When the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore’s preschool education system 29th out of 45 countries earlier in the year, it shined the spotlight on the preschool scene in Singapore. Singapore’s education system has always been internationally commended but the dismal ranking of the preschool system sends a strong signal that something needs to be done.
In order to shed some light on the situation, we spoke to two highly regarded individuals in the preschool scene during the Montessori Asia Conference held yesterday at Raffles City Convention City.
Experts In The Field Of Child Development Talk About Preschool Industry
One of them is Ms. Charmaine Soh, President of the Association of Chinese Montessori International who organised the conference. The other one is Dr. T. Chandroo, Chairman and CEO of Modern Montessori International (MMI) Group which has almost a hundred centres spread out across 15 countries. They provided a valuable insight into the preschool scene and offered some valuable parenting advice as well.
Current preschool scene
While there was a heavy emphasis on developing the mainstream education system in Singapore, there was a lack of emphasis on developing the preschool scene. The preschool scene in Singapore started developing quite late and Dr Chandroo identifies the preschool scene as still being in its infancy stage.
There is currently a large variety of preschools in Singapore. The large diversity of preschools available is beneficial as according to Dr Chandroo, “Parents are offered a wide variety of pre-school options to choose the best that fits the needs of their children.”
Currently the qualifications needed to become a preschool teacher requires at least five O-level credits and a diploma in preschool education. However there is a lack of preschool teachers in Singapore. The attrition rate is also very high. Furthermore, most preschool teachers are not Singaporean citizens.
Ms Soh provides some shocking statistics by sharing with us that in a preschool teacher training course she conducted, out of a total of 80 trainees, only 2 of them were Singaporean. According to Ms. Soh, many of these foreign preschool teachers do not have the same values as Singaporeans and lack the passion for teaching and are “just passing by”. “You need one whole group of devoted teachers who want to serve children,” Ms. Soh says.
There is also a lack of parental involvement in the preschool scene. Many parents have the mindset that education should be left with the school itself but both experts agree that education should take place at home as well.
Despite the rather grim picture both of them painted of the current preschool scene in Singapore, both of them agree that things are moving in the right direction. Dr Chandroo states that the “Singapore Government today is putting much (more) emphasis and significant attention to pre-school education.”
In fact both experts are very optimistic that the preschool industry will be able to catch up in the near future. The three most pressing concerns which should be addressed is the quality of teachers, lack of parental involvement and support from the government.
Improving the quality of preschool educators
Firstly, there is a strong need to improve the quality of preschool educators in Singapore. “The one thing which I really want to stress is the teacher’s education,” Ms Soh says. Although the government is offering a relatively high salary and subsidies for attracting preschool teachers, the screening process is not rigid enough.
Rather than merely focusing on academic qualifications, potential preschool teachers must possess the drive and passion in early childhood education as well. Using a famous saying from Japan, Ms Soh says, “If education is like a tree, early childhood is like a root and the leaves are like the Universities… The best of the best should teach the root or else the tree won’t grow” which nicely sums up this pressing issue afflicting the preschool industry.
Parents need to be more involved
Secondly, there is a lack of parental involvement with regards to educating children. The current mindset of many Singaporean parents is that only teachers are responsible for educating children. This needs to change as parents do exert a lot of influence over a child’s development including their education.
One way to solve this is to educate parents. Ms Soh suggests the government should allow parents to attend parenting courses which is something lacking in Singapore. In fact if Ms Soh has her way, “all parents should go for parenting classes.”
Ms Soh also strongly opposes pregnant mothers who continue working rather than staying at home and focusing on caring for their child and this negligence can cause their neglected children to become a future problem to society.
A lot of the actual parenting is left to others instead such as gynaecologists, caretakers and teachers. Dr Chandroo also points out rather correctly that the emphasis after giving birth for many mothers is to get back in shape rather than focus on the child.
More support from government is needed
Finally more support is also needed from the government. The government needs to try to lift the prestige attached to being a preschool teacher in order to address the dearth in preschool educators. ‘Society should recognise the professionalism of these group of teachers,’ says Ms. Soh.
Ms Soh suggests that the solution would be to emulate China’s example and allow preschool teachers to show off their talents in competitions and provide media coverage for these events to award the preschool educators the recognition they deserve. The preschool industry also needs to work with the government more closely in addressing the concerns over the preschool sector.
Both Dr Chandroo and Ms. Soh have expressed interest in organising a dialogue with the government to discuss potential solutions.
Dr. T. Chandroo, Chairman and CEO of Modern Montessori International (MMI) Group
Ms. Charmaine Soh, President of the Association of Chinese Montessori International