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The SDP was invited to Sweden’s Folkpartiet Liberalerna (Liberal People’s Party) party conference in November last year and I had the privilege of attending it with our party Vice-Chairman John Tan.
I met Dr Carl Hamilton, an economics professor and senior Folkpartiet official, and entered into a discussion with him about the population situation in Sweden and Singapore. He related to me that his country had a very supportive childcare system which the people, especially women, depended on because they had to work. He said that the system was very successful and seemed genuinely proud of it.
Indeed, Sweden’s childcare system is very comprehensive. The most important factor is that the childcare schools were affordable: Parents paid about $130 per month for full-time care for the first child with the rates reduced with subsequent children. The main bulk of the expenses are picked up by the government. (Apparently, Sweden’s national budget for pre-school childcare is more than for its defence.)
More than 80 percent of children between the ages of one and five spend part of their weekdays in childcare schools which emphasises the importance of play in a child’s development and learning, not 1-2-3s and A-B-Cs. The curriculum is tailored to the interests and needs of the children are key components of their education in the pre-school curriculum with the aim of providing equal opportunities in life.
The system is widely admired throughout the world. The pre-school childcare system feeds into the formal school system. The most striking aspect is that Swedish children are not put through the grind of tuition like in Singapore.
The system doesn’t only take care of the children’s development, it also allows the people to feel secure enough to produce enough babies to replace themselves. According to World Bank’s figures, Sweden’s births per woman in 2011 was 1.9 whereas Singapore’s is only 1.2.
Given the population and immigration situation we have at the moment, this seems a legitimate issue to be discussing. Wouldn’t it make sense to provide parents with better and more affordable childcare facilities so that couples don’t have to fear the cost of raising children in an expensive city like Singapore?
As a mother, I know how important affordable childcare is as we try to juggle and struggle between taking care of our children and trying to make a success out of our careers. Many Singaporean women are torn between one or the other.
In Sweden, however, because of a generous parental leave scheme, more than 70 percent of women are employed — the highest rate in the EU. But this is not done at the expense of the children, unlike in Singapore when a recent report said that 95 percent of Singaporean parents regretted spending too much time at work and not enough at home with their children.
In order to help Swedes strike a healthy work-life balance, the state allows women to use flexible working arrangements. Swedish parents can take parental leave to spend time with their children. Both mum and dad are, together, entitled to up to 16 months paid leave (up to 80 percent of one’s salary) per child.
Such a system has an added advantage: Unlike us, Swedes do not depend on domestic helpers, who are untrained child caregivers and teachers, to help raise their children. Young children in Sweden are socialised and educated by trained professionals and this will translate into important consequences in later stages of development.
The Swedish model is designed to make the family the centre of societal life. It supports parents as they bring up their children and ensures that children grow up to be well-adjusted people who lead healthy, fulfilling lives instead of slogging away with tuition. That’s what a good quality of life is.
Jaslyn Go is SDP’s Assistant Treasurer and Head of the Fund Raising Unit.