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20% of childcare centres in Singapore to increase full-day fees starting next year

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) revealed that one in five childcare centres in Singapore will be increasing their fees for full-day programmes in 2020. It explained that 330 childcare centres will be raising their full-day fees for Singapore citizens from next year.

The median hike is “within 5 per cent of fees” and “broadly comparable” to years before this, ECDA stated in response to media queries.

However, the childcare centres noted that they have reported their fees hike before the announcement of enhanced subsidies by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month.

In his National Day Rally speech, PM Lee revealed that the country’s spending of around S$1 billion yearly on early childhood education will “more than double” in the course of the next few years. This is done as the Government looks at making pre-school more affordable.

In his speech, PM Lee also announced that the gross monthly household income ceiling will be increased from to S$12,000, a rise from S$7,500 for additional subsidy and S$6,000 for the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS).

The raised income ceiling will cover around 30,000 more households, he noted, adding that the Government will also increase the quantum of preschool subsidies “across the board”.

“We should have good quality, government-supported choices available to all Singaporeans. This is in fact our policy. Today, just over half of all pre-school places are government-supported. Over time, we will bring this up to 80 per cent, just like HDB and we are putting a lot of resources towards this.

“Already, the Government spends about S$1 billion a year on early childhood education, and this will more than double over the next few years. Hopefully with all these improvements, parents will no longer think of preschools as an expensive phase of bringing up their children,” said Mr Lee.

Prior to PM Lee’s enhanced subsidies announcement, a large number of the centres had already informed ECDA of their fees hike, while the remaining did so before ECDA’s 1 September deadline.

It is compulsory for all pre-schools to inform parents and ECDA of any increase in fee by 1 September of the preceding year in order for parents to make proper choice for their kid’s preschool.

In 2019, a total of 220 centres increased their fees and 540 did so last year.

“Most pre-schools seek to ensure that their fees increases which are needed to keep pace with costs are not excessive, in order to remain competitive and attractive to parents,” said ECDA.

Childcare operators who will be increasing their fees

The PAP Community Foundation’s (PCF) Sparkletots and NTUC Campus’ My First Skool, which are the country’s two largest pre-school operators, are hiking their fees in some of their centres which are charging lesser than others. Both these operators have about 500 centres between them.

Besides these two, Star Learners, which is a partner operator with 35 centres under them is also increasing their fees.

For those who are not aware, anchor and partner operators receive Government funding in order to ensure that their fees remain low and they have a fee cap to adhere to.

PCF corporate affairs manager Samuel Ng was quoted in The New Paper stating that the fees hike will only affect “a few centres” operating “well below” the fee cap. In fact, affected parents were informed about the changes in July.

A My First Skool Spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia (CNA) that, “For 2020, we are making slight fee adjustment at some remaining centres to progressively standardise our fees across the network.”

This means that for Mr First Skool centres that are charging below the S$720 fee cap for full-day childcare under the Anchor Operator Scheme, their price will be changed to meet the cap.

However, other three anchor operators namely Skool4Kidz, MY World Preschool and E-Bridge Pre-School pointed out that they will not be increasing their fees.

On the other hand, a Star Learners spokesman said to CNA that: “This recent fee adjustment, which ranged between S$20 and S$90 monthly, did not apply to all children of Star Learners. It was applicable mainly to Star Leaners centres that were offering monthly school fees below the Star Leaners published rates.” He added that the changes in the fees only affected about 4% of their roughly 3,000 children.

Star Learners also explained that it monitors at its school fees yearly to “defray rising operating costs” and to “continue providing good quality childcare and education for the children”.

“Fee adjustment take into consideration factors such as location and rental costs of centres, POP status of centres, staff salaries, and other operating expenditures,” the spokesman noted.

Based on the POP Scheme, Star Learners’ monthly fees are capped at S$800 for Singaporean citizens, and the centre revealed that it wants to follow the fee caps to be implemented in 2021.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee told in Parliament early this month that although the fee caps for anchor and partner operators have been “maintained at their current levels” since 2014 and 2016 respectively, “each year, some anchor operator or partner operator centres that charge below the fee caps may make some moderate fee adjustment to maintain sustainability”.

“We recognise that fees may be adjusted from time to time in response to market conditions and operational costs. By and large, most pre-schools seek to ensure that their fee increases are not excessive, in order to remain competitive and attractive to parents,” said Mr Lee.