1. I thank members for their valuable suggestions and support for MSF's work. I would like to start with a few words in Malay.
2. Kami di MSF komited untuk berusaha-sama demi memperbaiki kehidupan rakyat Singapura. Salah satu tumpuan utama ialah memastikan setiap anak mempunyai permulaan hidup yang baik.
PERMULAAN BAIK BAGI SETIAP KANAK-KANAK
Khidmat pembangunan awal kanak-kanak yang termampu dan berkualiti
3. Kanak-kanak adalah masa depan kita. Pendidikan prasekolah membantu membina kecerdasan, kemahiran belajar dan bergaul dengan kanak-kanak lain, serta keyakinan diri dan berdikari. Kami akan teruskan usaha untuk memastikan khidmat pembangunan awal kanak-kanak termampu dan berkualiti serta lebih mudah diaskes. Matlamat kami ialah untuk memastikan setiap kanak-kanak mendapat permulaan yang baik untuk berjaya dalam hidup.
4. Di antara usaha-usaha yang telah dilaksanakan termasuk pembiayaan bagi sesetengah pengendali prasekolah untuk menawarkan programme-programme berkualiti pada kos yang termampu. Kami juga menyediakan subsidi buat ibu bapa. Keluarga berpendapatan rendah menerima subsidi paling tinggi, dan dari itu perlu membayar yuran hanya beberapa dolar sahaja sebulan.
Lebih kepastian dalam subsidi prasekolah bagi keluarga
5. Kami sedang menyemak-semula sistem subsidi prasekolah, agar ia lebih dimampui ibu bapa. Sementara semakan ini diteruskan, saya gembira mengumumkan langkah MSF untuk memberi subsidi lebih tinggi kepada ibu-ibu yang sedang mencari pekerjaan dan perlu meletakkan anak mereka dalam pusat penjagaan terlebih dahulu, atau mereka yang tidak dapat bekerja kerana menjaga anak kecil.
6. Kami juga akan tetapkan tahap subsidi yang diterima buat jangkamasa lebih lama, tanpa perlu disemak setiap tahun. Kami harap peningkatan ini akan memberi keluarga lebih kepastian dan ketenangan fikiran.
7. Dengan peningkatan ini, lebih 5,000 keluarga yang akan raih manfaatnya, mulai 1 Mac ini. Dengan adanya lebih sokongan untuk keluarga, melalui langkah-langkah tersebut, saya menyeru lebih ramai ibu bapa untuk mendaftarkan anak-anak mereka di prasekolah. Pastikan anak anda mendapatkan permulaan yang baik.
Lebih sokongan untuk kanak-kanak berkeperluan khas
8. Dalam kami berusaha untuk mempertingkatkan khidmat prasekolah, ada di antara anak-anak kita yang memerlukan lebih pertolongan. Untuk kanak-kanak kecil yang berkeperluan khas, intervensi awal adalah kritikal untuk membantu mereka mencapai potensi sepenuhnya.
9. Kini, Pemerintah menyediakan subsidi bagi programme-programme intervensi awal untuk membantu kanak-kanak berkeperluan khas.
10. Mulai 1 April ini, kebanyakan keluarga akan membayar yuran lebih rendah, iaitu pengurangan 30 hingga 70 peratus, untuk khidmat intervensi awal. Lebih banyak keluarga juga akan membayar sebanyak 5 dolar sahaja.
11. Mulai bulan Julai, kami juga akan meningkatkan programme intervensi awal, untuk lebih bersesuaian dengan keperluan anak-anak kita. Sebagai contoh, kanak-kanak dari programme intervensi awal bayi dan kanak-kanak, atau EIPIC, yang mencapai progres yang mencukupi, boleh mendapatkan intervensi awal di prasekolah mereka tanpa perlu ke pusat intervensi awal. Peningkatan ini dijangka akan memanfaatkan sekurang-kurangnya 4,500 kanak-kanak setiap tahun.
