The Lien Foundation, which earlier commissioned a global ranking of early childhood education that placed Singapore 29th out of 45 countries has published a report proposing sweeping changes. Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah described Singapore as "one of those weird countries whereby the preschool system is 100 percent privatised".
Singapore, July 2012 - Leading preschool professionals and experts have proposed a raft of sweeping, urgent reforms to improve early childhood education here.
Among their proposals: Partial nationalisation of the preschool sector, making preschool education free for all children here aged three and above and setting up a dedicated ministry to oversee the sector.
Their proposals were included in a study commissioned by the Lien Foundation, which earlier also commissioned a global ranking of early childhood education that placed Singapore 29th out of 45 countries.
Led by University of East London senior lecturer Lynn Ang, the study involved 27 participants consisting of the heads of kindergartens and childcare chains, a Government expert on child development as well as academics and staff of family service centres.
The study collated the participants' views through a questionnaire, follow-up interviews and a group interview.
It called for a lead ministry or the formation of a new ministry "with the sole focus of overseeing the co-ordination and regulation of the sector combining childcare and kindergarten".
Currently, the Ministry of Education (MOE) drives efforts in the kindergarten sector while the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports takes charge of childcare.
Operators offering childcare and kindergarten services will have to liaise with the MOE on curriculum issues, and with MCYS on all other issues.
The study also reiterated the need for "cohesive national policies and Government support" to facilitate the transition for children between preschool and primary school curriculum, especially in the case of Singapore "where there are different ministries and administrations responsible for pre-primary and primary (education)".
At the panel discussion held here to discuss the findings, the panellists - some of whom had participated in the study - reiterated that early childhood education should be considered a "public good".
SEED Institute academic director Ho Yin Fong suggested a "70-30" model where 70 per cent of the preschools are Government-funded while the rest are run by the private sector catering to households which can afford to pay more.
Association for Early Childhood Educators president Christine Chen noted that Malaysia has a similarly mixed model.
"If we want to have preschools to be completely under the Government (eventually) ... this could be a first step," she added.
Dr Ang noted that many of the study's participants agreed that preschool education "is essential and non-negotiable". "Then, surely it's something that has to be seen as part of the country's public education," she said. In the same spirit, the study called for free preschool education for all children here aged 3 and above.
Citing its "very high operating costs which are escalating every day", an EtonHouse spokesman told TODAY that "it will not be feasible to offer programmes without a fee".
The spokesman reiterated that it is "important to allow for diversity... as it gives parents and children the freedom to choose what suits their context".
Concurring, Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for education, felt that there is greater variety under the current structure. With competing operators offering different types of services, parents have a wider choice, he noted.
For Young Women's Christian Association of Singapore which offers both services, it is "quite troublesome" to report to two ministries, said its executive director Leung Yee Ping.
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