Ahad, 6 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Free app to detect colour blindness


PARENTS will soon be able to tell within minutes if their young children are colour blind, with a simple game available as a free app from next month.

Designed by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers for children between the ages of three and six, the game requires them to "catch" butterflies of matching colours by tapping a screen.

Those who are colour blind would consistently select different butterflies since they are unable to tell the difference between red and green, for instance.

A study on 32 children by the Singapore National Eye Centre this year found that the game, believed to be a world first, was as effective as existing tests in identifying red-green colour blindness, the most common variant.

A 2008 local study of more than 1,200 teenagers here found that 5.3% of boys and just 0.2% of girls were colour blind.

The game makes early detection of the condition in pre-school children possible, and in a fun way, said Dr Ellen Do, co-director of the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (Cute) Centre.

Most would otherwise be too young to take standard colour blindness exams such as the Ishihara test, which requires them to make out numbers hidden in a group of coloured dots.

This is important because children begin learning using colours in kindergarten, said the game's designer Nguyen Linh Chi.

"They may get scolded by teachers and parents if they cannot complete a colouring task, but no one knows they are colour blind," she said. "They may begin to lose self-confidence."

Early detection would also prevent parents from wrongly thinking that their children have a learning disability if they struggle in school, added Dr Do.

Their views were echoed by Professor Saw Seang Mei, an eye disease expert from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"If a child has colour blindness, it's good to know early. It may have an impact – not just on their visual function – but also emotionally and mentally, like how they cope in school."

She added that the new game app would make it more convenient for parents to test their children, rather than wait for a formal screening.

Colour blindness is caused by faulty cones in the eye's retina that help tell colours apart.

The free app will be available from next month on the Apple App Store. A version for Android may be developed in the future. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Big Brother is always watching


Thanks to modern technology, it is very easy for governments to spy on their people.

T Aipeh: Big Brother is watching you" – The horror of being constantly spied on by the government, as depicted by George Orwell in his famous novel 1984 seems to have become reality in Taiwan.

It is nothing new that a ruler would want to spy on his people. A dictator may be anxious to take total control of the country; a president may want to know what moves his or her political rivals are plotting. Spying may be done in the name of crime prevention; it may be needed to enhance public safety, or against infiltration by foreign enemies or terrorist attacks.

We've seen many examples of governments spying on their people throughout history.

Queen Elizabeth I is believed to have run an extensive network of spies working for her. Christopher Marlowe, one of the greatest English playwrights of her reign, is said to have been a government spy.

Perhaps it is because of England's strong tradition of the government watching its people that it was the 18th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham who put forward the concept of the panopticon, a watch tower at the centre of a prison where inmates' cells are arranged in a circle around the tower.

The idea is to make it easy for the prison guards to watch the inmates. And the beauty, or horror, of that design is that inmates constantly feel they are being watched – whether there actually are prison guards inside the tower may be irrelevant.

Orwell wrote 1984 in defiance of that panopticon tradition but, ironically, modern-day London has the most public surveillance cameras in the world, watching every corner of the city. It is just a step shy of the panopticonic vision, as citizens are still not watched at home. But do they really have the privacy they think they have?

In China, the tradition of the government spying on its people may be as strong as that in England.

The most notorious and fearful spying network in Chinese history was run by eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The spies helped the emperors control the government officials and the country, and very often, the emperors themselves were controlled by the spies.

And it is this piece of history that the opposition camp in Taiwan has been frequently alluding to when criticising the Ma administration over the ongoing wiretapping row.

Spying is of course nothing new in Taiwan. Wiretapping of civilians by the military and law enforcement units – whether legal or illegal – has often been conducted.

Not long ago, when Taiwan was still technically at war with China, its people were constantly reminded of the threat and possibility that communist spies were around them.

Such a propaganda move actually turned each and every one of the citizens into a spy for the government as they suspected and monitored one another.

Now, like London, many big cities in Taiwan have installed public surveillance cameras supposedly for crime-prevention purposes.

And thanks to modern technology, it is very easy for governments to spy on their people. Phone conversations can be easily monitored and recorded. All Internet activities are recorded by service providers.

The Edward Snowden controversy has revealed that the US government has been spying on its people over the Internet. Internet firms' transparency reports have shown that many governments have asked them for user information. Taiwan is among those governments.

The requests for information from Internet firms may be legitimate, but it highlights the fact that few can really escape Big Brother. You think your home shields you from the surveillance cameras on the streets, but when you log onto Facebook or any other social media, or surf the Net, you are being watched.

Big Brother is really watching, and the panopticon is really working – both enabled by modern technology.

Without tutors, where would I be?


