A 'good pre-school' for every child, regardless of background
At National Day Rally, PM Lee unveils plans to ramp up pre-school places, setting up of centralised institute
New parents can look forward to 40,000 pre-school places over the next five years, bringing the total number of places to 200,000.
They can also expect more quality kindergartens and better-trained pre-school teachers with the setting up of a new centralised institute for the profession, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
He was speaking at his 14th National Day Rally, where he focused on building for the future by touching on three longer-term issues - building up pre-schools, fighting diabetes and making Singapore a Smart Nation.
These are important to the nation's prosperity and the well-being of current and future generations, he said.
Mr Lee said the emphasis on pre-schools achieves a broader social purpose: affordable, quality pre-schools will help level the playing field for young children.
"Today, every child goes to a good school. We want every child to go to a good pre-school, so that all children, regardless of family background, have the best possible start in life.
"We must do this because every child counts. If we get this right, we will foster social mobility, and sustain a fair and just society," he said.
To this end, the Government will double its annual spending on pre-schools again in the next five years to $1.7 billion in 2022, up from $840 million - a heavy but worthwhile investment, said the PM.
Noting that the shortage of places is mainly for children aged two months to four years, he said that anchor operators (AOP) will set up new Early Years Centre (EYC) for this age group.
AOPs get government grants and priority in securing sites, but they must meet fee caps and quality criteria.
"Of course, parents and family members are the first and best teachers for children, as they look after them, play with them and talk to them.
"But a good pre-school will help parents to make the most of these formative windows of a child's development," Mr Lee said.
Four such EYCs are already underway in Punggol and are expected to open next year.
These EYCs will tie up with nearby kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) - a child who goes to an EYC has a place reserved in the nearby MOE Kindergarten.
Since Aug 1, the Early Childhood Development Agency has appointed 29 more centres under a scheme for partner operators (POP), which receive government grants but face less strict conditions than AOPs.
For those aged five to six, the Government will look at raising the quality of kindergarten education by scaling up the number of MOE Kindergartens in the next five years.
FROM 15 TO 50
Pointing out that the 15 MOE Kindergartens offer good programmes at a reasonable price, Mr Lee said: "Parents know that they can trust the MOE brand."
Scaling up to 50 MOE Kindergartens will allow MOE to make a wider impact beyond its own pre-schools and "uplift" the whole sector, which has about 500 kindergartens.
With more places provided by AOPs, POPs, and MOE Kindergartens, two in three children will have a place in a government-run or government-supported pre-school by 2023 - up from about one in two.
Project manager Marcus Tan, 34, said the addition of pre-school places will encourage newly-weds like him to have children.
Mr Tan, who got married last year, has shelved plans to have children partly due to the long waiting lists at childcare centres.
New parent Cally Soh, 35, is relieved. Ever since her son was born six months ago, the administrative assistant has been fretting over getting him a place in a childcare centre.
Ms Soh, who lives in Punggol, told The New Paper: "There are so many new families here in our neighbourhood. Childcare facilities are really stretched.
"The new places will really come in handy when mothers like me go back to work after maternity leave."
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