At the National Day Rally yesterday (18 Aug), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore’s current annual spending of about $1 billion on early childhood education will “more than double” over the next few years, as the Government looks to make pre-schools more affordable.
He wants to increase the number of government-supported pre-schools to 80 per cent over time.
He told the audience that pre-schools should be like “housing and healthcare” where there are good and affordable government-funded options for all Singaporeans.
“For pre-school, we should have good quality, government-supported choices available to all Singaporeans,” he said. Pre-school subsidies will also be enhanced, announced PM Lee.
At the moment, families are only eligible for additional means-tested subsidies if their monthly household incomes do not exceed $7,500. To offer more help to those from the middle-income, this income ceiling will be raised to $12,000 per month, he said.
Apart from ensuring affordability, other efforts include the doubling of full-day pre-school capacity to almost 180,000 places since 2012. The number of kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) – currently at 24 – will more than double in the next few years, he said.
PAP and NTUC-run pre-schools dominate market
Despite the increase in the number of kindergartens run by MOE in the next few years, PM Lee neglected to mention that the pre-school market is currently dominated by his party, the PAP, with NTUC coming up second.
PAP operates PCF Sparkletots through a charitable organisation founded by PAP, called PAP Community Foundation (PCF). On its website, it said it is “committed to nurturing a multi-racial, fair, just and inclusive society by providing educational, welfare and community services”.
PCF Sparkletots is currently the largest pre-school operator in Singapore where it has 360 outlets. Next come, My First Skool operated by NTUC First Campus under the NTUC labour movement, with 136 outlets. There is a total of 1517 childcare centres as of April 2019.
Both of the two operators are pre-school anchor operators listed by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) where the schools get funding support from the government.
Even though PCF is a charitable organization, with more PAP pre-schools being established thanks to the “more than double” spending by the government, it would certainly help to establish the “PAP” brand in the minds of Singaporean kids. This may give an unfair “marketing” advantage to PAP over oppositions.
After the rally, opposition member Dr Paul Tambyah said that while kindergartens by the MOE are a “step in the right direction”, his party, the Singapore Democratic Party, proposes that early childhood education be nationalized, similar to primary and secondary schools now.
In other words, pre-schools, like our primary and secondary schools, should remain neutral and apolitical.
MOE rejects nationalisation of pre-school
Back in 2017, Nominated Member of Parliament, Kuik Shiao-Yin asked the Minister for Education on what are the 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.
In response, then-Minister for Education (Schools), Ng Chee Meng said that a key benefit of the 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.
While a nationalised system has the potential to provide more consistent quality and affordability, he said that this system may not cater to the preferences of every parent.
He noted that it is recognised 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.” said Mr Ng.