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Abstract

Singapore has one of the highest Internet and mobile phone penetration rates in the world. With increasing government investment in IT, media and technology are assuming an ever growing role in the lives of Singaporeans. Singaporeans use media intensively, consuming media in all forms as they acquire information essential to their education, work, social and recreational lives. Singapore is a highly mediatised country which has embraced infocomm technology in virtually every aspect of life, especially in government, business and education. Traditional broadcast and print media have converged with newer digital, online and mobile content to produce a media landscape that provides Singaporeans with greater choice, but which also presents them with more challenges. As Singaporeans navigate through this rich and vast media landscape, they are finding their media literacy being increasingly tested as they need to access different media platforms and evaluate media content of diversifying genres and varying quality.
This is a preprint version of
Lim, S. S., & Nekmat, E. (2009). Media Education in Singapore New Media, New Literacies? . In C.-K.
Cheung (Ed.), Media Education in Asia (pp. 185-197). Dordrecht: Springer.
Media Education in Singapore
New Media, New Literacies?
Sun Sun LIM and Elmie NEKMAT
Introduction
Singapore has amongst the highest Internet and mobile phone penetration rates in the
world. With increasing government investment in IT, media and technology are
assuming an ever growing role in the lives of Singaporeans. Singaporeans use media
intensively, consuming media in all forms as they acquire information essential to
their education, work, social and recreational lives. Singapore is a highly mediatised
country which has embraced infocomm technology in virtually every aspect of life
especially in government, business and education. Traditional broadcast and print
media have converged with newer digital, online and mobile content to produce a
media landscape that provides Singaporeans with greater choice, but which also
presents them with more challenges. As Singaporeans navigate through this rich and
vast media landscape, they are finding their media literacy being increasingly tested
as they need to access different media platforms and evaluate media content of
diversifying genres and varying quality.
This chapter will consider the extent to which media education in Singapore equips
Singaporeans with the requisite skills to be functionally competent and critically
discerning media prosumers. It will begin by describing the country’s media
landscape market development and regulation of media content and service
provision. It will then discuss the need for new literacies pertaining to consuming,
creating and managing media, which have arisen in light of the emerging media
landscape. This is followed by a discussion of media literacy education in schools and
a review of public education campaigns aimed at raising media literacy levels
amongst the general populace. We then conclude by considering the challenges which
such media education efforts may have to confront and seek to overcome.
Singapore’s Media Landscape
Singapore’s media industry has grown significantly in the last ten years, spurred by
the government’s interest to foster this sector as an engine of economic growth. The
government also has indirect share ownership of the dominant media companies. For
example, 100 per cent of MediaCorp’s shares and a majority of 56 per cent of
SingTel’s shares are owned by Temasek Holdings which is the government's
investment arm (Temasek Holdings, March 2007). In the case of StarHub, two of four
major direct shareholders are MediaCorp and Asia Mobile Holdings, the latter
constituting a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Telemedia (ST Telemedia) which
is 100 per cent owned by Temasek Holdings (StarHub, n.d.; Temasek Holdings,
March 2007).
At the same time, the increasingly affluent, educated and well-travelled populace is
also demanding greater choice and diversity in media options. Table 1 summarises the
main offerings in the newspaper, magazine, radio, television and Internet markets.
