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Singapore Government

Opening Speech by Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at the Early Childhood Conference and Carnival 2015

Opening Speech by Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at the Early Childhood Conference and Carnival 2015

Distinguished Guests

Centre leaders and teachers

Ladies and gentlemen

A very good morning.

This is my first Early Childhood Conference, and I am very glad to join you this morning. Since joining the Ministry in May this year, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many teachers, centre leaders and stakeholders in the sector. I am still making my rounds to different schools to meet you and to better understand your perspectives and challenges. I see the good work that you are putting in on a day-to-day basis. Very clearly, the work done is important, and preschool education is fundamentally important. This is why we have taken this step to set up the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), because we believe it sets the foundation for our children.

The video we just saw is a testament to the important role early childhood professionals play: as educators, role-models, and trusted partners with our parents. We know that it takes a village (or in Singapore, it takes a kampung) to raise a child – to build character, values, develop a lifelong love for learning and inculcate compassion for others. I think these foundational pieces are particularly important. This applies to all forms of development, as what we do in the early years can have a tremendous amount of impact in terms of how our children grow and develop in the many years to come. All of us here playing that role in laying these foundational pieces. 


This year being SG50, it is important for us to recognise our long-serving early childhood educators who have laid the foundation for the sector. One of these educators is Ms Pat Chong, from Creative O Preschoolers’ Bay. She has been with the sector for 37 years.

She believes in continuous learning and professional development. Pat shares the experience and knowledge gained through workshops with parents, as well as by mentoring younger teachers to help them translate theory into classroom practice. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank many long-serving educators, for your contributions over the years, and for going the extra mile for all our children. Please join me in giving a big round of applause to them.

What I think has driven Pat and many of you here in this sector is your conviction that the early years do matter. This is a belief that I share. Collectively, we have made progress in making affordable, quality early childhood care and education more accessible to our children and their families. 

This is a very important part of our efforts to build an inclusive society. When children enter primary schools, there may be a disparity in their development. Some come from slightly better off backgrounds, while others may not have had the same exposure. This is why it is important for us to go further upstream to see how best we can continue our efforts to level up all our children.

Similarly in MSF, we understand that early intervention is important. Beyond providing structures and support for the preschool sector, we need to identify vulnerable and disadvantaged children who may be at risk. Then we can work with their families to ensure that their children have the right exposure, and receive the right level of attention. Many of you play a very important part in this effort. 

To meet the growing demand for pre-school, 27,000 more child care places have been added since 2013. We will continue to monitor the trends closely and add more places as needed. The quality of pre-school has also gone up with one in four centres now SPARK certified. 

Salaries in the sector have also become more competitive. The median starting pay for ECCE polytechnic diploma graduates has gone up by 5% over the past year. It has caught up to the median starting pay for polytechnic graduates. This is an effort that we will continue in order to keep the salary levels competitive for early childhood professionals.

All this progress is not possible without our committed and passionate educators. Teachers are the most important partners in the early childhood sector, because you play a very direct role in touching the lives of our children. Therefore, it is important that we are here to support our teachers.

My first message to you is that significant efforts to support EC professionals must be provided at every stage of your career. In my conversations with teachers and leaders, many of you expressed the hope to deepen your skills and progress in your careers, so that you can do more to nurture our children. You want early childhood to be a profession of choice, and to be treated as respected partners with parents in raising all of our children in Singapore.

I fully share with you these hopes and aspirations. It is not easy being an early childhood educator. You have an important responsibility to nurture the next generation, and uphold the trust that parents place in you. You also need to develop your professional skills while managing your day-to-day work. This is why supporting our teachers has been a key priority for ECDA since it was set up. 

Over the past few years, we have strengthened the support for early childhood professionals at every stage of their career. We want to help committed individuals join and stay in the sector, and to enjoy a long and fulfilling career. 

Your inputs make a lot of difference. A lot of the changes you see being put in place are the direct result of many of your suggestions and ideas. So please continue to engage us and surface your perspectives. 

