(’12)How far is it acceptable for technology to be used only for financial benefit?


(Introduction) As the world undergoes rapid urbanization and industrialization, competition between firms is tough. Most would focus on outdoing others and maximize their profits through heavy emphasis on productivity, and the development of new technology to gain a competitive edge. Such an approach would work on the basis of short-term and immediate *financial* benefits, causing firms to often neglect the importance of producing technology that actually contribute to society, and many to say that technology should not be used for financial benefit. However, I feel that it is acceptable for technology to be used for financial benefit, as long as it not used solely for profits and is beneficial to mankind. Such is only unacceptable when it may result in detrimental consequences, such as damages to the environment/society. 

(Refute 1) Companies obtain patents as a form of reward for their efforts in research and developing new technology. However, some unscrupulous businessmen may see it as an opportunity to further develop new technology or exploit technology that may harm the environment/society. For instance, Monsanto, an American firm that specialises in agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology, developed the herbicide glyphosphate through biotechnological processes and obtained a patent for it, causing sales to soar. Seeing the profits made, they further developed the “Roundup Ready Crops” and sold it to farmers to earn more money. These crops caused the growth of “superweeds” and threaten to harm the environment. In another example, during the 1984 Bhopal Disaster, Union Carbide India Limited used technology to produce pesticides from Methyl Isocynate in order to cut down on manufacturing costs in order to gain more profits. It resulted in the disaster which not only polluted the air, water and soil but also killed thousands and many others suffered from blindness, organ failures and other bodily malfunctions. These examples have shown how firms have caused harm to the society and environment in their pursuit for more financial profits. Technology, though beneficial as it can help to reduce costs and increase output of goods, brings about detrimental impact if it is exploited by the people who use it and very often, such instances occur when monetary benefits are brought into the picture. Hence, it is unacceptable for technology to be used for financial benefits. 

(Supporting 1) However, some technology used for profits actually helps to sustain the environment, hence is acceptable. Toyota’s hybrid models is a good instance where technology, used for profit, helps to conserve the environment. Toyota’s hybrid cars are a substantial source of profits for Toyota Europe; They made a loss between 2008 and 2011, but managed to turn things around by cutting labor while consolidating production of hybrid models such as the Auris and Yaris. Now, in the most recently completed financial year, 2014, Toyota Europe reported earnings that were up 75% from the year before. At the same time, hybrid cars are environmentally friendly. Toyota calculates that as of 2015, its hybrid vehicles have resulted in approximately 58 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions than would have been emitted by gasoline-powered vehicles of similar size and driving performance. Hybrid cars have also improved air quality, especially in urban areas, as they generally produce a lot less smog-forming emissions than non-hybrids. In another example, Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd., the world’s biggest solar company by value, climbed to $36 billion in market value and has its profits surging by 64% in 2014 following the sale of five power projects in China. Hanergy sold the photovoltaic power plants in China for 1.42 billion yuan ($229 million), at a net gain of about 778 million yuan, according to the statement. Solar energy offers power without pollution. In its basic form, it needs no distribution grid because it comes down from the sky, and is sustainable as the sun’s light would never run out. In such cases, these technologies can be exploited for financial benefit.

(Refute 2) However, when the technology used for profit results in worsening of income inequity, as companies continue to charge higher prices, it no longer becomes acceptable. Communication technologies such as computers and smartphones used widely by people all over the world today are usually produced by a few rich companies which develop and sell them. In pursuing financial benefits, those patent-holders will charge users sky-high prices. As people become more and more reliant on such technology, they have no choice but to accept the high prices. Also, with consumerism on the rise, consumers themselves desire to own these new technologies, and are willing to buy them at higher prices, thus resulting in a widening income gap with the rich companies becoming richer and richer. For instance, Apple reported a net profit of US$18 billion in its first fiscal quarter, a major part of which comes from the sale of its iPhones; they gained 39.9% profit per product.

(Supporting 2) However, I beg to differ. Communication technology developed for profits have also increased consumers’ choices, convenience, and pleasure, hence it is acceptable. In fact, precisely because these technologies generate profits, companies are willing to continue investing in and developing them to produce even better products/products with more functions, which in turn further increases the pleasure they brings to us. Using technology for financial benefit, at least, makes more new technology available for people to enjoy. If Apple did not make profits, we may not be able to continually get new versions of iPhones and iPads anymore. In another example, before China’s economic reform in 1978, all the companies were state-owned. There was absolutely no private ownership, meaning that any money earned by the firms must be given to the government. Managers and workers in the firms got their salaries from the government, regardless of how much profit they had contributed. The result of such “zero-profit margin” was that all the firms were reluctant to innovate or to improve their products, causing China’s high-tech sector to be essentially “stagnant” in those years.

(Supporting 3) Furthermore, some technologies used for financial benefits yielded secondary benefits in other areas. Some technology used for profits actually reduced poverty, hence is acceptable. Poverty usually exists in the form of a vicious cycle that trap the poor inside generation after generation. Many other problems are closed related to poverty, one of them being malnutrition. Today, it is estimated 800 million people around the world are suffering from malnutrition. Technology provides a possible solution to the problem of poverty, even though the primary drive for the companies to develop these technologies is financial benefit. For example, there have been more than 20 “Taobao Villages” emerging in China. The online business platform developed by Alibaba provides the poor villagers with an exit from poverty. Starting by selling handicrafts online and tapping into a lucrative consumer market, the villagers no longer rely on the physically demanding agricultural work which produces meager income for livelihood. Each “Taobao Village” generates 10 million Yuan per year, and people now enjoy remarkably different standard of living from the past. However, the reason why Ma Yun, the owner of Alibaba, developed this online selling technology is for financial benefit; the “rents” that every shop owner pays have made Ma Yun the 2nd richest man in China. Yet, besides capturing profit for the technology owner, Taobao helps to improve rural economies across China. In another example, The Village Phone Programme in rural areas of Bangladesh also helps alleviates poverty. Phones are given to selected ladies in the village, and these “village phone ladies” becomes entrepreneurs as they earn money through providing phone services to other villagers. Such shows how infocomm technology can be designed and developed to become an income-generating activity. At the same time, Grameen telecom, as the phone service operator, also benefits from increased profits through villagers’ calling activities. From this, we can see that while actions taken by private firms are usually driven by profit motives, if their actions could in turn help mitigate societal issues like poverty, it will be considered a win-win situation, which is desirable to the community.




