In an age of rapid technological advancement, is a single career for life realistic? (A-level GP exam 2018)

Picture: The University of New Orleans

By Steven W.S. Ooi
Former GP tutor

Even as United States president Donald Trump blames illegal immigrants and unfair trade deals for causing Americans to lose their jobs, a new presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, has offered a very different narrative. It is robots and artificial intelligence (AI), he argues, that have robbed Americans of their jobs, and will continue to do so in the future. Mr Yang is not alone in his view. In 2013, an influential report by Oxford University claimed that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk from AI and automation over the next 15 or 20 years. While predicting the future is a notoriously tricky enterprise, it is safe to say that a substantial amount of human capabilities will be made redundant by the exponential rate of advancement in technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution now taking place before our eyes. We need to be prepared to learn new skills constantly throughout our working lives and, for many of us, to lose our jobs and reinvent ourselves several times. For the purposes of this essay, a career shall be defined as an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress. It is this writer’s position that a single career for life remains a reasonable possibility in some professions and circumstances, provided an individual is willing and able to learn continuously and adapt to changes brought by technology.

Technological innovations will make some human skills less relevant, and others more relevant, by 2030. In the first category, many jobs will be taken over totally or partially by technology. A study by McKinsey has projected that physical and manual skills will see a fall in hours worked in the US and Europe from 203 billion hours in 2016 to 174 billion by 2030. Lower-order cognitive skills such as basic data input or basic data processing, too, will see a decline in employability. On the other hand, the demand for social and emotional skills, together with technological skills and higher cognitive skills, will grow. Hours worked in the US and Europe using technological skills will burgeon from 73 billion to 113 billion, also by 2030. This data suggests that numerous workers will need to cast aside their old job descriptions to perform very different tasks, in many cases taking on a totally different role. For instance, an administrative clerk performing rostering for airline pilots may find his work taken over by AI, necessitating a shift into the work of operating the AI program, thinking of ways to make it work better and applying insights derived from the data collected by the AI – in other words, acquiring higher-order cognitive skills such as creativity, problem solving and complex information processing. Jobs that revolve around skills that are easily automated will be readily destroyed by AI. If workers insist on a career for life in these professions, they have an excellent chance of finding themselves in the unemployment line.

Be that as it may, those skills that are difficult to automate will likely remain in demand for the foreseeable future and jobs that revolve around such skills will in all probability remain intact or even grow in demand. AI may exhibit superhuman performance at tasks relating to a specific problem or application such as playing Go or poker or recognising images after being trained on a specific, diverse, massive dataset. However, it is very weak at interpreting data that differs from its dataset. For instance, Google Translate works on neural networks that are trained on billions of lines of parallel texts in different languages, translated by humans. When one keys in text that corresponds to those prelearned lines, it performs extremely well. But if you try feeding it something other than that, for instance a creative turn of phrase, it produces hilarious results. AI is also not noted for its higher-order cognitive skills such as inventing something new or empathizing with people; invention is likely to remain beyond the ability of a machine that can only perform based on processing what it is told, while human experience is so complex and diverse, with so many variables interacting with one another, that it would require an almost infinite amount of data to teach a computer to reliably produce accurate empathic responses. Hence higher order cognitive skills are, and will probably remain difficult for technology to replicate. Professions that are centred on such skills will be resilient and it is quite realistic to have a career for life in such fields, for instance counsellors, teachers, nurses and interpreters.

Granted that technological adoption may add to the requirements and demands of such jobs, and many of those who hold them will need to acquire these technological skills to remain employable. For instance nurses may need to master various computer programs and medical machinery installed by their hospital. If, however, these practitioners can stay abreast of technological applications in their field of work, they should be able to remain in their careers for life. A solid grounding in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be essential for most working people in the era of Industry 4.0 – especially if they hope to achieve longevity and upward mobility in their chosen careers.

