Timely shakeup of the preschools sector in Singapore

The Early Childhood Development Centers Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 28) which will see kindergartens and childcare centers come under the same regulatory framework.

The Bill is timely as more parents today rely on childcare centers to look after their children while both parents are working and do not have other forms of help at home. At the same time, parents also demand higher standards in terms of curriculum, care-giving, hygiene and nutrition.

Having a good regulatory framework that ensures that childcare center and kindergarten operators meets requirements gives assurance to parents that their children are in good hands, and they can continue to perform at work without worries.

This also provides some assurance to couples who may be considering starting a family, but are concerned that there is no one to take care of the children they bear.

The Bill proposes three key provisions which are critical to ensuring that standards are raised in the sector:

1. Childcare centres and kindergartens will have to renew their licences regularly

Before this Bill was proposed, kindergartens here were able to operate indefinitely with a one-off registration.

Without the pressure to fulfill the licence renewal requirements which childcare centers are already required to do every two years, there have been observations about some kindergartens being wanting in the standards that we typically see from childcare centers in terms of general up-keeping of standards, let alone drive innovation and raise standards of programmes introduced.

This Bill forces kindergartens to shore up their standards or be prepared to exit the sector. Tough but necessary.

As Tan Chuan-Jin had noted, early childhood education is critical in laying the foundation for the child. Agree. A child who goes through a poor programme may face an uphill task when they enter primary school, a gap that may be bridged over time, but may have an adverse effect on the child’s morale and attitude towards education.

2. All staff working in pre-schools will need to be approved by ECDA

This should have been enforced long ago, not only to ensure not any random person can suddenly be a “teacher”, but also that all who come in contact with the children, including service providers and vendors are people who are safe for the children to be around (no pedophiles please!).

3. More powers to ECDA Officers and a heavier stick

The Bill also provides for more powers to ECDA officers to check on schools, conduct interviews, take photographs etc.

Parents will welcome this, especially after recent two recent cases of complaints surfaced on social media. And breaches will carry a $10,000 fine and a year’s jail term (Currently, the Child Care Centers Act carries a maximum of $5,000 fine and two years’ jail, and the Education Act has a maximum $2,000 fine and a year’s jail.)

The only oddity during the debate before this Bill was passed was on the matter of MOE Kindergartens being excluded from being regulated under this Act, but will remain under the Education Act.

Arguably, while MOE is, in the Minister’s words “not a fringe player” and he is convinced that the MOE Kindergartens will fulfill ECDA’s requirements, what is left hanging is “Why not just put them all under the same act for consistency?”

The minister seemed confident that the new framework and requirements would not lead to higher costs that would passed on to parents in the form of higher school fees as most childcare centres and kindergartens have been doing well in meeting requirements.

If this is indeed the case, then parents have much to celebrate – because this means the preschools will now be a better learning and safer environment than before, and from a larger perspective, this means that our children, whether rich or poor, will be going through programmes that are not too disparage in standards.

It’s been a long time coming.

This post was first published over at Thoughts of Real Singaporeans on 1 March 2017. It is reproduced with permission.


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