Centre leaders and teachers,
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am very happy to be able to join all of you here this morning, and I am sure you have had an enriching conference thus far.
The Early Childhood Conference has become an annual high point for the sector, for us to take stock of our progress, celebrate our achievements, and to reflect on how we can improve, and just as importantly, catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances and connections. And I think when we talk about a ‘village’, this is really where it starts. It is about establishing relationships with each other.
A growing village
The video we just saw shows us how important strong partnerships between teachers, parents and pre-schools are to a good start for every child. As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child well, and I am glad that we are working together more closely as an early childhood community. Let me share a few examples.
The first is in giving vulnerable children a good start in life. Earlier this year, I visited Australia to learn how the government and a wide range of community partners formed a strong network to support vulnerable children. There are also other countries exploring this with their own programmes. We are trying to see how to apply these lessons into our KidSTART pilot, by working closely with other government agencies and our community partners to test out various models of support for vulnerable children. We know that the impact and influence that these children have in their earlier years can have lifelong consequences. I think that is really important because what we trying to do is to narrow the gap, so that when these children enter primary school, they have opportunities like every other child.
A second example is in teaching our young children that it’s never too early to give back to society. In true kampong spirit, over the past six months, children and their parents from over 300 pre-schools have taken part in the “Start Small Dream Big” initiative to help the community through many creative projects. I look forward to celebrating their success at the closing ceremony next week.
I believe our village has grown from strength to strength with the help of many partners:
a. Together, we have made quality early childhood care and education more affordable and accessible to many more children. We have added nearly 40,000 new child care places since 2013, and this is double our target. Together with enhanced subsidies, low-income parents may only need to pay as little as a few dollars a month.
b. We have also made further progress in raising the quality of the sector. More pre-schools are now certified under the Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework, or SPARK. We will also bring the child care and kindergarten sectors under a single regulatory framework next year.
Strengthening the village
This significant progress we have made would not have been possible without all of you – our teachers. Our teachers are at the heart of quality care and education that we want to establish here in Singapore. Let me now speak more about what we are doing to develop our teachers. We have grown from about 14,000 in 2014 to close to 16,000 teachers today, and we estimate that we will need a total of 20,000 teachers by 2020.
To meet the sector’s growing manpower needs, earlier this year, we set up a tripartite committee for the early childhood sector, comprising representatives from the government, unions (i.e. The Educational Services Union), industry and professional associations such as ASSETS (Association of Early Childhood and Training Services) and AECES (Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore)), pre-school operators, educational institutes and training agencies. We also conducted surveys with teachers, parents and operators. Over the past year, the committee has worked hard to develop a comprehensive plan to develop our teachers and make the profession a more attractive one. Many of tripartite committee members are here with us today. I would like to thank them for their time, hard work and the many ideas that they have contributed to this important effort. A round of applause to all of them! I think it is one thing to be passionate and have ideas, but it is really about putting in place systems and processes. This provides a framework for us to develop all you as teachers, and to provide a pathway so that you can all become better at what you do, and enjoy many meaningful routes to progression.
Allow me to broadly outline the Early Childhood Manpower Plan and some of its key recommendations. The vision for this Manpower Plan is to create meaningful and rewarding careers for our teachers, and in turn, we will have quality care and education for our children. The plan also articulates a desired vision for the early childhood profession:
a. First, teachers have meaningful career progression opportunities, regardless of their starting points.
b. Second, teachers have a supportive working environment, helping them to focus more on what they love most about their job.
c. Third, to establish and nurture greater respect and recognition for our teachers.
The Early Childhood Manpower Plan builds upon the many initiatives that we already have for the sector. Let me elaborate on what it means for you.
First, more opportunities to join and develop professionally in the early childhood sector.
To attract more to join this fraternity, we have enhanced training awards and internships for students, increased the intake for early childhood courses, and introduced Professional Conversion Programmes and Place-and-Train programmes for those who join us mid-career.
I am pleased to announce that all EC courses will be available in Place-and-Train mode from next year. This will provide greater flexibility and support for mid-career professionals to embark on their early childhood training, while earning a salary at the same time.
For our teachers to grow and develop professionally, we have, amongst others, the SkillsFuture Study Award to deepen specialist skills, the ECDA Fellows programme to develop pinnacle leaders, and the Professional Development Programme for teachers to take on larger job roles.
To further support the career progression of our teachers, I am also pleased to launch the Skills Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education.
This framework is developed in close partnership with many teachers, employers and the union. It spells out enhanced career progression pathways in the early childhood sector, as well as specific skills and competencies required for the various job roles.
a. For early childhood teachers, you can use the Skills Framework to develop yourselves professionally by identifying your learning needs and sourcing for professional development opportunities. You can track your training online through ONE@ECDA, which allows you to search and sign up for courses and receive direct updates from ECDA.
b. For operators, the framework will be useful for professional development planning and performance management. It is meant to benefit not just larger operators but the smaller ones too. Macpherson Sheng Hong Child Care Centre is an example of a pre-school which has found the Skills Framework useful in refining job descriptions, helping teachers set goals and improving training road maps. One of the teachers who can benefit from this is Ms Ramachandran, who is on the PDP for Teachers. The career pathways described in the framework provide a clear picture of the opportunities available for her once she completes the PDP. For instance, she can take on more mentoring roles as a Senior Teacher, before working her way towards becoming a Lead Teacher or a Centre Leader.
c. Of course parents too will have greater peace of mind, when your children are in the care of teachers who are deeply skilled in supporting their development, and who are continuously upgrading and improving themselves.
