Kinderland addresses alleged abuse of children; former teacher says she filmed viral videos
The ex-employee of Kinderland Preschool @ Woodlands Mart says she wasn’t taken seriously when she approached the principal twice about the “ongoing” incidents.
- Addressing the allegations for the first time, Kinderland provided details on when the videos were filmed, when it was made aware of the incidents and what it did to address the issue
- The teacher who recorded the videos told CNA it was “not the first time” such incidents had happened
- According to a parent of an affected child, the preschool informed her of the incident about two weeks ago but said they would keep and “observe” the teacher
SINGAPORE: Preschool chain Kinderland on Tuesday (Aug 29) addressed widely circulated videos showing teachers from its Woodlands Mart and Choa Chu Kang centres allegedly abusing children, and outlined its investigations as well as details of the individuals involved.
In a press statement issued late on Tuesday night, Kinderland also said that it would put in place new measures for the welfare of children and teachers in both centres.
This includes installing CCTV cameras in all classrooms and children activity areas at the two centres, and finetuning feedback channels for employees.
On Monday morning, three videos showing a teacher from Kinderland Preschool @ Woodlands Mart rough-handling her students began circulating on social media. The teacher has since been fired.
In one video, a child was seen having water poured into her mouth by the teacher while she was lying on the floor. In a second video, the teacher was seen forcing another student to drink water by holding the child's head back. In a third video, the teacher was seen shouting at a child and hitting the child multiple times with a book.
The affected children were all below the age of three at the time of the incidents, said Kinderland’s statement.
FORMER TEACHER SAYS SHE FILMED VIDEOS
According to Kinderland, the videos were filmed between Jun 27 and Jun 30.
There were only two teachers in the classroom at the point of recording. The statement only identified them as Teacher A and Teacher B.
Teacher A – the woman captured in the viral videos – is a 33-year-old Singaporean who joined Kinderland in March 2020.
According to Kinderland's statement, Teacher A was “an experienced and certified childcare teacher” and worked in another preschool prior to joining Kinderland.
Kinderland added that Teacher A had “consistently received good testimonials” in their annual parents’ survey. She also “got along well” with other teachers in the centre and was “always helpful”.
Teacher B, a 37-year-old Singaporean, was a “newer teacher still under probation” at the time of the videos, though she held previous "appointments" at other preschool centres. She had joined Kinderland's Woodlands Mart centre in May, and was assigned to work with Teacher A in the classroom.
But within three months, she resigned. Her last day at Kinderland was Jul 29.
On Tuesday, CNA spoke to Teacher B, who declined to give her name.
Teacher B confirmed that she filmed the videos, and that she felt she was not taken seriously when she spoke to the preschool's principal Ms Mahirah Yasid twice about how Teacher A treated students.
While she did not mention the videos then, she told the principal the alleged mistreatment was "not the first time" and similar incidents were "ongoing".
According to Teacher B, the principal's response was that Teacher A had been with the school for years. She also felt the principal did not believe her.
Teacher B said she decided to film the incidents after her husband advised her to, as there were no CCTV cameras in the classroom.
“Every time I saw what (Teacher A) was doing, I would take the child away (from) the so-called punishment. But she would forcefully take the child back, and tell me, ‘I’m not done with what I’m doing,’” she said.“I feel very bad for the child. I don’t want my children to have this kind of treatment from teachers too.”
ECDA INVESTIGATED KINDERLAND
Before Kinderland issued its statement on Tuesday night, queries were sent to the preschool to get its response to what Teacher B as well as the mother of one of the alleged victims had told CNA.
Kinderland said in its statement that it was made aware of the videos when it was contacted by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) on Aug 17 for an investigation.
The government agency, which oversees the sector, met with staff from Kinderland's Woodlands Mart centre on the same day as well as on Aug 18.
The staff were shown the videos and “advised to review” Teacher A’s behaviour.
ECDA also gave some guidelines on dealing with the incident, including reaching out to parents of the affected children and reporting the investigation to Kinderland headquarters, Kinderland said. They were also given a “proposed action plan” to deal with the matter.
Kinderland headquarters then started a disciplinary inquiry.
When the disciplinary inquiry committee reached out to Teacher B, she “did not admit to taking the videos of the incidents, nor posting them”, the statement said.
“She instead said that she had seen the videos from her friends.”
Speaking to CNA, Teacher B acknowledged that she did not tell the committee she had taken the videos. On Aug 28, she shared the videos with her personal contacts. This was after she shared them earlier with ECDA, she said.
Teacher B agreed to let her contacts further circulate the videos. The videos were then shared to a group chat for mothers on the same day, although she is unaware who shared them.
She added that she did not release them at the time they were filmed, as she did not want to put her job at the preschool at risk.
"HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE METHODS": ECDA
In a media release issued on Wednesday, ECDA said they had commenced investigations into Kinderland at Woodlands Mart – which is registered as K-Joy Educare on ECDA's preschool search portal – on Aug 10 "after being alerted to the incidents by a former employee".
"We have since determined that the educator involved in the incidents had used highly inappropriate methods to manage the children in her care. She has been issued a warning and barred from working in the preschool sector," the government agency said.
