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Singapore

Pay bump for early childhood educators could attract more talent but concerns about workload remain

The workload for pre-school teachers has increased over the years, especially with more children starting at the centres at a younger age, they said. 

Pay bump for early childhood educators could attract more talent but concerns about workload remain

File photo of a preschool in Singapore. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: A pay bump for early childhood educators will help to attract more people to the sector, but more needs to be done to retain teachers, said those who work in pre-schools. 

“To be honest, we’re quite sceptical about it ,” said Heather, who has worked in an anchor operator centre for about two years. 

“I think this news that early childhood educators will be getting pay increases, over the years we’ve been hearing it a lot. But we don’t really see increases in our pay, especially for teachers that have worked for a long while,” she told CNA.

On Saturday (Oct 29), Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli announced that teachers in Government-supported pre-schools can expect their monthly salaries to increase by 10 to 30 per cent over the next two years.

Better performers will receive higher increases, he said. 

With the pay bump, an educator in an anchor operator pre-school can expect a gross monthly salary ranging from S$2,900 to S$6,600 by 2024, depending on their experience, skills and work performance, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

The starting salary for fresh graduates and mid-career entrants with an ECDA-approved early childhood diploma will also be increased to at least S$2,800 at anchor operator pre-schools from next year, up from about S$2,600 this year. 

Anchor operators currently employ more than 40 per cent of the early childhood-certified workforce.  

A 10 to 30 per cent salary increase is “not bad”, and may help to retain teachers to a certain extent, Heather said. 

New teachers may also be attracted to the higher starting salaries, said pre-school teachers CNA spoke to. 

“But in the long run, I think the welfare of your staff is also quite important,” Heather said. 

The names of teachers interviewed for this story have been changed on their request as they are not authorised to speak to the media. 

Nicole, who is a mid-career entrant in her 40s, told CNA she will probably leave the sector after she finishes serving her bond. 

After leaving her job in the finance sector of more than 20 years, she joined her current anchor operator centre about one-and-a-half years ago after finishing her early childhood diploma. 

“If I compare my 1.5 years to my 20 years in finance, these 1.5 years have been more tiring than my 20 years of finance work,” she said. 

“I fell sick more often in these 1.5 years … it’s affecting my health and well-being, my mental state is not there,” said Nicole, adding that she is tempted to pay off her bond instead. 

In terms of pay increases and improving teachers’ welfare, she hopes to see more improvements sooner. 

“They need to move a whole lot more faster (to retain teachers),” she said, adding that teachers at her centre are always looking for transfers, leaving the centre or leaving the industry altogether. 

“I don’t know about other centres, but at ours the turnover rate is high. We have more part-time teachers coming in to replace all the absentees or the resignees.” 

Average salaries for educators in Government-supported pre-schools have increased by about 20 per cent from 2018 to 2021, outpacing the general market, said Mr Masagos on Saturday. 

This growth has outstripped the general market increase about 6 per cent per year for similar jobs, said an ECDA spokesperson, adding that the agency regularly reviews pre-school salaries. 

The attrition rate in the sector has been about 10 to 15 per cent over the last few years, said the spokesperson. 

CENTRES HOPE TO ATTRACT MORE TEACHERS 

Anchor operator and partner operator pre-schools said the pay bumps and increased starting salaries are likely to draw more people to the sector. 

“Salary considerations remain key across all industries and we would be no different, even if someone is interested to join our sector,” said director of partner operator Bright Kids School House Keefe Teo. 

The pre-school has taken in “quite a few” mid-career switch entrants and sent them for training, especially after the COVID-19 “circuit breaker” period in 2020. 

“However, attracting suitable candidates from other industries to join our industry has been more challenging recently, as the job market recovers and more opportunities from other industries now exist as compared to two years ago when the circuit breaker has just been lifted.” said Mr Teo. 

“That was a time when we had many applicants and saw this as a good opportunity to train candidates from other industries with no prior experience nor qualifications in our sector.”