Table 1. Offerings of major print, broadcast and Internet service companies in Singapore
Print media
Newspapers
Singapore
Press Holdings
Fourteen titles in various languages and categories including The Straits Times
(English), Lianhe Zaobao (Chinese), Berita Harian (Malay), Tamil Murasu (Tamil),
The Business Times (Financial) and The New Paper (Tabloid)
MediaCorp
Two titles in English language Today and Weekend Today
Magazines
Singapore
Press Holdings
Over 100 titles in different languages and categories including Nuyou (Chinese), Her
World (Women’s interest), The Peak (Business), Men’s Health (Health), Carma
(Vehicles), Golf Digest (Sports), First (Infotainment), Game Axis (Gaming), Home
& Decor (Home), Young Parents (Parenting) and Seventeen (Young people)
MediaCorp
Over 30 titles in different languages and categories including
I-Weekly (Chinese), Manja (Malay), FHM Singapore (Men’s interest), ELLE
Singapore (women’s fashion), ARENA Singapore (Men’s fashion), 8 Days
(Infotainment), Electronic Gaming Monthly (Gaming), Mother and Baby
(Parenting), and Lime (Young people)
Broadcast media
Radio
MediaCorp
Thirteen stations in various languages and categories including Gold 90.5FM
(English), Y.E.S 93.3FM (Chinese), Warna 94.2FM (Malay), Oli 96.8FM (Tamil),
98.7FM (Contemporary), Symphony 92.4FM (Classical) and 93.8Live (News)
SPH
UnionWorks
Two stations The New 91.3FM (English) and Radio 100.3FM (Chinese)
SAFRA
Two stations Power 98FM (English) and Jiā 88.3FM (Chinese)
Television (Terrestrial, Cable and IP)
MediaCorp
Nine free-to-air channels in various languages and categories including Channel 5
(English), Channel 8 (Chinese), Suria (Malay), Vasantham Central (Tamil), Kids
Central (Children), Arts Central (the Arts) and Channel News Asia (News)
StarHub
Over 100 different channels (free-to-air and subscribed) from more than 10
categories including World News, Entertainment, Sports, Education, Kids, Lifestyle,
Chinese infotainment, Chinese Entertainment and Asia
SingTel
Over 30 different channels (free-to-air and subscribed) from more than 8 categories
including Entertainment, Kids and Family, Infotainment, Asia, News, International,
Chinese and BBC3.
Internet
SingTel,
Connections through Broadband (ADSL, wireless), Wireless@SG
StarHub
Connections through Broadband (ADSL, cable, wireless), Wireless@SG
Pacific Internet
Connections through Broadband (ADSL, cable), Wireless@SG
MobileOne
Connections through Broadband (wireless)
Print media
Currently a total of 16 newspapers are in active circulation in Singapore. The
newspaper industry is dominated by the print media behemoth Singapore Press
Holdings (SPH) which publishes 14 newspaper titles. The other two titles, “Today”
and “Weekend Today” are distributed free-of-charge and published by Media
Corporation (MediaCorp) Press, which is incidentally 40 per cent owned by SPH.
Besides newspapers, these two major print players also produce the bulk of the
magazines in Singapore, with SPH producing more than 100 titles whilst MediaCorp
Publishing has 30 wide-ranging titles under its belt (MediaCorp, n.d., MediaCorp
publishing; Singapore Press Holdings [SPH] magazines, n.d.). SPH has also been very
active and successful in ‘virtualising’ news and leveraging on the Internet. Its online
editions of key newspapers, enjoys over 110 million pageviews with seven million
unique visitors every month (SPH, n.d.). On top of this, its ‘revolutionary’ online
news portal, STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print), engages readers by
involving them in the creation of news by uploading and submitting their
‘newsworthy’ articles and pictures online. Singapore’s print publishing has thus
evolved to meet the needs and expectations of Singapore’s ‘virtual’ citizens.
Broadcast media
Singapore’s main radio broadcaster, MediaCorp Radio operates 13 local FM stations
and broadcasts in the four main languages in Singapore (MediaCorp Radio, n.d.). The
MediaCorp Group also monopolises local television broadcasting through its three
TV-focused units, MediaCorp TV, MediaCorp TV12 and MediaCorp News which
provide entertainment and news programmes catering to different viewing segments
across ages and ethnicities. In all, MediaCorp provides nine free-to-air terrestial TV
channels and one digital channel to Singaporeans (MediaCorp, n.d., Core business).
In 2001, MediaCorp TV introduced the pervasive TVMobile. Utilising Digital Video
Broadcast (DVB) technology, programs are delivered to viewers on the move and in
shopping malls, food courts, academic institutions and on public transportation. As for
cable television, StarHub Cable Vision Limited is the only provider, offering over 70
analogue and 100 digital channels. Launched in 2004, digital cable also provides
added services such as interactive games and Video-On-Demand (StarHub Cable TV,
n.d.).
