Demand for affordable, accessible and quality pre-school has never been higher
- Five years ago, we had achieved close to 100 per cent attendance for kindergarten, providing childcare places for one in six children.
- Today, we are providing childcare places for one in three children from eighteen months to six years of age.
- In the next five years to come, we will be targeting a cohort participation rate of one in two.
- We have done various things to make sure that childcare remains affordable, especially to the mass market.
- Earlier this year, we revamped the child care subsidy scheme beyond a universal subsidy scheme, and added new tiers of assistance to families who need it most.
- We have made it a point to make sure that even the poorest family will be able to access childcare at the nominal rate of just $3 per month per family.
- We have made it possible for two in every three households to benefit from the additional assistance that we give to the childcare fees.
- We will continue to focus our subsidies on the lowest income families and the mass market, to ensure that all our families have access to affordable, accessible and quality childcare services.
- In the areas of accessibility, we have rammed up the support for the Anchor Operator Scheme to increase their capacities in the heartlands.
- We are in the process of evaluating new Anchor Operators, and hopefully by January, we will be able to make announcements on the new Anchor Operators that will come onboard to expand the mass market options for our people.
- But beyond expanding the Anchor Operator Scheme, we have also rolled out a series of schemes to support our operators. This includes supporting operators with a social mission by having the Preschool Opportunity Fund to help children from lower income families.
- We have increased the development funding for VWOs to set up centres and to proliferate some of their best practices.
- We have expanded capacities in the areas of demand, through portable rental subsidies, incentives to set up child care centres at work places and commercial buildings, grants to convert kindergartens with excess capacity to childcare, and a new tender bidding system for HDB and government-owned sites where price is not the only criteria to allocate sites.
- Going forward, in 2014, our big push would be to up the numbers and quality of the sector.
- There cannot be a quality early childhood sector without quality teachers. Teachers are at the core of all that we do. You are the ones who will deliver the quality programmes for our families and our children.
- Beyond teachers, we need a framework – a quality framework – so that we can all speak a common language as to what we mean by providing quality programmes for our families and children.
- We also need to develop the leadership in the sector so that we have quality leadership, quality operators.
- All these must come together. Our end goal is to have a corps of committed and respected childcare teachers in our society. We still have some way to go to achieve that.
Big push 2014: Numbers and Quality
- In 2008, we have about 8,000 teachers and educarers in the sector. Today, we have 12,000, which is a 50 per cent increase.
- In the next three to five years, we will need to increase by another 2,000 teachers at the very least to meet the demand for new and quality programmes.
- In August this year, we have strengthened the ECDA Training Award to give more support to full time Polytechnic Diploma students in Early Childhood Education who are committed to join the profession after graduation. We have enhanced the monthly allowance and provided additional support for Professional Development.
- We have harmonised degree and part-time scholarships and made them available to all preschools, so long as they serve their bond in the early childhood sector, instead of a particular kindergarten or childcare centre only.
- In terms of quality, we are rolling out a structured induction and mentoring programme for our first year teachers who are joining the sector.
- This includes centre-based mentoring programme, as well as encouraging the pairing of senior teachers with new members who are joining the early childhood sector.
- ECDA will develop a mentoring and induction framework, and this will be rolled out in the first half of 2014. It will consist of seminars and centre-based orientation and mentoring programmes for our new teachers.
Continuing Professional Development
- In the first half of 2014, ECDA will also push out the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Masterplan. There will be structured pathways for teachers and leadership development.
- It will cater to the different aspirations within the early childhood sector. For those of you who aspire to go on the teaching track, we will roll out a structured programme whereby you will be able to attend courses to upgrade yourself from teachers to senior teachers to mentors and so forth. Others in the sector who aspire towards a leadership position will also have a separate track whereby we are hoping to groom a core of dedicated leaders.
- The programme will outline the roles and responsibilities for the senior teachers, mentors and leaders in the sector.
- We would want to partner the Master Teachers and Mentor Principals to bring up the quality for the rest of the sector.
- There will also be Core and Milestones courses rolling out in the first half of 2014. It will cover knowledge and requisite skills for specific job roles, and this will be developed in consultation with the sector.
- There will be guidelines on the number of training hours on continuing education for our teachers in the sector.
- We will also make available an online portal for teachers to plan their individual training roadmap, and this will be out in the second half of 2014.
- Most importantly, there will be incentives and recognition for our teachers and professionals who have upgraded themselves through CPD. This will be laid out in the second half of 2014.
- But beyond trying to enhance CPD training, we are also introducing support measures to make sure that our early childhood professionals can go for the training and upgrading as necessary. We will set up a pool of qualified relief teachers.
- We will reach out to ex-teachers, and we will have new courses to train other relief teachers who may be interested to come in and join us on a part-time basis.
- We will also look into flexible staffing requirements during those days that you go for training or even to take a break. We will do all of these in the first half of 2014.
- We are committed in making sure that we continue to attract committed professionals into the sector and for the sector to be a respected profession.
- The Government will put in much more resources.
- But we cannot do this alone; we will need to work with the operators to come together to design programmes to uplift the quality of the sector; We will need the operators and teachers to come together to design the training modules; and we will also need the parents’ support to appreciate the time that the teachers put in to hone their skills and knowledge.
- More resources will be made available to both educarers and parents. Example is ECDA’s new magazine called “Beanstalk”, to make available teaching resources to the early childhood profession, and to forge a closer partnership between parents and educators.
- The challenges are not easy, but we are committed to making sure that we have a strong and respected early childhood sector.
- We are committed to do more and we will. It is my commitment to take care of you, for you to take care of our children. So work together with us, work together with the operators, work together with the parents.
- There will be setbacks, but so long as we stick together, we will get there.