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Speech by Dr Maliki Osman, Second Minister for Education for Bapa Sepanjang Hayat "Dads' Role in Education" Forum at Lifelong Learning Institute

Published Date: 18 September 2022 06:00 PM

News Speeches

1. Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

2. Showers of blessings greeted us this morning. Very important for us to be here together and happy to join you today at Bapa Sepanjang Hayat's first education forum.

3. This is quite timely because it is right in the middle of PSLE season. Parents who are having children with PSLE age must be very anxious, because they just had their first paper on Friday and three more papers next couple of days. But do not worry, learn to relax so that your kid can relax at the same time.

4. I am very sure the fathers present today would agree with me that raising a child is a deeply rewarding and immensely meaningful experience, but definitely not a walk in the park. With my two children, I have experienced a fair share of sleepless nights and a rollercoaster of emotions.

5. Since we are gathered here today to discuss a dad's role in educating our children, I hope you will indulge me in sharing my personal experiences and takeaways from my parenting journey of over 20 years. Just to give you a sense of perspective, my eldest is already 27 and my younger one is 24, so that's over 20 years of experience for you. I'll call it the ABCs of parenting.

6. First, it's really about what it means to be Active Fathers.

  1. Those of us who are of a certain vintage here, just like our emcee was saying when he was a teenager, would remember growing up in an era where fathers played the role of a stern discipline master. And indeed, that was what my late father was, He was always just the discipline master, and the mother is always the doting mother. For me, my dad was just about memorising my multiplication tables. As long as the multiplication tables are in front of me, he is happy. It was a time where fathers tended to be more emotionally reserved. They hardly talk to you, they hardly share their emotions with you, and perhaps were not as closely involved in the day to day lives of the children as compared to mothers. That was when we were growing up.
  2. But indeed, times have changed. Today, games like chaptehs, five stones and country erasers have given way to TikTok and Genshin Impact. In this Internet and social media age, young children are exposed very early to a wide range of information and influences, which have definitely raised the complexity of parenting.
    1. For example, young children today are more likely to face social comparisons on social media. Because it is what they see. That's what they compare themselves against, and friends compare themselves with each other. Online harms towards children – such as cyberbullying, or the risk of our young children seeing offensive content online – have all become more prevalent.
    2. Our children also have to learn to balance their studies and co-curricular activities, cope with the changes in their adolescent years, and manage family and peer relationships. So it is not easy to be a young person today. There is so much more that they have to deal with.
    3. Some may impose unduly high expectations on themselves over narrow definitions of what success in life means.
  3. As fathers, we need to actively connect with our children early, and help them navigate this big, wide, and ever-changing world.
    1. Being active fathers means we must stay vigilant to what our children are exposed to, and steer them away from danger. We need to make conscious effort to be part of our children's lives as they grow up and mature.
    2. We should be their role models to impart the right values, help them develop their confidence, teach them to recognise the many broad definitions of success, not just to get a university degree, and to inculcate in them valuable life skills like resilience in the face of challenges.
    3. We should be their pillar of support, so that they know Dad will always have their back as they explore their strengths and interests in their journey in life.
    4. For the young fathers, and I see many here today, my advice is to take advantage of your children's young age to be present in their lives, especially when they fall ill or not feeling well – this is really the time when they are most vulnerable and your presence will strengthen the physical and emotional bond with your child that will last a lifetime. That's why we give you child sick leave. Don't reserve your child sick leave to the mothers only. Take advantage of the child sick leave, because when the child is at the most vulnerable stage, that is when he remembers who is the one caring, who is the one feeding him the medicine. He/She will remember for life.
  4. Our children grow up all too quickly before we even realise it. We cannot turn back lost time and opportunities to be part of their childhood and adolescence the moment they have grown up.
    1. Personally, I try to have regular and open communications with my children to let them know that I am always there for them. Not easy but we try. When they were in school, I try hard to send them to school in the morning. No matter how tired we are, we wake up early in the morning, send them to school, and use the time in the car to talk about life and everything else under the sun. Not just "have you done your homework", not just making sure that they memorise the multiplication table that my father used to do, but really talk about life. Talk about what they saw on TV, talk about what their friends tell them, talk about their interests, not ours.
    2. I make an effort to attend key events and milestones like their school sports day or performances. These are very important milestones in their lives. Never say daddy is busy. Go and attend, even if it's just a short 30 minutes, even if they are not playing the sports, even if they are just reserves. Just be there to show them what it means to be a team player, including if they are in drama performances, these are very important moments. And I have never missed any of the parent-teacher conferences (PTCs), even when my daughter was in JC. I didn't expect that JCs still do PTCs. Once, my daughter said, "there's PTC tomorrow" and I said "At JC level, I thought that you don't need anyone of us to be there anymore because you're okay". But we still turned up and when I went there, maybe only 15 persons with parents turned up, but it made a difference. My daughter was very appreciative, she felt supported. She felt that even at that age, parents can be relied upon.
    3. My children are more grown up now, but these are things I still do to show that I care. I would send them WhatsApp text messages several times a day to find out how they were doing, if they had their lunch. If I knew they were going to have a presentation that day, I'd wish them well for the presentation. When I knew their presentation had ended, I'd send them another text message to ask about their presentation. It shows that their timetable is in your diary, that their lives are in your life. And I would go to their rooms when I return home at night to make sure they are okay. Every time when I come home, and I come home very late, I just go into their rooms to ask how their days were. If they just needed me to sit down and talk a bit longer, then we would just spend time to do so.
    4. Recently, I shared in an MOE Schoolbag article I wrote about this concept I had called the "tilam bawah katil" (TBK) – which is really a security blanket for my children from the moment they were born till today. For the benefit of non-Malays, the TBK is a mattress under the bed. I have a tilam under my bed, and at any point in time that they needed to be with mummy and daddy, they just come in, pull out the tilam, and we let them sleep there. We will sleep with them first before we go back to our bed. This TBK is always there for my kids to come and lie down at any point in time, even when they are 24 years old or when they were still in school. It is a very important security blanket for my family and a wonderful experience that we share.