It also needs to be acknowledged that a powerful trend catalysed by technology – outsourcing – is profoundly altering many industrial corporate structures in such a way that have destroyed or decimated traditional career paths. Many established industrial companies such as those in steel, automotive, energy, IT and manufacturing have outsourced many of their business processes and large parts of their value chain. An example in manufacturing would be Philips – which engages contract manufacturers in places like Mexico and China to produce many of their products – and one in IT would be IBM, which outsources tech support, research and development (R & D), and more to India. Gone are the days when these firms would offer a 30-year “lifelong career” to fresh university graduates. In fact, Deloitte has found that only 19 percent of companies still offer traditional, multi-decade functional career models. Many, such as AT&T and IBM, are devoting themselves instead to helping employees continuously reskill and move horizontally within the organisation. New kinds of hybrid jobs are constantly emerging, such as data scientist and user experience designer, as technical skills become commoditised and easily outsourced.

However, if the only constant is greater rapidity of change, then those who excel in keeping up with, driving or managing change will always be relevant. Top-notch R & D engineers will always be valued by an organisation. Outstanding managers who understand how to motivate people and strategize for a team in a dynamic environment will always be crucial to a company. And as corporate structures are adjusted, dismantled and reassembled in the Age of Acceleration, management consultants will only be increasingly needed to help companies to make optimal changes and make transitions successfully with guidance from research into the experience of other organisations. In an age of change, a career for life is still very much viable for those whose forte is change itself.

All said, I maintain my view that in the era of jet-heeled technological development, a single career for one’s entire working life, while elusive for many, remains a realistic aspiration for a good number of people in professions that are difficult to automate or which specialise in the process of technology-driven change itself. Amidst the constant hype about transformational technology replacing humans, I still believe that the human being is the greatest machine. Yes, a robot can beat us in some single, narrowly focused tasks like chess but it cannot yet handle a multifaceted job like doing all the housework, raising a child, running a government, managing a team, writing a screenplay – or for that matter, scoring an A for a General Paper exam. The complexity of programming for it to handle any of these things is mind-boggling and the evidence after many years of IT and AI research does little to suggest that man-made technology will ever be able to catch up to man in these multidimensional capabilities.

©Steven W.S. Ooi 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication is to be reproduced in any form without the prior written consent of the author.

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

More GP model essays here.

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Lee Kuan Yew’s Shadow

Picture credit: Norbert Eder

One of the most provocative commentaries on Singapore I’ve ever read. For sure it will be a tough one for a Singaporean to contemplate – we Singaporeans are conditioned to think of our little country as exceptional, best in everything – but I believe it is a mark of intellectual maturity and a growth mindset to listen openly to even the most scathing criticism. As Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” If there is even one grain of truth in a criticism of me, I want to learn from it.

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By Shaun Tan
Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer
The Rabbit Hole

6 August 2019

In the annals of modern Asia, Lee Kuan Yew looms like a colossus. The father of Singapore, the man who turned that tiny island into the financial hub of Southeast Asia, into a gleaming city of the future. Respected in both East and West, a model to the leaders of an emerging China, to Paul Kagame in Rwanda, and numerous other rulers who want prosperity and efficiency whilst retaining absolute power. A man both great and terrible; the singular, indomitable Lee Kuan Yew.

Yet there are aspects of his legacy that are less laudable. Partly by design, Singapore’s political culture and civil society are woefully underdeveloped. The other politicians in the party Lee founded are largely a parade of mediocrities. Singapore’s media scene is one of the most pitiful I’ve ever encountered, and its people one of the most vapid. Lee Kuan Yew was an intellectual giant. He left behind a nation of pygmies.

Read more at The Rabbit Hole

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here

GP model essays here

GP is the journey of understanding life

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Hong Kong needn’t fear the PLA, even if it is a US-China battleground

This is no Tiananmen – despite delusional radicals on both left and right itching for a military intervention, Beijing is likely to wait these protests out. But another type of battle may already be underway – one for political influence

By Wang Xiangwei
South China Morning Post

Published: 9:30am, 3 Aug, 2019

Ever since Hong Kong’s protests against the now-defunct extradition bill turned violent on June 12, fears have been mounting that Beijing would deploy military forces to tackle the city’s worst political crisis in decades if law and order spiral out of control.

