SINGAPORE: Upgrading Singapore's preschools, fighting diabetes and building a Smart Nation were the key issues in the National Day Rally speech that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered on Sunday (Aug 20) evening.
"These are the things we have to do, in order to start right, stay well, and live smart," Mr Lee said in a short video filmed as he was preparing for the speech at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Ang Mo Kio.
9.21pm: Keeping our eyes on tomorrow
"This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceutical engineer; and Adam, a bright future ahead of him," said PM Lee as he concluded the Rally.
"Every generation striving and building for the next; keeping our eyes on tomorrow and investing in our children; undaunted by challenges and disruptions, instead working together to overcome every obstacle, seize every opportunity and realise a bright future for all of us."
9.18pm: ‘It is my Government’s duty to build for our future’: PM Lee
Mr Lee spoke of how he presented an Edusave Merit Award to a boy, Adam, only to discover he had also presented an SBC House Union Bursary to his father, Aziz, 31 years ago.
Aziz qualified for the bursary because his father, Ahmad, had been a gardener with SBC, as Mediacorp was then known.
“It is my Government’s duty to build for our future, so that every family can be like Ahmad, Aziz and Adam,” Mr Lee said.
“It has ever been so, and it must always be so.”
9.08pm: New app for street parking will be launched by October
Users will pay only for how long they park - for instance, if you park for 18 minutes, you pay for just that.
The app, called Parking.sg, will alert you when your session is about to end, and you can extend the session remotely instead of rushing back to your car to add parking coupons.
9.07pm: ‘Every lamp-post a smart lamp-post’
Since the Little India riot, Singapore has made progress building an integrated national sensor network, Mr Lee said.
Authorities are installing more CCTV cameras in public places and making “every lamp-post a smart lamp-post”, with the ability to mount different types of sensors on them.
They are also learning to analyse data combined from various sources - for instance, using artificial intelligence to flag automatically when something unusual is happening.
This is a major project, Mr Lee said - one that could help our Home Team respond promptly to an incident like the Boston bombings, or even pre-empt it from happening.
9.06pm: Authorities caught a little flat-footed during Little India riot, PM Lee says
There were too few CCTV cameras monitoring Little India at the time of the riot in December 2013, Mr Lee said, adding that the authorities had to rely on footage posted by members of the public on social media.
9.05pm: Singapore lags behind other cities when it comes to using IT for public safety: PM Lee
Many cities already have comprehensive CCTV and sensor networks, and they can also integrate their sources, analyse and make sense of the information and respond promptly to an emergency, Mr Lee said.
He cited the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, and how Boston police identified the bombers within three days from a huge amount of data from CCTVs, social media and licence plate readers.
9.03pm: Singapore must simplify and integrate e-payment systems, PM Lee says
Mr Lee noted that Singapore has too many different schemes and systems that don’t talk to one another.
The result is that most of us still prefer cash and cheques, he said, but added that Singapore now has a single unified terminal that can read different cards.
Mr Lee also cited PayNow, a new service that allows people to pay and receive money using their mobile banking app.
The service is convenient, cheap and safe, Mr Lee said, adding that there is no credit card service fee.
“Next time I’m at a hawker centre, I look forward to buying my meal with PayNow!”
9.00pm: Singapore lags behind other cities in areas like electronic payments, PM Lee says
China has gone the furthest with e-payments, said Mr Lee.
He related a story by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who discovered when he was in Shanghai several years ago, that even the roadside hawker selling chestnuts took electronic payments.
Mr Lee said: “So when Chinese visitors come to Singapore and find they have to use cash, they ask: 'How can Singapore be so backward?'”
8.58pm: PM Lee’s family history of diabetes
Mr Lee revealed he too, has to watch his own health, as he has a family history of diabetes. His paternal grandmother had diabetes, as did several uncles, he said.
"My father didn't, probably because he watched his diet and weight very carefully and was extremely disciplined about exercising."
PM Lee added that he gets his fasting blood sugar level tested twice a year. His reading is below 6, the threshold that is considered safe, “but not very far below … so I know I have to be careful”, he said.
He added that he weighs himself and exercises daily and watches his diet, choosing wholemeal bread instead of white bread, and teh-o-kosong instead of teh.
“But if the dessert is chendol, it can’t be helped,” he quipped.
“I will just take a little bit."
8.55pm: Soft drink producers to reduce sugar in all their drinks sold in Singapore
As a first step, we have got the soft drink producers to agree to reduce the sugar in all their drinks sold in Singapore, PM Lee said.
“This will help. But ultimately, what to drink is a personal choice.”
