“Maximising Opportunities for a Better Future”
Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak in support of the motion to thank the President for his Address.
May I start by giving a brief comment on the speech by Mr Faisal Manap. Mr Faisal, number one, has acknowledged that the government has a very enhanced social safety net. And I am very pleased to know that he acknowledged that the kueh lapis is generally good, and yes, there are things that need to be improved but on its own, it is good.
Secondly, if he goes through the kueh lapis, he would see that the low-income Singaporeans are getting even more help than what he proposed to change. Number three, is that the government as a whole is doing more for Singaporeans to enhance their social safety net. It is not about the issue of transfers per se, it is about how we transfer, and how we get people to move up.
Fourthly, the next issue is how we make that transfer, as I said earlier, and how we tax people, and who should be taxed. So it is not just a simple matter of providing more or providing something that seems to be more advanced because it is proposed by international organisations. We can have our own, which we have already established.
The kueh lapis in itself is not just about presenting a beautiful kueh that is sweet. If it is too sweet, it is also not good for the health. It is more than just presenting what we are offering to the people in a better way. It is also about tying the various help together so that the people who we want to help get their help much better.
I want to touch on two major points here, which I think are also related to the elements of our social safety net. It also involves not just what the government can provide, but it is also about what we, the people, the individual family can do to make sure that we can get out of our problems. We can enhance our own life, and in the process, make a contribution to the progress of the country.1
The President has highlighted the need for Singapore to remain as a nation of opportunities for all, through keeping pathways upwards open to all Singaporeans, regardless of one’s background or family circumstances. More opportunities will be created for Singaporeans to fulfil their potential and aspirations and to build a better future for ourselves, our families and our children.
At the recent May Day Rally, Prime Minister has also emphasised the importance of creating better workers, better jobs and therefore better lives for Singaporeans. Through the Government’s strategy for inclusive and quality growth, all Singaporeans have the opportunities to learn and thrive at the different stages of our lives. We have invested much in education and training, to equip Singaporeans with the necessary knowledge and skills. We will continue to focus on education and training to maximise our potential on different pathways. At the same time, we will continue to strengthen our social safety nets to ensure that no one is neglected or left behind and that their quality of life improves alongside Singapore’s economic progress.
We however cannot take these opportunities for granted. We must continue to build our society on the foundation of values such as hard work, personal responsibility, self-reliance and self-motivation. As individuals, families, organisation and the community, we can make the right choices to maximise the opportunities available to create a better future.
I would like to focus on a topic close to my heart, that of low-income Singaporeans and their families, to highlight the opportunities available to this group of Singaporeans at the two key stages of our lives, namely education and work-life.
Giving Our Children from Low Income Families a Good Start in Life through Education
First, by providing the necessary support, children from low income families can have a good start in life through education. We want to enable these children to make the most of their time while receiving education to better prepare them for a productive and fulfilling life.
From the very first milestone at birth, the Child Development Account (CDA) enables parents to access various developmental and educational opportunities for their child in the early childhood years, regardless of family circumstances or background. The Government matches parents’ contributions to the CDA dollar-to-dollar up to a cap, ranging from $6,000 to $18,000 per child, depending on the order of birth. This is especially helpful for low-income families to provide their children with affordable and quality child care and kindergarten services.
When our children enter school, there are a wide range of schemes to support the needs of Singaporean students. We need to ensure that every child, regardless of family situation, is able to fully develop through education and live a meaningful, purposeful life. By enhancing the financial support at all levels of the education system, we ensure that our education system remains accessible to all Singaporeans.
For example, the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) has made Kindergarten education more affordable for lower and middle income families, and helped to ensure a strong start for all our children. Close to 10,000 children benefit from the KiFAS annually.
The MOE Financial Assistance Schemes (MOEFAS) for Singaporeans receiving primary and secondary education has also been enhanced over the years. This helps to pay for school fees, standard miscellaneous fees and items like textbooks and school uniforms.
