Monday, September 3, 2012

National Day Rally 2012 - A Home With Hope & Heart

Much was said by PM Lee, but how much are relevant to us? How are we going to move forward with the nation? And from a father’s point of view, are our concerns (mainly child-related) answered?

Before the National Day Rally, I wrote a blog post on Maternity Leave vs Fertility Rate. I would like to follow up on the same topic after the speech by PM Lee. And also a few other issues that are closer to heart.

Building More University
PM Lee stated that Singaporeans have high aspirations. Every parent wants to see their child do well, and hopefully get a degree. The conclusion was to create more university places, focusing on applied, practice-oriented degrees, eg. engineers, physiotherapists, social workers. But at the same time, we must not churn out more graduates regardless of quality or employment opportunities. We do not want to make the mistake of having too many unemployed or underemployed graduates.

As a father: I do not just look forward to see my daughters graduate and get their degrees or masters. My greatest dream will be to see my girls grow up to be God-fearing children, a person with integrity, honest, loving, humble. If without all these, no amount of education achievements will matter. People are already labelling Singapore as a place where paper qualifications are essential, a must have to survive, I beg to defer. Shake off that “kiasu-parent” stigma.

Child Pre-School
The need to improve quality of pre-school education. PM Lee pointed out that the times have changed, families have evolved. Now we have more nuclear families, fewer children, more dual-income parents. He acknowledged that early years are important for children’s development. Hence good pre-school education will prepare students to enter P1 and provide many long-term benefits.

Current situation in Singapore, nearly all children (99%) attend pre-school. There is a diverse mix of pre-school operators: non-profit Anchor Operators (APO – PCF & NTUC) and many different private providers. Financial support (ComCare subsidies like KiFAS and CFAC) makes pre-school affordable.

PM Lee agrees that we are making progress but not enough. He mentioned that the government need to raise the quality of pre-school education for children aged 5 & 6. Also there is a need to keep pre-school affordable, especially to middle- and low-income households.

Role that government will play: establish new statutory board to oversee pre-school education. Provide and upgrade pre-school teacher training to raise standards. Bring in new AOPs in addition to PCF & NTUC. Give more support to low- and middle-income families. But do not expect fast results, PM Lee highlighted that transformation will take some time, but confident to see results in 5-7 years.

As a father: Joey is moving to P1 next year and Jayne will start her pre-school in 2 years time. I lift up both hands and legs to support the upgrading of pre-school teachers’ training. The reason why we are not willing to send our girls to the APOs like PCF or NTUC is largely due to the quality of the teachers we have sent and/or heard from other parents. It’s very difficult for us to send our kids (taking in mind that during this age of 5-7 years old, their brain is most receptive to learning) to pre-school when the teachers are speaking in broken-English. But looking at the estimated time-frame given by PM Lee, I don’t think I will get to enjoy the benefits for my girls. But hopefully the transformation will happen as spoken and other families will be blessed.

Having More Babies
The fact is as a nation, we are having too few babies! More Singaporeans are remaining single, or getting married later. Singaporeans are working too hard, married couples are having fewer children. Married couples are reflecting their concerns about having children. One mother stated that while she appreciates the schemes, eg. paid maternity leave, flexi-work arrangements, but she still feels pressure to work hard to fulfil her responsibilities in the company. She commented that “improve work-life balance” may encourage Singaporeans to have children. Another couple suggested to make childcare more accessible, longer paternity leave so that fathers can help to raise children.

What are some of the ideas to promote fertility rate?
1. Give housing priority to couples with children.
2. Extend paternity leave. Create Medisave account for each child at birth and put in a small hongbao to start off.
3. Raise pre-school standards and keep it very affordable.
4. More financial support for low- and middle-income families.
5. Improve baby bonus.

Ultimately, it’s not all about the money, but values and deep motivations. Singaporeans will marry and have children because of the fulfilment that a family brings. Mindsets and norms have to change – employer attitude, work-life balance, father’s duties. Strengthen the sense that this is home and this is where we want to raise our families.

As a father: To be frank, the reason why we are not considering to have a 3rd child now is the cost of having one. Already now, with my parents staying with me, and 2 girls growing up, we do not have enough rooms to use. Housing is indeed a problem and the ever-rising property market is not helping at all (a new 3-room flat with only 60+ sqm is selling at $400+K). Childcare and pre-school fees is another consideration. For 3 kids to be in school (one in primary, one in pre-school, one in childcare), the cost is easily 25% of a middle-income take-home pay. But yet once again, I agree with what PM Lee said, ultimately it is not all about money. Married couples (those without kids yet), should not put monetary consideration as a stumbling block for having children. All parents will vouched that parenthood has brought much fulfilment and joy that nothing else can compare. The fulfilment of having a family (incidentally, FAMILY means Father And Mother, I Love You), is beyond words or money. Mindsets need to be challenged and changed to see a real increase in fertility rate in Singapore. But definitely, more financial help from the government will assist too.

Disclaimer: All that has been said is just my humble views. In no way am I trying to be an expert in any topic. If you do not agree, so be it. No worries. Cheers!

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