Monday, August 18, 2008

Baby load

One of the greatest burdens of having a baby in Singapore is not about money. Rather, the problem is how to ensure that that baby grows up to become a government scholar or at least one who isn't ranked in the last 10 in class. This is the real challenge that parents are forced to face in Singapore society - and it isn't pretty. It doesn't matter if a child is scholarship material or not, parents naturally want their child to do well, no, extremely well, in school. To that end, it is common knowledge that almost every school going kid in Singapore has a private tutor on top of their school teachers, to pile them with additional school work and supplementary exercises. Kiasu parents want to ensure that their child does not fall too far behind the rest of the students in the school, whose parents would most likely also have have engaged a private tutor for the same reasons.

And the problem is a real one. Let's get one thing straight. Not everyone can be first in class. No every can get a scholarship. In fact, those who do so are the exception. The rest of us are the ordinary boys and girls who get by. But the competition to be that exceptional student is such that reality is often suspended over fantasy. And this fantasy is often an expensive affair. One has to shell out more than a $100 per subject per student per month. Multiply that with 3 or more subjects and you're really out of pocket by a couple of hundred $$. Multiply that with 3 or 4 kids and you begin to understand the problem with money. But money, really, is not the only problem. The problem is the mental anguish and superhuman effort parents need to put in to ensure that their child do do well. And time really is not on our side, not when we need to work those hours to earn enough to pay the tutors and the additional enhancement lessons during weekends. I know of a parent who has a somewhat wayward (but academically capable) son. In spite of all his effort and that of his wife, he just couldn't get his son to 'do the right thing' in school. In his word, he was '....getting so tired of supervising and managing his son' that he was about to just give up. This mental challenge and anguish, if multiplied 3 times would kill any parent. Which explains why a couple doesn't desire more than 2 kids, no matter how much the financial incentives dangled in front of them by the government. You either kill your child's interest and young lives with after-school tuition after tuition, or your own sanity trying to manage the child, or, heaven forbid, both.

That is why the government's incentive programmes, which have largely revolved around financial help, haven't really worked. The latest reported replacement birth rate in Singapore is 1.2, hardly enough to replace ourselves in the long run. So long as this pressure cooker environment persists in Singapore, the government can forget about increasing the birth rate. It may as well do what it has silently been doing for some time now in increasing the population - import foreigners and make than locals - eventually. But then, the children of these foreigners will eventually still need to join the junior rat race, so that will then lead us back to square one - rationalizing whether having more than 2 kids in this pressure cooker environment is desirable at all.

Image source: Author: manuere


Lam Chun See said...

"One of the greatest burdens of having a baby in Singapore ...".

As long as you are going to look at children as a burden, you are going to be miserable. Frankly, I am quite tired of hearing young couples complain about the "burden" of raising babies; as if they are doing the country a big favour. It appears that the more incentives, the government gives out, the more they complain.

I have 3 of them. And they aint heavy; they;re my pride and joy and I thank God for them. And no, we don't hire any tutors for them.

Lam Chun See said...

My apologies. I think my language was too strong. An over-reaction no doubt.

Epilogos said...

Not at all, your balanced and insighful opinion is always valued around here.