SINGAPORE: Acting Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF), Chan Chun Sing, said early childhood development is about the holistic development of a child, and it goes beyond academics.
He said this is why the new Early Childhood Development Agency will come under two ministries.
The new pre—school regulatory body, announced as part of this year’s Budget, will be overseen by the both the Education Ministry, and the MSF.
The government’s injection of S$3 billion into the pre—school sector is the largest ever, in a bid to provide Singaporeans with a level playing field from an early age.
Amidst a slew of measures to ensure quality and affordability, the government will bring in more anchor operators (AOPs) into the sector, up from the current two.
It will also increase salary grants to these operators to attract teachers.
Some are concerned it would only result in teachers gravitating towards the better—paying schools, as the sector is facing a shortage of qualified teachers.
Chan Tee Seng, chief executive officer at NTUC First Campus, said: "The problem of manpower will be one of the key limiting factors in our plans to be able to expand the sector to reach out to more Singaporeans.
"We just have to continue to make career opportunities in the sector more attractive, improve the training and development and continue to reach out to more Singaporeans, whether they’re younger Singaporeans or mid—career and considering a career in the early childhood sector."
Others suggest extending the salary grants to not—for profit pre—school centres, or pre—schools which are quality—certified with the Singapore Pre—school Accreditation Framework (SPARK).
SPARK was introduced by the Education Ministry to raise the quality of pre—schools in Singapore.
Jacqueline Chung, senior principal at St James Church Kindergarten, said: "It would be really good if the new umbrella body would consider giving salary grants to centres which have achieved SPARK, because after all, SPARK is the seal — it’s the symbol that ’okay, you have a certain quality’.
"If centres are of a certain quality, I think it makes sense that they continue to be supported, and that they receive salary grants so that they can have teachers of quality and pay a reasonable amount and they can continue to ’SPARK’, and it gives them an incentive to continue to maintain the SPARK standard, and it also encourages centres which don’t have it to say, ’let’s get on board SPARK, because that will make a difference in our staff salary’."
For the first time, the Education Ministry will set up some of its own kindergartens to develop best practices, a move industry experts say will benefit the sector.
Mr Chan Tee Seng said: "Their plans are really to be a model centre, to showcase good practices, and I think it’s good for the industry to be able to learn and be able to leverage the resources MOE has, and overall, it will upgrade the standards of pre—schools in Singapore."
The sector will also get a regulatory body in the Early Childhood Development Agency, in a bid to drive improvements across the sector.
Mrs Chung said: "It’s good to streamline because after all this is early childhood education, so we’re talking about the academic component, which is the programme, and we’re talking about the care component, it should really be one.
"I think it was a little bit of a problem when it was two separate ministries because then parents get confused. And I think having it under one umbrella, will help, hopefully, streamline resources, distribution of grants. And it’s not just childcare centres that get this, kindergartens get this, or don’t get that."
For the government, it is about pulling the resources of two of its ministries, where the Education Ministry oversees kindergartens and MSF regulates childcare centres.
Mr Chan Chun Sing said: "We want both MOE and MSF to play an equal role in the background for this agency. We want to have a common front for this agency so that parents, operators, teachers have a common place where they can look to for assistance and help.
"But at the back end, we want the full support of MOE, from the education and curriculum development side. We want the full support of MSF from the perspective of involving the family and the community in this holistic development of children."
The government will announce details of the pre—school spending during the Committee of Supply session in March.
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