MANY, many moons ago when I took my O-Level exam, I scored a B3 for Chinese as a second language.

In today's super-achieving world, that's just a so-so grade. But to me, it was a miracle.

I had struggled with Chinese all my school life, barely passing it at each exam.

Around the time I took my O-Levels, the government decreed that students would need to pass their second language to enter junior college.

It was the worst possible news for me, and my Secondary 4 year was one of fear and dread.

If I couldn't get to junior college, it meant I couldn't get to university, and if I couldn't get to university, what hope did I have in life, I thought. My parents didn't have the funds to send me abroad to study.

My future hinged on passing Chinese.

I'm not exaggerating when I say it was only in recent years that I stopped having nightmares (yes, literally nightmares) about failing the subject, even though I took the exam decades ago.

I've always struggled with Chinese. Maybe I'm what is today described as dyslexic in Chinese (although a part of me wonders if such a condition really exists or do I just need to work harder at the language), but the script simply confounded and still confounds me. I find it a struggle to tell the words apart, or remember how to pronounce or write them.

My command of Mandarin was also very poor, and as I came from an English- and Teochew-speaking home, I got no help there.

The only reason I not only passed Chinese but got a decent grade too was because of tuition.

Starting from primary school, I had a string of tuition teachers.

The first was an elegant Taiwanese woman who'd married a Singaporean and settled here. She was nicely plump, wore her hair in a high, glossy bun and drove a car. Every time she dropped by to tutor us, it felt a bit like an occasion.

When my siblings and I said we were bored with Chinese, she got us ink, brushes and rice paper and taught us calligraphy.

Another tutor was a pretty, fine-featured girl who bit her nails. She must have been in her early 20s then. She later married a wealthy businessman whom my father introduced her to. We were happy for her.

There were two or three other tutors after that. My least favourite was a stocky, unsmiling man who wore thick black-rimmed glasses and smelt of cigarettes and sweat. I made it plain that I disliked Chinese tuition – and him. He must have detested me too.

The tutor in my O-Levels year was a bespectacled young man who came to my house every Saturday. Unlike some of the others before him, he had an easy-going manner. I liked him.

Tuition was not pleasant – my attention strayed and I was both bored yet stressed out – but I didn't hate it.

Under his gentle cajoling, I managed to memorise a couple of essays and, with several months of cramming under my belt, sat the exams.

I was shocked by my result, as was my Chinese language teacher in school. I still remember her look of astonishment when I showed her my result slip.

She wasn't a bad teacher, but what she taught, and the way she did it, did not meet the needs of a Chinese language dunce like me. I required more attention, more explanation and more encouragement. My tuition teacher gave me that.

I made it to JC and had to cross yet another hurdle to get to university – I had to pass Chinese again.

I continued with the tuition. This time, I wasn't as diligent and had a D7. It was considered a pass and good enough to gain university admission. I was happy to say goodbye to the subject forever.

Ironically when I was in my 30s, I had a renewed interest in Chinese and got a young woman from China to tutor me. We went through Chinese song lyrics and newspaper articles. I enjoyed the sessions but dropped out after a few months because I was busy.

Chinese wasn't the only subject I needed extra help in at school.

Additional Maths was the other. I was tutored by an uncle and a cousin who were very kind, patient and generous with their time. I got decent grades for the subject at O and A levels.

Every few years, a debate on the merits and demerits of tuition will surface, and Singapore is in the midst of yet another round.

This time, it's about Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah's remark in Parliament that "our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary".

While I've no doubt that that's the aim of the Education Ministry, the reality is Singapore is a tuition nation – and it's not necessarily the ministry's fault either.

Tuition would be unnecessary if parents – and students – are content with kids getting grades based on their natural ability. So, if your child is super smart, he'll get As, and if he's not bright, expect Ds, Es and Fs.

If we live in a society where low grades are tolerated, then, yes, who needs tuition?

But we don't. The reality – not just in Singapore but practically everywhere – is grades can make or break your future, hence the race to get better ones.

And while the school system here does a good job of catering to kids of all abilities, there will always be those who will seek extra help outside.

Why risk not having tuition for your child especially when you can afford it? It's an investment in his future.

Tuition is no guarantee that your grades will improve. But when it's done well, and when the student is willing to be tutored, it can do wonders, like it did for me.

My O-Levels Chinese tutor gave me his full attention, understood what I was weak in, and customised a method to help me pass. And because it was just me and him, I felt free to admit what was confusing me without fear of being laughed at by classmates better at the subject.

This current round of debate will fizzle out sooner or later, and tuition will remain a fixture on the Singapore school scene.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

All my tutors helped me a lot, and I remain ever grateful to them. — The Sunday Times/Asia News Network

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