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Opening address by Mr Desmond Lee, at Early Childhood Conference 2017

Centre leaders and teachers
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and gentlemen

1 Good morning and Happy Children’s Day. 
This is my first Early Childhood Conference and I am delighted to join all of you today. 
This is an annual high point for early childhood practitioners, and I look forward to recognising your outstanding contributions later.

2 Some of your best work is in the way you role model for and inspire our children to do good for society – I remember this vividly from earlier this year when I joined students and teachers to launch a Gardening Starter Kit as part of the ‘Start Small, Dream Big’ initiative. 

The passion and enthusiasm of our teachers and preschoolers were contagious! It was also a very meaningful way to teach our children to be responsible citizens, of Singapore and of Mother Earth. 
Over the last three years, we have seen more preschoolers and their parents embark on various community projects together, as part of the ‘Start Small, Dream Big’ initiative. 
What has also been very heartening is to see our teachers, including trainee teacher volunteers, as well as community and industry partners, come together with a common goal to nurture sound values in our children.
So it gives me great pleasure to mark the finale for this year’s ‘Start Small Dream Big’ initiative with a special ceremony later to thank our partners who have helped us make it possible. 

Significant progress in the past year

3 Next, I would like to share with you some of the key progress in the sector over the past year, before looking ahead at what else is to come. 

4 This time last year, ECDA launched the Early Childhood Manpower Plan which aimed to create meaningful and rewarding careers for you, our teachers. 

First, teachers are benefiting from enhanced skills-based professional development and career progression. 

o Many operators have stepped forward to find out how they can adopt the Skills Framework. 
o While teachers are using it to set professional goals and chart out their training. 
o Teachers are improving their skills and competencies through more flexible training pathways, as prior learning and working experience are now recognised for in-service upgrading courses. 
o For example, for educarers who would like to work with older age groups but do not have the required academic qualifications to embark on the training, we will recognise their competencies acquired from prior learning and working experience. 
o Interviews and employer recommendations will also be taken into consideration. 

Next, our teachers are working in a more supportive environment. This year, educators in 800 preschools (that is about 45% of the sector) are able to devote more quality time to the children under their care, as they integrate SMART Solutions to streamline daily processes and administrative duties. So far, we have received good feedback. For instance, teachers find it more convenient and efficient to use a mobile application to update children’s portfolio and to communicate with parents. 

o Moving forward, ECDA will continue to work with industry partners and government agencies to invite more vendors to propose digital or design solutions in early 2018.  

Last but certainly not least, teachers are enjoying better recognition for the important work that you all do. 

o With the strong support of employers, community partners and parents, for the first time, Early Childhood educators across the sector enjoyed a day off on Teachers’ Day on 31 August this year. Certainly, well deserved for all our teachers!
o ECDA will also be embarking on a three-year national campaign to raise the profile of the sector and highlight the important role of our early childhood educators.

5 This year, we also introduced the Early Childhood Development Centres Act, which will ensure higher and more consistent quality standards across our sector. 

Many educators and operators had given valuable input in developing the new legislation and regulatory standards along with us. 
Thank you for your effort and patience as the sector transitions to this new regulatory framework over the next year.

Inspiring Leadership, Nurturing the Future  

6 Looking ahead, a key area of focus will be stronger leadership development for our sector, across all levels and in various capacities. 

At the National Day Rally this year, Prime Minister Lee shared our vision of nurturing able and committed EC professionals whether as specialists, supervisors, principals, or teachers. 
Each of you can be a leader in your own area, as you guide those around you.
The video we saw earlier testifies to the many leadership roles that all early childhood educators play.  

7 In this fast developing sector, shared leadership and teamwork are vital for success. Allow me to share with you three key moves that we will be making to strengthen our teachers’ leadership capabilities collectively: 

First, a new milestone development programme to groom strong leaders.
Second, growing the fraternity of Pinnacle leaders.
Third, more resources and support for educarers and leaders to enhance the quality of child development at the Early Years.   

Grooming Strong Leaders 

8 First, grooming strong leaders. 

9 Many of you have heard about the PDP (or Professional Development Programme) for teachers and educarers, which ECDA had rolled out in 2016. 

To date, we have appointed close to 80 educarers and 250 teachers onto the programme. 
In time to come, many of these educarers and teachers will be able to take on greater responsibilities, exercise greater leadership and make a greater impact in our sector. 
The nomination for the next cohort of PDP (Teachers) is still ongoing till 10 November this year, so I encourage the centre leaders and operators to nominate your teachers for the programme. 

10 Building on our efforts to groom these promising educarers and teachers, we want to do more to develop the next generation of capable leaders.   

11 Today, we are launching the Professional Development Programme for Leaders. 

The programme supports experienced centre leaders and lead teachers who are motivated to deepen your knowledge and make a bigger impact in early childhood. 
As a PDP (Leader) participant, you will be placed on a three-year structured programme. You can look forward to at least 180 hours of professional development during that period. Highlights of the programme include: 
o Learning beyond your centre, and from the larger fraternity through an ECDA-funded overseas study trip, local conferences and courses;
o Practising what you learn by leading your centre in various projects.
To recognise your contributions to the sector and your professional growth, you will also receive a significant award spread out over three years as you complete the key programme and service milestones. 

