The Straits Times
Published on Feb 20, 2013

Review cradle-to-grave policies for long-term solution to baby shortage


EVERY parent knows that having a child does not end with conception and birth. What follows is childcare, education, and ultimately, launching the child into a self-sustaining adulthood. Increasingly in modern society, having a child seems to require a leap of faith.

Singapore is no exception, except that we have the added challenges of:

- Limited space;

- The financial and societal need for both parents to work;

- A competitive education system; and

- An even more competitive working world.

Most parents worry that their children would not be able to cope, let alone triumph, in the uber competitive rat race that is modern Singapore.

The solution is not for Singapore to slide back into "happy kampung days". The Government, with its Population White Paper, is addressing conception, birth and limited space. It should also address the other points I have listed above to encourage Singaporeans to reproduce.

A key component of childcare in Singapore is the foreign domestic maid. Relook the maid levies and the new regulations to hiring a maid as these are causing the good maids to go elsewhere.

Address the pernicious need for excessive private tuition squarely and robustly. Reduce class sizes, incentivise teachers, give them more autonomy, and consider giving teachers the gold class civil service benefits of a pension on retirement and free medical benefits for life. The Nordic countries may provide good role models for their cheap-but-good education systems.

As for the working world, relook the proliferation of quasi-tertiary qualifications. For example, how many polytechnic graduates actually end up working in a related field?

Consider the German system of apprenticeship as a model.

In the context of Singapore, have O-level holders placed with employers under a formalised system of internship where employers get to train workers in directly relevant skills. For instance, Fortran and Cobol programming are no longer taught in Singapore schools but are required by some companies, which end up being forced to hire Bangladeshi and Filipino programmers instead.

We need a bold and holistic review of cradle-to-grave policies. Only then can we come up with a long-term, sustainable solution for Singapore.

Josephine Chong Siew Nyuk (Ms)