I hope that more operators and teachers will make use of the Skills Framework. You will find a copy of the framework in your conference packs, and you can also approach the Skills Framework booth at the exhibition hall to learn more. I do encourage you to make use of this opportunity to do so.
To support the Skills Framework, we will also create more opportunities and flexible pathways for career progression.
a. For example, for an infant educarer who would like to work with older age groups but does not have the required academic qualifications to embark on the training, we will recognise her competencies acquired from prior learning and working experience. Interviews and employer recommendations will also be taken into consideration. These changes will be implemented next year.
b. Similarly, if you are currently a child care or kindergarten teacher and would like to work with infants, you can also do top-up modules which would help you acquire the necessary skills and competencies to specialise in this area.
I hope that these opportunities to reskill and take on new job roles will allow teachers to have more meaningful careers in nurturing our next generation.
A more supportive working environment
Let me move on to the second focus of the manpower plan, which is to enable a more supportive working environment and more productive work processes for our teachers. Today, aside from their core teaching and caring duties, our teachers have to undertake a range of administrative duties, many involving the use of pen and paper. These are important tasks to ensure the safety and well-being of our children, but we should try to make them less tedious.
We will support our teachers with technology solutions to help with these day-to-day tasks. This will free up more of our teachers’ time to be channelled to developing our children or engaging parents. Today, some operators are already using technology for tasks such as attendance-taking and temperature-taking. We hope that more operators will take up such solutions.
We have been working closely with our partners such as ASSETS and the Info-communications Media Development Authority to package a variety of smart solutions, some of which are being showcased at this Conference. We will provide funding support for operators to adopt these solutions. WDA has also appointed ASSETS as a multiplier to help raise productivity across the rest of the sector.
In addition, as part of the ongoing review of the regulatory framework for the sector, ECDA will look into how to reduce the administrative burden of reporting work that teachers need to do. So your feedback is important. I think you also know that deep down inside, the administrative duties are important.
Greater respect and recognition
The third area of focus in the manpower plan is to bring about greater respect and recognition of our early childhood teachers. I am very heartened that in my interaction with parents, many already hold our teachers in high regard because they witness first-hand how the teachers have helped their children grow, develop confidence and enjoy learning. In our survey with parents, most also said that they appreciate the work done by the teachers and that they highly respect the teachers as professionals.
We are already doing a few things today to recognise our early childhood teachers. In a few minutes I will be giving out this year’s ECDA Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Development, in recognition of outstanding teachers. I want to congratulate all the award winners, and thank all of you for your passion in giving every child the very best. Many of you are very passionate about nurturing our children.
This year, ECDA embarked on a “Say Thank You to Teachers” initiative coinciding with Teachers Day. Many parents have participated enthusiastically by submitting photos, which are also showcased at this conference. As part of this initiative, AECES, ECDA and WDA collaborated to come up with a privilege card for all early childhood teachers, which entitled them to promotions and discounts at participating merchants. These are excellent efforts to appreciate our teachers.
But I think that there is more we can and should do to acknowledge our teachers for the important and hard work they do. The Sectoral Tripartite Committee has recommended that early childhood teachers be given a day off on Teachers’ Day. I think this is a good suggestion. Operators and parents surveyed are also very supportive of this. In fact, kindergarten teachers and children do not come to school on Teachers’ Day. Many child care centres also already use their existing closure days to close on Teachers’ day.
For Teachers’ Day next year, I call on all centres to provide their teachers a day off to recognise their important contributions. To support this, from next year onwards, ECDA will provide child care centres an additional half a day of closure, on top of the five and half days of closure currently. In other words, centres will be given a total of 6 closure days going forward, of which one would be used to celebrate Teachers’ Day.
I believe that this is an important signal. Many of our teachers are parents yourselves and I hope this will give you more time to spend with your own children. I also urge employers to exercise some flexibility to allow parents with pre-schoolers to take leave or time-off on Teachers’ Day, to spend time with their children and allow teachers to have their well-deserved day off. Recognition is not something that we can force the parents and community to do, but I think we can encourage and we should try to celebrate the positives. Some of these steps taken are symbolic, but they are important gestures. And I do hope that we will continue to walk on this path because it is very important to support our teachers, to respect them and give them recognition.
Allow me to now conclude.
In summary, the Early Childhood Manpower Plan will bring about more meaningful career progression opportunities; establish a more supportive working environment; as well as greater respect and recognition for our teachers. This will ultimately benefit our children.
Indeed, the close collaboration of sector partners to develop the Manpower Plan embodies the spirit that it takes a village to support our teachers and raise our children. We have made good progress, but the work does not end here. I call on all of you to support the efforts under the plan and tap fully on the initiatives to better support our teachers. The government is fully committed to continue working closely with the sector to ensure that all our children have a good start in life.