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Singapore Government

Pre-recorded Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Health and Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs at the Early Childhood Celebrations (ECC), 29 October 2022

Pre-recorded Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, Second Minister for Health and Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs at the Early Childhood Celebrations (ECC), 29 October 2022

1. Good morning! I hope all of you are having a good time at the inaugural Early Childhood Celebrations. While I may not be here in person due to a work trip, I want to convey my heartfelt appreciation to all our preschools and educators, and celebrate your achievements.   
 
2. Let me first thank our educators gathered today, those who are in person and those who are online. Your dedication and hard work to nurture our children and keep them safe in our preschools during the pandemic and now living with COVID-19 have been truly remarkable.  
 
3. Today we celebrate the achievements of our educators, preschools and the home-centre-community partnerships in the Early Childhood sector. Congratulations to all ECDA award winners, SPARK centres and partners of the Start Small Dream Big movement! Kudos to all of you for your commitment to keeping children at the heart of all that you do. 
 
Supporting Families Through Early Childhood Education 
 
4. Preschools and educators play an important role in providing quality care and education for our children. Through your efforts, you support families, the bedrock of our society. As educators, your provision of care and education give parents the assurance that their children are well taken care of. You work closely with parents to equip our children with the skills and dispositions to develop holistically and thrive. In this way, preschools create a supportive environment for families to thrive and flourish. 
Building a Singapore Made For Families.  
 
5. As educators, you also work hard to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds, in close partnership with parents and the community. So that they too can have a good start in life, learning alongside their peers and going on to thrive. As part of the Forward Singapore exercise, we will discuss and review how to address the gaps that remain for certain families and their children, so every child can have a good start, regardless of background and ability.  
 
Acknowledging Progress  
 
6. I am glad that many Singaporeans recognise the importance of early childhood education. Preschool enrolment has been increasing, with almost 9 in 10 children aged 3 to 4 enrolled in preschool today.  
 
7. The Government has taken decisive steps to provide every child with access to affordable and quality preschool education. Last year, we spent $1.8 billion on early childhood education, and we expect to double this spending over the next few years.  

a. To meet the growing demand for preschool, we have more than doubled the number of full-day preschool places in the past decade. 
 
b. Today, there are over 200,000 preschool places, enough to accommodate every resident child aged three and above.  
 
c. We continue to expand the number of places in Government-supported preschools, with more than 60% of children able to have a place at present. We are on track to reach 80% by 2025.  
 
d. We also continue to drive quality improvements in the sector. We updated the EC skills framework, introduced the continuing professional development roadmap, and enhanced leadership training. We are refreshing our preschool learning and development frameworks to keep them up to date with the latest research and practices, and will launch the updated Nurturing Early Learners Curriculum Framework for children aged 4 to 6 in just a few days’ time. 

Supporting Expansion through Quality Manpower  
 
8. The progress attained in the EC sector would not be possible without our educators and leaders. Our EC fraternity is now over 23,000 educators strong and each one of you plays a critical role in driving the quality of early childhood care and education for our children. To support preschool expansion, we will require over 3,500 more educators by 2025.  
 
9. The demands on EC educators have become greater and more complex, requiring a wider range of competencies and deeper skills.  

a. For instance, as we enhance inclusion in preschools, our educators need to acquire new skillsets to manage a classroom of diverse learners, including those with additional needs. 
 
b. Besides teaching and caring for children in their classroom, educators also need to work more closely with parents and community partners to foster children’s growth and learning at home and in the community. Supporting the holistic development of our children.  

10. Educators’ salaries have risen in tandem with the larger job responsibilities and deeper skills requirements. The average salaries for educators in Governmentsupported preschools have increased by around 20% from 2018 to 2021, outpacing that of the general market. 
 
11. But more needs to be done to ensure educators’ salaries commensurate with their increasing contributions and professional skills. As such, we will work closely with Government-supported preschools to raise EC educators’ salaries over the next two years.  
 
12. First, we will raise the starting salaries for fresh EC diploma graduates joining Anchor Operators from about $2,600 today to at least $2,800 in 2023.  
 
13. Second, EC educators and leaders working in Government-supported preschools can expect a 10 to 30% increase in their monthly gross salaries over the next two years. Better performers will receive larger increases. 
 
14. This is a significant move to allow preschools to better attract and retain talent, to support the sector’s continued growth in the coming years. 
 
15. Educators must take charge of their own professional development. Growing in skills and competencies, as well as taking on larger and more complex job roles will in turn enhance career and salary prospects.  

a. The Anchor Operators have put in place structured development programmes to support the growth and development of their educators and leaders.  
 
b. ECDA will continue to support educators and leaders from non-Anchor Operators in their development through the Professional Development Programme. 

