Forget the jubilee rattle, pay for pre-school instead

Forget the jubilee rattle, pay for pre-school instead
Pre-schoolers playing at My First Skool centre at Toa Payoh.

The news that parents-to-be may get sippy cups and rattles if their babies are born next year struck me as a bit of a letdown.

In fact, few people I know seemed even aware that the Government had asked for ideas to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee or that 15 ideas had been shortlisted.

My informal straw poll with friends who, like me, have either tied the knot recently or are doing so soon showed that the Jubilee Baby Gift package is not spurring anyone to think about having a baby next year.

I know the gesture is not meant as an incentive to have children, though it's worth noting that when Taiwan celebrated its 100th national day in 2011, nearly 200,000 children were born - almost 18 per cent more than the year before.

I'm slightly puzzled at the shortlist of items people have been asked to vote from: baby sling, multi-functional shawl, a set of bibs, diaper bag, baby clothes, towel, sippy cup, feeding set, rattle, baby book, photo frame, wooden toy, growth chart wall stickers, scrapbook and a medallion.

Is this really the best we can come up with for our jubilee babies?

There were actually 6,500 ideas from the public. Top of the list were suggestions for commemorative items, so there must be many who like keepsakes. In joint second place were subsidies for education and childcare, and mealtime items like milk bottles.

I applaud this effort to commemorate our 50th year of independence, but I hope it's not too late to consider something more meaningful - an education-related gift.

I say, give all babies born next year a year of free pre-school education, or some fee subsidies.

It will tell them that being part of this cohort is special and that they symbolise our future and potential because they will live to see our country through the next 50 years and beyond.

The keepsakes are a pleasant gesture, but to me they represent a missed opportunity to use the occasion in a more significant way.

A gift to mark a momentous milestone ought to be something more substantial.

Giving to education will help kickstart the jubilee babies' journey in life and mark an important cornerstone of their future success.

I did a rough calculation, and based on the average monthly cost of attending a PAP Community Foundation kindergarten or childcare centre, paying for a year's worth of pre-school could come up to $63 million or more, assuming 40,000 babies will be born next year.

Whether parents choose to send their children to a PCF centre or a costlier upmarket kindergarten does not matter - those who wish to can top up for the latter.

If funding a year of pre-school is not possible, I'll stick with the education theme and suggest giving parents an education-related jubilee hongbao to use for goodies like storybooks, games, stationery or excursions to the Science Centre Singapore or the zoo. Or to pay school fees.

It will help to emphasise what the experts tell us, that early education is the foundation for a child's development and success.

If, in the end, the Jubilee Baby Gift package remains a goodie bag of keepsakes, I hope they will be really special and worthy of being kept as cherished mementos.

The idea of a special medallion seems to me to be the best of the lot because it has commemorative value. Besides being a "limited-edition" item, a coin is not subject to wear and tear over the decades, unlike toys and the other functional items on the baby gift shortlist.

I would keep that as a lifelong reminder of a special year.

As for other souvenirs and keepsakes, I'm sure the jubilee year will inspire an assortment that can be easily purchased over the counter.

But if I were a jubilee baby, or the parent of one, I'd take school fees any time. The rattle I adored as a baby may not be so precious to me years down the road, but money set aside for a year of school would be hard to forget.

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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