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Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim at MSF Committee of Supply 2018

"STRENGTHENING FAMILIES"

1       Chairman, I thank the members for their continued support of my ministry's work. I would like to start with a few words in Malay.

Tanggungjawab Bersama Demi Masa Depan

2       Sepanjang minggu ini, anggota Parlimen telah menekankan pentingnya usaha mengukuhkan asas keharmonian sosial, sambil mengatasi cabaran masa akan datang. Saya gembira bahawa Bajet tahun ini menyokong individu dan keluarga untuk lebih bersedia menghadapi masa hadapan, dan saling menjaga kesejahteraan satu sama lain.

3       MSF percaya bahawa keluarga adalah institusi penting dalam mewujudkan masyarakat harmoni.

Mengukuh keluarga

4       Kami sentiasa menggalak rakyat Singapura untuk mengutamakan kehidupan keluarga. Namun, kami akur bahawa tekanan kehidupan seharian membuat ini sukar. Terdapat pelbagai dasar untuk meringankan tekanan ini, seperti peruntukan cuti keibubapaan, dan jaringan sokongan ibu bapa. Ini untuk memastikan kita tidak mengorbankan keluarga secara tidak sengaja, akibat urusan-urusan lain.

Permulaan hidup yang baik bagi setiap kanak-kanak

5       Demi menyokong keluarga-keluarga muda dalam membesarkan anak, pusat-pusat prasekolah memainkan peranan yang penting. Kajian menunjukkan bahawa pengalaman awal kanak-kanak membentuk asas pembelajaran masa hadapan, kelakuan dan juga kesihatan kanak-kanak. Justeru, kami akan menggandakan pelaburan dalam sektor awal kanak-kanak dalam masa lima tahun akan datang. Kami akan menambah 40,000 tempat pra-sekolah, khususnya di estet-estet perumahan dengan ramai keluarga muda. Kami ingin memastikan setiap ibu bapa yang inginkan tempat prasekolah untuk anak mereka akan mendapatkannya. Ini akan memberi setiap kanak-kanak permulaan yang baik untuk berjaya dalam hidup.

Menambah pembelajaran bahasa Melayu dan Tamil di lebih banyak pusat pengendali utama (AOP)

6       Untuk membina asas dwibahasa yang kukuh dari awal, dan memberi kanak-kanak pendedahan kepada adat dan budaya mereka, kami akan memperluas pengajaran bahasa ibunda bermutu di prasekolah dalam masa lima tahun akan datang. Lebih banyak tadika Kementerian Pendidikan (MOE) akan menawarkan pembelajaran ketiga-tiga bahasa ibunda. Bilangan prasekolah kendalian lima Pengendali Utama (AOP) yang menawarkan pelajaran bahasa Melayu atau Tamil, akan digandakan ke 350 buah pusat, pada tahun 2022.

7       Untuk menampung perkembangan sektor ini, kami dijangka memerlukan lebih daripada 1,000 guru bahasa ibunda pada tahun 2020. Sejauh ini, pemerintah telah menyokong lebih ramai penduduk Singapura untuk menjadi guru bahasa ibunda. Sejak tahun 2016, pelajar politeknik boleh mengikuti jurusan khusus bahasa ibunda. Seterusnya, Agensi Pembangunan Awal Kanak-kanak (ECDA) akan bekerjasama dengan Institut Nasional bagi Pembangunan Awal Kanak-kanak yang baru, serta rakan kerja lain, untuk mempertingkat latihan bagi guru bahasa ibunda dan menggalak lebih ramai penduduk Singapura menjadi pengajar bahasa ibunda di prasekolah.

8       ECDA dan MOE juga akan terus bekerjasama dengan rakan kerja sektor pendidikan untuk mengenalpasti bentuk sokongan profesional yang dapat dibina untuk guru-guru bahasa ibunda.

9       Marilah kita terus bekerjasama untuk memperkukuh institusi keluarga. Marilah kita berganding bahu untuk mewujudkan sekitaran yang kondusif untuk rakyat Singapura membina keluarga, membesarkan kanak-kanak, menikmati kehidupan berkeluarga dan mengeratkan hubungan keluarga. Jadikan ini satu pelaburan untuk membina masyarakat yang lebih baik, dan masa depan yang lebih cerah untuk semua.

