Following its benchmarking study entitled “Starting Well”, which placed Singapore 29th out of 45 countries in quality of early childhood education, the Lien Foundation presented their findings from a survey of 1,395 parents to find out just how important preschool education is to parents and challenges they face in enrolling and keeping their children in childcare centres and kindergartens.
The importance of preschool education
Based on the results, an overwhelming 96% of parents considered preschool important or very important to their children’s education. To this end, Ms Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, Deputy Head (Academic) of the SEED Institute and Centre Director of The Caterpillar’s Cove, notes that the emphasis on preschool education as a way to “teach my child to enjoy learning and be a lifelong learner” (68% of respondents surveyed) should really apply more to children at nursery level.
But as the child progresses, parents may see preschool education as a “panic button” solution for preparing their child’s entry into the primary school curriculum (14.9% surveyed). Geraldine says, “The panic button really only happens when the child is at the end of K1 and then all of a sudden there’s an epiphany that ‘Actually there’s only one year left and then my child goes to Primary 1’.”
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Preschools aren’t cheap
66% of those surveyed are looking to the government to regulate preschool fees across the industry. A parent reflects in the survey, “When looking at a preschool for my children, I rang some 25 preschools and the fees ranged from approximately $250/ month to $2000/ month. The broad range is simply ridiculous and did not necessarily mean the costly option had better curriculum/teacher-to-child ratio/facilities.”
Already, a whopping 88% of parents surveyed find preschool education to be a costly or very costly affair. The survey findings also showed parents were paying a monthly average of $500-600 in childcare fees. In comparison, an NUS arts undergraduate would pay $7,460 in subsidised tuition fees — only about $21 more per month.
While over 70% of those surveyed are in favour of government subsidies to help parents in paying these fees, some also suggest providing direct subsidies or rebates to preschool operators, and even for preschool education — at least from kindergarten level onwards — to be made part of Singapore’s public education system.
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Improving the plight of teachers to improve quality of education
Geraldine notes, “There is (currently) no mandatory requirement… for teachers who have attained their diploma, or even their degree, to continue with their development. I think quality is a process; it is not an end goal. And if we want quality teachers, then we must continue to invest in them and continue to grow them.” Still, Geraldine adds, “early childhood education lies at the bottom rung in terms of pay and status.”
Lee Poh Wah, CEO of the Lien Foundation, shares some statistics about the plight of preschool teachers: “The median pay for a preschool teacher is only $1,840; at the 75th percentile it’s $2,040. And the starting pay for an MOE teacher (with an) honours degree (is) close to $2,900.”
The plight of preschool teachers is not lost on some parents. As one parent wrote, “Preschool teachers are also not well paid — but their job is actually very physically and mentally tiring. We need to attract more well-qualified preschool teachers, including graduates, so that they can develop and deliver quality programmes…”
Too far, too full and not flexible
Of the list of important factors influencing parents’ choice of preschool, school location was ranked 2nd, below quality of teachers and above affordability. While preschool accessibility was not explored in detail on the survey, Mr Lee did share a story from Shermaine, a working mother who had to change jobs three times to better accommodate her son’s childcare needs.
Shermaine writes, “I live in Punggol, and it’s difficult for me to find a childcare to place my boy as all the centres in Punggol are full. There’s a kindergarten and a playgroup situated at the first floor (of) where I’m staying. However, both places do not allow me to put my son in full-day care since (they only open for a few hours each day), which I find very annoying. Without choice, I had to seek a childcare centre in Sengkang.”
Mr Lee then laments, “Sometimes I get dumbfounded when I hear that the waiting list (for preschools) is a couple of years — even at NTUC…, they have a waiting list of 20,000 (children), but their enrolment is only 11,000. Why is that so? What happened to the national planning?”