SINGAPORE: Singapore's largest childcare centre was officially opened in Punggol North on Saturday (Apr 20).
The 100,000 sq ft facility, which has been operational since May last year, is one of 38 Early Years Centres PCF Sparkletots is slated to open by 2021 to meet the demand for pre-school places.
The Government is investing heavily in young children. In 2017, it doubled its annual spending on pre-schools to S$840 million from S$360 million in 2012; it will double its annual spending again over the next five years: to S$1.7 billion in 2022.
Speaking at the launch on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said a good pre-school education is key to giving children the best start in life.
"These formative years are very important years. They are the golden years of a child's development when their minds are open, versatile and they're ready to really absorb and learn,” said Mr Teo.
Parents CNA spoke to said they chose to enrol their children there because of its facilities and emphasis on outdoor learning.
Ms Tien Hartini, mother of a six-month-old Ilhan, said her son can interact with other children of his age at outdoor facilities such as the water area and outdoor playground. Other play areas in the Punggol North centre include vegetable farms and a culinary zone.
To encourage sensory development, children aged between two months and four years enrolled in these centres can get up-close with nature by interacting with animals such as frogs and fishes.
MORE TEACHERS FOR EVERY CHILD
The teacher-to-child ratio at the Punggol North centre is higher compared to other PCF pre-schools. It currently has about 130 teaching staff as well as two nurses - a role specifically created due to the high enrolment there.
The centre can take in 1,060 children at full capacity, with PCF opening two more Early Years Centres later this year in Toa Payoh.
Before subsidies, the cost of enrolling an infant at the centre starts from about S$1,364 a month for Singapore citizens. For Singaporean toddlers up to four years old, it costs S$770 monthly.
Children who attend Early Years Centres will have a spot reserved for them in partner MOE kindergartens, which are mostly located in primary schools.
PCF CEO Victor Bay said: “Because of the sheer size of students graduating from our nursery class here, we have decided that there's a need to have three MOE Kindergartens to take in all our children.
“They are primarily children of Singaporeans or PRs who will be guaranteed a place in either one of these kindergartens.”
When asked about the recent spate of food poisoning incidents at PCF centres, parents CNA spoke to said they were not overly concerned about the situation, adding that there have been sufficient updates from PCF and reassurances of hygiene standards.
PCF said plans are currently being explored to expand the kitchen facilities, following the shift to in-house cooking for all of their childcare centres.
With about 450 children running about, infants, toddlers and older children also have different play areas to help prevent infections from spreading.
Senior Principal Michelle Lee said the staff members and nurses advise parents and guide teachers on health and hygiene standards, as well as teach them how to look out for developmental growth symptoms in young children.
To ease the children's transition to kindergarten, such information, including on the children's special needs, medical requirements and behavioural issues will be shared with the centre's partner MOE Kindergartens.