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New anchor preschools get almost daily calls, emails from interested parents

Three preschools were given anchor operator status in January. Since then, they have been getting almost daily phone calls and emails from interested parents.

SINGAPORE: Three preschools were given anchor operator status in January. Since then, they have have been getting almost daily phone calls and emails from interested parents.

Metropolitan YMCA's MY World Preschool, Kinderland's Skool4Kidz, and EtonHouse's E-Bridge Preschool told Channel NewsAsia some parents have even asked to be put on their waitlists, even though locations for the new centres have not been announced.

Singapore now has five anchor preschools, tasked to add 16,000 more childcare spots to the market by 2017.

When set up, the E-Bridge Preschool will have a bilingual environment, and a Mandarin teacher in class at all times.

Ng Gim Choo, managing director at EtonHouse International, said: "With that, the children build a strong rapport with the Mandarin teacher so they could speak Mandarin. The Mandarin teacher will consistently use Mandarin to communicate with the children, and the English teacher will consistently use English in the classroom."

Malay and Tamil will also be offered if there is demand, Mrs Ng said, but the overall focus is on preparing students for Primary One.

The approach to teaching and learning at E-Bridge will be similar to that of EtonHouse, but there will be differences such as classroom size and facilities.

The student composition will be different as well.

About half the children at EtonHouse's 13 preschools are international, whereas E-Bridge is expected to cater mostly to local children.

The smaller new centres under the government scheme will also be unable to house special rooms such as an art studio. But EtonHouse said the key learning elements of art, music, or whatever is taught is at its preschools will still be there.

The same goes for Skool4Kidz, run by Kinderland.

Instead of having music or fitness as specialised modules, Kinderland’s Director Robert Leong said these will be integrated in the curriculum, and the music or fitness facilities will be part of an open-concept classroom.

He said: "It will be integrated in terms of the classroom usage, without specialised rooms. But the benefits to our children will still be there."

Since their anchor status was announced, the three preschools have received between 20 and just under 100 calls and emails from parents.

Mr Leong said: "They're from different parts of Singapore. (Most of them would) like to know where Skool4Kidz will be located, when… registration (will) open, and when… classes (will) commence."

Grace Chan, chief operating officer at Metropolitan YMCA Singapore, said: "Some (with children) as young as two months old, want to be put on (the) waiting list."

Authorities are working out the locations, but each operator plans to open two to three new centres this year.

And they have started hiring.

Both EtonHouse and Kinderland are targeting 50 new teachers and principals, while Metropolitan YMCA is hoping to recruit 60.

With the manpower situation already tight, Mr Leong said the preschool sector could see a higher than usual salary increase this year.

He elaborated: "I would think it would be plus and minus 5 to 7 per cent. We're not seeing a big shortage of teachers because of new centres opening, but still it will be a challenge to most people (operators)."

Metropolitan YMCA is reviewing staff salaries and benefits, and banking on its social mission.

Ms Chan told Channel NewsAsia they are looking at salary adjustments of at least 10 per cent on average.

She said: "Even the funds that we have are really channelled to help the under-privileged in society. So with that mission, I believe that there will be people who will come just because of that."

With the manpower crunch not easing anytime soon, Mrs Ng is calling for a temporary two to three-year lifting of the sector's foreign manpower quota.

The preschool sector is categorised under services, so the maximum proportion of foreign workers a preschool can hire is 40 per cent of its total workforce. This means that for every 10 employees, not more than four of them can be foreign.

Mrs Ng said qualified early childhood professionals from overseas can help ease the acute manpower shortage, to give anchor operators some relief while they focus on training local staff. 

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