‘Science is based as much on theory as on fact.’ Is this a fair comment?


(Refute 1) Some argue that science is only based on facts. In science, ‘facts’ are observable phenomenon in a particular situation in the natural world. The word ‘science’ is derived from the Latin word scientia, which is knowledge based on demonstrable (observation) and reproducible (experiment) data. Scientists craft their experiments, record their results and make conclusions based on what they observe, or, in essence, facts. Gregor Mendel’s pea experiment is a prime example. Mendel set out to study 34 subspecies of the common garden pea, a vegetable noted for its many variations in color, length, flower, leaves and for the way each variation appears clearly defined. Over eight years, he isolated each pea trait one at a time and crossbred species to observe what traits were passed on and what traits were not from one generation to the next. Through his observations(facts), he concluded/induced two generalizations which later became known as Mendel’s Principles of Heredity/Mendelian inheritance. Hence, science is purely based on facts, not theories.

(Supporting 1) However, I bed to differ. Study of science is also based on theory. In many cases of scientific study, especially in modern world, where the things science want to discover are ever more complex and impossible/too tedious to ‘observe’ in the natural world, scientists are not able to depend on ‘facts’ anymore, and have to rely on theory. For instance, to better understand the fundamental structure of the universe, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, produced the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. They embarked on this project because of the Standard Model, a theory that explains the interactions between particles. The model proposed that the Higgs boson, an elusive, energetic particle, gives all matter mass. Based on this theory, the LHC aims to find the particle. Though, undoubtedly, observation also played a large part in the finding of the Higgs boson, but before the observation was made possible/LHC was built, specifically, during the building of the experiment/LHC, scientists had to rely on theory to determine exactly how the LHC should be built so that it actually works. In another example, Albert Einstein, one of history’s greatest thinkers, came up with special relativity, the most accurate model of motion at any speed, from his thought experiment of racing a light beam. A classical theory of electricity and magnetism, Maxwell’s Equations, predict the speed of light as a universal constant. When Einstein studied Maxwell’s equations, in his trust of “the truth of the equations in electrodynamics” and that they “should hold also in the moving frame of reference”, he came up with his famous thought experiment. That, if he travelled almost at the speed of light (relative, say, to Earth) a beam of light would still move away from him at velocity c. Although initially thought of as a paradox, as in Einstein’s own words, this was “in conflict with the rule of addition of speeds we knew of well in Newton mechanics” (which called for many possible speeds), another experiment at that time involving light proved that the mechanics were wrong; light always travelled at the same speed. This caused Einstein to further think, “What if the speed of light really is the same in all reference frames — what if it moves the same speed on a train or off it?” The rest of special relativity followed from that insight, as Einstein realized that the solution was found from the very concept of time, that is, that time is not absolutely defined but there is an inseparable connection between time and the signal speed. With this connection, the foregoing extraordinary difficulty could be thoroughly solved, and the present theory of special relativity was completed. As shown, Einstein had to rely on his own theories and thoughts to develop special relativity, an all-encompassing model (explaining any speed) that still holds accurate today, which would have been impossible to achieve if Einstein had based his research on observation/facts instead, as that would mean he had to experiment and observe motion of every possible substance in existence. Hence, science is also based on theory.

(Refute 2) Some argue that science is only based on facts. This is because, in every study, other than observations, scientists themselves also require/need to be equipped with prior knowledge/facts from past studies to support/craft their conclusions. Using Einstein’s example again, if not for Einstein’s knowledge of classical/traditional physics (Newton’s mechanics), Maxwell’s equations, mathematics, he would not have been able to craft his theory. 

(Supporting 2) However, I beg to differ. These people assume that knowledge equal to fact, when actually that is untrue. In science, the only fact is observation. Knowledge is tentative. Although supported by a wealth of data from repeated trials, and reliable in most situations, it is not considered the final word. This is because, Science is a human endeavor, and human perspective is limited and fallible. In any era, Knowledge will be continually changed and updated. In this sense, Knowledge is then, just a theory, and therefore Science, which is basically made up of/substantiated by scientific knowledge, is merely based on theories. Consequently, all scientific experiments are based on theory too. For instance, during Galileo’s time, many people, even scientists, when being posed a question, asked back “What did Aristotle say?” They took everything that Aristotle said as knowledge, facts that were the irrefutable truth. One such knowledge that people gained from Aristotle was that heavier objects fell faster and therefore reached the ground earlier than lighter objects if they are released from the same height. Based on this prior knowledge, Galileo carried out experiments and discovered that all objects actually fell at the same rate of increase in speed (acceleration) due to gravity. In this case, knowledge did not equal to fact; Aristotle’s claim was merely his own theory. Galileo’s conclusion too; future studies further refined and developed his theory (of gravity and acceleration). And these knowledges are also theories, which will continually be improved upon as science moves toward the future. For example, Newton’s physics/mechanics (three laws) expanded upon this idea of motion, acceleration and force, and his Three Laws of Motion are essential in science, being one of the key ideas in traditional/classical physics. However, these laws, although tested and verified countless number of times, still cannot be considered as irrefutable facts, as they only describe about 90% of the way things work/move in the universe. This knowledge starts to break down when we consider extremes; ideas such as objects moving at the speed of light, the inside of atoms, extreme temperatures, and when the objects are huge (like galaxies interacting with each other). As shown, any knowledge in science will not be able to apply to/hold true in every situation, due to limitations of human beings and great diversity of the universe; therefore they are merely theories. Hence, science is actually based on theory.