10       Chairman, in English. With your permission, I would like to display slides.

A Shared Responsibility for the Future

11       Over the past week, members have highlighted the importance of strengthening the foundations of our social harmony, despite the challenges ahead. I am glad that the Budget seeks to support individuals and families to better prepare them for the future and care for one another.

12       MSF strongly believes that families are critical institutions to enable a harmonious society. Today, I shall talk about our roles in strengthening families as well as in building a caring and inclusive society.

Strengthening Families

13       Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Tin Pei Ling expressed concerns about changing values and demographics, and if the family can continue to be the first line of support. I would like to assure members that family ties in Singapore remain strong. In a survey conducted by MSF in 2016, 93 per cent of respondents agreed they had a close-knit family. 98 per cent agreed it was their responsibility to take care of their parents regardless of their qualities or faults.

14       In the IPS Survey cited by Mr Seah, Ms Tin and Ms Rahayu Mahzam, respondents were asked to rank who should shoulder the main responsibility of taking care of our elderly. 73 per cent of respondents ranked family first. After family, the Government was ranked second, and the community third. Hence, Singaporeans do see family as the first line support, but with the Government and community playing a major supporting role.

15       We will continue to encourage Singaporeans to make family life a priority, such as through the Families for Life Council, which champions family time. We also have many policies like parental leave provisions and parent support networks, to ensure that we do not sacrifice family for other demands.

Giving Every Child a Good Start in Life

Providing accessible, affordable and quality preschools

16       We agree with Mr Christopher De Souza that preschools are key in meeting the needs of young families. As noted by Ms Jessica Tan, the early experiences of children are also the foundation for their future learning, behaviour and health. Thus, we will introduce 40,000 more preschool places over the next five years, mainly in estates with young families. We wish to ensure that every parent who wants a preschool place for their child will be able to have one. This will give every child a good start in life.

17       Mr Png Eng Huat asked if we are providing enough preschool places for residents of new estates. ECDA has been working closely with HDB to build preschools as part of HDB Build-To-Order developments, so that they can open earlier. To meet the preschool needs of residents, these new centres will have 200 places, twice the size of an average centre today. We will continue to watch supply and demand, and work closely with operators to establish child care centres in areas of demand. Where there is areas with demand, we will continue to build.

18       ECDA has also been working with URA to ensure that developers set aside space for preschools in private residential sites released through the Government Land Sales programme.

19       Mr Desmond Choo asked how we will ensure that preschool and student care remains affordable. Mr Pritam Singh also asked how we review fees for preschool operators. I would like to assure members that we closely monitor changes in preschool fees, and that preschools are kept affordable through a series of measures, including government schemes and direct subsidies. Similarly, we will continue to monitor the affordability of student care for the lower income families.

20       Preschool operators are private entities. They raise fees periodically to keep up with increases in operating costs, and to recruit and retain teachers.

21       While ECDA does not regulate fees charged by these operators, it requires centres to report fee increases and give parents at least 4 months' notice. Centres need to explain the basis for the increase, and directly engage parents who face difficulties in meeting the new amount.

22       In addition, Anchor Operators and Partner Operators are subjected to fee caps. Like other preschool operators, fees are adjusted to keep pace with manpower and operating costs, as well as quality enhancements.

23       Together with MOE Kindergartens, these government-supported preschools provide affordable, quality services for almost half of all preschoolers, and have stabilised industry median fees. By 2023, 2 in 3 preschoolers will have a place in such preschools, where the fees are capped.

Ensuring sustainable quality early childhood services with the Early Childhood Industry Transformation Map

24       The early childhood sector is expanding rapidly. By 2020, we will require 20,000 early childhood professionals, 3,000 more than today. Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Mr Desmond Choo asked how this growth can be supported amidst a tight manpower situation.

25       To ensure sustainable growth, ECDA has worked with operators, unions and industry associations to develop innovative and forward looking manpower strategies in the Early Childhood Industry Transformation Map, or ITM, which we are releasing today.

