$21 million in grants awarded for 12 research projects on Singapore society, identity

The grant is part of the Ministry of Education's drive to boost social science research.
The grant is part of the Ministry of Education's drive to boost social science research.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN
The grant is part of the Ministry of Education's drive to boost social science research.
The grant is part of the Ministry of Education's drive to boost social science research. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Social scientists' understanding of how Singaporean children develop in their early years will get a boost, with a new $8.5 million national study that will begin soon.

About 5,000 families with children aged six and younger will be surveyed next year and in 2020, by National University of Singapore (NUS) professor Jean Yeung.

She will look at how factors such as early childcare, preschool attendance, the use of technology and family stress, can shape child development and family resilience.

The project is one of a dozen to be funded by the Social Science Research Council, which announced the full list on Thursday (April 27).

The council was set up in January last year to promote social science and humanities research.

Its 12 chosen studies range from racial biases in children to coping strategies in low-income families.

This first batch was chosen from 70 applications seeking the council's grant for studies addressing future needs in Singapore and Asia.

The applications, submitted by seven institutions between May and August last year, covered the broad themes of social integration, innovation and human development.

The council will call for the second round of proposals from May 8 to July 28.

The grant is part of the Ministry of Education's (MOE) $350 million drive from 2016 to 2020 to boost social science research.

Out of the $350 million, MOE set aside $50 million until 2020 for the research grants. And around $21 million has been committed.

Chairman of the council Peter Ho, a formeer top civil servant, said: "New and complex challenges confront Singapore as it progresses and matures as a nation."

He cited providing for an ageing population, preserving social mobility and building a sense of belonging in a globalised world as some of the pressing challenges.

"Social science and humanities research can help us understand and address these issues better," said Mr Ho, who is senior adviser to the Centre for Strategic Futures.

He added that the council kept an eye out for projects that are relevant to Singapore and with the promise to benefit society, and they include such areas as early childhood and family development.

The projects also had to have strong intellectual merit, he added: "It is only high-quality social science projects that can make a real contribution to knowledge and practice."

The council's deputy chairman Chan Heng Chee, who is an Ambassador-at-Large, said: "Social sciences in Singapore has traditionally not been given the same emphasis as the hard sciences, but it's getting it now.

"As a social scientist I am extremely excited about this," said Professor Chan, a political scientist by training.

Selected projects

Prof Yeung's early childhood development study will also carry out smaller projects relevant to Singapore, like a study of the cultural habits of mixed-race children.

Her proposal is one of three large-scale ones that will get between $1 million and $10million of funding over three to five years.

The other two projects are about productivity and transboundary haze.

The remaining nine fall under a lower tier of funding: between $100,000 and $1 million for up to three years.

One of them is social work academic Esther Goh's $800,000 study of the effect of redistributive policies on low-income families.

Dr Goh, from NUS, will look at how financial stress affects parents and, in turn, how well their children are socially adjusted, how healthy they are, and how well they do in school.

She will interview 800 families in three phases and look at how families help themselves rise above their socioeconomic situation over time.

"We hope that this study will help Singaporeans shift away from the problem-centred stereotype of low-income families and recognise that while they may be in dire straits and have many struggles, they have hidden strengths as well," she said.

Nanyang Technological University psychologist Setoh Pei Pei will get $660,000 to investigate how children in Singapore develop racial biases.

She will, for instance, record how fast children associate positive and negative attributes with faces of people from their own race versus faces of another race.

Dr Setoh is also working with pre-school chain NTUC First Campus on a racial and religious harmony curriculum for kindergarten children.

The pilot studywill begin early next year, she said.

List of projects receiving funding and their principal investigators

Projects between $100,000 and $1 million:

1. Christianity in Southeast Asia: Comparative Growth, Politics and Networks in Urban Centres

Dr Terence Chong, Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute

2. Develop a Contemporary Theory of Harmony

Professor Li Chenyang, NTU

3. Fostering Harmonious Intergroup Relations in Early Childhood

Assistant Professor Setoh Pei Pei, NTU

4. Identifying Positive Adaptive Pathways in Low-income families in Singapore

Associate Professor Esther Goh, NUS

5. Influence of Social Motivations on Cultural Learning, Adjustment, and Integration

Associate Professor Krishna Savani, NTU

6. Making Identity Count in Asia: Identity Relations in Singapore and its Neighbourhood

Professor Ted Hopf, NUS

7. Population ageing, old age labour and financial decisions in Singapore

Associate Professor Liu Haoming, NUS

8. Salutogenic Healthy Aging Programme Embracement (Shape) for elderly living alone

Assistant Professor Wang Wenru, NUS

9. Singapore's Islamic Studies Graduates: Their Role and Impact in a Plural Society

Dr Norshahril Saat, Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute

Projects between $1 million and $10 million:

10. Building Human Capacity in Singapore's Population: Testing Innovations in Human Development

Professor Jean Yeung, NUS

11. Service Productivity and Innovation Research Programme (Spire)

Professor Ivan Png, NUS

12. Sustainable governance of transboundary environmental commons in Southeast Asia

Professor David Taylor, NUS