(Supporting 3) Lastly, Science needs theory. Besides knowledge, theories also include ideas that have not been validated. They are fundamentally uncertain, and such is vital to scientific studies and is the basis of great scientific discoveries. This is because, they prompt scientists to create new experiments/come up with new studies in an attempt to either affirm or refute them, and to challenge the uncertainties. This is so central to the scientific method and the advancement of science such that Science is often defined as the process of continually testing and challenging previous theories, while coming up with newer, better/more reliable ones in their place. This is evident in the scientific method, where after conducting background research, a hypothesis is constructed before any experimentation takes place. Without this hypothesis, without this theory (backed by knowledge/more theories), the experiment is aimless, and observations (facts) remain as discrete data that serve no meaning in themselves. Only by serving as evidence to support/refute a hypothesis/theory, do observations (facts) have meaning. Schrödinger’s Cat experiment is a prime example.  In the hypothetical experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive sample, a Geiger counter and a bottle of poison. If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive material has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed. This seems like a seemingly meaningless experiment, with observations (facts)― either the cat lives or dies that makes no sense by itself. However, if we bring the theory in/understand the theory involved, the Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, we find that Schrödinger’s experiment was actually designed to illustrate the flaws of this theory, which states that a particle exists in all states at once until observed. If the Copenhagen interpretation suggests the radioactive material can have simultaneously decayed and not decayed in the sealed environment, then it follows the cat too is both alive and dead until the box is opened, which is an illogical idea. Schrödinger hence used this to highlight the limits of the Copenhagen interpretation when applied to practical situations. The cat is actually either dead or alive, whether or not it has been observed. As shown, theories serve as the aims of experiments, and experiments are carried out specifically to improve/affirm or refute said theories in mind.  Only this brings meanings to observations/facts, and without theories, without their flaws and limitations, perhaps even science, the collection of all observations/facts of the natural world, would have appeared random, and stayed stagnant eternally. Therefore, the fundamentals of science is based on theory.

(’13)How important is it to save plant and animal species which are in danger of extinction?


(Introduction) We could now well be facing the world’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, and the worst loss of species, since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Research by Stuart Pimm, a biologist at Duke University, put a number on how fast species are now becoming extinct. His study, published in the journal Science, suggested that while one species, on average, went extinct per every 10 million each year before humans came onto the scene, that number has soared to between 100 and 1,000 species today. In this light, human efforts to save our endangered species today have much increased, but, really, how much of this effort is of concrete importance, relative to the amount of effort and resources put into it? 

(Refute 1) Some say that it is not important to save the species in danger of extinction, because it is only an economic and resource drain without any foreseeable benefits/paybacks. For example, The Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), which aims to save tigers from becoming extinct in the wild and double the wild tiger populations, estimates between $100-200 million will be spent per year for the next 10 years to save tigers. And that is just to save one species from extinction (in the wild). And there are thousands of endangered species to be saved. In 2010, the cost of managing tiger reserves alone cost at least $82 million, according to the Economist. To reduce the threat of extinction for endangered species all over the world, almost $5 billion could be spent on this area every year with an additional $76 billion to both establish and maintain protected areas for threatened wildlife. These figures are from a just-published study in the journal Science and underscore the extent of funding needed to preserve biodiversity around the world. 

(Supporting 1- Economic benefits, counter eco. drain) However, I beg to differ. The global value of ecosystems (which depend on biodiversity) is estimated at $124 trillion per year. An estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes. Up to 50% of the global $640 billion a year pharmaceutical industry depends on natural resources.  Furthermore, this economic value of biodiversity is particularly important for certain countries. For instance, Australia’s tourism accounts for around 8% of the GDP, and is growing at a rate of 5% per year. This value depends on maintaining healthy ecosystems. Other than that, in the United States, the reintroduction of the endangered gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park proved to be a huge draw for tourists, and much of this money was used to further scientific research into gray wolf conservation. Conservation of endangered species has paid itself back many times over, hence, it is important to continue such efforts. 

(Supporting 2) It is also important, as these endangered species have many medicinal and research uses. Many medicines and new products are developed from plants and other organisms. For example, Cinchona quinine, a genus of 38 species native to the tropical Andes forests of western South America, was the anti-malarial drug of choice until the 1940s. Aspirin originally came from willow bark. Pacific Yew, a near-threatened species according to the IUCN, produces taxol, a chemical used in fighting cancer. Beyond medicine, other products have been and can be developed from plants. (Srub mints serve as natural insecticides.) These species are only a small proportion of the plant species capable of practical use. Humans have still not found, nor tapped into the potential of many plant species around the world. However, many of these species could go extinct before we can ever discover them; even for plants species that are identified as useful and endangered (aforementioned ones), if no precaution is taken, they may become extinct quickly. Such would cause their potential to be lost completely. Hence, it is important to continue conservation. Beyond plants, endangered animals have research uses. Recently, marine biologists have been optimistic that the study of dolphins might help them understand cervical cancer since they are the “only species besides humans that we know of that can harbor co-infections in the genital mucosa.” The killing of these marine mammals limits the research and development humans will be able to do. 

