SINGAPORE: The government will more than double its spending on the pre—school sector over the next five years to more than $3 billion.
This will enhance the industry’s capacity, quality of teaching and best practices while keeping costs affordable.
This year’s Budget sees the government taking further initiatives to strengthen opportunities for children in low and middle—income families through the education system.
It is all part of efforts to promote social mobility, and level the playing field for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced this in his Budget Statement on Monday.
Mr Tharman said: "Meritocracy alone will not assure us of this. We therefore want to do more, starting from early in our children’s lives, to give the best leg—up to those who start with a disadvantage. We cannot change the fact that children have different family backgrounds that bring very different advantages and disadvantages. But we want to find every way, at the pre—school and primary school levels, to help our children from poorer or less stable families to develop confidence and the self—belief that gives them aspirations of their own, and to help them catch up when they fall behind."
More pre—schools will be built closer to homes and workplaces, and to ensure quality and affordability, more operators will be brought into the Anchor Operator Scheme, which controls the mass market pre—school sector here. Currently, there are only two anchor operators.
This will create 16,000 more pre—school places by 2017.
More will also be done to attract good teachers who are crucial to developing a quality pre—school sector.
For example, the government will increase salary grants to the anchor operators so that all their pre—school teachers will be graduates or diploma holders. Currently, 80 per cent of pre—school teachers are graduates or diploma holders.
Teachers will also be able to obtain scholarships and training grants to upgrade, and can look forward to more structured training and career development.
For the first time, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will set up a few kindergartens to develop best practices that can scale across the sector. Presently, pre—schools are run by the private sector.
The government will also work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to oversee a new autonomous agency, the Early Childhood Development Agency.
Dianne Seet—Swee, principal of Ascension Kindergarten said: "It has been a long time. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (now known as MSF) and MOE have been running independently although they are looking after the same group of children from aged three to six. By combining the two agencies together, I can see more benefits unfolding.
"For example, I do know that parents, other than a three—hour programme, are looking a little bit more at after—school activities of which kindergartens are now not able to run. Hopefully when the two agencies come together, they are better able to meet the parents’ needs with a three—hour programme and maybe a little more after—school care."
Forina Ng, principal of PCF Cheng San—Seletar, said: "With MOE and MSF working closely hand in hand, we hope it will bring out more benefits to help lower—income families and to solve the issues of parents going to this agency and the other agency for help."
A childcare arm of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said the government has sent a clear signal of the importance it places on pre—school education, by doubling its budget for the sector.
NTUC First Campus (NFC) Co—operative said Budget 2013 signals an important shift in how society values early childhood education.
NFC, which operates 114 childcare centres, plans to set up about 15 centres in 2013.
Its childcare arm, My First Skool, intends to reserve 15 per cent of its places for children from less privileged families, with an income of less than S$3,500.
It will also strengthen its outreach to these families.
It aims to have a good mix of children from different social backgrounds in its centres and give all children an equal start in life through high quality pre—school services.
More support will also be provided for disadvantaged students.
The Opportunity Fund, which is another source for schools to tap on, provides additional help to their needy students by subsidising school—based enrichment opportunities.
The fund will be topped up by S$72 million and for the first time, it can be used by polytechnics. This is expected to benefit about 100,000 students across schools, ITE, and the polytechnics.
The Edusave Endowment Fund will get a S$300 million top—up.
The government will also extend learning support beyond early primary school years and expand the number of school—based student care centres to provide additional development support outside of school hours.
They will also develop richer instructional materials such as developing online resources, to enhance teaching and learning in school.
These three school—level initiatives will cost an additional S$120 million a year.
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