wondering if SMRT the public transport provider is sidelining as a party organiser here. If a school like ACS could hire MRT trains to bring their students to a sports competition, what’s stopping a multimillion, Government-endorsed company from doing the same to bring their employers to a Dinner and Dance, or from office to Changi Airport for an overseas AGM? If I’m very influential, could I hire one train just to ferry people to my gala wedding in style, complete with buskers and champagne? After all, it’s cheap, eco-friendly and SMRT has given us the assurance that normal passenger service would be minimally affected. Imagine if traditional rivals like RI or Hwa Chong followed suit with their own mass events. Hwa Chong even wanted an MRT station named after them for God’s sake. In fact, managing director Lee Ling Wee went on to ENCOURAGE more schools located near the CCL to charter trains during off-peak hours because it seems that they could afford it. You know, just to dispel the notion of MRT chartering being the sole right of elite institutions. Maybe SMRT should have an online booking system too, and exclusive themed trains like ‘Summer Wedding’ or ‘Ruggers’ Fiesta’ which you can choose to upgrade to.

I think if the event had been a charity fundraiser or a Big Day out for pioneers or the handicapped, few would complain. But this was for a select group with no noble intentions outside of flying some school flags or chanting slogans for a sport that only gets screened live in dingy Irish bars. I for one would rather watch a Bonsai pruning competition than the Rugby World Cup final. ACS’s private joyride had no philanthropic, ‘educational’ value or ‘national’ objective worthy of inspiration or pride. So why does rugby warrant this special privilege? Vivian Balakrishnan could have skimmed his YOG budget had he thought of chartering for volunteers and participants back in 2011. If you accept the argument that this is ‘cost effective’ then anybody can justify using the MRT as their grandfather’s train to move thousands of people for other frivolous reasons. Does SMRT have any qualification criteria at all?

As for that LED marquee screen that otherwise no one ever gives a shit about, now there’s an idea for a wedding proposal, guys.

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