26       There are three key strategies under the ITM:

27       First, we will develop more efficient, innovative services for parents and children. For example, infants and toddlers currently have separate spaces within the same centre. These spaces could be shared so that children can transit more smoothly from the infant to toddler age group. Operators can also enrol more children, while maintaining standards of quality and safety.

28       Second, we will introduce solutions to free up teachers' time for higher-value work, such as lesson planning. Administrative responsibilities will be simplified through centralised services and use of technology.

29       Third, we will expand the opportunities for more people to join the early childhood sector. Beyond academic qualifications, there are many persons with the aptitude and competence to join the sector. One job role we have piloted is Allied Infant Educarers, who receive on-the-job coaching and supervision to care for babies.

Uplifting career and deepening professional training of early childhood professionals

30       To complement the ITM, we will do more to support our early childhood professionals. Our efforts have seen some results. Enrolment in early childhood diploma courses has doubled since 2015. Early childhood professionals have also enjoyed higher salaries and more professional development.

31       Mr Amrin Amin asked about plans to further develop the profession. The Anchor Operators, or AOPs, will take the lead to develop career progression opportunities for their teachers. This is possible because our AOPs have grown in scale and diversity of operations. Over the next five years, they will create some 1,000 senior professional positions, doubling the current number. These leadership roles include managing a larger centre, or a cluster of centres, or mentoring junior teachers. To support this, the AOPs will provide more structured leadership development. These efforts will raise the quality of our preschools.

32       Let me share the story of Ms Amanda Lim, who started out as a preschool teacher 13 years ago. Under the guidance of her principal then, she developed her skills and attended professional development courses. She then became a senior teacher, and honed her leadership skills by mentoring trainee teachers. Due to her strong performance, Amanda has been promoted to Acting Principal of My First Skool @ Senja. It is now her turn to provide her teachers with opportunities to grow and develop.

33       I would like to encourage all operators to support the development of our early childhood professionals. There are many resources to tap on, such as the Professional Development Programmes under ECDA. I would also like to encourage operators to recognise the growing contributions of their staff, and remunerate them based on their job responsibilities, competencies and performance.

34       This way, they will be able to retain good teachers with passion, and raise career prospects across the whole sector.

Increasing provision of Malay and Tamil languages in more AOP centres

35       Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked how we can better support quality bilingual education in preschools. Mr Ang Hin Kee also asked how we can attract and retain sufficient Mother Tongue Language, or MTL, teachers. I agree that MTL is important, and when it comes to language, starting early helps.

36       Over the next five years, parents can look forward to more MTL exposure in preschools. There will be more MOE Kindergartens, which provide all three MTLs. Today, all AOP preschools already provide Chinese lessons. By 2022, we plan for the number of AOP preschools providing Malay or Tamil to double to 350.

37       To support the sector's growth, we may need over 1,000 more MTL teachers by 2020. The Government has been supporting more locals to become MTL preschool teachers. Since 2016, polytechnic students can pursue specialised MTL tracks.

38       These efforts have increased the pool of local MTL preschool teachers to 3,300 in 2017, 35 per cent more than 2015. Going forward, ECDA will work closely with the new National Institute of Early Childhood Development and other partners to enhance the training of MTL teachers, and encourage more locals to teach MTL in preschools.

39       Teaching resources such as the Nurturing Early Learners, or NEL, Framework for MTL, Educators' Guide and NEL Big Books for MTL have also been shared with the sector.

40       One beneficiary of these resources is Ms Nabilah Binte Abdul Fitrey from PCF Sparkletots Preschool @ Bukit Batok. Ms Nabilah used to teach English but switched to teaching Malay in 2017 when the centre decided to provide Malay lessons. She has found the NEL resources for MTL useful. Through teaching Malay, she hopes for her children to learn about the customs of their culture, and establish a strong bilingual foundation.

41       ECDA and MOE will continue to work together with sector partners to explore what other forms of professional support can be developed for our MTL teachers. To Mr Ang Hin Kee, we will do our best. To Ms Rahayu, we will do our best. To Mr Murali, we will do our best.