Those fears gnawing at the back of many minds have come to the fore as the violence escalated over the past month, and grew particularly strong on July 21, when protesters defaced the national emblem at the front of the Central Government’s Liaison Office – an act seen as the most blatant provocation of Beijing’s authority.

Three days later, Wu Qian, China’s defence ministry spokesman, dropped an obvious hint that Chinese military forces could be legally deployed to Hong Kong to maintain social order at the request of the city’s government.

Read more at SCMP

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays by Steven

How to write a good essay intro

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Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good


Credit
Marta Monteiro/ New York Times

Screens used to be for the elite. Now avoiding them is a status symbol.

By Nellie Bowles

Ms. Bowles is a technology reporter for The New York Times.

March 23, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Bill Langlois has a new best friend. She is a cat named Sox. She lives on a tablet, and she makes him so happy that when he talks about her arrival in his life, he begins to cry.

All day long, Sox and Mr. Langlois, who is 68 and lives in a low-income senior housing complex in Lowell, Mass., chat. Mr. Langlois worked in machine operations, but now he is retired. With his wife out of the house most of the time, he has grown lonely.

Sox talks to him about his favorite team, the Red Sox, after which she is named. She plays his favorite songs and shows him pictures from his wedding. And because she has a video feed of him in his recliner, she chastises him when she catches him drinking soda instead of water.

Read more at the New York Times


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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

All JC students in Singapore need to read this.

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Pakatan Harapan must not rest on its laurels

Pakatan Harapan’s Mahathir Mohamad (R) addresses a press conference after the general election, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on May 9, 2018.

Pakatan Harapan’s Mahathir Mohamad (R) addresses a press conference after the general election, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on May 9, 2018. Photo: Reuters

In May 2018, the ASEAN region was riveted by the election results in Malaysia, where the Barisan Nasional coalition which had ruled Malaysia for over six decades was toppled in a stunning upset by Pakatan Harapan. If you are a Singaporean student, you should clue yourself in to the politics of our nearest neighbour. Besides the fact that their politics affects us, there is also always a fascinating comparison between Singapore and Malaysia: socially, politically, economically, food, there are so many parallels between the two countries. Same same, but different as they say. I think of Singapore and Malaysia as distorted mirror images of each other.

Even if you are not Singaporean, the politics of Malaysia holds some interesting and important lessons for you.

Below is a commentary written by my friend Maa Zhi Hong. He is a remarkable young Singaporean. At the age of only 21, and never having attended junior college or taken the subject of General Paper (he is a polytechnic grad), his knowledge and understanding of world affairs equals or surpasses even the best of the GP students I taught over 14 years.  He needed no one to tell him to read newspapers, websites or books. He devours them with an appetite that I think I myself was able to match only as a 10 year old bookworm.

I can say without hesitation that his grasp of world affairs and ability to tie together disparate elements of society, economics, politics, history and more into a coherent analysis exceeds 90 percent or more of the university graduates I know. And he has not stepped into either junior college or university. Nor does he intend to. His plan is to invest his time and money into learning from what he calls the University of Life (“you never graduate from that,” he says), chalking up real world experience and accomplishments in areas such as writing, speaking and business. At the tender age of 21, he has already been engaged by the prestigious Asia Times as a contributor and had seven articles published in less than a month.

Knowing him has been a humbling experience for me, and I trust reading his work and knowing about him will be for many of you JC students and uni grads out there as well. Much to ponder and reflect on, and we can only grow stronger and more vibrant if we set aside our ego to learn from anyone regardless of their background.

Zhi Hong and myself at a farm in the Philippines

Zhi Hong and myself at a farm in the Philippines

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By Maa Zhi Hong, Asia Times
May 6, 2019

On the night of May 9, 2018, Malaysians of all political affiliations could not believe their eyes as they processed the election results coming in after polling had ended. After all, Prime Minister Najib Razak had done his best to stack the deck in his favor; he gerrymandered the electoral system to give heavier weight to rural Malaysia, which had backed his coalition in the 2013 general election.