ECDA added that it is still investigating the roles of the centre leader and preschool operator in these incidents and "may take further actions if they are deemed not to have fulfilled their duty of care to the children".
It is also "closely monitoring this preschool" to ensure the safety and well-being of all enrolled children. The preschool operator has also been instructed to provide "close guidance and supervision to their educators on classroom management in this preschool".
Kinderland’s statement on Tuesday noted that during her exit interview, Teacher B “did not mention any dissatisfaction" and "indicated that recognition for her work, supervisors management and opportunities to use her abilities are good”.
“She cited having to look after her ailing mother as the reason for her resignation,” it said.
Teacher B told CNA that while this was accurate, the main reason she left the preschool was that she did not want to be part of the culture.
“Before I resigned, I already voiced it out, but no action was taken. That’s why I chose to leave. I gave the reason that my mom is sick – she really is – but the main reason is the culture there. I just didn’t want to be so straightforward,” she said.
PARENT TOLD “IT’S NOTHING”
Kinderland’s disciplinary inquiry also addressed the issues with Teacher A and counselled her, the statement said.
“Teacher A was remorseful and apologised for her behaviour those few times,” it added.
“Concurrently, the principal of Woodlands Mart and Teacher A reached out to the parents of the affected children to inform them and apologise for the rough-handling of their children. The principal also asked after the well-being of their children and their feelings towards school.”
All the parents of the three children in the videos said they “did not notice anything amiss nor any physical injuries”, and that their children were “behaving normally”, according to the statement.
Speaking to CNA on Tuesday, the mother of a child allegedly abused in the videos said the preschool was aware of the incident before the footage started circulating.
The mother of the two-year-old girl who was seen to have water poured into her mouth by the teacher said she was informed of the incident about two weeks ago.
The principal, centre manager and Teacher A called her to the school to discuss what happened.
“They said … it was not so severe, (she) just forced (my daughter) to drink water. And someone caught her. They asked (her) to apologise to us; they said it’s not very bad,” the 31-year-old told CNA.
According to the mother, the school said they would keep the teacher and “observe her”.
At the time, she said she “gave them the benefit of doubt”, adding that her daughter did not come home with bruises. “Maybe they were (just being) firm with the child. They said, it’s nothing.”
TEACHER FIRED “ONLY WHEN VIDEOS WENT VIRAL”
When a video of another child forced to drink water - with his head held back - started circulating online on Monday, the mother said the school told her what her daughter went through “isn’t as bad as this”.
Shortly after, the video showing her daughter was posted online, she recalled.
“Straightaway I went down to the school. I also called up some of the other parents in the class. I spoke to the centre manager; they said the teacher is remorseful. I said this isn’t being remorseful. Once is fine but it happened to a couple of children," she told CNA.
The mother said she was repeatedly told by the school that the teacher was sorry.
“But if the video didn’t leak, she would still be there,” she added. “They dismissed her only when the videos went viral … This is just what we saw on video; we don’t know what else could have happened.”
Kinderland’s statement said that “upon completing the disciplinary inquiry”, its headquarters requested for Teacher A to be dismissed on Monday.
In a letter posted on a parents’ portal on Tuesday morning, the principal Ms Mahirah said the school had “reached out to the parents of the affected children and apologised deeply to the parents and children”.
Some parents said on Tuesday that they have since withdrawn their children from the centre.
Kinderland has received six requests for withdrawals from its Woodlands Mart and Choa Chu Kang centres, its statement said. There are 200 children currently enrolled at the two centres.
The two-year-old girl, who has been in the school since she was four months old, will remain at home for the time being. The mother does not plan to withdraw her child yet as “it’s very hard for us to withdraw and just find another school”.
“Nowadays (for) childcare, there’s a long waiting list. It’s a lose-lose situation. (But) if we continue to put our kids there, we’ll be very insecure,” the mother said.
“We trusted the teachers. We had a good relationship; we trusted them for years. We were totally blindsided by the situation.”
In its statement, Kinderland said two of the affected children were “doing well”. The mother of the third child posted on social media that her daughter “woke up screaming last night, which she attributes to the incident”, the statement noted.
"ISOLATED AND RARE INCIDENTS DO HAPPEN"
In a similar case that surfaced just a day after the initial three videos began circulating online, a 48-year-old teacher from the Kinderland preschool at Sunshine Place in Choa Chu Kang was arrested following a clip that showed her allegedly hitting a child.
The teacher is seen forcefully handing a water bottle to a boy before smacking him on the head several times and pushing him away.
Kinderland said in its statement that the teacher has been suspended. "The principal of the centre has likewise reached out to the parents of the boy and offered our apologies."
The preschool chain said: “While isolated and rare incidents do happen, Kinderland has taken, and will continue to take, a proactive stance in addressing issues that arise and will continue to uphold a zero-tolerance policy of no abuse to anyone, child or adult.
“We would also like to remind the public that the actions of one teacher do not reflect the attitudes or actions of the other hundreds of teachers in Kinderland,” it added.
“Our teachers deserve the respect and appreciation for the good work they do every day for our children, and it would be appreciated that they do not become targets for slurs or negative comments.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated after Teacher B subsequently told CNA that she shared the videos with her personal contacts, rather than sharing them with a parents' group.