Supporting the Elderly and their Families

42       Besides investing in our future generation, we should also care for the generation before us - our seniors. They have a wealth of skills and experiences, and continue to contribute to our communities and families. But we acknowledge that it may not be easy to manage the deepening demands of caregiving.

Financial Support to Families in Caregiving

43       Mr Kok Heng Leun suggested at MOM's COS to provide allowances to caregivers. Currently, caregivers may tap on the Caregiver Training Grant, which provides $200 for caregiving training courses each year. They also benefit from tax reliefs and a lower foreign domestic worker levy. Hence, our approach is to help defray costs to families caring for their seniors and loved ones. We will continue to review how we can provide more support for caregivers, including respite care options at Senior Care Centres and Adult Disability Homes.

Eldercare Leave

44       We also thank Mr Chen Show Mao for his suggestions. We will study the ideas raised by him and other members as well.

45       In the meantime, PMO has announced the launch of the Tripartite Standard on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs. Through this, we hope that more employers will voluntarily extend additional support for employees with unexpected caregiving needs.

Supporting Elderly without Mental Capacity

46       In addition, MSF works to ensure that we are adequately prepared if our loved ones lose mental capacity. Beyond our seniors, we encourage Singaporeans, especially our middle-aged population, to plan ahead by making a Lasting Power of Attorney, or LPA.

47       We have made it much more convenient and affordable to do so, by simplifying the application process, and waiving the application fee. Since then, the number of LPA applications has tripled from 4,600 in 2014 to 13,900 in 2017.

48       Ms Sylvia Lim asked if the Office of the Public Guardian is able to cope with the workload. Although the surge in applications has led to a longer processing time, we have already streamlined processes and hired more staff. I wish to assure the public that the longer processing time does not affect them adversely as the LPA application will still remain valid. We will also introduce a new online LPA system by 2021, which should cut down processing time. The increased workload in LPA registration does not affect the supervision and investigation functions of OPG, as it is done by a separate team of officers.

49       Ms Lim also asked about the reasons for revocation of LPAs. This could occur due to events such as the donor's or donee's death, or the donee's loss of mental capacity. To date, about 80 per cent of revocations were due to death of the donor or donee, and a further 15 per cent were revoked upon the donor's decision.

Supporting Persons with Disabilities and their Families

50       I will now speak on persons with disabilities and their families.

Implementation of the 3rd Enabling Masterplan

51       Ms Denise Phua and Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about the progress of the 3rd Enabling Masterplan, or EMP3.

52       Over the past year, we have enhanced training and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Under the Hospital-to-Work programme, SG Enable and SPD have extended assistance to persons with acquired disabilities by supporting their return to work through reskilling, goal-setting and rehabilitation through therapy. We have also extended the School-to-Work programme to more schools. It provides counselling, soft-skills training and work trial opportunities for students in special education schools before they are matched with suitable jobs.

53       Mr Ang asked if employers are becoming more receptive to employing persons with disabilities. SG Enable works closely with employers to help them build an inclusive company culture, and redesign jobs. These efforts have borne fruit. The public sector has been leading the way, and hired over 70 new employees with disabilities in the past two years. More employees with disabilities have also been hired in the private sector. Over the past 2 years, 2,700 new employees and over 1,300 new employers have benefitted from the Special Employment Credit which supports employers in hiring employees with disabilities.

54       To defray transport costs, we also enhanced the Taxi Subsidy Scheme to benefit more persons with disabilities, including those attending employment-related training supported by SG Enable. The scheme now supports up to 80 per cent of the cost of travel, up from 50 per cent previously, and has been extended to private-hire cars.

55       Ms Phua asked if MSF can set up a committee to involve the community more in the implementation of the EMP3. MSF chairs an inter-agency committee, which collaborates with the people and private sectors to implement the EMP3 recommendations. Community groups are closely involved in various work areas, and we will continue to approach the community for feedback, ideas and partnership in EMP3 initiatives. To facilitate community-driven ground-up initiatives, we have created several channels to provide for funding support.

More Support for Caregivers of Persons with Disabilities

56       As we strengthen support for persons with disabilities, let us not forget their caregivers. The role of a caregiver is critical but challenging, and more support will be provided to caregivers of persons with disabilities.

