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Remarks by Minister at the Joint Ministerial Media Conference on Marriage and Parenthood

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Children & Families

1          Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us here today. I’m happy to share with you more about the significant preschool enhancements that PM outlined at the National Day Rally. These are important for a number of reasons.

Importance of Preschools

2          First, as Minister Josephine Teo said, making sure that good quality preschools are affordable and accessible is important to make “Singapore a Great Place for Families”.

3          Second, we want every child to have the best possible start in life, regardless of starting point or family background.

4          The early years of a child’s life are crucial for his development, building a strong foundation for subsequent life outcomes. At birth, a baby’s brain is only about 25% of the size of an adult’s. By age 5, a child’s brain has grown to about 90% of an adult’s – almost fully grown.

Progress So Far

5          Since 2012, we have made significant progress to raise the accessibility, affordability and quality of preschools for families.

a.           First, increasing the accessibility of affordable, quality government-supported schools.

i.           We expanded the Anchor Operator scheme in 2014 to provide more quality, affordable and accessible services.

ii.           We further introduced the Partner Operator scheme in 2016 to help lower industry full-day childcare fees (anchoring the median fees at $800 before GST).

iii.           Together with MOE Kindergartens, which started in 2014, these government-supported preschools now provide for slightly over 50% of preschoolers today, up from a third in 2012.

b.           Second, raising the quality of preschools.

i.           To improve teacher quality and attract more to join the profession, we introduced various professional development programmes, training awards, and scholarships.

ii.           We also set up the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) which took in its first batch of students this year.

iii.           To ensure higher and more consistent quality standards across preschools, we introduced new laws and regulations that apply to all preschools from January 2019.

iv.           We have also enhanced our preschool quality accreditation framework.

c.           Third, increasing the affordability of preschools.

i.           We introduced the Additional Subsidy in 2013 and last enhanced the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) in 2015.

ii.           Earlier this year, we streamlined applications for subsidy and financial assistance and made the criteria more transparent. We also enhanced subsidy support for non-working mothers in the midst of seeking employment as well as those who are full-time caregivers for their younger children.

6          For children who need greater support, we have also stepped up on our targeted efforts.

a.           Under the Preschool Outreach Programme, we reach out to low-income families with children who are 3 years old and above to encourage them to enrol early in preschool and support their regular attendance.

b.           For low-income families and their children, we have also introduced KidSTART to provide more holistic upstream support.

i.           You saw the video at the National Day Rally. It is a good programme. We will be expanding KidSTART to more children, as PM had said, and I will elaborate on this next month.

c.           For children with developmental needs, we have made early intervention services more affordable and customised to different needs. We will also be moving early intervention to ECDA, and are studying how to make preschools more inclusive.

Making Quality Preschools More Affordable and Accessible

7          We will now go further. The Government is committing to raise our support for preschool to be on par with general education, housing, and healthcare – in terms of the overall affordability, accessibility, and quality of services for Singaporeans. This will take time, but let me briefly lay out the steps we are taking in the near- to medium-term.

8          First, we will increase preschool subsidies significantly from next year, by raising the income ceiling for subsidy eligibility, and enhancing the quantum of subsidy for each income tier.

a.           Preschool expenses will fall, particularly for middle-income working families who receive fewer subsidies today.

i.           Take for example, a dual-income family earning $8,000 per month.

ii.           This family currently does not qualify for Additional Subsidy, and pays up to $470 per month for full-day childcare at an Anchor Operator after Basic Subsidy.

iii.          With the enhanced Additional Subsidy next year, they will pay $280 per month, which is significantly lower.

iv.          And this does not yet factor in the use of any Child Development Account (CDA) funds, including the CDA First Step grant and co-matching savings, which families can tap on to defray their out-of-pocket expenses.

b.          The Government will also enhance the already significant subsidies for low-income families, so that more families will qualify to pay the highly subsidised rate of $3 per monthfor full-day childcare at an Anchor Operator, or $1 per month for kindergartens run by Anchor Operators or MOE.

i.          Those who are still unable to pay can apply for financial assistance. For instance, start-up grants (SUG)2 are available to defray the initial costs of enrolling in preschool, such as uniforms and deposit.

9          Second, we will have more government-supported preschool places.

a.          By around 2025, 80% of preschoolers should have a place in preschools run by Anchor Operators, Partner Operators and MOE.

i.          At 80%, this proportion will be broadly comparable to what is provided in the housing and healthcare sectors.

b.          More Anchor Operator preschools will be built in areas of demand, especially estates with young families.

i.          We will continue to set aside void deck space for preschools, which are convenient for parents living in the vicinity. These will also be larger to enable better design.

ii.          Where demand requires, we will also develop large child care centres such as this one which we are in today, built and operated by one of the Anchor Operators, My First Skool. It specialises in the early years (age 4 and below), and also emphasises outdoor learning as you can see from its design features.

c.          For Partner Operators, we will expand the scheme to more childcare operators, as well as a small number of quality kindergartens, in 2021.

i.          Kindergartens that join as Partner Operators will have to meet conditions to ensure affordability, quality, and accessibility for all segments of the public.

10          Third, in the medium term, as we expand the government-supported share to 80%,

a.          We aim to lower fee caps at government-supported preschools so that working families with a child in full-day childcare will pay around the equivalent of primary school fees plus after-school student care fees, which is currently around $300 per month.

b.          Lower- to middle-income working families will continue to receive more help, and pay even less with means-tested preschool subsidies.

c.          As a first step, we will slightly lower the fee cap for childcare Partner Operators when the new five-year term for the Partner Operator scheme starts in January 2021.

11          With these enhancements, we hope to reduce concerns about the cost of putting children through preschool, and that working parents will have greater peace of mind knowing they are supported in their parenthood journey.

a.         By ensuring access to affordable, good quality preschool, we also give every child a good start in life, regardless of background. This is how the Government will build a society of opportunities for all, at every stage of life.

12          I will now hand the time over to Senior Minister of State Amy Khor, who will speak on the healthcare enhancements.