12. Pengerusi, saya telah berkongsi tentang usaha kami demi memberi permulaan hidup yang baik untuk semua kanak-kanak. Izinkan saya bacakan serangkap Pantun.
Naik LRT di stesen Fajar
Hendak pergi zoo di Mandai
Sejak kecil dididik diajar
Bila dewasa nescaya pandai.
13. Saudara-saudari, marilah bersama kami dalam perjalanan ini demi menjana masa depan yang lebih baik untuk kita dan generasi masa hadapan.
14. Terima kasih. Chairman, in English.
15. Our Ministry's work is diverse and complex, but with a common purpose. We are committed to supporting Singaporeans in improving our lives, and fulfilling our potential.
A GOOD START FOR EVERY CHILD
16. Quality early childhood development builds strong foundations for life. My Ministry strives to give every child a good start. Since National Day Rally 2012, we have significantly enhanced access to affordable and quality preschools.
Enhancing preschool affordability
17. We want to assure members that the Government is committed to making preschool affordable.
a. The expansion of Anchor and Partner Operator preschools, as well as MOE Kindergartens, ensures the supply of affordable preschool services.
b. In addition, the Government provides subsidies to help defray the fees borne by parents, especially those from lower-income groups.
Greater child care subsidy support and certainty for families
18. Last year, Minister Desmond Lee shared that we are further reviewing preschool subsidies. While this review is still ongoing, we will begin to enhance operational processes to improve access to preschool subsidies.
19. We agree with Mr Louis Ng and Ms Anthea Ong that we can do more to address preschool affordability concerns of non-working mothers. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that ECDA will provide more subsidies to non-working mothers who are looking for work, or who are unable to work because they are caring for a younger child.
a. Mothers like Mdm Lee Siok Hong will benefit from this. A mother of two children, Mdm Lee cares for her younger child at home, while her elder child is enrolled in child care. Based on our prevailing rules, Mdm Lee may qualify for $300 Basic Subsidy for her elder child until her younger child turns 18 months old. With our enhancements, Mdm Lee will receive $300 Basic Subsidy for an additional six months, until her younger child turns 2 years old. Depending on her household income, Mdm Lee may also be eligible for up to $440 of means-tested Additional Subsidy.
b. Mothers who are looking for a job will also benefit from our enhancements. Under our prevailing rules, a job-seeking mother may qualify for $300 Basic Subsidy for three months. With our enhancements, she will receive $300 Basic Subsidy, and up to $440 of means-tested Additional subsidies, for six months. We hope this will give mothers greater peace of mind to secure a job.
20. To Mr Ng's query, non-working mothers can consider enrolling their children in kindergartens, which are generally more affordable than child care services.
a. For instance, today's median monthly fees are $171 for kindergartens and $856 for child care, before subsidies.
b. And with the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme, or KiFAS, the out-of-pocket cost for low- and middle-income parents who enrol their children in Anchor Operator or MOE Kindergartens is a few dollars a month.
21. I am also glad to announce that ECDA will give parents greater certainty on the amount of child care subsidies they will receive
a. ECDA previously verified the working status of mothers annually. From this year, this will be performed at fixed points in the child's preschool years, which may be up to 2.5 years apart.
b. The longer timeframe between ECDA's reassessments will give families more certainty on the amount of subsidies they receive, even if parents transit between jobs, or take on caregiving responsibilities.
22. Through these enhancements, more than 5,000 households like Mdm Lee's will benefit every year, starting from 1st March this year.
Delivering quality early childhood development services
23. Mr Leon Perera asked for an update of the Early Childhood Development Centres Act, which came into force from January 2019. This helps drive better standards across the preschool sector.
24. Since 2015, ECDA has been engaging preschools to prepare for the Act. All Child Care Centres are already licensed under the Act. Kindergartens, which are new to a licensing regime, have been provided another year to apply for a license. We understand that no preschools has had to close due to the Act. In fact, closures of preschools have remained consistently low over the past few years.
25. Dr Lily Neo, Mr Darryl David and Mr Ang Hin Kee asked for an update of the Early Childhood Industry Transformation Map or ITM.