To nurture the next generation of early childhood professionals, we have increased our ITE and polytechnic intakes for early childhood. We have also enhanced internships to help pre-service teachers learn on the job and get a better understanding of the sector. For our mid-career entrants, we have enhanced professional conversion programmes to help them balance work and family commitments, while learning on-the-job.

To help our in-service teachers upgrade, ECDA has provided over 50 Continuing Professional Development courses this year, almost double the number from last year. 

With these initiatives, regular professional development has become important for many educators. One such teacher is Ms Eunice Lim from My First Skool @ Chin Swee Blk 54, whom I met with her class at their “Start Small Dream Big” project. 

Eunice regularly makes time to enrol in various professional development courses despite her busy schedule. She hopes to better support preschool children in their transition to primary school. I am sure that her positive attitude to learning will help her make a difference to her children and the sector. 

My second key message to all of you is that we will do more to help in-service teachers develop in their careers. There are many more of you out there just like Eunice. So what will we do to support more of you in your professional development and career progression? Let me touch on 3 specific things we are doing today. 

First, we need to ensure that the early childhood profession offers meaningful challenges, opportunities and rewards at every stage of a teacher’s career. We are developing competency-based pathways for the early childhood sector, in line with the broader national effort under SkillsFuture. We will share more later this year. 

Second, we will introduce more professional development opportunities – in particular a new Professional Development Programme. 

Third, we will introduce a new online system – ONE@ECDA, which will give every early childhood educator an account to manage their own professional development.

Professional Development Programme 

Let me talk about the Professional Development Programme, or PDP for short. The first phase of the programme will be for teachers. 

ECDA will run the PDP in close partnership with employers. Teachers with at least three years of experience and the potential to take on larger job roles at their centres can be nominated by their employers for this programme. 

When you are selected for the PDP, you will be placed on a three-year structured programme while continuing to work and earn an income. This will allow you to gain competencies and skills in preparation for your larger job roles and responsibilities. 

Over the three years, you will complete 180 hours of professional development. This can include new modular courses that will be launched next year, centre-based projects or other professional development courses. 

We will also provide cash awards as you complete key programme and service milestones. These serve to recognise your new competencies and achievements, and to encourage you to continue on your development journey. The total amount will be $12,000 over three years. 

The PDP is meant to complement employers’ HR management and development frameworks. This helps them to retain and upgrade teachers. Employers will identify and nominate deserving candidates with the potential for the PDP, give them the flexibility to attend training, and provide opportunities for larger job roles once they have attained deeper competencies.

We also need educators to take ownership and commit to enhance their professional competencies and skills, and in turn contribute back to improve their centres and the sector as a whole. 

Nominations for the PDP will open from October this year. All child care centres and kindergartens are invited to nominate suitable candidates for the PDP. We hope to have a few hundred teachers join the programme each year. 

Beyond the PDP for Teachers, ECDA is also working on a PDP designed for educarers, as well as one for leaders. This will be announced and implemented in subsequent years, and once in place will provide support for your development at every stage of your career. 

ONE@ECDA 

As more professional development opportunities become available, we also want to help teachers and operators simplify how they keep track of their professional development and teacher registration. To do this, we will introduce the ONE@ECDA online platform. 

For educators, your ONE@ECDA account allows you to search and sign up for courses, keep track of your professional development and receive direct updates from ECDA. 

For operators, it will simplify teacher registration. Updates can now be done online, and professional development for all your educators can now be tracked in the system.

ECDA will roll out ONE@ECDA by the end of this year.

Conclusion

In conclusion, just as it takes an entire kampung to raise a child, all of us play a role in developing meaningful and fulfilling careers for our educators. 

The two new initiatives I am announcing today – the PDP and ONE@ECDA – will build on our ongoing efforts. These initiatives are part of the government’s commitment to invest in and develop our early childhood professionals. They will strengthen the fraternity, raise professionalism and overall quality in our sector. We hope to work closely with employers and parents to help our teachers do their best for our children. 

As we continue with the rest of today’s programme, let us also reflect on why we are here today. Being part of the early childhood sector is not just a career. In many ways, it is a responsibility and a commitment, and also a calling. It is not easy, but we know it makes a lot of difference. 

Let us work together in this effort to provide the best possible start for every child. Thank you very much.

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