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Govt appoints three new pre-school anchor operators

The government has appointed three new pre-school anchor operators on Monday -- Metropolitan YMCA's MY World Preschool, Kinderland Consortium's Skool4Kidz, and EtonHouse International's E-Bridge Pre-school.

SINGAPORE: The government has appointed three new pre-school anchor operators on Monday -- a non-profit organisation and two private operators.

They are Metropolitan YMCA's MY World Preschool, Kinderland Consortium's Skool4Kidz, and EtonHouse International's E-Bridge Pre-school.

They were selected out of 16 bids for the government's AOP (anchor operator) scheme.

Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing announced this at a media briefing on Monday afternoon.

The new entrants will join the existing anchor operators -- the PAP Community Foundation and NTUC First Campus' My First Skool.

The ministry said the five anchor operators are expected to provide about 16,000 additional pre-school places by 2017.

Selection criteria for the new operators include quality education programmes, financial stability, the ability to set up new centres in a relatively short period of time, and a strong social mission.

To qualify for the anchor operator scheme, the two commercial operators are setting up new, separate pre-school entities that differ from their existing programmes in both curriculum and pricing.

There will be a cap on their fees -- S$720 for a full-day childcare programme, S$160 for kindergarten, and S$1,275 for infant care.

Mr Chan said: "I think they have made a commitment that the profit motive cannot be their number one objective. They're here, they're selected because they want to serve a higher goal -- which is to provide quality, development opportunities for our young children."

As anchor operators, the pre-schools will have access to funding from the from the Ministry of Social and Family Development. They will also get first priority in the allocation of sites in HDB estates.

The three new anchor operators are major players in the sector, with each already running more than ten pre-schools.

Phyllis Tan, CEO of Metropolitan YMCA Singapore, said: "We are the only non-profit childcare operator in this scheme.

"Our bottom lines and our surpluses are very narrow each year. So with some support, we believe we should be able to continue to expand and to provide services in areas where we have not been able to reach before."

Dr Jane Ching-Kwan, director of Skool4Kidz, said: "CSR (corporate social responsibility) will be a very big part of what we do at Skool4Kidz.

"One of the areas we will contribute to is creating one made-in-Singapore curriculum that will fulfil all the kindergarten curriculum framework guidelines, as well as bring in technology-based learning to children, including those from the lower income groups."

On how different Skool4Kidz will be from Kinderland's current preschools, Dr Ching said: "The Kinderland is a premium brand and has a lot of extras in it. The Skool4Kidz programme will really focus on what is good quality, solid basic eduction for all children, not forsaking the quality that is specified in the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework.

"I believe the other anchor operators will have their own unique features, but School4Kidz is going to look at technology-based learning and very close partnerships with parents because sustainable pre-school education cannot do without families."

Existing and new anchor operators said the biggest challenge ahead is the manpower crunch.

Mr Chan Tee Seng, CEO of NTUC First Campus, said: "At the end of the day, all of us are dealing with the same constraints - which is the manpower crunch.

"What we really hope is that as an industry and as a sector, we'll be able to attract more people to join the sector and to stay with the sector because right now, the issue is about not being able to create the capacity, rather than competing for enrolment."

Mrs Ng Gim Choo, group managing director of EtonHouse, said: "A teacher looks for three things -- compensation, recognition and professional development -- and we are working very hard towards that."

The first new centres by the anchor operators are expected to open in the second half of 2014. The Ministry of Social and Family Development said they will be in "high demand" areas like Punggol, Woodlands, and Jurong West.

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