(Supporting 3) It is important, as these endangered species balance the ecosystem. Due to the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one extinct plant species can lead to the loss of 30 other insect, plant, and animal species found in the higher levels of the food chain. These individual plant or animal species are sometimes called the keystone species. If they become extinct, the whole ecosystem will be changed drastically. Endangered keystone species include the Northern spotted owl, Gray wolf, and sea otters. For instance, sea otters control sea urchin populations that would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems, and lead to far reaching consequences. Currently, declining sea otter populations in Alaska led to a rise in the number of sea urchins, and consequently the decimation of kelp forests. This leaves fish populations with no place to hide or breed, causing them to migrate to other places. Once the fishes migrate, the bald eagle population is forced to switch their diet to marine birds. As shown, a butterfly effect ripples through the whole food chain. 

(Supporting 3- cont.) This goes beyond the balance and health of ecological systems; sometimes, if a particular endangered species goes extinct, human health may also be adversely affected. For instance, the extinction of the passenger pigeon led to a proliferation of Lyme disease. This is because, passenger pigeons’ main food source, acorns, also happened to be the main food source for deer mice, the main carrier of Lyme’s disease. With the former’s extinction, deer mice face less competition for food (acorns), causing their populations to grow, along with the Lyme disease causing bacteria. Research conducted by biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues in Kenya have studied how the absence of large animals such as zebras, giraffes and elephants impacts the ecosystem. They observed that affected areas will be overwhelmed with rodents quickly, as seeds and shelter from grass and shrubs become more easily available and the risk of predation drops. Consequently, the number of rodents doubles, as does the number of disease-carrying ectoparasites they harbour. Many of the pathogens the researchers found on the rodents in Kenya pose a threat to human health, including the bacteria that cause plague. (In Africa, a decrease in lions and leopards led to a dramatic increase in Olive Baboons, which threaten farm crops and livestock, and spread intestinal worms.) Hence, it is of importance to continue conservation. 

(Supporting 4) Lastly, it is important, as the will to protect these endangered species, in fact, animals and nature in general, demonstrates a certain value of society. If a species goes extinct, it’s lost forever. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished.” To him, a loss of species is akin to a tragedy. As a society, we have a moral responsibility to prevent this from happening, especially because animals are sentient beings like us. An international panel of neuroscientists declared in 2012 that non-human animals also have consciousness, and that humans are not unique in recognizing themselves in mirrors or in making decisions. Hence, we should also treat animals like sentient beings, and protect them, as we would protect ourselves, from harm and extinction. If not, we would be exhibiting speciesism, an arbitrary distinction based on the incorrect belief that humans are the only species deserving of moral consideration, and such speciesism, like racism and sexism, is a form of prejudice, unjustified and irrational. Hence, it is important that we strive to save the species in danger of extinction. 

(’03)‘A good leader must always look beyond the needs of his or her own country.’ Do you agree?

Related: Discuss the extent to which global and national interests can be balanced. (’01)

Discuss the clam that in the modern world people should care more about international than national issues. (’13)

How far is it important for people to be aware of current events in countries other than their own? (’14)


(Introduction) We are in the era of globalization. The world is increasingly connected. The actions of one country will affect many other countries; hence countries should start looking out for one another. However, should this be done at the expense of a country’s own interests? The answer to that cannot be easily crafted.  Although international needs are important due to their wide-ranging effects, national needs should not be compromised as it is the duty of the government to do so. Furthermore, national issues are also of importance, in their own right. 

(Refute 1) Some may argue that we should/must always care more about international issues. Good governments should look beyond the needs of their own countries. This is because, due to globalization, countries have become increasingly connected to each other. Each country’s actions will affect another. If a country is not doing well, other countries will also get affected. Hence, governments have to be aware and care about global interests, to make sure that their own country does not fall into ruin. For instance, Economies of individual countries now can only function well if the global economy is doing well, due to the existence, and interdependence of trade between countries. A recession in one country/area likely leads to worldwide recession, as proven in the 2008 financial crisis. Countries that only try to protect its own economic national interests by setting up protectionist measures to protect their own industries lose out in the long run, as they deprive themselves of the chance of getting the benefits of growth in the world economy. Hence, good governments should look internationally.

(Refute 2) Some also maintain that we should care more about international issues, as these issues will likely affect us significantly and permanently, much more than national issues. In this aspect, Good governments should also always look beyond the needs of their own countries.  For instance, global problems such as climate change and global warming would drastically change the world forever, if left unattended. Their effects go beyond damaging the environment. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather would severely affect agricultural systems and cause crop failures, livestock shortages worldwide. This loss of food security may in turn lead to many more repressions in the international food markets, underdeveloped countries worldwide. Such global issues may not seem to be an immediate problem, as their effects are felt gradually, but these effects often cannot be undone. Can we take back the carbon we emitted? Can we reverse the temperature rise? No. National issues, which are often immediate and short-term, pale in comparison. Hence, we need to focus on global issues, slow down its effects, to ensure sustainability, before the worst happens. Hence, good governments should look internationally.

(Supporting 1) However, I feel, national issues are also important. This is because, many times, they are the ones who cause international issues to happen. Every crisis starts small. If every country makes an effort to tackle their national needs in the first place, there would be less international problems. Hence, good leaders need not always look beyond national interests. They are those who ensure their national needs are met first, before trying to help the world. For example, Euro zone’s PIIGS—Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain—are burdened with increasingly unsustainable levels of public and private debt. Greece, especially, borrowed beyond its means and exacerbated the problem with lots of overspending, little economic production to make up the difference, and lying about its circumstances to prevent Euro zone authorities from realizing the true extent of the situation. As seen, the Greek government clearly overlooked the country’s national needs, and this set the tone for the Euro zone debt crisis. If each of the PIIGS had cared or done something about their national crisis sooner, the situation may not have affected the rest of the members in the Euro zone. Similarly for the issue on climate change, according to a 2014 research done at Concordia University, more than 60% of the anthropogenic global warming that occurred before 2005 was generated by just seven countries. They are the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the United Kingdom. The US is the uncontested leader in contributing to global warming, as the researchers calculated that the US alone is responsible for a global temperature increase of 0.15C, a change that amounts to 20% of observable global warming. Out of these countries, many have now tackled their national energy usage problem, most notably Germany, whose transition from coal- and oil-fired power to carbon-free electricity hit a new milestone when solar, wind, and other sources of renewable energy met 78% of the day’s energy demand. If US, China had also followed in Germany’s footsteps quickly and focused more on their national need of using cleaner energy, problem of global warming may not have become so severe now. Hence, national issues are also of equal, or even greater, importance compared to international needs, and should be addressed first. 

