Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that a nationalised system of pre-school education has the potential to provide more consistent quality and affordability, however, this system may not cater to the preferences of every parent.
This is his response to questions filed on 7 February by NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin who asked the Minister for Education (Schools) what are the government’s considerations for keeping pre-school education privatised rather than nationalised as an extension of the current nationalised education system and what are the continual barriers or current issues that impede nationalisation of pre-school education.
The Minister stated that currently, the country has a diversified pre-school sector, which comprises of commercial operators, non-profit operators, publicly-funded operators, as well as a few government-run kindergartens.
He stressed that a key benefit of this market-based approach is that it provides parents with a diverse range of programmes to choose from, so as to best cater to their preferences and the different needs of their young children.
“That said, given the large number of operators participating in this sector, it is not surprising that fees, resources and quality will vary across pre-schools. A nationalised system has the potential to provide more consistent quality and affordability, but this system may not cater to the preferences of every parent,” he said.
Mr Ng then said that internationally, countries have adopted different approaches to early childhood care and education depending on their specific contexts. While some jurisdictions have a state-run preschool system, places such as Hong Kong and Australia adopt a similar approach as ours where private operators and the community play a significant role prior to formal primary education.
“We recognise that the private sector and the community have built expertise over the years, and we value them as partners in our endeavour to ensure a strong start for every child. Hence, our priority now is to work together to raise the accessibility, affordability and quality of pre-school,” he said.
The Minister then stressed that one important strategy has been to establish and partner closely with Anchor Operators and Partner Operators in the sector, whose pre-schools are subject to additional conditions, such as fee caps and quality requirements.
“Today, close to half of Singaporean children are benefitting from quality and affordable programmes in these pre-schools. We hope that this will continue to grow,” he added.
In addition, the Minister said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) plays an active role in supporting and strengthening quality of pre-school education.
“We are piloting a few MOE Kindergartens as an added quality and affordable option in the landscape. They also serve as incubators for the development of appropriate teaching resources and best practices in kindergarten education, which are shared with other pre-school operators,” Mr Ng said.
“This complements other efforts to raise the quality of pre-school education in the sector, such as strengthening teacher training and developing a kindergarten curriculum for the sector,” he added.
According to Mr Ng, the Ministry has made good progress with its current approach to pre-school provision, noting that more than 90% of Singaporean children aged 5 to 6 years are enrolled in a pre-school, currently.
In addition, he said that, after subsidies, lower-income families can pay as little as $1 a month for their child to attend pre-school.
“We will continue to monitor and review our policies for the pre-school sector to ensure that every child has access to good quality and affordable pre-school,” the Minister said.
Political observers would comment that the pre-school service provided by People’s Action Party’s PCF remains a political tool in which it uses to buy votes from unsuspecting parents who feel gratitude towards the PAP for providing a cheap option for childcare and pre-school education. However, this comes at an expense towards the tax payers as the rental and grants help PCF to offer rates better than others.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has proposed for pre-school centres to be run by MOE. These schools will be accessible to all children, especially those who cannot afford the more expensive pre-school classes.
In its proposal, it wrote, “Education is vital to the equitable functioning of society, it must be freely accessible to every child. It is beyond argument that the deprivation of sound early education disadvantages those who cannot afford it and perpetuates the poverty cycle. Equal opportunity through education cannot, therefore, be left to the free market, it must be provided for by the state. A good early childhood education programme will ultimately benefit the country as a whole.”