Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Maybe baby?

By Bertha Henson


I can bet anything that we are going to get no end of baby talk from now. Ministers, MPs and the media will find creative ways to say the same thing: Get married early, and have more children. Or variations:WHY you should get married early and have more children, and Here’s HOW you can get married early and have more children. Actually I wouldn’t mind if the messages were so direct. But I dread to think of the catchphrases that can be thought up, like another version of Baby Bonus (as if having a baby isn’t a bonus but a burden) Here’s looking at you, baby (that’s another tired line). Or what ad agencies and PR types will come up with: Have you done your National Service yet? Count on me – and another one, Singapore? Two is company, three is a family? Rise up to the challenge? Are you man enough to make babies? Woe is woman, without a man?

Okay, I’m kidding. But seriously it looks like helluva lot more money is going to be thrown baby’s way. Whether at the procreation, delivery or post-partum stage. Then comes early childhood education – more money from the G. I can only look by enviously since I don’t belong/can’t belong to the child-bearing group. So I am going to be a sour old puss and ask whether the money thrown baby’s way in the past has done any good. You know the way people calculate the worth of an Olympic medal ? The trade offs, opportunity costs, the effort and money just to secure a bronze, silver, gold etc? How much is a baby subsidised here? The poor thing shouldn’t be reduced to a bundle of dollars and cents – but that’s what we risk making them become if more and more monetary “support” has to be given to couples just to have one and ease baby’s way through life, or at least the early stages of life. (BTW, I am a taxpayer too). So a full accounting of what we have spent should be done, and whether the benefits have been commensurate with the cost.

Maybe, Singaporeans are NOT (my goodness!) motivated by money. Maybe it’s not the cost of bringing up baby but more a change of attitudes on everyone’s part, whether couples, grandparents, employers, that should take place to counter the baby dearth. Now, that’s going to be tough – you need subtle messages, changes in infrastructure etc – and the change might not even happen in this generation. It will be an Olympic exercise. So money it is then? I hope we can come up with more creative ways. Because we risk having to loosen the tap for more foreigners to be let in just to get this country running on the spot.

While we are talking about money….notice that the schools are hoarding Edusave money that’s supposed to be sent on enrichment programmes. The Auditor-General found that they’ve got more reserves than what the charities are supposed to have! And people are still giving them money for programmes, like ESM Goh’s fund for primary schools.

And while we are talking about schools, Today reported that Education minister Heng Swee Keat said in a written reply to Parliament that the “framework” for that hot topic, pre-school education, will be changed…whatever that means…

This article first appeared on Bertha Henson's blog. Bertha Henson is a former Associate Editor of The Straits Times.

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