Internet
The Infocomm Development Authority launched the Intelligent Nation 2015 master
plan in 2006, with the goal of creating a country which is completely wired to
broadband Internet access by 2015. With broadband connection speeds of 100Mbps,
Internet access in Singapore is fast and affordable, even free-of-charge depending on
your location. Broadband subscription packages are attractively priced and as of April
2008, household broadband penetration was 82.5 per cent (Infocomm Development
Authority [IDA], Jan-Jun 2008). Singaporeans are also benefiting from the
Wireless@SG scheme which will provide free wireless broadband Internet in public
areas until 2010. The most popular online activities of Singaporeans are sending and
receiving emails, general web browsing and instant messaging (IDA, 2008). With
regard to the regulation of Internet content, there has been a ‘symbolic ban’ of 100
websites with ‘objectionable content’ to signal the government’s interest to preserve
Singapore’s traditional Asian values, maintain racial harmony and religious tolerance,
and protect young persons from undesirable content (Ministry of Information,
Communications and the Arts, 2003). In May 2008, two more pornographic file-
sharing websites, YouPorn and RedTube were included in the stable of banned
websites (Chua, 23 May 2008).
Mobile services
Mobile phone subscription has seen a phenomenal rise, from 200 per 1000 residents
in 1997 to 1225 per 1000 residents in 2007. As of April 2008, mobile phone
subscriptions had risen to over 5.9 million (IDA, Jan-Jun 2008), exceeding the
country’s population of 4.6 million (Statistics Singapore [SingStats], 2007, Key
annual indicators). Mobile phones are used predominantly for communication via
voice calls and text messages. However, with faster speeds and increased variety,
newer services such as mobile television and mobile Internet are seeing growing
consumer interest.
New Literacies for the Emerging Media Landscape
Hitherto, the print and broadcast markets in Singapore have been closely regulated
through a combination of licensing laws, indirect government ownership, content
restrictions and censorship. [For a discussion of such regulations and their impact, see
George (2006).] Given the high level of government involvement in media industry
controls and content regulation, Singaporean media consumers have arguably been
rather sheltered. With the domination of Singapore’s media landscape by two well-
respected government-linked companies, Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp,
consumers have also come to expect reliable and accurate information from these two
sources. Singaporean parents have also been able to leave their children largely
unsupervised when watching television or reading newspapers and magazines,
knowing full well that any violence, nudity, coarse language and extremist views
would already have been filtered out by government censorship.
With the advent of new media like the Internet and mobile phone, typically
personally-owned, individually-used and delivering unregulated content directly to
the user, such assumptions about the veracity, reliability and acceptability of media
content in Singapore can no longer hold. Furthermore, while the convergence of
“older” media like television, movies and print with “newer” media like the Internet
and mobile phones provide exciting possibilities for media consumption, they also
vest in individuals the powers of media content production and dissemination. With
greater powers come increased responsibilities. Hence, the emerging media landscape
demands new literacies which pertain broadly to consuming, creating and managing
media.
Literacies for consuming media
First, consuming media can take many forms including accessing media for
information/entertainment, communicating with others via different media channels
and engaging in transactions through media services such as online shopping and e-
government portals. When accessing information, it is important to be able to
critically assess media content given that online information is so copious and of such
varied provenance that both adults and children alike need to be astute enough to
sieve out less credible information. In addition, when using media platforms to
communicate and socialise with others, it is integral to possess a critical awareness of
the risks and possibilities of online social interactions, friendship formations and
community building in MMORPGs and social networking sites. Broadening one’s
circle of friends that transcends cultural and geographical barriers is gaining
popularity amongst Singaporean youths. Of these services, five sites have established
their own niches amongst Singaporean netizens; Facebook - for school communities,
Friendster and MySpace - where younger and aspiring personalities dwell, Multiply
where close-knit acquaintances maintain ties, and LinkedIn for working adults and
young professionals.
The value of these social environments in people’s lives has been popularly
conceptualized as ‘social capital’, which is regarded as a resource and potentially
opens up avenues for profit from their association. More significantly, social capital
has been argued to affect individuals’ cognitive development, especially those of
children (Portes, 1998). Thus, other than having the skills to access and use the
Internet and ICTs to participate and benefit from this experience, emphasis has to be
placed on the possession of knowledge of the relational aspects between individuals,
media use and the social contexts that characterize the types and level of the
relationships. Also, the importance of critical awareness cannot be overemphasized in
an individual’s foray into online social networks as predators may exploit them for
online grooming.
