Do you know that Singapore ranked top in the End of Childhood Index in 2020 for best country for children to grow up in?
There could be some scepticism amidst the pandemic and increased challenges could mean that raising families is inhibited by many factors. Nevertheless, the Government has been communicating with families and various stakeholders on making Singapore a better place for families to grow.
Little Day Out spoke to Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Education & Social and Family Development to find out more about the Emerging Stronger Conversations and how Singapore is “Made for Families”.
Little Day Out’s Interview with Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Education & Social and Family Development
Can you tell us what a typical day for you looks like.
I have breakfast with my younger child who is still going to pre-school, before setting off for the Ministry or starting Skype/Zoom sessions. I do engagements with educators and parents regularly and listen to their views on proposed areas of focus for MOE and MSF. I also do consultations with members of the public on proposed policy changes and work with staff officers on policy amendments.
What is your favourite part of your role at the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social & Family Development?
My role allows me to review education and social policies which have both a short term impact as well as longer term implications. I am acutely aware that policy decisions and what the Government says shape our citizens’ lives and signal our society’s priorities.
Recently, I moved a Bill in Parliament which recognises stillbirths in birth-linked benefits and also allows the mother to benefit from Government paid leave and benefits. After I moved the Bill, I received several heartfelt emails from women who have lost their children. One said that her child was like any other child, except that the child had gone straight to heaven.
My heart wept when I read it and I am glad that with the change of Government policy, that these mothers know that their stillborn child is recognised and that they would benefit from Government paid leave or benefits which I hope can help them in their journey of recovery, both physically and emotionally.
I find my work especially meaningful because it impacts families and children.
What were some key takeaways from the Emerging Stronger Conversations on “Building a Singapore that is Made For Families”? What are some of the key concerns of families?
The Emerging Stronger Conversations on “Building a Singapore that is Made For Families” is part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to understand how marriage and parenthood sentiments have changed over time. Over seven virtual sessions, we heard from more than 300 participants across different life stages about their experiences and thoughts on marriage and parenthood, and how these may have changed due to COVID-19.
From the conversations that I hosted; parents were concerned about issues they were experiencing in their daily lives. These include accessibility to affordable infant care and childcare options, and the need for more support and understanding at workplaces in managing their work and family responsibilities.
Parents were also concerned about what values their children would be raised with and how their children’s development could be affected by COVID-19 restrictions and the ‘new normal’. It was heartening that despite the practical challenges that parents faced, many were ultimately concerned about whether they were doing a good job in raising their children to grow up with the right set of values. I appreciate that many shared their feedback frankly with us and their deepest fears with us.
Some raised concerns about a seeming lack of tolerance and understanding in society, and cited race and religion fault lines. Others wondered how they could bring up their children with grace and to teach them kindness. I hope that these concerns do not dissuade them from having children because the fact that they are considering these values makes it more likely that they will teach their children to pay attention to these values and the world will be a better place through their efforts.
How does MSF support families?
We continually review our policies to ensure that they remain relevant and effective in supporting families. We are committed to giving every child a good start in life by enhancing access to quality and affordable preschools. Since 2012, we have more than doubled the number of full-day preschool places from around 90,000 to around 190,000 today. This will grow to more than 200,000 places by 2023, especially within areas with young families and upcoming Housing Development Board (HDB) developments to ensure sufficient places.
We have also made preschool services more affordable through subsidies for all families with Singaporean children enrolled in childcare and infant care programmes, with additional means-tested subsidies for low- and middle-income families.
Since January 2020, families with working mothers and a gross monthly household income of S$12,000 (up from $7,500 previously) and below benefit from an enhanced Additional Subsidy. Low-income working families can pay just S$3 a month for full-day childcare at Anchor Operator childcare centres or S$1 a month for half-day kindergarten services at Anchor Operator or Ministry of Education (MOE) Kindergartens.
We hear parents’ desire for their children to be brought up with the right values. To ensure holistic development of children, MOE has recently implemented the revised Character & Citizenship education curriculum, which provides an integrated approach to developing our students’ character, social-emotional well-being, and resilience.
These are just some examples of the many support measures we have in place. Couples and families can find out more about the comprehensive marriage and parenthood package in place to help build a Singapore that is Made For Families via this link.
We will continue to gather feedback and refine our policies and programmes to support Singaporeans on issues that matter most to them. At the same time, it takes more than parental and Governmental efforts to raise children. We will continue to work with the whole of society, including employers, co-workers, community organisations, and businesses to make marriage and parenthood achievable, enjoyable and celebrated, and families a central part of our lives.
There are many challenges in raising a child especially during this pandemic, what is your advice to couples hoping to start their own families?
Parenthood is a deeply personal decision, and it is understandable that the pandemic has made couples reconsider whether to start a family or have another child. COVID-19 will very likely become endemic, and we will have to adjust and adapt our lives to this. We must go about our lives as best as we can, knowing also that chances of having a baby decrease as we age. We hope couples will not delay their decision to marry and raise families.
Given your busy schedule, how do you manage time for family and work?
I believe in spending quality time together. I make it a point to talk to my children, to ask them every day how their day went and to hug and kiss them often. I try my best to tell them bedtime stories and create stories together with them.
Any tips to share with fellow parents?
Always let your children know how much you love them. Reassure them, hug them often, kiss them often (if they still allow you to!). Encourage them and reiterate to them that trying hard to realise their dreams and pursuing their passion is a worthy venture in and of itself and not to be too pre-occupied with results and outcomes. Spend time building a warm and trusting relationships with your children. That will stand the test of time and challenges and ensure that the family stays together, come what may.
What is your family’s favourite activity on a Little Day Out?
I like bringing my children to parks and outdoor playgrounds. To let them roam free while my husband and I get some fresh air. I think nature and a appreciation of nature helps promote general well-being.
Supporting Families in Singapore
Thank you MOS Sun for your time and responses!
We hope this provides families in Singapore with greater insight into the Ministry’s efforts to support families. This might be a challenging time raising families, but we are all in it together.
May we help strengthen our families together, as the saying goes, through adversity character is built.