Increase in childcare enrolment as more mums head back to work
Other reasons include the opening of more childcare centres and parents' trust in the programmes being offered...
The number of children being enrolled into childcare centres has increased drastically, as more centres are being set up and mothers go back to work. There is also a rise of parents’ confidence in the quality of programmes being offered by the childcare centres, says a Straits Time report. Childcare enrolment in Singapore hit a high of 95,414 last year, more than double the 44,224 in 2005, according to the latest statistics from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), who also oversees pre-school education.
This has grown alongside a significant increase in the number of childcare places, seeing as there were 123,327 last year. A decade before, the figure was at 59,433.
ECDA stated that there are enough childcare places for 1 in 2 children, and that a target was set for 2017 but has been met ahead of schedule. There were enough childcare places for 1 in 3 children, 3 years ago, and 1 in 6 in 2009.
Last year, 113 new centres opened — an average of 2 each week. This is the largest increase in at least a decade, bringing the total number of centres to 1,256 at end-December. More are set to open this year, including five mega centres that can take in 300 to 500 children.
More parents trusting childcare centres
Dr Khoo Kim Choo, the founder of Preschool for Multiple Intelligences, stated that “The image of childcare centres has changed over the years. For a long time, (childcare centres) were viewed as places which provide custodial care by child-minders. Now they are seen as centres with qualified teachers holding a diploma, or even a degree, in early childhood education”.
They also offer affordable prices, with full day fees being charged at $720 a month. Most of the centres are at HDB void decks.
Change in family needs
Experts stated that having more childcare places allows more mothers to return back to the workforce, since fewer grandparents are keen on being the primary caregivers of their children.
Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures show that the labour force participation among female residents have been increasing. From 2000 to last year, the rate for women aged 30 to 34 jumped by 13 percentage points, and by 20 points in the 35 to 39 range.
About 8 in 10 women in these two groups are working or actively looking for a job, making dual-income families more the norm.
Dr Khoo said, “Grandparents from the era of baby boomers are more educated, less willing to be full-time babysitters, and prefer to spend their time attending classes, being with their friends and doing the things they enjoy”.
Chief executive of NTUC First Campus, Mr Chan Tee Seng, said the rise in enrolment is more likely motivated by family dynamics and economics, rather than a race to prepare their children for Primary 1.
More support available
Schemes like the AOP (anchor operators) initiative help to provide more affordable childcare services in the heartland.
Social workers and grassroots volunteers also try to encourage parents of five and six-year-olds to enrol their kids at pre-schools.
A senior lecturer at SIM University, Dr Sirene Lim, said, “As a nation, we should be focused on ensuring that the most disadvantaged children have full and easy access to care and education as early as possible, to mitigate poverty and other difficult circumstances they face”.
As the number of childcare centres increase, operators said that they still face a shortage of teachers — a problem that could affect the quality of programmes if not well managed.
There are about 15,000 staff in the childcare sector, with a further 1,500 needed over the next two to three years, said ECDA.
There have already been several incentives to attract and retain staff, such as career progression plans and incentivising teachers to go for training.
However, some operators stated that the increasing number of childcare centres have also led to higher turnover rates, as teachers leave for better pay, as well as higher costs because of the need to attract and retain teachers.
AOPs and partner operators (POPs) — which have to keep fees below $800 a month and had to make a one-off fee cut on Jan 1 — get government grants.
Chairman of Modern Montessori International, Dr T. Chandroo, said that other operators should also receive more support.
“The authorities need to actively support operators which are not under the AOP and POP schemes as they still offer childcare services in the neighbourhood, business districts and workplaces,” he said.
“The cost of running a childcare centre has increased significantly.”
Apart from manpower costs, rents have also increased, said operators. Experts said that while accessibility of childcare has increased, cost issues have to be addressed as well so that quality isn’t affected.
Founder of Wee Care (Singapore), Mrs Denise Lai, said, “Does the provision of more places mean quality access for all children, rather than mere access? The job before us is far from over”.
News Source: The Straits Times
What are some of your thoughts about this article? Share with us in the comments below!