Literacies for creating media
Second, as more users are not just consuming but are creating and sharing media, a
“new ethos” in literacy is needed to aid one’s “participatory”, “collaborative” and
“distributed” involvement (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007). Possessing such literacy is
critical in light of the growing popularity of file-sharing programs and services
amongst Singaporeans, such as YouTube (for videos), Flickr (for photographs) and
Gnutella (for music files and software). Apart from these services, podcasts, webcasts
and especially blogs are also increasingly popular in Singapore. In 2006,
Singaporeans aged between 15 to 29 years were found to be the most active in reading
others’ blogs and in producing their own blogs, constituting 26 and 17 per cent of the
Internet users in that age group respectively (IDA, 2007). Interestingly, Singaporeans
aged 60 years and above were also involved in the same activity, albeit still at low
figures of 9 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. The fact that such sites and programs
endow the individual with greater semiotic democracy and almost complete creative
license provide the freedom for individuals’ personal values and ideas to be reflected
in their content creations (Lim, 2007). Users need to be mindful that media creations
which are shared online are likely to enter the public domain, may cause offence if
reference is made to particular groups or individuals and can invite feedback or
criticism. Therefore, being at the ‘centre of production’ in this new media age, critical
media literacy requires one to possess the aptitude to assess the potential public
response to one’s own media creations and to evaluate media content created by
others.
There have been a few landmark cases of Internet misuse by Singaporeans where a
glaring deficit of such critical skills was displayed. In September 2005, three people
were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments online,
two of whom were sentenced to imprisonment (Chong, 5 October 2005). Besides the
Sedition Act, laws on defamation have also been applied in cases where some
‘inconsiderate’ comments were posted over the Internet. In May 2005, a blogger who
was then a graduate student at an overseas university was made to apologise and to
shut down his blog containing criticisms on government agency A*STAR after he
was threatened to be sued for defamation by the agency’s then-Chairman (Lwee, 10
May 2005). Most recently, in 2008, a 24-year old blogger was arrested for allegedly
posting offensive comments targeted at a particular racial group. Interviews with the
blogger revealed that he did not expect his message to be ‘cut and pasted’ onto
different webspaces and hyperlinked to multiple others. His defence that “I meant
what I wrote in a different way. If people read it in another way, there is nothing
much I can do” (Liew, 21 May 2008, p.2) also displayed a lack of the critical
understanding of socio-context of the communication and consumption of information
via mass media, an important literacy component in this new media age (Kress, 2003;
Livingstone, 2004).
Literacies for managing media
With the pervasiveness of media in Singaporeans’ everyday lives, the ability to
manage media and not be overwhelmed by it should also constitute an important form
of critical media literacy. The growing trend towards always-on, always-available
media is making it more complicated for people to draw the lines between work and
rest, office and home. The need to be constantly connected and contactable can also
take its toll. At its most extreme, some people find themselves addicted to particular
media devices or services (Griffiths, 2000). Gaming addiction is of particular interest.
The popularity of online gaming is evident in Singapore especially amongst children.
In 2006, an astounding 58 per cent of young children between the ages of 10 to 14
years have used the Internet to play or download computer or video games.
Meanwhile, an average of 37 per cent of total Internet users have engaged in the same
activity during the same year (IDA, 2007). In particular, massively multiplayer online
role playing games (MMORPGs) are especially popular, with fantasy-styled games
such as World of Warcraft (WoW), Defence of the Ancients (DotA) and MapleStory
as frontrunners.
In light of several high profile deaths of teen gamers in South Korea and China,
concerns have been raised that the rising interest in online games in Singapore may be
accompanied by a growing gaming addiction problem (Oo & Siew, 2007). Besides the
ability to control one’s excessive usage of online games, managing one’s engagement
with the virtual game world is also important. The experiential element in games
facilitates not only the engagement of social interactions and communality in virtual
worlds (Friedl, 2003; Lazzaro, March 2004) but also leads to explorations of personal
identity and self (Turkle, 1995). Consciousness of the interactions between virtual and
real existence in the game playing process is yet another form of critical media
literacy. Gamers must have the skills and self-awareness to negotiate and make
meanings within the different worlds to achieve a stable and consistent sense of self-
identity (Adams, 2005).