(Supporting 2) Leaders should also focus on national issues. This is because, the main duty of a government is to take care of its country’s needs; not to poke its nose into other countries’, or the world’s issues. This is especially true for countries that are a democracy. Since the government is only there because the citizens elected them in, they are expected to set the needs of their citizens their top priority. Such a government is supposed to be of their people, by their people, and for their people. By meddling in the world’s affairs, leaders may instead neglect their own country and citizens, and that, in the citizens’ eyes’, is not a good government. For example, USA’s military spending has always been high, due to them intervening or leading in many external wars, such as the War on Terror and the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, and most recently in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) crisis. The military budget for 2015 is 495.6 billion. This costs each taxpayer in the States more than $1500 dollars. If each person’s $1500 dollars went into providing free or cheaper healthcare or education for families who need it instead, the lives of many US citizens would be better. Hence, in this case, when countries intervene so excessively in international needs that there may be a potential backlash on its own citizens, it may be a time to reconsider priorities and strike a better balance between national and international interests by ensuring national needs are addressed first.

(Supporting 3) Lastly, for certain countries, good leaders are not those that look to international issues, but rather, those that focus on the immediate problems facing the nation and its people, and implements solutions quickly and efficiently so that the situation does not worsen. This is usually the case for countries where their own national needs are already severely lacking, specifically, the under-developed or developing countries. How can their governments think about helping other countries or about saving the world if their own people are dying from hunger in their backyards? For example, Zimbabwe, a South African nation, is one of the poorest in the world, and also has one of the lowest life expectancies. It also has one of the highest HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rates, and AIDS claims 1,300,000 lives annually. In Liberia, another African nation, each person, on average, lives on $226 a year. The string of civil wars in the country stopped a decade ago. However, the economic situation of the state and its infrastructure are still in a poor condition. Most of the people do not have money even for the basic things of prime necessity. Therefore, in these countries, it is pertinent, as the government, to address national needs first. 



(’13)How far is increased prosperity for all a realistic goal for your society?


(general) Increased prosperity through economic growth, that both poor, rich gain, is an unrealistic goal. 

(Refute 1) Increased prosperity for all is said to be a realistic goal for Singapore, as the country continues to enjoy considerable economic success, causing incomes of everyone within the country enjoys an upward trend (to some extent or the other). This enables all Singaporeans to afford/enjoy more goods and services/necessities and increase their standard of living, reaching towards prosperity. Singapore is the world’s second most economically competitive nation, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013, due to the security, stability, presence of quality infrastructure, strong rule of law and open economy that make Singapore an ideal place to invest and do business. As evidence of that, Singapore continues to attract around 10 billion worth of foreign direct investment (FDI) per year, with firms/investment such as Rolls Royce’s aircraft engine manufacturing facility and Procter & Gamble’s regional R&D centre. This feature allows Singapore to still have economic growth despite being a relatively developed country; Benefits of this growth have also spread out to the general population, as household incomes have increased significantly over the years. Specifically, according to Department of Statistics, Singapore, median monthly household income rose by 18% in real terms from 2009 to 2014, to reach $8,290 in 2014. Notably, incomes of the low-income groups increased by a greater extent, where households in the lowest 50% enjoyed higher real growth in average household income per household member compared to the top 50%. Hence, given these trends, it likely implies that everyone/majority is better able to improve their living standards, enjoying increased prosperity. 

(Support 1) However, I beg to differ. On the flipside, costs of living in Singapore, which are already relative high, have increased even further over the recent years. Singapore was named the world’s most expensive city in 2014, and remains in top spot for 2015, according to findings of the latest Worldwide Cost of Living Survey 2015 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which tracked 133 global cities. Singapore was found to be 11% more expensive than New York for basic groceries, and is most expensive place in the world for clothes, “with prices 50% higher than New York”. Coupled with the traditionally high costs of private vehicles and housing in Singapore, it may be an assumption to claim that living standards of Singaporeans, especially the lower income groups, will increase just because their incomes rose. Furthermore, Singapore’s income gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient for income, is one of the widest among developed countries at 0.478. A global wealth report released by Credit Suisse showed that the top 1% of Singapore’s wealthiest holds more than a quarter of the country’s wealth. 4.4% of Singaporeans have more than US$1 million in wealth, while 20% have less than US$10,000, the report said. These findings make it difficult for one to believe that the poorer Singaporeans are truly able to improve their living standards; to achieve that, the government needs to take great measures; hence increased prosperity for all in Singapore is an unrealistic goal.

(Refute 2) On that note, the Singapore government has been dedicating more resources to reduce the income inequality in the country. Hence, some say that it is just a matter of time before the purported wide income gap is reduced, and increased prosperity is a realistic goal. This is apparent in the many policies and initiatives implemented by the government to help increase the access and availability of basic amenities such as healthcare to the people, especially the low income groups and the elderly. Also, many social safety nets have been strengthened to provide better help to these groups of people. These policies include Workfare Income Supplement (WIS), GST vouchers, Caregivers Training Grant and Edusave scholarships. They have been strengthened to provide help to a wider range of beneficiaries to ensure no one falls through the cracks. For instance, the cap for WIS was raised from $1700 to $1900. For healthcare, there are premium subsidies for lower- to middle- income citizens and additional premium supports for those who cannot afford premiums even after subsidies. The government is also actively working with tripartite partners to boost incomes for low-wage sectors. For example, it recently required cleaning companies to follow wage guidelines for cleaners’ starting pay. Basic wage of cleaners has increased from $850 to $1000 while that for security guards has increased from $1100 to $800. These policies have had an effect to some extent, as Singapore’s Gini coefficient fell after adjusting for government transfers and taxes, reflecting the redistributive effect of government transfers, from 0.464 to 0.412 in 2014.  Given that much is being done by the government to help reduce the income disparity, increased prosperity for all is not an unrealistic goal in Singapore.