In the end, all of this came to naught.

One by one, many senior Barisan Nasional (BN) ministers lost their seats to the opposition.

Read the full article at Asia Times.
For more articles by Maa Zhi Hong.
Maa Zhi Hong’s official Instagram account is @maazhihongofficial

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

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To those starting JC life in today’s Singapore

jc singapore

[Writer’s note: While this article is addressed specifically to Singapore-based students, it may hold some truth for students in many other places as well.]

Dear young friend,

I’m writing this to share some thoughts that I used to convey to every one of my students when I was still a full-time tutor in Singapore (I retired in 2016). It is just my personal opinion, formed through years of experience as a student in the 1980s and 1990s, then as a tutor in the 2000s and 2010s.

Observing student life in the 90s and then in the 2010s, I can only conclude that the school system in Singapore has become 10 times more competitive than during my time. At least 10 times. During the 90s, most of my junior college classmates didn’t even attend private tuition. We could hang out at the bowling alley, the arcade or the hawker centre most days after school and still do well enough in the A-levels to qualify for the top local universities. (For some perspective: the requirements to get an interview at NUS law school in 1992 were B, B and C for the equivalent of today’s H2 subjects and a B3 for GP under the old grading system. Today you need straight As or very close to that.) We had no Project Work subject, nor was there a need to take a fourth content-based, ‘contrasting’ subject. I took only English literature, Economics and Geography as my content-based subjects, plus General Paper. That’s it. (I had already passed Higher Chinese in my secondary days, so there was no need to take Chinese anymore.)

Thus we not only had lighter curriculum loads, and needed lower grades to qualify for good universities and courses, but it was also easier to score a certain grade then than now. It was easier to score an A/B then than to score an A/B now. We did not have the education arms race then that we do now. Exams were easier (it seems to be an unspoken rule in Singapore that exams have to be made tougher every year. I’m not sure that this is a healthy approach, nor does it necessarily lead to better outcomes for students in the real world.) Oh, and CCAs were only ECAs (extracurricular activities) then, and generally less demanding.

Let me cut to the chase here. If you are attending JC in Singapore now, you are young and probably foolish, as I was in 1991. It’s a beautiful thing to be young and foolish. Life is confusing. You don’t know who you are and how to behave in many social situations. But you are full of energy and wild ideas, and you will make many colourful mistakes while having many memorable experiences.

Problem is, today’s Singapore doesn’t really give young people much leeway to be young and foolish anymore. There is so little margin for error.

If you are not fully focused on your studies, you will find yourself underwater very quickly and end up with an A-level result that gives you few options.

If you are preoccupied with crushes and boy-girl relationships; addicted to online games and social media; struggling with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, insecurity or any other psychological problems; troubled by problems in your family; or just plain immature or indisciplined, you will find yourself miles and miles off the pace very quickly in today’s Singapore JC. Every day will be a bigger struggle.

It is especially hard on the boys, as they are often not permitted to repeat their A-levels as a school candidate if they do badly. They have to take the exam again as a private candidate while dealing with the rigours of National Service. I have tutored boys in this situation and I can assure you it is no. bloody. joke.

The personal issues I mentioned two paragraphs ago are very difficult to grapple with, and they often take time to resolve. But I encourage you to face them squarely, as acknowledging the problem is the crucial first step to solving it. If you have a gaming addiction, face it. If you have a psychological difficulty, face it (and seek a good listening ear, like a teacher or counsellor). If you don’t even know why you are in JC, then you’d better take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you are doing with these precious months and years of your life. What do you want in your life long term, and are your actions congruent with your goals and wishes?

And as for romantic relationships, I totally understand how strong the attraction to another person can be. Personally, I was from the monastery (two different boys’ schools) for ten years prior to JC, so being around girls for the first time at the age of 17 was – well, a pretty overwhelming distraction.

Facing rejection from the opposite sex, too, can be very painful and make you unable to concentrate on your lectures for a week. Let’s not get started on lovers’ quarrels and breakups…

I shan’t proclaim any general commandment on whether JC students should or should not get into ‘steady’ relationships. I will only try to state a few, quite indisputable facts for you to ponder.