Media Literacy Education in Schools
While teachers in Singapore have been known to use media content and platforms as
classroom teaching aids, formal media education is not part of the primary, secondary
and junior college curriculum. At the tertiary level however, most of the polytechnics
offer diplomas in media-related areas and Singapore’s two top universities have
media programmes, each with a different focus. For example, Nanyang Polytechnic
offers a Diploma in Media Studies & Management (Nanyang Polytechnic, 2008)
while students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic can pursue diplomas in Digital Visual
Effects, Film or Mass Communication (Ngee Ann Polytechnic, n.d.). The National
University of Singapore’s Communications and New Media Programme concentrates
on theoretical and critical media studies, communications management and media
design, all with a strong emphasis on new media (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
2008). The Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang
Technological University offers training in several areas including journalism, public
and promotional communication and information studies (Wee Kim Wee School of
Communication and Information, 2008). At the tertiary level therefore, formal media
education has depth and diversity.
The same cannot be said for the primary, secondary and junior college levels where
the curricula have emphasised more traditional subjects such as languages,
mathematics and the sciences. However, with the increasing ubiquity and
consumption of media, there is a growing realisation amongst parents, educators and
policy makers that some form of media education needs to be introduced at the junior
levels. Specifically, calls have been made for media literacy education rather than
media education in general as the former would seek to inculcate in young students
the skills to consume and produce media in an informed, critical and discerning
manner.
Such calls are not unexpected given the push to increase the use of IT in the
classroom. While IT is already heavily utilised in Singapore schools, the plan is to
further deploy IT in a greater variety of ways. The iN2015 Masterplan aims to make
Singapore a world leader in educational technology, fostering innovations such as
multimedia field trips, 3D interactive educational games with simulations and digital
textbooks (IDA, 13 May 2008). To this end, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has
named five schools as the pioneer batch of FutureSchools@Singapore to serve as
testbeds for such technologies and as “pathfinders” for the wider education system
(IDA, 13 May 2008).
In light of this shift towards technology-oriented classrooms, parents are
understandably concerned about their children’s ability to use technology wisely. To
allay such fears, the MOE has created two Cyberwellness starter kits to support
primary and secondary schools in their efforts instil in students an appreciation of the
benefits and potential pitfalls of Internet use (MOE, 2008). The kits cover topics such
as online grooming, pornography, cyberbullying, gaming addiction and the risks of
illegal downloading. Cyberwellness was a concept introduced in 2004 by the now-
defunct National Internet Advisory Committee. It posits the principles of maintaining
a balanced lifestyle when using the Internet, exploiting the powers of the Internet to
inspire others, being astute in one’s Internet use, and using the Internet responsibly
while respecting others (Media Development Authority, 2006a).
Media Literacy Education for the Public
Apart from schools, various government agencies have also introduced a slate of
media education programmes targeted at the general public. Some notable
government-initiated campaigns include IDA’s InfocommMyWay which comprised a
media campaign, dedicated web portal, advertising collaterals such as posters in
subways and on foodcourt tables, as well as roadshows which raise the observability
and visibility of new technologies (IDA Singapore, 2008). The campaign covered
themes such as online safety, e-government services and commercial online services
such as online auctions. The MDA has also introduced the ongoing MediaAction
programme which attempts to raise the knowledge and skills levels of Singaporeans
relating to new media. Hence, courses are conducted at affordable prices to ramp up
public interest and to raise skills levels in areas such as blogging, digital photography,
computer animation etc (Media Development Authority, 2006b). However, while
these campaigns have focused strongly on the functional literacy of Singaporeans, the
critical media literacy aspect has not received as much emphasis.
