- Good afternoon educators, it is nice to see so many of you here. I am happy to be here with you at this year’s Early Childhood Celebrations and Conference, the first in this new biennial format. We do this to celebrate the contributions that you have made, and to learn new skills to better support our young ones. I hope that the conference has been enriching so far, and that the afternoon continues to spark deeper learning for all of us.
Progress of the Sector and ECDA’s 10th Anniversary
- Now, over the last ten years, we have made remarkable progress as a sector. Indeed, this year marks the 10th anniversary of ECDA, and as we celebrate the occasion, we want to recognise the many notable milestones that we have achieved together. Congratulations, ECDA.
- What are they? First, early childhood care and education is more accessible today , when we compare this to say ten years ago. Working with our Anchor Operators, Partner Operators and MOE Kindergartens, there are now enough full-day places for every resident child aged 3 and above. We will continue to work with Government-supported operators to grow the number of preschool places, such that 80% of preschoolers can secure a place in a Government-supported preschool by around 2025.
- We have also kept preschools affordable, through subsidies for all Singaporean children, and fee caps at Government-supported preschools. Means-tested subsidies were last enhanced in 2020 and fee caps were recently adjusted in January this year. What this means is that with lowered fee caps at Government-supported preschools, median industry fees have remained affordable and stable over the past decade, despite the rising cost of living. We will continue to do more on affordability – we aim to further reduce fee caps in Government-supported preschools in the medium term, so that dual-income families with a child in a full-day AOP childcare will pay around the equivalent of primary school fees plus after-school student care fees, before means-tested subsidies.
- We have also expanded support for children from lower-income families and children with developmental needs. Since 2016, the KidSTART programme has benefitted over 6,200 children from lower-income families. We will continue to progressively expand KidSTART nationwide, to equip more parents with the knowledge and skills to nurture their children’s development, and to promote preschool enrolment by age 3. For children with developmental needs, we piloted new programmes such as the Inclusive Support Programme to better meet the varied needs of our children, expanded early intervention capacity to meet growing demand, and lowered the programmes’ out-of-pocket expenses.
A Quality Early Childhood Education
- Indeed, we have achieved progress in making preschool accessible and affordable to all families in Singapore. Today, I would like to talk about one more aspect – that is, quality of our preschools and what it means for our children, educators, and parents.
- Like many important concepts, quality is multi-faceted and not easy to pin down. Nevertheless, we can see quality from the outcomes – when children feel safe and secure, they enjoy exploring and discovering, and ultimately, become healthy and happy individuals. Parents know this, when they share with me stories of how their children are thriving at their preschools.
- And we know from the science that the early years are essential. As children are growing, they are just beginning to learn to form relationships and expand their range of physical movements to explore the world. What we do in these years lays the foundation for children, enabling them to go on to become confident, well-rounded, and resilient individuals. A quality education in the early years therefore, by definition, has to be holistic. Beyond cognitive development, the physical, social and emotional, and communication and language domains are equally important. An OECD study showed that children’s emotional health is the strongest predictor of adult life satisfaction. Other studies have also shown social and emotional competencies to be fundamental to individuals’ resilience.
- Over the last 10 years, the Government has invested in efforts to support the holistic development of our children in preschools and to enable quality preschool experiences. One way we do so is through learning and development frameworks, which we regularly review to incorporate latest developments in early childhood education policies, practice, and research.
- Last year, MOE revised the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) Framework, to provide updated guidelines for educators in designing and implementing quality curriculum for children aged 4 to 6.
- To support educators in providing quality care and education for children of younger ages – from birth to 3 years – I am glad to announce that ECDA has updated the Early Years Development Framework, or EYDF. Today, I have the pleasure of launching the updated EYDF – the 2023 edition.
- The EYDF has been revised to be child-centric, focused on what is best for the developing child, and informed by research and practice. For example, one focus is on helping children develop secure attachments and enabling them to learn through exploration. The shift from centre-centric to a child-centric one is an important one as we work together – preschools, parents, and the community – to create environments and activities that are developmentally appropriate and nurturing for our children. We hope that educators, operators, and even parents will find the revised EYDF useful.
- In the past decade, the quality of preschool education has increased alongside the professional qualifications and deepening competencies of our EC educators. The Government has invested significantly in the training of EC professionals. Our educators are qualified professionals who go through rigorous courses and training to learn the best in child development theories and practices, and apply them in the classroom. It is not easy, but our educators do this day in and day out to give the best to our children.
- We want to continue to support all our educators in honing your craft. We want to help educators bring your expertise and passion to bear in preschools. This is why we are introducing the Quality Teaching Tool, a tool that will guide educators in designing meaningful learning experiences and facilitate quality interactions with children. ECDA has been working with the Centre for Research in Child Development at National Institute of Education (NIE) on the development of the teaching tool. We aim to make the tool intuitive and user-friendly, and expect to roll it out at the end of next year.
