SINGAPORE: Alleviating health concerns that may arise in a pre-school with hundreds of children is a priority at NTUC First Campus My First Skool’s first and largest Early Years Centre, said its general manager.
The childcare centre in Punggol, which officially opened on Thursday (May 23), can take in up to 1,065 pupils, including 160 babies. More than 600 children from two months to four years old are already enrolled at the facility, which first started operating in May 2018.
The large childcare centre will use a temperature scanner to automatically take the temperatures of children as they enter the school every morning.
This helps to ease some of the potential health concerns for a large campus, such as containing an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), said Ms Thian Ai Ling, general manager of My First Skool.
"Although it’s a large centre, it’s actually many small centres existing side by side," said Ms Thian. "We can contain it quite quickly and we can have the other children move to safer places."
The 8,785 sqm centre located beside Punggol MRT station is also the only Early Years Centre in Singapore with a fully-equipped commercial kitchen.
All meals for the children are cooked and baked daily by an eight-person kitchen crew, led by a head chef with 15 years of experience.
Food poisoning incidents at pre-schools have hit the headlines recently, with more than 250 affected by a gastroenteritis outbreak at multiple PCF Sparkletots centres in March.
Responding to queries about food hygiene, NTUC First Campus said that all in-house cooks and attendants are required to attend food and hygiene courses by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
"We also have a practice that we are going to kick in very soon, which is to keep small samples of food," said Ms Thian. "So should there, unfortunately, be an incident we can then attribute the causes and be able to find out what caused it."
She added that there have been concerns from parents about the massive size of the childcare centre.
"Sometimes they may have certain questions (like), will my child receive the attention from the teacher because they just think the centre is large,” she said.
But Ms Thian stressed that every room is attended by various teachers, following ECDA guidelines for staff-child ratios.
"The attention is still the same as before, if not better. In fact, now the children get to enjoy so many more diverse learning spaces, indoors and outdoors," she added.
Five playscapes have been designed for the children to play outdoors, including a zone for children to grow their own plants and food, a water play area, rock climbing mounds and a cycling track.
The large space also allows for five indoor learning zones such as a reading zone with libraries shaped like different vehicles.
Other features include a naturally ventilated atrium with long ramps to encourage children and parents to interact while walking up to class instead of taking the lift.
Ms Thian said that the expansive floor area means that children are able to clock up to 19,000 steps a day in the three-storey building.
Early Years Centres are part of the government's plan to create 200,000 childcare places by 2023.
The pre-school is one of three new large childcare centres in Punggol and Sengkang that will be set up by 2021 to meet the demand for pre-school places.
Last month, a PCF Sparkletots centre which can accommodate 1,060 children was launched in Punggol North.
Upon reaching the age of five, children enrolled in these centres can move on to a partner Ministry of Education kindergarten in the area.
"We want to provide Singapore's families with accessible, affordable childcare ... to ensure that all our children can have a good start in life," said National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng at the opening of the centre.