There are also many bursaries and assistance schemes in place, by the Government and community groups to support students from low-income families to further their education in our polytechnics, ITEs and universities. Government bursaries have benefited about 47,000 students in 2013. This is about 2.5 times the number of beneficiaries as compared to five years ago. The Government has also increased the bursary quanta and raised the income eligibility threshold to benefit more students studying in these Institutes of Higher Learning with effect from 2014. Beyond direct financial support to our students, MOE also provides the Opportunity Fund to further subsidise students from lower-income families (in schools, polytechnics and ITEs) to own personal computers and to participate in developmental or enrichment programmes.
Let me cite an example. The Opportunity Fund has given Lee Sai Yuan from Regent Secondary School valuable learning experiences throughout his secondary school years to develop his music knowledge and leadership skills. Sai Yuan’s experiences in the school Band helped him discover his talent in music, something that his family background and financial situation would not have been able to support. However, with the financial resources provided and relevant school programmes, he was given the opportunity to experience a holistic education and to pursue his passion for music. This in turn fuelled his determination to work hard and strive to achieve his best, and with a goal to work towards, Sai Yuan also became more focused academically.
In addition to financial support, student care centres have been set up in schools and the community to provide students with a structured and supportive environment, particularly for students who come from homes where both parents are working. Their parents can remain in employment with the assurance that their children are taken care of after school. There are currently 80 school-based student care centres in our primary schools, with more than 6,500 students enrolled in these centres. Over the next two years, the number of school-based student care centres will be increased by 50 percent, or 40 more centres.
Thus there are different opportunities made available by the Government for every student, regardless of family background and circumstance, to maximise his or her potential. While the Government will build and develop an educational system that brings out the best in every child, we, as parents, must ensure that we encourage our children to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available.
For example, since 2001, more than 300,000 CDAs have been opened and which received $1.4 billion in matching contributions from the Government. This is however only 64 percent of the potential $2.2 billion that the Government was prepared to disburse. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to urge all parents to maximise the Government’s matching of the contributions to CDA. It might be difficult for low-income families to put aside contributions but parents should view the CDA savings as providing valuable opportunities for their children.
Education serves as a strong foundation to improve the social and income mobility of our children. We however recognise that it is often more difficult for children from low-income families to complete their education as a result of the multiple challenges that they face. Parents should try to overcome this as much as possible by tapping on the financial schemes available so that our children can stay in school to equip themselves with knowledge and skills.
Continuing Education and Training to improve the lives of low-income Singaporeans
Second, I would now move on to how Continuing Education and Training, or CET, can help improve the lives of low-income Singaporeans. The need to continually upgrade our skills and knowledge remains critical when one completes education and enters the workforce. This is particularly important for low-wage workers who are often in lower-skilled jobs. The skills and knowledge that they require to stay relevant in the job market will evolve with external factors such as technology developments and economic restructuring. They need to be able to adapt to such changes in order to remain employable.
The CET framework aims to achieve this through providing Singaporeans with a roadmap of training and lifelong learning opportunities. A key cornerstone of the CET framework is the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) programme recognising workplace skills and experience. The WSQ serves as an important alternative pathway for the some 400,000 working adults, or about 20 percent of our resident labour force, without formal qualifications.
WSQ also sets out a clear career and skill progression pathways for key industries. There are currently thirty-three industry specific WSQ frameworks, which cover industries such as retail, F&B and security where many low-wage Singaporeans are employed in. To date, more than one million workers have been trained under the WSQ system. The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) provides generous subsidies of up to 90 percent of course fees to ensure all workers can undertake training and keep their skills up to date.
The two new national CET campuses will provide training to some 50,000 adults annually, thus greatly enhancing Singaporeans’ accessibility to training opportunities. The Devan Nair Institute in Jurong East, operated by NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), was launched by Prime Minister earlier this month. The Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar will also be operational by this year.
While the Government continues to build and enhance our infrastructure to facilitate accessible lifelong learning, we are aware that some Singaporean workers, in particular the low-wage workers, may face barriers in taking up training courses. We therefore want to also facilitate participation in training opportunities to enhance their employability and productivity.
Therefore, we have established schemes such as the Skills Development Fund (SDF) and Workfare Training Support (WTS). These schemes help lower the financial barriers to training for both the individual who wants to upgrade himself and the employer. WTS also provide generous absentee payroll funding to encourage employers to send their lower-wage workers for training.