(Support 2) However, I feel, the view of these people is overly optimistic. The fact is, Singapore’s Gini coefficient only fell by an insignificant 0.052 despite the many measures/policies put forth by the government. To truly ensure that the income inequality problem is reduced significantly (and/or prosperity of all increase), Singapore perhaps needs to adopt a welfare state. Case studies of the Scandinavian states, which run on welfare systems, reveal that they are the most equal countries in the world, with consistently one of the lowest Gini coefficients. But, since the idea of a welfare state is the complete opposite of the ideologies that the Singapore government hold (with good reasons), they will never adopt this system. Even if adopted, a welfare state may reduce income inequality and increase prosperity for all in this sense, but will decrease people’s prosperity in other ways. A close examination of the Scandinavian states makes this very apparent. In any country, there will always be people who are lazy and do not wish to work; with welfare systems in place, the numbers of these people, living on welfare benefits, will only increase. For instance, Youth unemployment has remained stubbornly high in Sweden at over 20% in recent years. And hidden by the unemployment statistics are among the world’s highest proportions of people on disability pensions, even though the Scandinavian countries have among the best health indicators in the world. Clearly, these welfare recipients are unlikely to enjoy greater wealth/prosperity due to the limited capacity of the state to increase their entitlements. Already, the citizens of Nordic countries pay some of the highest taxes in the world. With almost zero natural resources, Singapore can afford even less than other countries to indulge indolent individuals with over-generous welfare benefits and hence, it is not possible for the country to achieve greater prosperity for all via reducing income inequality.

(Support 3) Lastly, the goal of ensuring increased prosperity for all is unrealistic in Singapore, as government transfers/policies will inevitably have contradictory effects within different time frames.

For instance, there is the influx of foreign workers and talents in Singapore, due to the problems of an ageing and shrinking workforce. The foreign workers help to meet the demand of labour mainly in sectors such as construction, which consists of blue-collared jobs that are shunned by the locals. The foreign talents bring along their expertise and facilitate in the transfer of knowledge to local workers, hence helping to value-add to industries. This influx is hence promoted with the aim of complementing the workforce, greater productivity and increased prosperity in the long term. However, in the short-run, such has actually decreased prosperity. Foreigners, who currently make up about two out of five people living in Singapore, have been blamed for the rising cost of living, stagnation of wages and crowding in public transport. The influx of lower-cost foreign workers had suppressed the wages of many blue-collar Singaporeans, causing their wages to stagnate. As shown, the influx of foreign workers and talents, which was promoted with the aim of increasing prosperity in the long term, has in fact decreased prosperity for many in the short run. Hence, even though it is said that such a policy can give rise to increased prosperity, it might eventually turn out to be unsustainable or even unachievable in the long run. The pursuit of increased prosperity for all is hence an impractical goal due to problems which disrupt it from taking effect.

(’12)In your society, how far is equality for all a reality?


1. Equality in terms of human rights

(Stand) Equality for all can be held as a realistic goal, as the government has taken many legislation measures to ensure that different groups of people in society are treated equally/given equal rights (in various areas, such as employment) under the law.  

(example) For instance, Article 12 of Constitution encompasses Equal Protection, where (1)  All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law, and (2) Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment. Employers must abide by labor laws and adopt the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which are formulated by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). Principles to adopt fair employment practices include, but are not limited to, ‘Recruit and select employees on the basis of merit (such as skills, experience or ability to perform the job), regardless of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability.’, ‘Reward employees fairly based on their ability, performance, contribution and experience.’, and ‘Provide employees with equal opportunity to be considered for training and development based on their strengths and needs, to help them achieve their full potential’. 

(Refute 1) However, such only applies on paper, and may not exist in reality, especially for certain groups. Certain stigma still exists within Singaporeans and the government when dealing with some minority groups, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, meaning that it is difficult for government/people to treat LGBT community equally (give them equal rights), and equality for all is still a distant goal in my society. On the government side, Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalizes sex between men. All mainstream media avoid this topic. In 2012, the National Arts Council (NAC) refused to award a publishing grant to Floating on a Malayan Breeze because it apparently “has the potential to undermine the authority of the Singapore government”, saying, “Private, consensual sex between males is punishable by up to two years in prison. Though the law is rarely enforced, its presence is a stain on the conscience of Singapore, which claims to be an inclusive, modern global city.” As shown, the government is unwilling to completely accept LGBTs into society, and enforces additional laws on them. LGBT couples do not have the basic rights such as liberty/freedom to love, get married, and start their own families in Singapore, signalling unequal treatment.  Furthermore, due to Singapore’s (still) relatively conservative nature and the mindset of a traditional family unit involving one man, one woman and children, Singaporeans are also not very supportive toward LGBTs. For example, in a survey on social morality released by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2014, 78.2% of respondents said sexual relations between two adults of the same sex was wrong, and 72.9% did not agree with gay marriage. Such attitudes of Singaporeans toward LGBTs also indicate that they would be reluctant to accept these people into society and treat them as equals. 

