SINGAPORE: In his National Day Rally speech this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took a step back from immediate priorities such as the economy, choosing instead to focus on three longer-term issues that he said are important to the success and well-being of Singapore.
The issues are: Improving pre-school education, fighting diabetes and making Singapore a Smart Nation.
"These are things we must work on now to build our future," said PM Lee on Sunday (Aug 20). "So that Singaporeans can start right, stay healthy and live smart at every age."
Here are six key takeaways from his address to the nation.
1. MORE PRE-SCHOOL PLACES
The Government will create an additional 30 per cent or 40,000 more pre-school places in the next five years. This will bring the total number of places to about 200,000.
For children aged two months to four years, they can attend Early Years Centres which will be set up by anchor operators.
Such centres, located in new HDB developments for a start, will partner nearby kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and children will have a place reserved for them in that kindergarten when they are five years old.
2. BETTER QUALITY PRE-SCHOOL EDUCATION
For children aged five and six – at the K1 and K2 level – MOE will lead the way in raising education standards. There will be 50 MOE-run kindergartens in the next five years, up from 15 currently.
“Parents know that they can trust the MOE brand,” said PM Lee.
To raise standards of pre-school teachers, a new centralised training institute much like the National Institute of Education (NIE) will be set up. Called the National Institute of Early Childhood Development, it will consolidate existing training programmes currently run by two polytechnics, ITE and the SEED institute.
3. HEALTH CHECK-UPS AT S$5
From September, the Ministry of Health will offer health check-ups at S$5 for Singaporeans above age of 40. This is a big discount from the usual cost of more than S$100, PM Lee noted.
The move is part of the Prime Minister’s call for Singaporeans to go for regular health check-ups to manage the risk of diabetes.
It may seem like an unusual subject to talk about at the Prime Minister’s annual address to the nation, but PM Lee said: “It is precisely because you are not worried (about diabetes) that I am worried ... It has become a serious problem.”
Citing “alarming” figures, PM Lee said one in nine Singaporeans have diabetes. Among those over 60 years old, three in 10 have the condition. On average, about 1,200 diabetics have to undergo amputation every year – among the highest in the world.
4. WHEN IT COMES TO SUGAR, LESS IS MORE
All soft drink producers in Singapore have agreed to reduce sugar in all their drinks sold here, PM Lee revealed. This is one way to help consumers cut down on their intake of sugar, and the Government is “scanning the horizon” for more solutions.
But ultimately, eating healthily is a personal choice and it comes down to making disciplined decisions, said PM Lee, citing the example of his father, Singapore’s late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
PM Lee recounted how a whole steak and a half piece of steak were served at a lunch his father hosted for MP Charles Chong.
Mr Chong took the half piece out of respect, only to have the elder Mr Lee respond: “That’s my piece. You take the other one!”
5. NEW PARKING APP TO REPLACE COUPONS
A new mobile app called parking.sg will be available for download in October, allowing car drivers to do away with parking coupons.
Users will pay only for how long they park. The app will alert users when the parking session is about to end, and motorists can then extend it remotely.
“No need to rush back to your car to add coupons before the parking auntie summons you,” said PM Lee, adding that this is an example of how Smart Nation projects can solve daily problems.
Similarly, a refund will be given if drivers choose to end their parking session ahead of time.
6. TOO LATE TO LEARN TO USE TECHNOLOGY? NEVER.
In a bid to encourage seniors to embrace technology, PM Lee gave examples of those who have used IT to improve their lives.
One of them is 70-year-old Teo Yoke Lan, a stylish, spritely lady who scoots around the Central Business District area on her e-bike delivering UberEATS orders to office workers.
Known as Wonder Woman to her customers, Mdm Teo uses the GPS on her smartphone to find her way around.
“I also learned how to email. I know everything,” she said in a video that was played at the National Day Rally. “I am their role model. They (young people) tell their mums to learn from me too.”
Another 70-year-old, Mr Tariam Singh, helps other seniors learn new IT skills, volunteering his time as a Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassador.
He is also able to reach out to more seniors, as he speaks Hokkien, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and Punjabi.
“Smart Nation is for all of us, young and old,” said PM Lee. “The world is changing. Unless we change with it, we will fall behind.”