Expanding Access to Affordable Preschools  
 
16. With the increase in educators’ salaries, some parents may be concerned that this will cause preschool fees to increase, especially as inflation rises. Parents need not worry.  We will ensure that the government-supported preschools become even more affordable.    
 
17. As announced in 2019, our target is to lower full-day childcare fees at Government-supported preschools, such that before means-tested subsidies, dualincome families would pay around primary school fees plus after-school student care fees. 
 
18. In 2021, we lowered fee caps at Partner Operators towards this target. In other words, Partner Operators cannot charge fees exceeding this cap.  Despite the rising cost of preschool services, parents have benefited from these fee caps at Government-supported preschools. Which are enabled by substantial government funding to Anchor and Partner operators.  
 
19. We will take another step towards our target next year. Fee caps at Government-supported preschools will be lowered further from January 2023.   

a. Fee caps for full-day childcare and infant care at Anchor and Partner Operators will be lowered by $40, while the kindergarten fee cap will be lowered by $10.  
 
b. Around 100,000 Singaporean children will benefit.  

This demonstrates Government’s continued commitment to ensuring affordable preschool education. 

20. To meet the continued strong demand for preschool, ECDA will also work closely with Anchor Operators to create 22,000 more full-day preschool places over the next two years. Most will be in new estates where young families are concentrated. 

a. About 2,800 and 4,400 places will be set aside for infant care and playgroup programmes respectively. 

21. Together, these moves further contribute to a supportive environment for families. Where families can access preschool education for their children, and be assured of their affordability and quality. 
 
Caring for Educators’ Well-Being 
 
22. Educators are the heart of quality preschool education. We recognise that attracting and retaining talents within the sector goes beyond ensuring fair and competitive salaries. It is important we take good care of our educators so that you can sustain meaning and motivation in what you do and be the best teacher to the young children under your charge.  
 
23. Over the past few weeks, we conducted a poll with centres and spoke with some of you to better understand your experience and perspective as educators. I am heartened to know that many of you find meaning, fulfilment, and joy in watching young children grow and develop under your care. While your job is meaningful, we also recognise the challenges in your day-to-day work. I would like to take this opportunity to share a few findings.  

a. Some said that it was challenging to spend enough time with your loved ones as you had to work after hours or on weekends.   
 
b. Others expressed that you did not feel adequately recognised as a professional or for your efforts in nurturing our children.  
 
c. Many of you also pointed out that you found yourself having to manage competing demands from children, parents, other colleagues and even ECDA.  

24. We hear you. In the coming months, we will engage operators, educators and parents to co-develop solutions to improve educators’ well-being and working conditions. Ideas include reviewing the requirement for centres to operate on Saturdays for better work-life balance, and increasing non-contact time to allow for personal respite and professional reflection. We will also explore growing a pool of relief staff to better enable you to take leave to attend to your family and personal needs.   
 
25. Centres, parents and educators have different needs. We will need everyone’s support and understanding as we review the ideas and find ways to address and balance these needs. For example, 

a. Operators and preschool leaders will need to be committed to providing noncontact time for educators and making covering arrangements for staff who need to take leave. 
 
b. Parents who tap on Saturday preschool services today will have to make alternative arrangements if centres do not open on Saturdays. 
 
c. Educators will also need to balance your time well for self-care and honing your professional practice, so you can continue to serve with passion while developing and applying new skills and competencies. This will in turn help our children learn and develop better. 

26. We hope to share the outcomes of the engagements by the middle of next year. 
 
27. Everyone has a part to play in making preschools a better place for our educators to work in. Even as we co-create new solutions, there are a few things we can already start doing today. 

a. Operators and preschool leaders set the tone for a positive work culture. We have gathered ideas from the sector and developed a new HR Good Practices 
Guide for operators and preschool leaders to help manage educators’ workload and create a more positive and supportive working environment. I hope our preschools will leverage this Guide to put in place good HR practices. 
 
b. Lastly, I wish to encourage parents to show more appreciation for our EC educators. It goes a long way in motivating our educators to do their best for our children. One educator we spoke with said that she wished to see “Happy 
Parents, Happy Teachers”. It is also my sincere wish, and I hope parents’ wish to see “Happy Teachers, Happy Children”. 

Conclusion 
 
28. To conclude, the Government is committed to enhancing access to affordable, quality preschool, to build a Singapore Made For Families. We will continue to invest in early childhood education, building on the progress achieved thus far to give every child a good start in life.  
 
29. To all our educators, we are committed to supporting you as you continue the good work in partnering with families and the community to nurture and support our children. You are making a real difference in our children’s lives. We value you and we will continue to support you. 
 
30. Once again, congratulations to all ECDA Awards winners and centres who have achieved SPARK certification and commendation.  
 
31. I wish you an enjoyable Celebration ahead. 

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