In this regard, two organisations made great strides in raising public awareness of
critical media literacy the Parents’ Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi) and
Touch Community Services (TCS). The now defunct PAGi conducted multilingual
Online Safety Workshops for parents, ran a popular website providing online safety
tips and resources and conducted roadshows at schools and workplaces to spread the
word on safe and beneficial Internet use (Media Development Authority, 2005). It
was subsequently subsumed under the National Internet Advisory Council’s
Community Advisory Committee, which has since been replaced by the Internet and
Media Advisory Committee (INMAC) whose remit is to advise on media literacy
programmes and related policies (Government of Singapore, 2007a). TCS is a non-
profit charitable organisation which seeks to offer assistance to less advantaged
members of society and provide guidance to youths and families to strengthen family
units (Touch Community Services, 2004a). A key initiative of its Youth Services
Group is its CRuSH (Cyberspace Risks and where U Seek Help) programme which
aims to promote cyber wellness amongst youths. It offers counselling, parenting skills
courses and even a GamesLab which promotes healthy online gaming habits ((Touch
Community Services, 2004b). Some private sector initiatives to raise critical media
literacy have also been introduced. Notably, the Business Software Alliance has
established a website titled “Before You Surf” which provides information on how to
raise one’s level of online safety, how to steer clear of activities which may lead one
to incur legal liability (Business Software Alliance, 2008).
It should also be noted that the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts
set up a high level Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS)
in 2007. Comprising community leaders, academics, senior civil servants, journalists
and CEOS of major media and telecommunication companies, AIMS has been tasked
with preparing a landmark policy paper to advise the government on how best to
regulate new media so that it is societally beneficial, facilitating public expression and
creativity and stimulating the growth of the interactive and digital media sector, while
considering the ethical and social implications (Government of Singapore, 2007b).
The establishment of INMAC and AIMS clearly signals the Singapore government’s
realisation that new media can have significant societal impact which must be
monitored and managed through the promotion of critical media literacy.
The Challenges Ahead
As Singapore presses on in its efforts to transform itself into an “intelligent nation”
where technology use will be in intensified in schools and workplaces, it needs to
further fortify its efforts to vest its citizens with media literacy so as to better cope
with such changes. With high mobile phone ownership and broadband Internet
penetration rates, a digital divide may not exist in the traditional sense. However, a
second level skills divide (Hargittai, 2002) may manifest itself, with some sectors of
society being better able to exploit the different technological and media affordances.
Such a situation may translate into schisms in society where the more media literate
have tremendous access to cultural and social capital while those who are less au fait
with the media will be severely disadvantaged.
As seen earlier, the Singapore government has already made some efforts to narrow
this second level skills divide by conducting courses and public education
programmes which have sought to instil functional media literacy skills. A few trends
will make this task much more difficult. First, the relentless pace of innovation means
that policy responses will always be outpaced by technological advancement. Second,
with the increasing variety of media platforms and growing number of media content
genres, audience fragmentation is already occurring but will further intensify. In such
a situation, devising functional media literacy courses which can cater to as wide a
section of the population as possible will be a resource intensive affair. In this regard,
the government should not seek to go it alone but should rope in private sector
partners and provide seed funding for non-governmental organisations to play a role
in fostering media literacy.
Beyond imparting functional media literacy which may be effectively done through
public campaigns, online portals and continuing education courses, the inculcation of
critical media literacy will be a more difficult task. Not least is the contested notion of
critical media literacy and its purpose. Is critical media literacy geared towards
promoting a democratised, anti-elitist approach to media representations and freedom
of speech or should it seek to underpin the traditional, hierarchical discrimination of
good from bad, authoritative from unauthorised (Livingstone, 2003)? This question is
especially germane to the situation in Singapore as the government has taken a
paternalistic, gatekeeping approach towards media regulation but is now grappling
with the age of individualised, niche audiences to whom media content is delivered
directly. Unless some consensus is reached as to the scope and level of critical media
literacy required of citizens in a highly-mediatised society like Singapore, developing
an effective strategy for inculcating such literacy will be problematic.
As with its regional neighbours such as China, Japan and South Korea, Singapore
seems to be right on track in establishing a comprehensive, cutting-edge media and
technology infrastructure. At the same time though, it needs to adequately prepare its
populace for the growing pervasiveness of media and technology in everyday lives
through fostering in its people both functional and critical media literacy. This task is
made more difficult by the unyielding pace of technological innovation and the trend
towards audience fragmentation. Be that as it may, public education efforts should be
stepped up and ideally, private and non-governmental partners should be enlisted in
this crucial shared endeavour.
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