Q9: Balancing education goals with raising a family (SUSS Ministerial Forum 2019)

Well, it is a challenge. In the old days, the women did not work, or many of the women didn’t work. Sometimes the women did not even go to school as much. You were brought up to have minimal basic education in order to get married at a quite young age, probably in your teens, and then you have babies in your teens, and that is your life – you spend your life looking after babies. But today we are not like that and I don’t think we want to go back to where we were. Today, the men, as well as the women, many of them want to work. The women, particularly. And I think that we have to be able to accommodate that, and make it easy for couples to both work and have kids. Because if you do not make it easy for them to do that, they are not going to stop working, they are going to stop having kids. I can be sure of it. And if you look at the European experience, it is like that. The southern Europeans where the women do not have so many opportunities, their fertility rates are way down like Italy and Spain and Greece. But the Northern European countries like the Scandinavians or the Dutch and some extent the Germans – their fertility rates are better, and they make it very easy for women to go to work. I do not think giving you a lecture or module on why you should get married and have kids early will be the game changer. We may still encourage you to attend a lecture but I don’t think it is going to change your behaviour in a big way. I think what will change behaviour is to make it convenient and easy for couples to have kids and to work, like Alfred and Natalie. You study, you have a kid, the baby comes, it takes top priority, you stop for a while, you take care of the baby, then you resume your studies and you complete your studies. Or if you have already finished your studies, baby comes, we make sure that you have got infant care available, and you have got preschool available. It is very affordable and it is very convenient. We were short of preschool places a few years ago, particularly places in towns like Sengkang, Punggol and the new towns where there are lots of young couples. I do not know where you are living, are you Sengkang, or Punggol, or…? Q: Bedok, going to Punggol. PM: Ah, there you are. Have you got a kid yet? Q: Struggling to have an agreement. PM: Well, by the time you go to Punggol, or even now, in Punggol, the queue has disappeared so if you have a kid, you can conveniently find a place or infant care, childcare, preschool, and then if you are in school, after school care. So I think these sorts of things will make a difference, and I hope that the result will be that more parents will say I will have two instead of one, or even, I will have three instead of two. I don’t ask for a show of hands, but I hope there will be some.

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