By Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah
“Education is our passport for the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X
I grew up in a village in Malacca, the oldest daughter of two rubber-tappers. When I was in Primary Five, my 4th brother was born. I should have been happy, but my parents wanted me to quit school and go to work. For people of their generation, it was no use educating a girl as she would be married off anyway.
After a few days of not going to school, I couldn’t take it anymore. I missed school a lot. I ran to school in tears and told my English teacher Mrs Ng about what happened. She immediately drove to my house and told my parents it would be a shame if the brightest girl in class dropped out. I also promised my parents I would work so that I did not need their financial support, so they relented. From then on, I would help my parents tap rubber before school, then work at a brick factory after school and giving tuition to children in the village. I worked every spare moment I got till I graduated from university.
Education was my ticket from rubber plantation to Parliament. That is why I believe every child should have a chance at education. In Nee Soon South, the CCC raises its own money to give bursaries to every single lower-income child, including those who don’t qualify for the MOE bursaries. Children from lower-income families also get tuition subsidies for tuition at our CCs.
No child left behind- every lower-income child in Nee Soon South gets a bursary.
When I give out bursaries, I also take the chance to instil the values of resilience and gratitude. I tell my own story, and tell them they too can overcome any obstacles if they have the will. I also ask them to hug their parents, and thank their teachers and friends when they get to school the next day.
Bursary recipients hugging their parents.
However, I know money is not the only obstacle lower-income kids face. Not every parent can nurture their children as much as they want to, so preschool is important in ensuring every child starts primary school at the same starting point. I have fought consistently for more preschool places in Yishun for these families.
Many children also don’t have a conducive environment to study in. Growing up in a house with six younger siblings, I could only concentrate on my studies when Mrs Ng let me study in a room at her house. That is why I have “pestered” MOE for more student care centres in Yishun. We got 4 more school-based student care centres between 2012 and 2015, on top of many community-based centres and childcare centres that provide student care.
Of course, success through education should not just be for university graduates. As an engineer, I know that every building relies on skilled builders, technicians and many others who may not have a four-year degree, but whose skills have taken more than four years to perfect. They should get the recognition they deserve. That is why our government is building many pathways to success— through measures like more prestigious internships and accreditations for polytechnic and ITE students, and subsidies for every Singaporean to upgrade their skills.