8.54pm: Sugar tax? Not clear yet if it works, PM Lee says
Singapore is scouting for solutions to cut its sugar intake, Mr Lee said. He noted that several European countries, as well as Mexico and Brunei have tried a sugar tax. The UK and Chile have also put warning labels on drinks with high sugar content, he said.
"But it's not clear yet if the measures work," Mr Lee said.
Nobody has found the ideal solution yet, but if someone comes up with a solution that works, the Government will study it and implement it, he said.
8.51pm: PM Lee said that mixed-grain fried rice would be served later at the National Day rally reception - a mix of white and brown rice.
“Not quite as healthy, but better-tasting than all-brown rice and it’s healthier than all-white rice,” he said.
Mr Lee also asked Singaporeans to eat more healthily, and added that NTUC FairPrice would help encourage this by offering special discounts on healthy food, including brown rice, until Aug 30.
8.49pm: Lee Kuan Yew's 'tiny half piece' of steak
PM Lee related a story told to him by Punggol East MP and Acting Speaker Charles Chong.
Mr Chong had been invited to lunch by PM Lee’s father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Chong was the only guest, he said - and when the main course was served, there were one and a half pieces of steak – one whole steak and another tiny, half piece of steak.
"Out of respect to Mr Lee, he took the tiny, half piece. Mr Lee stopped him and said: 'That’s my piece. You take the other one!'
"So like Mr Lee, we all can decide to eat less, and watch our weight," PM Lee said.
8.44pm: Avoiding diabetes
Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to take advantage of health checks at community events or subsidised MOH screenings.
He also encouraged them to exercise more - starting with walking a bit more every day.
“Doctors say aim for 10,000 steps a day. But I know myself that 10,000 steps is not so easy to achieve.
“I brisk walk for 40 minutes every morning and I still can’t achieve it - because the rest of the day I am sedentary, sitting down at the computer screen, either at work or at home.”
8.42pm: More to life than living long, PM Lee says
Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 82 years - one of the longest in the world - but also experience an average of eight years of ill health in old age.
“Eight years is a long time to be in ill health,” he said.
“What causes this ill health? One big reason is diabetes.”
Three in 10 Singaporeans above the age of 60 have diabetes, Mr Lee noted.
Among the Chinese, 2.5 in 10 over 60 will have it; among the Malays, half; and among the Indians, six in 10.
“So this is a very serious problem, and for the Malays and Indians, it’s actually a health crisis,” he said.
8.39pm: PM Lee polls his audience - what do they think is the life expectancy of Singaporeans - and how many years of ill health do they experience on average?
8.37pm: Why talk about diabetes?
“You may not think diabetes is a major problem, but in fact it is very serious in Singapore. Particularly so for older people, but increasingly for younger Singaporeans,” Mr Lee said.
Generally, Singaporeans think of themselves as being fairly healthy - but there is more to life than living long, he said.
8.35pm: Annual spending on pre-schools to hit S$1.7 billion by 2022, PM Lee says
Elaborating on the Government’s plans to double its annual spending on pre-schools, Mr Lee said annual spending has doubled in the last five years, from S$360 million in 2012 to S$840 million in 2017.
It will double spending again in the next five years, to S$1.7 billion in 2022, Mr Lee said.
“It is a heavy but worthwhile investment,” he said.
“But all this will be for nought unless young parents do your part. So please have a few more babies!”
8.32pm: KidSTART could be scaled up to benefit more children, PM Lee says
KidSTART, a programme that helps support children from low-income and vulnerable families, has received promising early feedback, Mr Lee said.
Parents say that their children are more talkative and expressive, and interact much better.
If the promising results are confirmed, KidSTART will be scaled up to benefit more children, he said.
8.31pm: Salaries of pre-school professionals need to improve further, says PM Lee
The Government will work with employers to ensure good career prospects and competitive pay for pre-school professionals, Mr Lee said.
As the profession is upgraded, salaries will need to improve further, he said.
“In particular, salaries will match career progression, so that we can get not just good teachers, but able and committed specialists and leaders.”
8.29pm: JUST IN: New institute to train pre-school teachers and carers
The pre-school sector will get a new centralised institute, much like the National Institute of Education (NIE) for primary, secondary and junior college teachers.
The new institute, the National Institute of Early Childhood and Development (NIEC), will bring together the existing pre-school teacher training programmes in Temasek and Ngee Ann polytechnics, ITE and the SEED Institute.
It will provide the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for pre-school professionals. The faculty will also have more opportunities for professional development and progression.
Training awards will be provided for students of the new institute. The awards will cover their fees plus an allowance, so pre-school teachers can make a strong start to their careers.