A more recent initiative is the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), where clear wage-skill and career progression pathways enable workers to earn wages that are commensurate with their training and skills, productivity and responsibilities. We will mandate tripartite-negotiated PWMs in specific sectors that suffer from prevalent cheap-sourcing coupled with limited bargaining power on the part of the workers. We have done so for the cleaning sector this year and plan to do the same in the security sector when the PWM for this sector is ready. We have also begun tripartite discussions on a PWM for the landscaping sector.
Beyond training, low-wage Singaporeans can also tap on a range of employment facilitation services, such as training or career advisory, at one of WDA’s Career Centres, CaliberLink, or NTUC’s e2i. In 2013, more than 35,000 people have registered for assistance at one of these centres.
These initiatives provide a strong foundation to continually upgrade the Singapore workforce so that they stay employable in the rapidly changing labour market. We are already seeing results from the CET framework to enhance the employability of Singaporeans across industry sectors. Last year, two thirds of Singaporeans who were retrenched or laid off were able to find new employment within 12 months, of which about 70 percent found jobs in a different industry. We will continue to strengthen the CET framework, starting with the ongoing review of the CET Masterplan announced last year.
To achieve our objectives for CET, strong support and participation of both employers and employees are needed. I am encouraged to note that between July 2013, when the WTS was revised, and Dec 2013, 35,000 Singaporeans benefited from the WTS scheme. This includes training which were supported by employers, and training which employees undertook on their own. I hope that more Singaporeans will proactively take on the training opportunities available to them, and that employers of low-wage Singaporeans will send their employees for training. Besides helping your employees to upgrade themselves, your businesses will also benefit from the productivity savings with better skilled employees.
Uplifting Malay families through education and CET
Madam Speaker, let me continue my speech in Malay.
“Maximising Opportunities for a Better Future”(Memaksimumkan Peluang Demi Masa Depan Lebih Cerah)
Seperti masyarakat lain, masyarakat Melayu, walaupun sedang meraih manfaat daripada kemajuan ekonomi dan pembangunan Singapura, kita juga menghadapi cabaran-cabaran lain seperti menyediakan anak-anak kita untuk mendapatkan peluang pendidikan yang baik dan untuk melayari kehidupan yang lebih maju dalam usia dewasa. Dalam masyarakat kita, saya bangga bahawa kepimpinan masyarakat Melayu, selama berdekad-dekat, telah berusaha keras serta menggembleng tenaga dan fikiran dalam membangunkan usaha bantu diri demi meningkatkan pencapaian anak-anak Melayu dalam bidang pendidikan.
Sebagai sebuah masyarakat, peningkatan dalam prestasi pendidikan kita amat ketara. Kadar pelajar Melayu dalam kohort Darjah 1 yang melanjutkan pendidikan mereka ke institusi-institusi pos-menengah, iaitu politeknik, Institut Pendidikan Teknikal (ITE) dan pra-universiti telah meningkat daripada 76.5 peratus pada tahun 2003 kepada lebih daripada 85 peratus pada tahun 2013. Ini pasti sekali menggalakkan dan merangsang masyarakat Melayu untuk menyokong anak-anak kita supaya mereka terus maju.
Saya ingin menggalakkan rakan-rakan kongsi masyarakat (community partners) kita supaya terus bekerjasama dengan sekolah-sekolah dan ibu bapa untuk membantu para pelajar kita membangun secara menyeluruh atau holistik. Sebagai contoh, saya gembira bahawa Persatuan Persuratan Pemuda Pemudi Melayu (4PM) telah membangunkan satu program untuk pelajar ITE. Dikenali sebagai Bestari ITE atau bITE, ia adalah sebuah program sekolah yang memberi peluang kepada pelajar ITE mendapat manfaat daripada khidmat social melalui kaunseling, skim bimbingan atau mentoring, program keusahawanan dan pemikiran serta projek khidmat masyarakat. Setiap tahun, 4PM juga memberi Anugerah Pelajar Cemerlang Bestari kepada 45 pelajar Melayu/Islam ITE yang telah menunjukkan prestasi cemerlang dalam bidang akademik dan aktiviti ko-kurikulum.