The revised salary structure may attract more new entrants and potential career switchers into the early childhood sector, said a spokesperson for M.Y World Preschool, an anchor operator. 

“We believe the starting pay and salary bumps will have positive effects on talent attraction and retention,” the spokesperson added. 

At Babilou Family, which runs the Little Footprints Preschool partner operator centres, salary increases, as well as performance reviews and bonuses for teachers is “something we have been doing yearly”, said its CEO Benjamin Busse. 

“With these latest guidelines from ECDA, we are glad that we are moving towards the same direction and will continue with our efforts to improve the teachers’ overall package,” said Mr Busse.

“For sure, a higher starting pay and salary bumps will encourage more teachers to the sector, especially young individuals and mid-career switchers.” 

Anchor operator PCF Sparkletots noted that its 6,100 educators will benefit from the market adjustments of between 11 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023 for different job levels. 

At E-Bridge pre-schools, the anchor operator’s 800 teachers will see salary bumps from January 2023. 

“An increase in compensation will help to attract more teachers to the profession. It is also a reinforcement of their calibre and contribution to the education of young children,” said the E-Bridge spokesperson. 

“But the early childhood profession is driven by passion. We hope we will continue to attract capable and passionate teachers to our centres.” 

WELFARE AND WORK-LIFE BALANCE 

Pre-school teachers CNA spoke to stressed the need to improve support for teachers and work-life balance in the sector to retain staff. 

Teachers from Government-supported and private pre-schools said they find themselves working while on leave and even throughout their lunch breaks or after they return home. 

They also welcomed the review of centres having to remain open on Saturdays. 

The service is typically underutilised, with only a few children coming in on Saturdays, they shared. Centres typically roster teachers to work on Saturdays in shifts, rotating between teachers every few weeks.

For example, Heather’s centre remains open on Saturdays for just one child.  

On most days, she oversees a class of 24 two- to three-year-olds with another Chinese language teacher and an assistant teacher. 

Even though relief teachers or part-time teachers are available when needed, they are often not familiar with the class and the younger children find it difficult to warm up to a new face, Heather added. 

Teachers at her centre get one hour of no-contact time each week, which refers to working hours spent away from the children. 

“A lot of teachers do their paperwork during the children’s naptime. One hour is supposed to be our lunch break, but we don’t really get a break,” Heather said, adding that she usually clears paperwork or continues to look after the children while eating. 

About three to four times a week, she continues to work after returning home from her seven-hour shift at the centre. 

At Nicole’s centre, many of her colleagues end up taking leave to clear paperwork or attend meetings. 

Because of manpower shortages, there are some classes that go without a teacher if a staff member goes on leave. 

“My mentor, she just came back from leave and she didn’t rest well. She came back even more tired. I feel very sad for her, when she’s on leave she’s still replying to emails,” said Nicole. 

“Sometimes when we clear leave, it means that we don’t have time to do all the current paperwork. We took leave just to do paperwork.” 

Kate, who has 15 years of experience working at both anchor operator centres and private pre-schools, said that many teachers are “breaking down mentally”. 

Many pre-schools are also facing a shortage in manpower, which affects class size ratios, she added. 

“We are always very tired. For example, for some pre-schools, it’s one teacher to a whole class at a time. Sometimes you want to go to the toilet, you have to shout for the teacher next door and ask them to help you look after the kids, to do a quick run to the toilet,” she shared. 

“For some of us, we don’t even go to the toilet for the whole morning. Sometimes the moment you step into the toilet, you can hear screams and shouts from outside, so it’s like forget it, I’ll just tahan a bit more.” 

Kate has since moved to teach in a secondary school. 

When asked about whether the new changes have prompted her to return, Kate said she is open to the idea, but hopes to see more improvements soon. 

“We love children. That’s the reason why we believe in education. But we are waiting to see what other changes, because to be very honest, all the issues have already been raised for many years.” 

Source: CNA/hw(rj)

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