SINGAPORE: A centralised institute to train pre-school teachers will be set up as part of efforts to raise the standing of the profession, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 20).
Making the announcement in his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee said the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) will be similar to the existing National Institute of Education (NIE), but for pre-school teachers and carers.
The NIEC will bring together the various pre-school teacher training programmes offered in institutions like Temasek Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the Institute of Technical Education and the SEED Institute.
It will provide the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for pre-school professionals, and also have the scale to develop curricula with different specialisations like music, art or special education, Mr Lee added.
“Within a larger fraternity, the faculty will have more opportunities for professional development and progression,” he said.
The Government will also provide training awards for students of the new institute. “The awards will cover fees plus an allowance, so pre-school teachers can make a strong start to their careers.”
The new institute will be set up under the ambit of NIE, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) in a press release, adding that MOE will release more details later.
The agency said it will work with the sector to engage and groom promising NIEC students in their final year. Mid-career switchers enrolled in the institute will continue to be supported under the Professional Conversion Programme by SkillsFuture Singapore, it said.
ECDA will also embark on a three-year national campaign to attract more people to join the sector.
UPGRADING THE PRE-SCHOOL PROFESSION: A COMPARISON WITH MOE TEACHERS
In his speech, Mr Lee drew a comparison with how primary, secondary and junior college teachers are trained in NIE. He noted that the MOE teachers do fulfilling work, are paid competitively and have good career paths.
“Trainee teachers attend NIE programmes before they start teaching. NIE does research and keeps up-to-date on the latest teaching methods,” he explained. “During their careers, teachers return to NIE periodically to upgrade themselves and prepare for more senior roles.”
MOE teachers can also become master teachers, where they show other teachers how to teach; subject specialists, where they develop new curricula; or school leaders like principals or cluster superintendents.
“Because teachers are trained well, paid well and have good career prospects, good people take up teaching and we have a good education system,” he said.
“We will take the same approach with pre-school teachers: Train them well, reward them well and attract good, passionate people.”
Mr Lee added that the Government will also work with employers to ensure good career prospects and competitive pay. He noted that over the last five years, salaries have gone up as pre-schools expanded and upgraded.
But he stressed that salaries need to rise further as the profession is upgraded. In particular, salaries must match career progression, and “must be competitive” not just for teachers, but for senior specialists, supervisors and principals.
“This will take a while, but we must do it and we will get there,” he said.
MORE RESOURCES, MORE OPPORTUNITIES
ECDA said the growing scale of anchor operators will provide “more meaningful progression for their staff”, with diverse job opportunities and more senior specialist or leadership positions to be created over the next five years. This will enable early childhood educators to be paid more competitively, it said.
The agency also plans to expand the curriculum resources and professional development opportunities available, such as creating more structured development programmes.
In a Facebook post, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung described the establishment of the new institute as a “major step to develop a better future for our young”.
The NIEC will equip early childhood professionals with skills and knowledge, help them deepen their craft through lifelong learning, and uplift the image and prestige of the profession, he wrote.
"Education is the best leveler in a society,” he added. “Research has shown that early childhood education has long-lasting impact on a child’s development.