(Support 1) However, I beg to differ. While it indeed true, slowly, this trend is staring to change, and there are small steps taken to improve the situation for the LGBT community. While not the majority, more Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, have become more open and accepting toward them. For instance, the turnout for PinkDot 2014, an annual event supporting Singapore’s LBGT community, was around 26 000 people. This was the largest turnout for the event, which only had a turnout of 2500 people in its inaugural year. More non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also come up to back up the LGBT community. Examples include Sayoni, a community that works to empower queer women, and People Like Us, the pioneer gay and lesbian advocacy group in Singapore. Such shows that people are giving more support to LGBT community, and providing platforms for the voices of the LGBT community to be heard, so that their rights can eventually be met. 

2. Equality in terms of opportunities

(Stand) Equality for all is a realistic goal for Singapore, as Singapore adopts a meritocratic system which encourages equal opportunities for all, creating a level playing field that essentially does not discriminate on basis of race, religion, and even sexual orientation.

(example) Late MM LKY said in a 1960s speech, ‘The human being is an unequal creature. That is a fact… he is not equal, and never will be.’ Hence, in the Singapore context, equality does not stand in its literal sense, but in terms of opportunity, so that eventually, all will be able to reach a comparable level of standard of living.  This is provided by the Meritocracy system; ‘Work for reward, reward for work’. Rewards are allocated on the basis of/proportional to one’s abilities, performance and achievement. The meritocratic principle hence advocates equal opportunities for all (as long as one works hard), such that everyone, regardless of background, has the opportunity to succeed. The foundation of this is to keep public schools affordable and accessible to all students. To achieve this, the state spends a substantial 20% of the annual budget on education, allowing all children to get 6 years of free primary school education, and attend secondary school, college and university at highly subsided rates. Additionally, Edusave awards and scholarships are available to best performing students from financially less well-off backgrounds to reward them for their efforts put in and to provide them the means to continue pursuing their education.  All Government-funded special education schools are given an annual lump grant based on $100 per Singaporean student to be used to disburse school-based Achievement Awards to deserving students who meet the school-based criteria for the awards. These policies embody the meritocratic system; hardworking students will receive such forms of recognition/reward, and such opportunities/reward are open to anyone and everyone as long as they work hard. 

(Refute 2) However, I beg to differ. Looking deeper, Meritocracy does not really promote equality; Firstly, by allocating rewards based on one’s performance, the system inherently discriminates against those who do not produce results, contradictory to the first aspect of equality which is that everyone needs to be treated equally. Next, the Meritocratic system as an equalizer only works on the assumption that hard work, which is not affected by one’s background, is the main/only factor that contributes to one’s performance. However, in reality, such is not the case at all.  Other prominent factors that can influence performance, and are decided by one’s background, include intelligence, which is inherently decided at birth, and the amount of social, cultural, and economical capital at one’s disposal, which is determined by one’s family/parents. These factors may be ones that even hard work is unable to override; as late MM LKY himself pointed out in 2011, elite schools tend to have students whose parents themselves are university graduates, whereas this was not the case in neighborhood schools. Students born into families with parents who are able to tap into strong social networks and devise strategies such as polishing CCA talents and preparing impressive portfolios for their children will then perform better even without hard work. Likewise, students who are born intelligent would be able to perform (academically) just as well as, or even better than, average students with little hard work. Such means that some people are already born with ‘more’ opportunities, and equal opportunities for all through the meritocracy system is an ideal that is unrealistic for Singapore.

(Support 2) However, in recent years, the Singapore government has implemented measures to allow even those who fell through the meritocracy system to also have chances to succeed, namely, the students who are unable to perform as well as others. For example, NorthLight School, established in 2006, admits students who have sat for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) but failed to advance to secondary education. Before the formation of NorthLight, most students who failed their PSLE went on to enroll at the Vocational Training Centres (VTCs). However, the attrition at the VTCs was high; 60% of the students dropped out of the programme in 2005. Of the remaining, less than half progressed on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Moreover, the VTC’s minimum enrollment age of 14 years meant that there was a two-year time lag from leaving primary school to entering the VTC. To address the educational needs of this group of students, NorthLight was developed as a specialized school to cater to the different learning styles and abilities of students, as well as to prepare them for a further education at the ITE or industry apprenticeship. The curriculum at NorthLight focused specially on Instructional Education and Vocational Education. In Instructional Education, an experiential approach is adopted in the teaching of language, mathematics and IT literacy as most of the students are kinaesthetic learners who do better in non-traditional classroom settings. In Vocational Education, students are trained in a specialized skill such as mechanics or hospitality, and these skills are put to practice through industrial attachment programmes. Success at NorthLight School caused the ministry to set up another likewise school, Assumption Pathway School, in 2012. Increasingly, these measures strive towards ‘equal opportunities’ for all in Singapore, moving society closer to the ideal of equality for all. 


(’14)‘For the majority of people, the Arts are irrelevant to their daily lives.’ How true is this of your society?

Related: (’05)Do the arts, such as music and literature, really play a significant part in Singaporean society?

(’10)Would it matter if all the performing arts venues in your society, such as concert halls and theatres, were closed down?

(’11)’Only modern architecture and modern art have a place in today’s world.’ How true is this of your society?


(Introduction) Singapore is not traditionally known/famous for as a city of the Arts, unlike cities such as Paris, Venice, or Rome. But, this does not mean that the Arts are irrelevant in Singapore. As Singapore has already achieved considerable economic success in today’s world, it is increasingly focused on building up the cultural/art aspect of society. Although known to be a pragmatic and conservative society, I believe, the arts scene will eventually overcome that to become an irreplaceable part of our society.

