SINGAPORE: The Early Childhood and Development Agency (ECDA) on Wednesday (Mar 7) unveiled an Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the sector.
It is part of the two-pronged Education ITM, alongside the Training and Adult Education sub-sector launched in February.
Under the Early Childhood ITM, 12 anchor operator pre-schools will pilot the co-sharing of spaces for infants and toddlers, who are typically segregated.
“These spaces could be shared so that children can transit more smoothly from the infant to toddler age group,” said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim. “Operators can also enrol more children, while maintaining standards of quality and safety.”
According to ECDA, preliminary feedback from parents and teachers indicate the shared spaces have made it easier for infants to transit to the toddler class.
The Association of Early Childhood and Training Services and its partners are also piloting the use of centralised services to help operators better manage costs. This includes catering and bus services, and demand aggregation across different operators for common items such as stationery and learning resources.
In tandem with the ITM, ECDA is also looking to make career prospects for early childhood professionals more attractive. Over the next five years, the anchor operators will create around 1,000 more senior professional positions, doubling the current number.
“These leadership roles include managing a larger centre, or a cluster of centres, or mentoring junior teachers,” said Assoc Prof Faishal. “To support this, the AOPs (anchor operators) will provide more structured leadership development. These efforts will raise the quality of our pre-schools.”
Salaries for early childhood educators are also projected to rise in parallel with the deeper skills, larger responsibilities, and more complex job roles required of them. Over the past three years, median salaries in the sector have grown by around 15 per cent, compared to the general market which grew by about 8 per cent over the same period. ECDA expects this trend to continue as the pre-school sector keeps expanding in coming years.
MORE CENTRES TO OFFER MALAY, TAMIL
Anchor operator pre-schools will also progressively expand their provision of Malay or Tamil language education from 200 to 350 centres by 2022.
Currently all 550 anchor operator centres provide Chinese language education, while the Ministry of Education will continue to offer all three mother tongue languages (MTLs) at their kindergartens. There will be about 50 MOE kindergartens by 2023.
“MTL is important, and when it comes to language, starting early helps,” said Assoc Prof Faishal.
ECDA will work with anchor operators to determine provision based on estate-level needs and demand.
Assoc Prof Faishal said this may require an additional 1,000 mother tongue teachers by 2020.
Anchor operators are also intensifying their recruitment efforts for Malay and Tamil language teachers, though existing teachers who meet the criteria may choose to teach in these mother tongues.
“The Government has been supporting more locals to become MTL pre-school teachers. Since 2016, polytechnic students can pursue specialised MTL tracks,” he said.
These are the Diploma in Chinese Studies (Chinese Early Childhood Teaching Track) and Diploma in Tamil Studies with Early Education. There is currently no Malay language specialisation, but ECDA pointed to ongoing measures to cater to the training of pre-school educators in teaching Malay, for example during the practicum period.
“These efforts have increased the pool of local MTL pre-school teachers to 3,300 in 2017, 35 per cent more than 2015,” said Assoc Prof Faishal. “Going forward, ECDA will work closely with the new National Institute of Early Childhood Development and other partners to enhance the training of MTL teachers, and encourage more locals to teach MTL in pre-schools.”
ON PLACES, FEES
The senior parliamentary secretary also provided other updates on ECDA’s initiatives, including working with the Housing and Development Board to build pre-schools as part of Build-to-Order developments, so that they can open earlier.
“To meet the pre-school needs of residents, these new centres will have 200 places, twice the size of an average centre today,” he said.
“ECDA has also been working with URA to ensure that developers set aside space for pre-schools in private residential sites released through the Government Land Sales programme.”
He added: “I would like to assure members that we closely monitor changes in pre-school fees, and that pre-schools are kept affordable through a series of measures, including government schemes and direct subsidies."
“While ECDA does not regulate fees charged by (pre-school) operators, it requires centres to report fee increases and give parents at least four months’ notice. Centres need to explain the basis for the increase, and directly engage parents who face difficulties in meeting the new amount,” said Assoc Prof Faishal.
“In addition, anchor operators and partner operators are subjected to fee caps ... Together with MOE kindergartens, these government-supported pre-schools provide affordable, quality services for almost half of all pre-schoolers, and have stabilised industry median fees.
"By 2023, two in three pre-schoolers will have a place in such pre-schools, where the fees are capped.”