7. Next, is the B. A was for active parenting or fatherhood; B is to have Balanced Parenting Roles.

  1. In March this year, the Government released its White Paper on Women's Development. It underscores our aspiration for equality between men and women in a fair and inclusive society.
  2. The White Paper would not have been possible without the extensive consultations and feedback we heard from so many Singaporeans. One thread that emerged from our consultations was how gender roles in parenting should be re-considered.
    1. I fully agree that as a society, we can embrace more fluidity in the roles fathers and mothers play at home given the changing circumstances.
    2. Mothers can provide for the family financially and carve successful careers for themselves too if they want. On the other hand, fathers can stay at home and assume a larger share of caregiving responsibilities, if they so choose to. I know of many more fathers who embrace household chores, and these are what we call "iron men" – not literally, but when they use the iron more often at home. Housework and caregiving are definitely not the sole remit of women, and I am very sure many of you agree with me. It is heartening that we are seeing more young fathers being more "domesticated" and comfortable with doing housework and sometimes I feel so heartened to see them feeding their children in public. You don't see that 20 years ago, but you see many young fathers are able to do that now.
  3. Parenting is, and should be, a team effort. So to the gentlemen present today, I encourage you to be an active and equal partner to your wives. Both fathers and mothers can complement each other in the lives and development of their children.

8. Finally, there is C – Community of Parents.

  1. The family has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of our social fabric. We will continue to make every effort to reinforce family bonds, and ensure that our children grow up to become confident and resilient adults.
  2. Since it takes a village to raise a child, there is no question then that with strong communities of parents working together, sharing experiences, we can nurture a happy and healthy generation of young children.
  3. This philosophy guides our thinking at the Ministry of Education, and it is why we encourage Parent Support Groups, or PSGs, to work hand-in-hand with our schools in their parenting journey. And if you are not already members of PSGs in your children's schools, please be one.
    1. The advantages are two-fold: On one hand, parents can pick up tips and insights from each other and better guide their children. On the other hand, positive school-home partnerships can help our children develop self-management skills, have ownership over their learning, develop a sense of purpose and build resilience. Our schools and parents can also work closely to support our children in pursuing their strengths and interests, and impart good values and attitudes.
    2. I will give a few examples of the good work done by some of our PSGs.
      1. Jing Shan Primary School's PSG reaches out to their parent community with initiatives to strengthen parent-child relationships. In April 2022, the school held a 'Positive Parenting Symposium' with the theme "Well-being at the Heart of Thriving Families' where invited speakers shared about how parents can better interact with their children and identify early signs of stress. Through their communication channels, the PSG shares tips, resources and their personal experiences with the parent community.
      2. Bowen Secondary School's PSG has also worked closely with the school to support their parents. They have a mentoring programme where fellow parents share useful tips and resources with one another. The PSG also helms a "For Parents by Parents" segment during the school's Meet-the-Parents sessions and holds Zoom sessions to engage parents in leading topics such as ways to build positive relationships with their children.
      3. To support all PSGs, MOE launched a Mental Well-being Resource Guide earlier this year with tips on how parents can be peer and resource supporters for each other. You can check our website for this Well-being Resource Guide. This guide is complemented by an online PSG repository that provides the most up-to-date resources that PSGs can refer to for their ongoing efforts to promote mental well-being among children.
  4. Community partners like the Centre for Fathering have also provided strong support for our community of parents. Initiatives such as your "Back to School with Dad" activities or "Eat with Your Family" Days have been very meaningful to all our fathers and their families, and I certainly look forward to more of such initiatives from our partners.

9. That wraps up my ABCs of parenting. Of course, there is so much more than just these ABCs as we navigate our continually evolving role as fathers. I am sure many of the fathers present today have their own insights, and we will hear from the speakers here today, from their parenting journeys, and we can learn from each other to discover furthermore the Ds, Es, Fs, and so on of parenting.

10. Many thanks again to Bapa Sepanjang Hayat for organising this meaningful forum, and I look forward to hearing all your views during the discussion later. I wish all fathers all the very best in your parenting journey. It is an exciting journey, and I am sure you will have much to take away.

11. Thank you so much everyone. Have a pleasant day.