(Refute 1) Some argue that the Arts are irrelevant in Singapore. This is because, they do not have any practical purpose. At best, they serve as forms of leisure; at worst, unneeded/unnecessary distractions. A trip to the national museum (of Singapore) or the Esplanade may be a refreshing change of pace from the usual busyness of daily life, and one may build up his/her cultural capital and start appreciating the finer aspects of life, but such knowledge are largely inapplicable and unusable in his/her daily life. Information on the history of contemporary Southeast Asian art or the different movements of a Beethoven symphony are essentially trivial facts, for any normal Singaporean student or worker. Ultimately, most people are more concerned about the things that will significantly/tangibly affect their life/work/studies in society, leading to negligence of the arts in their daily lives. This is compounded by the fact that many Singaporeans likely do not even have adequate time to make room for the arts; According to an online global survey by international business company Regus, 19% of (one in five) Singaporean workers work eleven or more hours a day. Hence, the Arts are irrelevant in people’s lives.

(Supporting 1) However, I beg to differ. Precisely because Singaporeans live in a fast-paced, stressful society, all the more they need the arts to alleviate some of the pressure that daily life puts on them. They need regular mental shifts to bring them away from work/school, as important moderations in their lives, and the Arts are ideal for that. This is because, the Arts, especially the aesthetically pleasing ones, appeals to people’s senses and allows us to feel relaxed/contentment instead of stress. In Singapore, these kinds of art can come in unconventional forms, such as architecture and nature. Gardens by the Bay, with its sprawling gardens and creative landscaping that feature everything from Chinese to Indian gardens with statues of various sizes, is a prime example. Evidently, more Singaporeans have realized the value of the Arts in this aspect, as there is now greater appreciation for, and participation in the Arts. According to the National Population Survey on the Arts, released by the National Arts Council (NAC), more than two-thirds of Singaporeans believed that the arts helped them express their thoughts, feelings and ideas, enabled them to be more creative and improved the quality of life for everyone. The Singapore Cultural Statistics 2014 report indicated that visitorship to National Museums and Heritage Institutions reached a new high at 3.2 million in 2013. These findings show that the Arts are not exactly irrelevant in people’s daily lives, hence, I do not agree with the statement.

(Supporting 2) Furthermore, the Arts are used professionally in the area of healthcare for therapy and treatment of mental illnesses, exemplifying its function in maintaining mental health.  Traditional treatment methods have seen limited results in treating certain diseases/conditions such as mental illness and physical disabilities, causing the arts to be increasingly recognized as an effective means of treatment and therapy. This is in lieu of increasing scientific evidence which demonstrate that the arts can positively affect medical outcomes and improve the quality of care for patients in the healthcare services. For instance, Singapore General Hospital uses art therapy to help some of its patients understand their mental and emotional wellbeing; this has benefited patients with eating disorders to have a clearer picture of their illness and discharge their emotions in a healthy manner. Very Special Arts Singapore (VSA) provides individuals with disabilities with the chance to access the arts for the purposes of rehabilitation and social integration. Aside from having therapeutic effects on disabled individuals’ physical and emotional self, it aids in practical aspects of their lives such as hand-eye coordination and bodily posture. As shown, Singapore has recognized the fact that the Arts is greatly beneficial in the area of healthcare as it not only promotes faster healing but also reduces stress and improves a patient’s overall sense of comfort and well-being, causing the Arts to become more relevant in these people’s lives.

(Refute 2) Some argue the arts are irrelevant in Singapore. This is because, the arts scene itself is restricted. Due to the conservativeness of the Singapore society and the tight view that the government pertains towards freedom of expression, there is likely to be negligible tolerance held by the government towards unconventional ideas and art creations by the people. This is evident from the relatively high level of censorship of the arts in Singapore and tight regulations/licensing requirements the Media Development Authority (MDA) has for the arts (and arts practitioners). For instance, MDA had banned the film, “To Singapore, With Love” in 2014, a documentary on Singapore’s political exiles, which criticizes Singapore’s way of turning past Communists into exiles. According to the filmmaker, it was intended to relate the personal stories and emotions of people who have been away from Singapore for an extended length of time, and she had attempted to provide balance to their views by using inter-titles and news clippings in the film. However, the Films Appeal Committee claimed that the film was a “one-sided account with minimal attempts to provide a balanced mix of views” beyond those provided by the interviewees, and may pose a threat to national security. Singapore’s arts community expressed disappointment towards the ban, saying that the government is trying to limit discussion around our very own history, and that censorship does nothing to promote a vibrant society. As shown, censorship prevents the arts scene in Singapore from reaching its full potential and its full outreach to the people; if even topics relevant to Singapore, such as its own history, are banned, Singaporeans will likely become only more uninterested in/out-of-touch with the Arts, causing the Arts to be irrelevant in people’s daily lives.

(Supporting 3) However, I beg to differ. Although censorship does exist for the government to control/ban controversial art, by and large, the government has become more active in promoting the Arts to the masses. They have become increasingly focused on developing the arts and culture ecosystem in Singapore, with the aim of making Singapore the regional arts hub in Asia. Besides the construction of high/fine/contemporary art museums and areas such as the Gillman Barracks, this is apparent through the establishment of various art venues in the heartlands/communities, allowing the Arts to have a greater outreach, and play a bigger role in people’s daily lives. For instance, Ministry of Culture, Community, Youth (MCCY) helps the arts flourish in neighborhoods all across the island through community-friendly spaces, like libraries and community centers, which are termed as “community nodes for arts and culture”. These are places where people can gather to enjoy performances, workshops and more. By 2025, the aim is to have 25 community nodes distributed across the island. Such will take the arts within easy reach of Singaporean households. The PAssionArts Movement is also growing community outreach efforts to bring the arts closer to more Singaporeans. In 2013, more than 14,000 arts and culture events and courses were organized throughout Community Arts & Culture Clubs. A total of 100,000 residents also participated in arts and cultural activities, organized through various Festival Villages as part of PAssionArts 2013. This is an increase from the 85,000 residents who took part in PAssionArts events in 2012. Hence, as shown, through the various initiatives introduced by the government, there is now a greater sense of the Arts through the masses, causing them to be more relevant in people’s daily lives.