Parents welcome increase in pre-school capacity

Infantcare capacity will be increased to over 8,000 by 2020

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Mah with his son, Gabriel, 3.

As parents, deciding on the right pre-school for your child is an important decision. Whether it’s a newly-set up childcare centre or an established one, a preschool near your workplace or home, a Montessori system or play-based one ― you can choose from a host of childcare and infantcare choices. 

Cost, location and curriculum were part of Ronald Lee's consideration when he was looking for an infantcare centre to enrol his son in. An IT consultant, Lee felt that it was important for the infantcare centres to offer activities that his son could participate in, even though his son, Tristan, was only 13 months old then.

Lee is among an increasing number of parents who entrust infantcare centres to mind their 2- to 18-month-old children when they are at work. The enrolment figure today is about one in 10 babies, a growth of 60 per cent since 2012.

Location and curriculum aside, digital consultant JH Mah picked his 3-year-old son’s preschool for the school environment and teachers, “It has to have a warm and caring environment that my son would feel comfortable and at home in.” 

Over the years, as more women and grandparents enter or remain in the workforce, fewer are available to look after their children and grandchildren.

Says IT executive Genevieve Chin, who placed both her children in infantcare centres, “I have no domestic helper and my parents-in-law are both working.” 

“He learns to share with others and take turns when it comes to books and toys.”

Quality of infantcare edu-carers is of top priority for pre-school principal Shareen Ng. She was all praises for the teachers who are now taking care of her 11-month old baby, Zephaniah. 

She explains, “They are trained and experienced. I am kept informed of Zephaniah’s daily schedule and the environment is very nurturing. The infants are not hurried to follow a set schedule and there are activities planned for them.”

Parents also like how their children get to interact with others, an important factor for those with only one child. Mah points out, “He learns to share with others and take turns when it comes to books and toys.”

To cater to the rising demand for centre-based infantcare, the Government recently revealed plans to increase the number of infantcare places to 8,000 by 2020. Childcare spaces for older children between 18 months and 6 years old have increased by more than 40 per cent in the last five years. There are currently about 140,000 childcare places in Singapore.

Parents can expect an additional 40,000 preschool places to be created by 2022 ― a 30 per cent increase from now ― especially for children up to age 4, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his 2017 National Day Rally speech. The Early Childhood Development Agency said these additional preschool places will be offered in new Housing Board residential developments, so as to be accessible to young families. With the increase, the total number of preschool places will go up to 200,000 ― almost double what Singapore has, Mr Lee noted.

On top of that, four new mega childcare centres will open by the middle of 2018, bringing the total number of such centres to nine. Housed in areas where many families with young children reside, the upcoming ones will provide an additional 2,700 infant and childcare places. In Punggol, two huge centres are slated to open and each has the capacity to take up to 1,000 children ― believed to be the largest for a childcare centre in Singapore.

In addition, relatively big preschools which can cater to about 200 children, double that of those in normal HDB void decks, have been pre-planned in upcoming Build-To-Order blocks. This will provide parents with a range of choices on where they want to send their child.

Says Tan Bee Yan, who’s self-employed and mother of a 1-year-old son, “It’s good that new estates like Sengkang and Punggol have more places to meet demand. Though for me, I would like my son to be in a cosier setting. I think he will get more personal attention.”

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With increased pre-school spaces, the Government is also ramping up efforts to ensure consistent quality pre-schools. It is estimated another 4,000 more early childhood educators will be needed by 2020 to join the 16,000 that are currently deployed now. To achieve this, polytechnics in Singapore have been increasing their intake of students for early childhood diploma courses. In October 2016, the Early Childhood Manpower Plan was also launched to provide more opportunities for those keen to join and develop a career in the industry.  

Most parents say that having professional teachers is a top criteria for them when selecting a preschool. They welcome the move to have more stringent criteria for early childhood educators, they also hope to see more efforts put in place to retain the outstanding ones.

Inevitably the question arises. Do you get good teachers only if you pay higher fees?  Not necessarily. Childcare chains managed by Anchor Operator (AOP) or Partner Operator (POP) schemes for instance, get public funding, so that prices are kept affordable. Fees at AOP full-day childcare centres are capped at $720 a month, while the cap is $800 for those enrolled at POP centres.  At the same time, these centres have to adhere to strict quality requirements and invest in their teachers’ professional development.

“At the end of the day, if you have a child who’s happy, likes his or her friends and teachers and enjoys being in school, it’s all that really matters.”  

On top of this, the Government has just passed a new Bill in Parliament that calls for all childcare centres and kindergartens to be licensed under a common regulatory framework. This is aimed at ensuring more consistent and better standards across the preschool sector. 

During the second reading of the Early Childhood Development Centres Bill, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says, “The new Early Childhood Development Centres Bill is an important milestone in raising the quality of early childhood development in Singapore, so that we can give every child a good start.”

To help offset monthly fees, the Government has a range of subsidies mothers can tap on. For childcare services, the Basic Subsidy for stay-at-home mums is $150, while working mums get up to $300. For infantcare services, the basic subsidy for working mums goes up to $600.

Parents we spoke to applaud the enhanced infant- and childcare options.

However, even with quality guidelines in place, there are parents who still wonder if they have made the right preschool choice for their child. Perhaps it is best to take the cue from their little ones.

Jessica Ang, designer and mum to 6-year-old Amber says, “At the end of the day, if you have a child who’s happy, likes his or her friends and teachers and enjoys being in school, it’s all that really matters.”

Photos: iStock & JH Mah

This article is in collaboration with HeyBaby

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