POLICIES to raise birth rates are expected to feature prominently in Sunday's National Day Rally address by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Just what will these policies include?
Singapore already has Baby Bonus cash incentives for new parents, and has started to introduce paternity leave incentives. The measures to be announced are likely to expand on these.
Another area that could do with more decisive action is in the area of childcare support for parents.
Existing campaigns to promote marriage and incentives for procreation can be described as 'upstream' measures to encourage the formation of couples and parenthood.
More neglected are 'downstream' measures: How does the state support parents once Baby arrives?
Among the 'downstream' policy gaps in pro-natality issues, one stands out: state support for childcare.
Unlike Sweden or France, both of which have state-funded, comprehensive day-care for children, in Singapore there is no state provision of preschool education.
The early childhood education sector catering to three- to six-year-olds is fragmented, of varying quality, and run by the people and the private - not public - sector.
Unlike the formal schooling system for pupils from the age of seven, the preschool sector is not covered by compulsory education laws. Nor is its provision subsidised directly by the state.
Some parents think the Government should nationalise preschool education.
I do not think there is a need for such a drastic move as yet. But for years now, I have thought that the state should give much more financial support to early childhood education and care.
The issue cropped up in 2000, when the Government undertook a review of preschool education and introduced curriculum guidelines.
In the last two years, several professionals including paediatric neurologist Lee Wei Ling and early childhood specialist Chan Lin Ho have argued in The Straits Times for more state spending on this sector on educational and socioeconomic grounds.
Subsidies are now given to working mothers with children in childcare centres, of up to $150 a month.
If the Government raises childcare subsidies significantly this time, then it would be population concerns that won the argument on this issue. Whatever the reason for a change, any move by the state to increase financial support for the critical early childhood education and care sector would be welcome.
Right now in Singapore, education and the care of children below seven is viewed as optional, and fully the parents' responsibility. But in fact, there is a growing movement in developed countries to view early childhood education and care (ECEC) as a shared responsibility between the family and the state.
There are sound economic reasons for this.
The first is that preschool education is as important - if not more so - than formal schooling in preparing a child to be a more productive member of society.
Recent research has shown the critical importance of quality ECEC in raising children who are stronger cognitively, have better learning skills and are better adapted socially.
Some studies link good ECEC to lower delinquency rates, providing a direct incentive for the state to assume partial responsibility in this area.
Second: State investment in ECEC can help reduce the socioeconomic gap.
It may be politically incorrect to say so, but the hard truth is that some parents are bad for their children, and some family environments are destructive of the positive development of a child.
Short of taking children forcibly from their parents, one way to minimise the harmful effects of these families on their young children is to increase the amount of time the children spend in holistic and stimulating day-care centres.
As Dr Chan Lin Ho wrote in a column in 2006, citing recent research: 'Children from dysfunctional homes often lack the opportunities to build capacity for self-mastery, focus and self-discipline. Offering them access to a quality early childhood education programme at least raises their chances of acquiring such crucial skills early in life.'
In other words, investing in ECEC raises the chances that a child from a dysfunctional or poor socioeconomic background can get out of the poverty trap.
The third reason why it makes economic sense to view ECEC provision as a shared responsibility is its impact on women's labour force participation rates.
When caring for children is 'privatised' and viewed as a private family matter, the burden of childcare often falls on the mother, especially in patriarchal Asian societies like Singapore.
Here, the percentage of women in the labour force tapers off sharply as they enter child-bearing age. At age 30, 98 per cent of men work, whereas only 78 per cent of women do so. The numbers fall further as women reach 40 and 50. The falling numbers of women in the workforce represent an economic loss for a labour-starved nation.
In Singapore, the maximum subsidy for childcare costs is $150 a month. But given that median fees for full-day childcare is about $565 a month, the cost to parents would be over $400 a child - much higher than the $11 a month in miscellaneous fees that most parents pay for their primary school-going children.
More pertinently, the sum is prohibitive to the lower-income earner, who is precisely the one whose children stand to benefit from exposure to a developmentally appropriate environment.
Subsidies that significantly bring down the cost of early childhood education and care will reap dividends - not only for individual families but society at large.
In the end, incentives to encourage couples to have Baby must also take care of Baby when she arrives. As the Baby Bonus scheme has shown in modestly raising the number of babies born each year, money does talk.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 15, 2008.