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Make good pre-school education free and universal

It seems that our country, which is forward-looking in many ways and intent on promoting lifelong education for all adults, has overlooked the importance of providing universal, free, full-time pre-school education and childcare for our children.

The report on pupil Putra Zayan Mohd, who came from a neighbourhood school in Tampines and scored well enough in the Primary School Leaving Examination to make it to Raffles Institution, said that his parents, a full-time Grab driver and a housewife, spent $1,000 a month to send him to a good private pre-school, Chiltern House, for four years (Levelling the educational playing field; May 27).

This investment seems to have paid off handsomely.

In the academic journal, The Future Of Children, Professors Steven Barnett and Clive Belfield have shown that increased investment in pre-school education could raise social mobility. They also found that programme expansions targeted at disadvantaged children would help them move up the ladder and increasing the educational effectiveness of early childhood programmes would provide for greater gains in social mobility than increasing participation rates alone.

This research points to the cost-effectiveness of having solid and effective pre-school programmes for all our young children.

We are constantly reminded that our only resource is our human resource, and with falling fertility rates, the number of citizen births is only about 33,000 each year.

In 2013, the Marriage and Parenthood Package cost $2 billion. Instead of giving this in bits and pieces in childhood development accounts, which tend to benefit richer parents in matching grants, the Government should use this full amount as a head start for all children.

We should make good pre-school education universal and free for all our children and combine it with full-day childcare. This can be run by the Early Childhood Development Agency.

One very important reason that many couples are reluctant to have children is the worry that they cannot depend on a good and reliable childcare system.

Rich parents depend on foreign domestic helpers and some expensive childcare centres, while poorer parents depend on an unreliable and shifting patchwork system of care.

Having universal and free childcare will mitigate this problem.

Kanwaljit Soin (Dr)


Multiple aspects to account for in remunerating housework

Professor Euston Quah provided good reasons for the need to include the value of housework in any discussion on the economic growth of a country (The value of unpaid housework; May 29).

But before any initiative such as remunerating housework can be considered, we may want to deliberate on the issue further, from the social and environment perspectives.

As much as economists would equate household production with housework, the two are quite different.

Production implies quality and productivity, whereas routine work may mean only getting a job done. Household production would conceivably go beyond, say, just cooking a meal, and also entail planning and serving a healthy meal.

In the area of child-rearing, the variation in quality expectations is even greater. Many entrust their young children to grandparents or relatives to look after. Some outsource childcare services to preferred play schools or childcare centres for the value that they perceive their children will receive.

By equating household production with housework, we may be recognising only minimum output at the expense of potential added value. It is important to underline the importance of individual responsibility in raising household production.

It is also problematic to define housework as "day-to-day services of cooking, cleaning, shopping, child-rearing and the myriad other chores that are demanded by households". This is because the scope varies depending on lifestyles and expectations.

Then, there is a changing environment to consider. As we introduce technology - robots and remote access - in households, the nature of housework will change. Household production will have multiple dimensions that cannot be accounted for by a common formula based on a traditional definition of housework.

The case for valuing housework or household production in computing economic growth may be strong. But we need to recognise and address any hard issues early to ensure that a workable policy in this direction can be formulated.

Yeoh Teng Kwong


Marriage a continuous work in progress that requires commitment

Mr Tang Li's personal example - in which he said "I do not think I am in any way worse off than most people" despite having parents who are divorced - is not enough to dismiss the negative effects of divorce on children (Ease of getting married may be the problem; May 28).

He also said a major factor in divorces is the ease of getting into a marriage.

However, raising the bar for people to get married will not guarantee that the marriage will last any more than having stellar academic qualifications will guarantee career success.

My parents have been married for 67 years. They got married in their late teens with practically nothing, but it was their commitment to stick it out through thick and thin that kept them together through the years.

We do not see this often in young couples these days. Not only is getting out of a marriage and finding a new partner as easy as swiping on a dating app, but there is also too much focus on the self.

People are becoming more self-centred. Any time there are hiccups, the first thought that crosses their minds is: Why do I have to accept this situation when I can get out?

The problem these days is many young people are waiting for the "perfect" someone, but they often ignore the fact that what appears perfect today can and will change over time because multiple factors are at play all the time.

What will make a marriage last is the attitude and commitment from both parties to make the marriage work. This is a continuous work in progress.

I often go on trail rides on my mountain bike and I see parallels between trail-riding and marriage.

A perfect bike at the beginning means nothing if you and your bike cannot negotiate bumps together.

You do not need to start off with a perfect bike - the most important thing is to have the skills and parts to fix any trouble along the way.

This combination will see you continue the ride and finish the trail.

My advice to people looking to marry is to look for the commitment to work together, as well as the character of that person and whether this is suitable for you.

Peh Chwee Hoe


Changi Airport should offer free buggy rides to passengers who need help

Changi Airport provides free Skytrain services connecting the various terminals, as well as travelators for visitors to get to different areas within terminals.

However, to reach the gates at the far end of the terminals, families with children, the elderly and those with arthritis who do not wish to use wheelchairs have to walk long distances for more than 20 to 30 minutes.

Such passengers often have to stop and rest while making this journey.

Delhi Airport has in place a free electric buggy transfer service for "very needy passengers", with buggies made available to such people at the arrival and departure halls.

Changi Airport should consider making such services available for free.

Currently, the Affinity Concierge Services at Changi Airport provides electric buggy services for a fee ranging from $90 to $120 per person. Often, these buggies are underutilised and lie idle in different corners of the airport.

Changi Airport should consider extending free electric buggy rides to passengers who need help walking, especially considering the fact that with effect from July 1, all passengers flying out of Changi Airport will end up paying an additional $13.30 on top of the current $34 to help fund major expansion plans for the airport (Higher fees for airport users to fund Changi's expansion; March 1).

Konidala Perumal Munirathnam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'Make good pre-school education free and universal'. Print Edition | Subscribe