  1. Teenagers are at an age where attraction to another person is at its strongest (raging hormones!); but maturity is at its weakest.
  2. At the age of 17 or 18, you are still in the process of discovering yourself, who you are and what you want in life. And it’s a very long process.
  3. Romantic relationships involve very intense emotions and complex situations that are very hard to handle even for grown men and women.

With all these in mind, I suggest you think long and hard about whether you want to “go steady”. Some of you might be ready for it, and many are not. And if you don’t feel completely ready, it is not wise to get into it. It is lovely to get to know the opposite sex as friends, without any pressure of going further. Don’t pressure yourself, and don’t allow yourself to be pressured. You are not a lesser being because you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

You are also not a lesser being because you got rejected.

Respect yourself, despite all your flaws. If your name is Sam, say things like, “I like this person Sam even though he/she is not perfect. He/she is loyal to his/her friends. He/she has fighting spirit. He/she has charming crooked teeth.” I learned this technique from Senait Mehari, an extraordinary lady from Eritrea who was forced to become a child soldier but later became a successful musician in Germany. She said it’s good to refer to yourself in the third person because thinking in the first person means that you follow your thoughts blindly; “if we consider ourselves in the third person, we see a great deal more” (from her powerful book Heart of Fire).

And back to what I said earlier, do bear in mind the cruel and unforgiving reality of JC life in Singapore today. Is it worth putting your studies at risk and creating huge problems for yourself in the future, for the sake of pursuing this relationship now? What are the chances that this relationship will work out five, ten, fifteen years from now? (I have seen some JC sweethearts end up getting married – but not many.) Will you meet other people you fall in love with later? Almost definitely, yes!

May I wish you every success in your JC life and beyond. I hope you face your problems courageously and constructively, and come up with a plan to deal with them day by day so that you will be able to make the most of your JC life. Have goals, short and long term, small and big, so that you are not drifting nowhere during these precious years of your life.

Enjoy being young and foolish sometimes, but stay focused and seek a little wisdom every day.

Best wishes,

Steven Ooi

P.S. I welcome your comments on this page, or by email at stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces).

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

GP or English tutors (including part-timers) keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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The War on Huawei

huawei 01

This hard-hitting commentary by the director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Prof Jeffrey D. Sachs, has caused a real stir. It sheds substantial light on one of the most important developments of our times – the growing strategic and geopolitical rivarly between the incumbent superpower, the United States, and the rising challenger China. If you have not read about the Thucydides Trap, please do so.

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By JEFFREY D. SACHS
Published on Project Syndicate

The Trump administration’s conflict with China has little to do with US external imbalances, closed Chinese markets, or even China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. It has everything to do with containing China by limiting its access to foreign markets, advanced technologies, global banking services, and perhaps even US universities.

NEW YORK – The arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is a dangerous move by US President Donald Trump’s administration in its intensifying conflict with China. If, as Mark Twain reputedly said, history often rhymes, our era increasingly recalls the period preceding 1914. As with Europe’s great powers back then, the United States, led by an administration intent on asserting America’s dominance over China, is pushing the world toward disaster.

The context of the arrest matters enormously. The US requested that Canada arrest Meng in the Vancouver airport en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, and then extradite her to the US. Such a move is almost a US declaration of war on China’s business community. Nearly unprecedented, it puts American businesspeople traveling abroad at much greater risk of such actions by other countries.

The US rarely arrests senior businesspeople, US or foreign, for alleged crimes committed by their companies. Corporate managers are usually arrested for their alleged personal crimes (such as embezzlement, bribery, or violence) rather than their company’s alleged malfeasance. Yes, corporate managers should be held to account for their company’s malfeasance, up to and including criminal charges; but to start this practice with a leading Chinese businessperson, rather than the dozens of culpable US CEOs and CFOs, is a stunning provocation to the Chinese government, business community, and public.

Read more here.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

GP or English tutors (including part-timers) keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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