Ten Minutes with Mrs Yu Foo Yee Shoon

Written by Rosh Mahtani

At the recent Friso’s Working Mother's forum theAsianparent got a chance to touch base with Singapore’s Minister of State for Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Mrs Foo Yee Shoon. This is what she had to say...

Mrs Yu-Foo at Friso’s Working Mother’s Forum

At the recent Friso’s Working Mother’s forum theAsianparent got a chance to touch base with Singapore’s Minister of State for Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Mrs Foo Yee Shoon. This is what she had to say…

TheAsianParent : We seem to be so focused on the Baby Bonus scheme and increasing birth rates but we don’t seem to be focussing as much on the other age groups. How is the ministry moving towards that direction?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : More attention is being slowly shifted to early childhood – childcare and kindergarten. More than 98% of children go to kindergartens or childcare centres. What the government wants to improve is accessibility, affordability and quality. To me, the challenge is not about the number of childcare centres or kindergartens that are to be set up. The challenge is the quality of the teachers. If you want ‘good’ people to enter early childhood, what about the working conditions? That is why the government has agreed to give us a grant to the angle player. We will try to identify two or more angle players who will work closely with the polytechnics, NIE, MOE and also the RTLC-NTUC, to find good programmes, curriculums and accreditation for the teacher.

TAP : What about the older age groups?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : MOE recently announced that they are going to have full-day school for primary students which mean that children will have more flexible time and can have different programmes which can be covered till 12 years of age. Children above 12 years old are teenagers who already have full day school. For ‘dysfunctional’ families, the Ministry tries to work closely with the Family Service Centre.

TAP : What about working fathers? We focus so much on Mums but we seem to be overlooking the father-market.

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : That’s why you can see a shift. Not such a big step but a small step. You can see how ‘child leave’ is enjoyed by both parents and is now called Parenting Leave. We are moving in the direction that fathers too have a role.

TAP : But currently paternity leave is very, very short.

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon: That’s why I said, small step (laughs). We need to encourage more involvement of the fathers. I’m sure you know the traditional values of Asian society. We need to find a balance between man’s and woman’s duties. Many of us feel that it is a partnership. Both parties should play the role; otherwise some women might not want to come forward to play the role. Therefore, man and woman both have to communicate and know who does what, and who does what better, and how to share and build up the family.

I think majority of the men and women still want a family and still want children. But the problem is how? How to balance their personal wish in life and have children at the same time? We want them to look beyond the present state. Some are quite happy with their present lifestyle – lots of freedom, travelling, enjoying life, so ‘why should we have children?’ But when you’re 35 or 40, then perhaps you will look for different things. But it will be too late. Your biological clock won’t work for you. Sorry it’s a cruel fact. A man can still create at the age of 70 or 80.’ Therefore, a woman needs to plan her life very well and discuss with her husband or boyfriend.

TAP : In the Western countries, a lot of emphasis seems to be on sperm banks or even banks for eggs. Do you see Singapore moving towards that as well?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : I can’t speak on behalf of Ministry of Health because I don’t know what Minster Khaw Boon Wan is feeling (laughs). However as a personal view, it’s a global city. A lot of people are exposed, so they know all these things. They read a lot; they go online… we cannot stop the young people from trying. The only thing is whether the government policies support them or want to give them subsidies. As an individual, we cannot stop them. When they know about it, they want to try. They might say, ‘Oh no, when I get old, my eggs might have problems. Why don’t I save my eggs now?’ But of course the technology is not so advanced or accurate. If the technology is more advanced or cheaper, I’m sure more will try.

But that’s just one way. The best is the natural way. Plan your life properly and find a balance. As the PM says, ‘you cannot say that you want to work 24/7 and still want to have 4 children and be a good wife…it’s not easy’. We need to think how to prioritise at every stage of life.

Follow the West, but stay Asian Too

TAP: It’s word on the street that people are comparing that, ‘yeah you gave us 4 months but in Scandinavian countries you get up to a year.’

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : This is my personal view as it’s a big topic. As politicians, we always travel, we always learn from different countries what is the best and what is the model and how do we find something that will suit Singapore better. I don’t think we can afford to have high taxes like Scandinavian countries.

The government can play a role, the employer can play a role, and the family can play a role. Not forgetting the individual too. That’s why the young people should not abandon traditional values or the network of our in-laws or parents. In the West, some are isolated. They leave the family at 18 or 20 years old. Here, our strength is, we stay connected. If you need help, you can still call one another. That’s our strength which we shouldn’t abandon. Learn the independence of the West but keep your traditional values of family, which is very important. Your neighbour is strength too. When I was young, I played with the neighbour’s children but now, so many secrets and closed doors. I heard in Raffles Range, Caucasian mothers arranged some Halloween thing and put all the kids’ name in a database and the list has grown to a few hundred! Why can’t Singaporeans do this? Perhaps a ‘Neighbourhood Link’ or ‘Neighbourhood Circle’? Then notes or community spirit can be shared. In my observation, Singaporeans become more isolated or self-centred which we shouldn’t do. We should try to communicate and get to know each other.

TAP: So, we should go back to our Asian values that we hold so strong and that we are known for?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : Yes! Not just Asian values but both. We can learn from the West how to be independent and how to multitask….I mean the women there have no maids. How do they multitask? In America, they have many home appliances which are really useful like automatic small robots that clean the floor for you (laughs). We should learn that from the West – the technology, the equipment. But we should also keep our Asian values. It will be a win-win situation, the best of both worlds.

Playing wife and mum

TAP: A little about your personal life… How many years have you been married and what is your parenting style?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : I got married when I was 24 in 1974; a very long time ago (laughs). I joined politics in 1984. My style is that book I spoke about earlier by Matthew Ricard. It’s about being positive. Because when you have that, you can make the right decision. Even in relationships. I mean of course sometimes I get angry and I argue with people. But when your mind is at peace, you review and think about how you want your relationship to develop and what the way to balance it is.

TAP: A message to our readers?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon When I was a MP for Yee Hwa, we went through the ’86 recession. Many housewives said that the cost of living was high and things were expensive. I told them, ‘as a mother, add value to your cooking skills. Don’t feel inferior that you are unable to buy expensive gifts for your children.’ I shared with them a story. I had a friend from an above average family and I asked her, ‘what do you remember most about your mother.’ She said, ‘fried eggs.’ She didn’t remember the expensive bags or expensive purses. It’s so simple.

TAP : How would you like to be remembered by your kids?

Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon : My kids think I’m too task-oriented because I’m trained by the PAP! (Laughs) Anyway, I always come back to the message that the family is there. Family connection is important, regardless of where you are. Due to globalisation today, in every 12 families, one family would have a member overseas – working or studying. I hope that whether you’re a young person or an old person, always remember to connect with your family through a letter or card or tele-conferencing, etc. That will do that. My message to my children is that I hope that as long as I am in this world, they must always stay connected.

TAP : Thank you, Mrs Yu-Foo.

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