26. Many preschools have implemented initiatives such as technology services, centralised services, and demand aggregation. These solutions help to free up our educators' time from administrative work, so that they can focus on nurturing and teaching the children.
Better support for our early childhood educators
27. The Early Childhood ITM also aims to ensure that workers in the EC sector are well taken care of at their workplaces. In particular, we hope to do more for our mature workers, and enhance their career longevity.
28. I am pleased to announce that ECDA will be collaborating with the Health Promotion Board to commission an occupational health and safety assessment. They will appoint a panel of experts this year to holistically examine the well-being of preschool staff, as well as recommend job redesign and workplace enhancements.
Strengthening the early childhood profession
29. At the heart of quality early childhood development are our early childhood educators. We will press on to attract, develop and retain capable and passionate educators.
a. The National Institute of Early Childhood Development will begin training its first batch of students in its full-time Diploma in Early Childhood Development and Education from April 2019.
Greater convenience for preschools and parents
30. I am also happy to announce that ECDA will soon introduce an enhanced centre management system, or CMS. The CMS will interface with all preschools and improve existing processes such as licence application and subsidy administration.
31. With CMS, preschool administrators and parents will enjoy greater convenience.
a. For example, through automation, preschools will have less data entry and no longer need to retain hardcopies of birth certificates and NRICs for subsidy applications.
b. Parents will be required to fill in just one form to apply for subsidies and financial assistance.
c. This will smoothen the application process for about 20,000 new families annually, and halve the time spent on subsidy applications.
Updates on the KidSTART pilot
32. Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the KidSTART pilot. KidSTART supports parents to ensure that their children benefit from nurturing relationships, holistic child development, as well as a secure home environment. We are encouraged by the feedback that we have received so far. Children are speaking more and their social skills have improved. Their parents feel better supported in their parenting.
33. We will continue to closely assess KidSTART, and study the viability of scaling it up.
Supporting children with developmental needs
34. Even as we continue to enhance preschool services, some of our children would need an extra helping hand. We agree with Ms Rahayu Mahzam that for young children with developmental needs, early intervention, or EI, is valuable, and helps them achieve their fullest potential.
35. Mr Perera asked about preschools and children with developmental needs. Today, there are 550 preschools offering the Learning and Development Support programmes, catering to children with mild developmental needs.
36. We understand that insurance coverage for operators is not a barrier to enrolment. There are insurers which offer group insurance coverage to preschools, without distinguishing between the developmental needs of their children.
37. Earlier this year, Minister Desmond Lee announced our plans to make EI services more affordable. From 1 April, EI fees will be reduced for most families, with reductions averaging between 30 per cent to 70 per cent.
38. From July, we will also progressively offer enhanced programmes that are better tailored to the different needs of children as they develop over time.
39. Let me share how this will benefit children like six-year-old Elijah Lim.
a. Elijah was one of around 700 children who participated in our pilot of enhanced programmes. He used to receive intervention at an EI centre twice a week, in addition to attending preschool. After making progress, Elijah transited to receive intervention in his My First Skool preschool, where his speech therapist and preschool teachers worked together to help him gain greater independence and confidence.
b. Elijah is now settling in well in a mainstream primary school.
c. His preschool friends also benefited from being in a more inclusive place for learning.
d. Elijah's family appreciated the convenience of not having to shuttle between his preschool and EI centre.
e. During our 2-year pilot, many other families and children gave positive feedback. I am optimistic that even more will benefit as we expand this offering.
40. May I assure Ms Rahayu that we will continue to refine our EI service by learning from international best practices, building new capabilities, and enhancing standards.
41. We will work with our partners to continually improve, so that every child in Singapore can have a good start in life.
SUPPORTING WOMEN'S DEVELOPMENT
42. In our society, we aspire to provide opportunities for all. In MSF, the Office for Women's Development, or OWD, was set up as the national focal point on gender policy matters and for international cooperation pertaining to women.
a. There has been much progress in these areas.
b. But, we believe more can be done.
