SINGAPORE: All childcare centres and kindergartens will now be licensed under a common regulatory framework.
The Early Childhood Development Centres Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 28), with the aim of ensuring higher and more consistent standards across the sector.
Under the Bill, all preschools will have to renew their licences within three years, to ensure they maintain their standards.
All staff at childcare centres and kindergartens will also need to be approved by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). There will also be a common process to register staff, to facilitate teachers' movements between centres.
Centres will also have clearer and more consistent guidelines for their operations. In light of abrupt centre closures in the past, and their impact on parents and children, ECDA will put in place measures to minimise such disruptions and ensure orderly closures, such as requiring centres to give advance notice and cease enrolment.
A more comprehensive penalty framework will also be introduced to safeguard the children's well-being and serve as deterrence against errant practices.
Under the framework, there will be a wider suite of sanctions, such as fines of up to S$10,000 and a security deposit required of those with a poor track record.
ECDA will also have more power to investigate cases that pose a more serious risk, such as the operation of unlicensed centres.
While Members of Parliament (MPs) largely supported the Bill, some raised concerns that it would lead to higher fees.
"How will ECDA mitigate against centre operators from passing on compliance costs to parents?" MP for Tampines GRC Desmond Choo asked.
"Right now, the fee variation is significant - from over S$600 per month to S$2,000 a month in high-end child care centres. Both Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes are useful in moderating fees. However, fees of others outside such schemes might continue to rise.
"Will further steps be taken to moderate the costs by having more centres involved in these schemes? Or should centres justify significant fee increases to ECDA?"
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told the House that the ministry recognises the need to ensure standards and level up the sector.
He said ECDA has been actively engaging industry players.
"ECDA has field-tested the requirements on a variety of centres - large ones, small ones - to see how it can be operationalised. And we'd like to assure the House that the requirements in the Bill and the regulatory framework are calibrated with that in mind to meet some of these higher order requirements, but at the same time trying not to increase cost unnecessarily by making it flexible, so that it's not onerous," he said.
Mr Tan said the early childhood sector has made good progress in recent years, and the Bill will help to enhance quality, accessibility and affordability.