Kita mesti terus menggalakkan anak-anak kita yang telah berusaha dan menunjukkan prestasi yang baik di sekolah untuk terus berusaha keras, sambil menyokong mereka yang masih belum mencapai potensi mereka sepenuhnya. Dengan cara ini mereka dapat membina kebolehan dan keperibadian – dua daripada unsur penting yang boleh menjamin kejayaan mereka pada masa hadapan.
Lagi bidang utama di mana masyarakat Melayu telah mencapai kemajuan untuk lebih berdikari ialah melalui jaringan bantuan meningkatkan kemahiran dan mendapatkan pekerjaan. Kita mahu membantu anggota masyarakat yang kurang berkemahiran dan pendidikan untuk mencari pekerjaan yang lebih baik dan meningkatkan mutu hidup mereka. Saya percaya bahawa mereka mempunyai keinginan untuk mengukukuhkan kebolehan mereka dan berjaya dalam kehidupan, didorong oleh nilai-nilai bekerja keras dan, bertanggungjawab untuk kebajikan kita sendiri dan keupayaan menyara diri.
Salah satu inisiatif utama yang menyokong usaha untuk memperbaiki diri adalah skim Kelayakan Kemahiran Tenaga Kerja (WSQ). Rangka kerja Kemahiran Pekerjaan WSQ memberi tumpuan kepada kemahiran asas, pengetahuan dan penguasaan kemahiran-kemahiran lain seperti literasi dan numerasi (atau kenal huruf dan kenal angka) di tempat kerja. Kemahiran asas sebegini, yang mudah alih kepada semua industri, membantu meningkatkan peluang pekerjaan bagi rakyat Singapura yang berpendapatan rendah dan ia juga membolehkan mereka meningkatkan diri dengan lebih mudah.
Jelas sekali, seperti yang terlihat daripada rangkaian usaha Mendaki Sense, masyarakat Melayu memaklumi akan pentingnya pembelajaran dan pendidikan berterusan. Mendaki Sense, cabangan latihan Mendaki, telah banyak membangunkan usaha membantu pekerja Melayu dari sudut pekerjaan dengan menyediakan kursus pendidikan dan latihan berterusan (CET) dan sokongan bagi peluang pekerjaan. Pada tahun 2013, lebih daripada 60% peratus daripada sekitar 2,000 pencari kerja yang memohon bantuan pekerjaan daripada Mendaki Sense, telah dapat ditempatkan dalam pekerjaan dengan jayanya. Pada hujung minggu lalu, umpamanya, Mendaki SENSE telah menganjurkan Pesta Kerjaya di Eunos, dengan temanya “Membawa Peluang kepada Masyarakat”. Melalui daya usaha yang dinamakan Program Peningkatan Kerjaya, yang disokong oleh yayasan ‘Temasek Cares’, Mendaki SENSE juga pekerja Melayu membangunkan potensi mereka untuk mengambil peranan profesional, pengurus dan eksekutif (PME) melalui latihan kemahiran dan bimbingan oleh para pemimpin industri dan syarikat. Mendaki Sense telah mencapai kejayaan yang baik dalam membantu pekerja Melayu kita meningkatkan diri dan kekal berdaya kerja (employable), dan saya menyeru agar masyarakat Melayu terus menyokong pelbagai usaha meningkatkan kemahiran para pekerja kita.
Madam Speaker, there is a diverse range of opportunities available to Singaporeans at the different stages of our lives. The Government will continue to build and strengthen the framework and infrastructure to ensure that no one, especially low-wage Singaporeans, are left behind as we progress. All of us should play our own part to make the most of opportunities available to us at our different milestones in life. I would like to encourage all Singaporeans to tap on the various initiatives in education and training. We should seek to stay gainfully employed to benefit from CPF contributions, and other government top-ups, especially low-wage Singaporeans. Only by doing so can we achieve the real meaning of inclusive growth to create a better future for ourselves, our families and our children.
Madam Speaker, with this, I support the motion of thanks to the President. Thank you.
- SPS Hawazi Daipi was responding to MP Faisal Manap’s proposal to develop a benchmarking system that monitors the performance of social assistance schemes.↩