- A quality preschool is one with a culture of continuous learning and refinement. In addition to having thoughtful EC professionals who are intentional about engaging children meaningfully, preschools must have a positive culture which encourages reflective practice. Centres must value professional development so that educators can continue to grow and deepen their practice.
- Take the example of Ms Farhana Binte Mohamed Hassan, ECDA Awards 2020 recipient of the Outstanding Early Childhood Educarer, and her employer, PCF Sparkletots. Ms Farhana strongly believes in helping children develop confidence and independence and is deliberate about designing her interactions at PCF Sparkletots to enable these. The preschool also has weekly meetings where educators reflect on their competencies, have an exchange of ideas, and incorporate feedback from centre leaders.
- A quality preschool is one where our children can develop foundational skills they need for life and grow to become healthy and happy individuals. To enable this, the whole ecosystem must come together, and work in tandem – again, parents, the community, educators, and of course the Government.
- ECDA will step up efforts and work with the training providers to strengthen the capabilities of educators in developing children's social and emotional competencies and executive functioning skills.
- We will also work with preschools and educators to adopt developmentally-appropriate pedagogy for Numeracy and Language & Literacy, including the three Mother Tongue Languages. Enabling children to learn concepts at suitable developmental milestones and more importantly, nurturing their interest and curiosity. Preschools are to avoid over-teaching in Primary 1 academic content.
- The Government has found that excessive focus on academic skills and over-preparation to be detrimental to the children’s overall well-being and development as well as their interest and readiness to learn. Therefore, ECDA and MOE will be engaging parents and preschools on the pitfalls of academic overpreparation and encouraging them to support the holistic development of our children instead. MOE will continue current efforts to reach out to key stakeholders on expectations at the start of Primary 1, to prevent over-preparation, as well as work with primary schools to promote good lower primary programming practices to ensure a smooth transition for the preschoolers.
- Ladies and gentlemen, our children require supportive environments at school and at home to develop capacities they need for life, so that they become confident, well-rounded and resilient individuals. We need mutually reinforcing partnerships – where preschool educators complement the efforts of parents at home, and parents reinforce the learning at preschools; where preschools, primary schools and parents work in alignment to help children transit. Only then can we enable the holistic development of our children. Let us come together and work jointly to nurture our next generation.
Measures to support EC professionals
- The early childhood sector has come a long way in the past 10 years, and it will only grow to greater heights in the years to come. The Government is committed to grow the EC profession and to support the well-being and development of EC professionals. We will continue to develop meaningful professional development opportunities and facilitate better working conditions.
- To enable EC educators to do what they do best, we must support EC educators, and give them the time and space for their professional and personal development. This is why in July this year, ECDA announced the removal of mandatory Saturday childcare services from 1st January 2025. I am glad that the news was received positively by our educators. Many parents also understood and expressed their support.
- Today, I am pleased to announce that we will go one step further to support EC professionals.
a. We will designate Teachers’ Day and Children’s Day as preschool holidays with effect from 2024. Our preschool teachers will have these two days as holidays, just like other teachers.
b. These two days will be in addition to the six days each year, where preschools are allowed to close to allow preschools protected time to focus on educators’ individual and team development.
c. The six closure days will be renamed as ‘Development Days’ to better reflect its intent. Preschools can use these six days for training, curriculum planning, or staff retreats, among others.
- To align with workplace norms and provide more flexibility to preschools, we will remove the current provision for preschools to be closed on three half-days on the eve of five public holidays. Like other businesses, preschools can engage parents on their needs on these days, and make appropriate adjustments to staff manning or operating hours.
- Our preschool teachers are empowered to do their best to support our children when they have regular breaks for personal and professional development throughout the year, and daily. I strongly urge educators, operators and centre leaders to guard the breaks during the day for educators, which allows them to have meals and rest and recharge. This means that they should be free from teaching and caregiving responsibilities. Such provision is in line with the Employment Act.
- Now, it takes all of us to support our preschool educators in caring for our children. We thank parents for their understanding and support. We look forward to preschool operators as they adjust their schedules. Employers too need to be on board. We strongly encourage employers to support the caregiving needs of their employees during the preschools’ closure days, such as by allowing flexible work arrangements.
- Let me conclude. As early childhood educators, you play a key role in helping our young children gain the skills, confidence, and love for learning, which they will carry with them throughout life. Let me reaffirm my appreciation for all educators. We are committed to keep supporting the professional development and well-being of all our educators.
- I wish you all an enjoyable conference and celebration ahead!