8.27pm: JUST IN: MOE to scale up to 50 kindergartens in the next 5 years
The Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) 15 kindergartens have helped establish a good standard at a reasonable price, Mr Lee said - and as such, it will scale up to 50 kindergartens in the next five years.
8.26pm: JUST IN: Early Years Centres will be built for children up to the age of 4
The shortage of pre-school spaces is mainly for children up to the age of four, Mr Lee said - and Early Years Centres will be built for this group.
The centres will be located in new HDB developments and partnered with nearby MOE kindergartens.
Children up to the age of four can go to an Early Years Centre, after which he or she has a place reserved in the partnering MOE kindergarten, if their parents want to take it up.
8.25pm: JUST IN: Singapore to create an additional 40,000 new pre-school places
50,000 more pre-school places have already been created in the last five years - but the younger towns are still short of places, Mr Lee said.
An additional 40,000 new places will be created in the next five years, bringing the total number of pre-school places to about 200,000 - almost double what we had, he said.
8.20pm: Pre-school education: Important to start much earlier than Pri 1, PM Lee says
Mr Lee made the case for a child’s education to begin “much earlier” than Primary 1, saying there are specific developmental windows at an early age - for instance, a child picks up language skills most easily and rapidly in the first three years.
“Miss that window, and it becomes much harder later on,” he said.
8.18pm: Three issues for the longer term
“Tonight, I would like to take a step back from these immediate priorities,” Mr Lee said.
“Instead, I want to discuss three longer-term issues that will be important to the prosperity and well-being of Singapore, for the current generation and future generations.”
He highlighted the issues of developing pre-school education, fighting diabetes and making Singapore a Smart Nation as the things the country has to work on now, to build its future.
8.17pm: Singapore making good progress, says PM Lee
After several years of almost zero growth, productivity went up by 1% last year and should do even better this year, Mr Lee said in his English speech.
He noted that there was still work to do - including implementing industry transformation maps, helping retrain workers and creating new opportunities for people and businesses.
“The immediate priorities are important and we will continue to focus on them,” Mr Lee said.
8:05pm: Meanwhile, here's a look at what PM Lee's having for dinner, before his English speech:
7.28pm: Coming home - like Gillian Tee
Mr Lee cited the example of Ms Gillian Tee, who had established a successful start-up in San Francisco but thought of coming home to look after her ageing mother.
Noticing that there were many other seniors who needed help, Ms Tee co-founded Homage, a company that used IT to match a pool of care-givers with them.
Mr Lee called on more companies and government agencies to learn from Homage in combining IT and services to improve lives.
7.26pm: Singapore has the right conditions to become a Smart Nation, PM Lee says
Singapore’s Internet coverage is wide, with fast connection speeds; and the education system’s focus on mathematics, engineering and technical studies has helped nurture many “techies”, a number of whom were overseas, Mr Lee said.
7:20pm: Smart Nation is about using IT to benefit everyone - including the elderly, says PM Lee
IT can improve the safety of seniors who live alone, Mr Lee said. He cited smart sensors that can learn daily pattern of seniors as they move about at home and detect if something is amiss.
HDB is trialling the sensors, Mr Lee said, noting that at least one senior has benefited from the technology after her son received an alert when she was ill in bed.
7.17pm: MOH to offer S$5 health check-ups for those above 40 years of age
Starting from September, the Ministry of Health will offer health check-ups for S$5, for those who are above the age of 40, said Mr Lee, adding that the full cost of the test is more than S$100.
7.16pm: Severe consequences if diabetes is not controlled: PM Lee
Three in 10 people over the age of 60 have diabetes, noted Mr Lee.
He warned that there were severe consequences if the condition was not controlled - including blindness, heart failure and kidney failure.
On average, about 1,200 diabetes patients in Singapore undergo amputation every year, he said, adding this could be among the highest in the world.
7.15pm: Fighting diabetes: It is precisely because you are not worried, that I am worried, PM Lee says
In his National Day message earlier this month, Mr Lee said he would highlight the issue of diabetes at the National Day Rally.
Today, he noted that many had wondered about his choice of topic.
“It is precisely because you are not worried, that I am worried,” he told his audience in Mandarin.
It is precisely because many people do not take diabetes seriously, that it has become a serious problem, Mr Lee added.
7.13pm: Government will make sure that pre-schools remain affordable: PM Lee
This is so that children from all economic backgrounds will have an equal chance to compete and excel, and eventually contribute to society, he said.
7.12pm: JUST IN: Government to double annual spending on pre-school education in five years
The Government will invest more in pre-schools to comprehensively upgrade the sector, Mr Lee said.
