Childcare and education in Singapore – Time to simplify things!

This morning I woke up to all the mothers on my Facebook newsfeed posting this recent article on the costs of raising a child in Singapore.


The cost estimate described by the author kind of took me by surprise, as I had no idea it could get so expensive!


I mean, I know it’s expensive – many friends with babies have told me so over the years – but I had no idea it was at such a ludicrous level!


As someone without children who’s been in Singapore for a few months, it’s hard to fathom such costs. Especially when added to all other costs of living!


What is all that money going to? Do the children only eat fancy chef-made meals? Are their diapers made of gold? Are they being privately-tutored by Harvard professors? Do they only wear expensive designer clothes?


Even imagining the most lavish and wasteful ways of raising a child I can’t find any explanation for such high prices…


From what I understand in the article, the two highest sources of expenses are the tuition fees and the housing prices, two items that are relatively cheap where I come from.


Spain is far from being a model economy at the moment, but we’re getting by: our overall life satisfaction is good, we have confidence in the future, and people keep on starting families regardless of the overall economic context.


So what’s the difference with Singapore?


As stressed in the article, tuition is the worst culprit of all. Unlike housing, it’s a chosen expense: a family can live very well without the services of a tutor and no vital harm will come to a child if he/she is not privately tutored after school.


It may be argued that not tutoring a child will put him/her in great disadvantage compared to other classmates. But I have yet to see hard statistical evidence of tutored individuals reaching higher and better paid jobs than non-tutored individuals.


In South Korea, for instance, where children go for a full 8 or 10 hours of tutoring after their regular school hours, the costs have gotten so outrageous that women have been putting off the moment in which they start a family.


And guess what? The children aren’t any happier than in other countries. Some of them even turn for the worse once they reach adolescence.


If anything, I’d say the prohibitive costs of universities would have a greater impact on professional success.


I wonder if maybe this worrying trend of an unregulated and cut-throat tutoring environment is not the unintended consequence of after-school childcare being so expensive. Are parents using after-school tutoring as a way to keep children supervised while they are at work?


If so, then we have officially reached the highest level of irony: parents are miserable at their demanding jobs so they can pay for expensive tutoring/childcare services that make children miserable! Plus, there’s the nonsensical logic of putting long hours at work to be able to pay for someone to take of the kids, except if you weren’t spending so much time at work then you wouldn’t need to pay someone to take care of the kids!


So who’s at fault? What can be changed?


I can’t say I have any solutions to these issues, but there that could be changed to get rid of these worrying trends:


– get rid of the mentality that pushes people to try to outdo each other in every aspect of their lives. Determining whether your child will become a CEO is out of your hands. Giving him/her the necessary tools and the proper environment for success, however, is in your control.


– make schools and teachers more flexible so that children can excel in the domains that interest and excite them, not just the ones deemed “bankable’. Giving equal value to literature, arts, and business studies will make all children successful in whichever area they are most comfortable with, not only the ones that will give them the big bucks.


– don’t put all of your children’s chances in life in the hands of the government or of tutors. Parents need to realise that the lives they lead teach children just as much – if not more – than what any teacher or tutor can: travelling, volunteering, relaxing, creating, these values are just as useful and character-building than passing exams.


– don’t confuse expensive education and demanding schedules with potential success. A tired, cranky, and overly-stressed child is not necessarily a better prepared one.


– prioritise spending time with children. All the extra money being thrown at tutors and childcare could be used to have fun and exciting family activities (not necessarily expensive ones). Take some time off from work, earn a little bit less if necessary, and do more constructive things with your kids.


– don’t push children to levels that neither he/she nor you can sustain. If you can’t afford fancy schools and expensive tutors, don’t jeopardise your child’s welfare by absorbing debts that’ll make the family worse off in the long run.


– stop worrying about the future. My parents taught me that a relaxed and easy-going attitude is much more effective at handling obstacles than constantly worrying about what may go wrong.


Some of these might seem like the naïve musings of an ignorant observer, but I know that when I’m ready to start a family I’ll be following some of these principles.

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