Speech by Minister for Education, Mr Chan Chun Sing, at the Facebook Live Session with Makan Already

Published Date: 09 October 2021 12:00 PM

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1. Welcome to this forum that is for parents, by parents.

2. Perhaps before we get into this topic of how we can help our children to become much more resilient and confident, we as parents should be aware of some of the forces that are shaping their environment, that are quite different from our own experiences as children. And this will help us to overcome the first mental hurdle, which is not to judge our children according to our standards or beliefs of what should be the correct behaviour, based on what we have experienced in the past.

3. As I was reflecting on this topic over the last few months, I think there are at least three sets of factors that have changed, that impact our children quite differently.

4. First, there is the internet. Today, our children are the "always on" generation – they are always connected to their peers over the internet, and there are both pros and cons to this. On the positive side, I think sometimes such networks help our children to get to know more people, and also access help. But on the negative side, what we always worry as parents is that there is this incessant comparison that they are exposed to. I always used to joke that perhaps in the past we would just worry that once in a while, during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, or Deepavali, we would get asked questions like "how are you doing in your school?", "where do you stay?", and all kinds of "inconvenient questions". But today, our children are exposed to this every day. Every day, they see what other people are doing, and there is this sense that they need to keep pace with what is happening elsewhere. So, this is a very big change compared to the past.

5. The second factor that I think we should be conscious of is that, unlike the past, today we have the nuclearization of the family – family units are much smaller, and there is less of the extended family network of support that we were used to in the past. Many of us stayed with our grandparents and relatives in an extended family when we were young. So, the level of support is quite different.

6. On top of that, today many children are in double-income families where both parents are working. So time with children is really a premium, especially quality time, where parents can have conversations with their children to help them understand one another.

7. And the third factor that I think has changed from our generation is that competition is much more global today. In the past, our competition would be much more local. We would seldom compare ourselves with people from other countries. But today, I think the competition has really gone global. We know what's happening elsewhere in different parts of the world – we know what people are eating, how people are dressing up, and how people's quality of life may be. And somehow, if we are not careful, that again sets us on this path where we are incessantly comparing ourselves with others.

8. So, these are really challenges that make the environment in which our children grow up in much more different compared to our time.

9. Having said all this, we can't change the environment entirely. So, the question is, what can we do as parents to help our children to grow up to be more confident and sure-footed as they navigate through this much more complex environment.

10. From my reflection over the last few months, I think there are at least five different areas that we can focus on.

11. First, the question is how we build the resilience and confidence of our kids as they grow up – and I think we can discuss more ideas about this later.

12. Second, peer networks are very important for our children. When I spoke to many of our youths, the first port of call whenever they are troubled is actually their friends, because their friends understand them better, and they can emphatise with one another as they are in the same circumstances. So, developing a peer network is something that we want to work on.

13. The third is our family relationships, and how we make use of the finite time that we have to have good quality relationships with our children so they can be assured that should they need help, there is always somebody whom they can reach out to within their family.

14. The fourth, of course, is the school environment where they spend quite a bit of time every day. In schools, teachers and teacher-counsellors are trained to look out for signs that suggest that a child may be troubled, and to extend help. A very important aspect of this relationship is trust – teachers and the students must know one another well, in order for the student to even open up to share his or her innermost thoughts.

15. The fifth is the counselling support that we have for higher needs students – and this is the part about remediation. From my own perspective, I think we would like to shift more resources and attention to the upstream preventive measures, beyond just expanding the downstream remediation measures. This will include making sure our children grow up confident and self-assured, how we use peer network to support them, how we use the family network to support them, how teachers and counsellors support them, and finally, how do we support them with remediation measures, with professional counselling support.

16. These are some of my thoughts, and I would be happy to have a more in-depth discussion with all of you on how we can better take care of our children, and allow them to grow up in a sure-footed manner in this much more complex world.

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