43. The OWD champions the crucial roles that women play in our society.
a. Ms Rahayu, Ms Ong and Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about how we can advance the representation of women on boards of organisations.
b. Doing so not only helps women to advance, but benefits organisations as well. To me, it is a win-win outcome.
44. This work is spearheaded by the newly-formed Council for Board Diversity, or CBD.
a. The CBD takes over from the Diversity Action Committee (DAC), and will take on a wider scope. The representation of women on boards of Top 100 primary-listed companies on SGX had increased from 7.5 per cent in end 2013, before the DAC was constituted, to 15.2 per cent at end Dec 2018. This is a good achievement.
b. DAC had also suggested changes to the Code of Corporate Governance, which came into effect from January 2019. This Code requires companies to disclose their board diversity policies, objectives and progress. We should see benefits from this in the coming years.
c. The CBD will continue to encourage companies listed on the Singapore Exchange to put more women on boards, but will also engage people and public sector organisations.
d. Currently, we have 23 per cent women's participation on statutory boards. We are confident that the CBD can build on this progress.
45. Prof Fatimah also asked about the progress of BoardAgender. Their efforts are complementary to the work of the CBD. One of their key initiatives is the SG50 Champions of Change launched in 2015, which is a network of influential individuals who pledged to support the cause.
Addressing gender pay gap
46. Ms Ong highlighted the 20 per cent pay gap between genders, derived from a 2017 ValuePenguin report. From our understanding, the figures in this report is wider than most international comparisons on gender pay gap because of the different base and definitions used.
47. MOM's latest data estimates Singapore's gender pay gap for full-time employed residents in similar occupation groups at around 10 per cent instead. This 10 per cent gap can be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to exit the workforce earlier, or have intermittent patterns of work, for reasons such as caregiving.
48. The Government's goal is hence to empower women with choices to enter, remain in, or re-enter in the workforce. We want to support women's desire to fulfil both their career and family aspirations.
Support for more flexible work arrangements
49. For example, MOM just announced an increase in the Work-Life Grant budget, and introduced various other initiatives. This will help jobseekers, including women planning to return to the workforce.
Support begins at home
50. It is also critical for families to address gender equity at home. Men, like me, can take on more family responsibilities, so that women do not necessarily have to shoulder the lion's share.
Expanded initiatives to progress women
51. Ms Rahayu and Ms Ong also asked about other initiatives to empower women. The Government is committed to working with partners to cultivate a supportive environment for women in the workplace, community and at home.
52. We also want to ensure women feel safe and protected, and to come forward when they are not. In February this year, the Criminal Law Reform Bill was tabled in Parliament for First Reading. The Bill will repeal marital immunity for rape. This will allow for all women to be better protected from sexual abuse.
53. To further support women, OWD actively engages the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, or SCWO. SCWO is the umbrella Women's Organisation with over 500,000 women in its 50 member organisations. I am pleased to announce that OWD will introduce a seed fund for SCWO to administer. This will help women's organisations to pilot or scale up women's development programmes. More details will be shared by SCWO later this month.
54. SCWO also recently launched a new "SCWO Insight Series", which brings participants together with women leaders to discuss national issues.
a. The SCWO will also roll out other initiatives, such as celebrating International Women's Day this Friday.
b. On that note, I wish all fellow Singaporeans a meaningful International Women's Day in advance!
55. Chairman, my colleagues and I at MSF will continue to work hard to uplift Singaporeans from all walks of life.
a. We will strive to provide a good start in life for all children.
b. We will nurture a more inclusive society, where Singaporeans of all abilities can live well, and have peace of mind as we grow older.
c. We will strengthen family ties because we see the family as an important institution of our Society.
d. We will support fellow Singaporeans who are facing challenges to get back on their feet.
e. We do all these because we take pride in building Singapore into a Nation of opportunities, where all can succeed.
56. Chairman, we will press on with this important work. We urge all Singaporeans to walk together with us in this journey to build a better tomorrow for all and our future generation.
57. Thank you.