57       SG Enable today supports caregivers in their care role. This includes the information and referral to disability services provided through the SG Enable Infoline and the concierge at the Enabling Village.

58       Moving ahead, SG Enable will further work with public sector agencies and community partners to equip caregivers with information and advice to build up their self-care and caregiving skills. It will also partner VWOs to improve caregiver support, especially at critical transition points of the care recipient's life.

59       There is much to be gained from the support and solidarity of fellow caregivers. To facilitate this, SG Enable will be setting up a Caregivers' Space at the Enabling Village by the end of the year. It will serve as a place for activities organised by peer support groups, as well as caregiver training and engagement by VWOs and community partners. We want caregivers to come, learn from the experiences of fellow caregivers, and get advice and moral support as they walk their caregiving journey. This will strengthen the network of support for caregivers, which Mr Desmond Choo spoke about.

60       Mr Choo also highlighted the importance of respite care in improving caregivers' well-being. Ample respite care services are provided at seven Adult Disability Homes and three Children Disability Homes supported by means-tested subsidies of up to 75 per cent.

61       With more caregivers remaining in the workforce, the demand for day care may grow, as Mr Ang noted. We will add another 200 Day Activity Centre places this year for adults with disabilities. We are also building up the centres' capabilities to support persons with moderate-to-severe needs with quality programming and intervention services.

62       Another issue that preoccupies caregivers is the care of their loved ones with disabilities upon their death. Caregivers will be better supported with care and financial planning for their dependants.

63       The Special Needs Trust Company, or SNTC, is a non-profit trust company which provides subsidised trust services. It has served more than 500 families since its inception 10 years ago. One family that benefitted from its service is the Yaps.

64       Mr Yap, and his son Hon Wee, who has cerebral palsy, live in a rental flat. Mr Yap was diagnosed with cancer last year and worries about Hon Wee's long-term care needs. As he has no other familial support, Mr Yap approached SNTC to set up a trust for his son. Now, Mr Yap is assured that if his son outlives him, his savings, including CPF monies will be safeguarded, invested, and paid out according to a care plan customised to meet Hon Wee's needs.

65       Many more caregivers of loved ones with disabilities can benefit from such peace of mind. SNTC will be stepping up its outreach to caregivers to raise awareness on the care planning and financial education available to them. Over the next five years, SNTC will work with community partners including the SSOs, to reach out to more than 1,700 caregivers of persons with disabilities.

66       We will also enhance the application processes to schemes and services that support caregivers.

67       As Mr Murali previously highlighted, persons with cognitive disabilities sometimes face difficulties in being assessed for schemes. Their caregivers will soon be able to apply for the foreign domestic worker levy concession and grant with greater ease.

68       MSF has worked with MOH to include MSF's Client Assessment Form, or CAF, as an alternative tool to evaluate the level of support a person requires to perform activities of daily living, to support applications for the FDW levy concession and grant.

69       From 1 April 2018, persons with disabilities and their caregivers can approach the special education schools, or disability care services such as Day Activity Centres to have the assessment done onsite or be linked up to the Therapy Hubs for the CAF assessment. We estimate that about 1,000 persons with disabilities and their caregivers could benefit from this.

70       We will also strengthen the last mile of support - ensuring that caregivers know about our services and can access them conveniently. As my Minister has announced, we are working towards making information and referral to services by SG Enable and SNTC available at our SSOs through video conferencing. We will work with other agencies to explore equipping more frontline officers, including those from the Silver Generation Office, with knowledge about disability-related schemes and services.

Conclusion

71       Chairman, my Ministry is committed to strengthening families and building a more inclusive society. However, we are only one piece of the puzzle. This endeavour requires the combined efforts from all of us - government agencies, businesses, community organisations, and indeed, every Singaporean, including all of us here.

72       Let us continue to work together to make Singapore a great place for families, and an inclusive home for all Singaporeans. This will be our investment for a better society, and a better future for all of us. Thank you.

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Published On Wed, Mar 7, 2018
Last Reviewed On Wed, Mar 7, 2018

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