12 Ms Thahirah, Principal of Iyad Perdaus Nurture Care, is one of our leaders who told us that she is happy that PDP is finally extended to leaders. 
As a principal, she believes it is important to hone her leadership skills.  
She values the wide variety of development opportunities that PDP offers and is keen to network, learn from and collaborate with other early childhood leaders.  
She also looks forward to the overseas study trip as it would be an invaluable opportunity to gain exposure beyond Singapore and bring those ideas back home. 
Head of Iyad, Mdm Zaiton is keen to nominate Ms Thahirah for this programme as she feels that it will broaden her perspectives and enable her to value-add to the centre. 

13 The nominations are now open till December. 

I call on our preschools to nominate aspiring lead teachers and centre leaders like Ms Thahirah for the PDP programme. 

Growing the Fraternity of Pinnacle Leaders    
14 Second, growing the fraternity of Pinnacle leaders. 

We introduced the ECDA Fellows Programme in 2015. 
This programme creates opportunities for established leaders to make a greater impact on the sector.  

15 ECDA Fellows are our Early Childhood ambassadors – positively influencing the centre leaders and teachers around them. 

They drive quality improvements in our sector, and inspire and contribute to the professional growth of our educators. 
All 14 ECDA Fellows from the pioneer batch have been working closely with ECDA to train and mentor other early childhood professionals through initiatives such as Inquiry Based Action Plan (IBAP) Projects. 
Over 1,000 leaders attended these training sessions and almost all found such training useful for their professional development. 

16 Take the example of one of our ECDA Fellows, Mrs Elsie Tan. 

She has been the principal of the Living Sanctuary Kindergarten for close to 15 years.    
Elsie shared that the ECDA Fellows programme has allowed her to contribute beyond her own centre and grow personally and professionally. 
Building on her strength in curriculum innovation, she developed a series of workshops to guide centre leaders across the sector to review their teaching practices and develop creative yet practical ways to deliver their curriculum. 
She has since mentored 42 centre leaders, taking extra effort to visit them at their centres to observe, troubleshoot, and discuss areas of improvement. 
Elsie and other Fellows were also able to visit preschools in South Korea last year. Such trips enabled our Fellows to have valuable exchanges with their overseas counterparts in early childhood. 
In addition, the camaraderie among the ECDA Fellows has also given Elsie support to champion positive changes in the sector.
I am told that Elsie’s centre won the ECDA Outstanding Centre for Teaching & Learning Award this year. Congratulations to Elsie and her colleagues! 

17 The application of ECDA Fellows programme is now open till the end of this month.

I would like to invite experienced leaders with deep expertise and who desire to serve the larger early childhood fraternity to join this programme. 
I also call on centres to recommend and support your outstanding leaders as they will become more valuable assets to your organisation through this programme. So, as much as they will give, they will also take back to your centres. 

Enhanced Support for the Early Years 

18 Third, enhanced support for educarers and leaders for the Early Years. 

19 With the growing demand and emphasis on the Early Years of child development, early childhood teachers and leaders will need to be well-equipped for the entire spectrum of child development from 0 to 6 years old.

20 Today, I am pleased to launch the Early Years Development Framework Educarers’ Guide, which we developed in consultation with early childhood practitioners.  

The Guide is specially written for educarers’ use. 
It includes the theories behind the suggested practices and their relevance in supporting children’s development.
It also provides practical tips and activities that you can carry out with the children during your daily interactions with them.  

21 I encourage educarers to make good use of the guide to reflect and improve on our own practices. Leaders can also refer to it when leading your teams in professional discussions.

22 As you use the guide, we hope you can give us your feedback, so that we can continue to shape, enhance and improve this guide for the benefit of your children. 

Conclusion  

23 Colleagues, friends, it is an exciting time to be in the early childhood profession. 

24 I believe many of us in the sector were happy when the early childhood profession was featured so prominently in the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally this year. 

25 A good early childhood education can make a great difference to our children. It gives them a good head start in life, regardless of their background. And our profession needs to grow and develop, so we can play our part in nurturing our future generation.

26 As educators, you can certainly look forward to even stronger support at every stage of your career. In particular, those who aspire to make a bigger difference to the sector will have more opportunities to do so.  

27 In line with this, we have added a new “Promising” award category this year, to recognise aspiring early childhood professionals who show strong potential for professional excellence.  

28 Finally, I would like to thank our sector partners for walking this journey with us. 

It has not been easy coping with the many changes that are taking place, but collectively as a community, we have moved several steps forward. 
But let us all continue to support the on-going effort to grow and develop our teachers and leaders. 

29 I look forward to work with you, with your centres and organisations, to provide the best possible start for every child – and every teacher!

30 I wish everyone a meaningful and fruitful conference. Thank you. 

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Published On Tue, Oct 10, 2017
Last Reviewed On Thu, Oct 12, 2017

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