Five years ago, annual government spending on pre-school education was half of what it spends today - and five years from now, the amount will double again, said Mr Lee.
This shows the importance and commitment the Government places on pre-school, he said.
7.11pm: Starting bilingual education early
Studies show that the best window for a child to learn a language is before the age of 3, Mr Lee noted.
Speaking in Mandarin, he recounted how his mother only learnt Chinese when she was in her 20s. He said she seldom spoke Mandarin, despite being able to understand the language quite well.
He found out only years later that it was because a friend had told her that she spoke Mandarin with an English accent. Perhaps she was a bit embarrassed, Mr Lee said, adding that his mother never spoke in Mandarin again.
Mr Lee also acknowledged that, despite having attended Chinese schools, including Nanyang Kindergarten, getting the right pronunciation was still not easy for him and he still mispronounced words sometimes.
With mother tongues being used less at home, Mr Lee said there was a need to strengthen bilingual education and do so at pre-school level.
7.07pm: Improving pre-school education
Mr Lee said the Government will focus on three aspects in improving pre-school education:
- Increasing pre-school places;
- Improving the quality of pre-school education and giving children a good bilingual foundation; and
- Improving the quality of pre-school teaching and making the profession attractive.
7.05pm: Singapore’s economic transformation is making progress, PM Lee says
Beginning his Mandarin speech, PM Lee said that Singapore’s economy remains strong and this year’s growth has improved. Growth is expected to reach around 2.5% - higher than last year.
He added that it is even more encouraging to see that Singapore’s economic transformation is making progress and that productivity is improving.
However, Mr Lee said, to maintain Singapore’s prosperity and stability over the long run, there is a need to look at a number of long-term issues to prepare for the future.
7:02pm: Singapore’s next President
If all goes well, another distinguished Malay Singaporean will become the country’s next President, PM Lee noted.
He added that he hopes that, like the late President Yusof Ishak, the next President will bring as much distinction and honour to the office, and be as well-loved and remembered by Singaporeans.
7:01pm: Smart Nation: More young Malays taking advantage of IT and starting new companies, says PM Lee
PM Lee cited Syafiq Yusoff, the school drop-out who set up Riverwood - the logistics company engaged by Amazon Prime Now when it entered the Singapore market.
Syafiq set up Riverwood with only 2 vans and 4 workers, but grew the company and upgraded its operations using technology. Today, it employs 120 workers of all races and is still growing.
PM Lee said he is confident many more Malays will be able to seize new opportunities, whether as entrepreneurs, professionals or technicians.
6:55pm: ‘Act fast so that you will not regret later’
Using the Malay idiom sebelum nasi menjadi bubur (meaning “act fast so that you will not regret later”), PM Lee encouraged his audience to watch their lifestyle and diet so that they can avoid diabetes or manage the illness better.
Speaking of his own fondness for rich, traditional sweets like dodol and ondeh-ondeh, PM Lee cited his doctor’s advice to enjoy the treats in moderation rather than not at all.
Mr Lee also called for the community to exercise more. Doctors recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week, he said, which works out to 20 minutes a day.
6:52pm: Preventing diabetes
10% of Singaporeans have diabetes - but what is more alarming is that 17% of Malays have the condition, PM Lee said.
He added that one reason is obesity, which is also more prevalent among Malays.
6:49pm: A good pre-school system enables everyone to compete fairly in Singapore, PM Lee says
Speaking in Malay, PM Lee said he’s glad that more Malay children are now attending pre-school.
The Government is raising the quality of pre-schools and keeping them affordable, he said, adding that it is creating more pre-school places, including infant care and nursery classes. pre-school teachers will also get better training and careers.
6.35pm: National Day Rally 2017 to begin at 6.45pm
PM Lee will begin the National Day Rally speaking in Malay and Mandarin from 6.45pm to 7.30pm.
He will deliver his English speech at 8.15pm.
Or, if you’re unable to tune in, follow us on our live blog right here.
6.05pm: "Start right, stay well, and live smart"
In a short video clip posted on his Facebook page, PM Lee said that he would talk about upgrading Singapore's preschools, fighting diabetes and building a Smart Nation.
"These are the things we have to do, in order to start right, stay well, and live smart," he said.
6.03pm: NDR 2017 to touch on pre-schools, fighting diabetes and making Singapore a Smart Nation
Welcome to our live blog covering this year’s National Day Rally speech!
In his National Day message earlier this month, PM Lee said he would use this year’s rally to talk about three longer-term issues facing Singapore - raising the standards of pre-schools, fighting diabetes and shaping a Smart Nation.