Wed, Jan 20, 2010
The Straits Times
Level playing field for all

I AM disappointed to learn that the Government will not nationalise pre-schools ('Govt says 'no' to nationalising pre-schools', last Tuesday).

I find the observations of the expert group set up by the Government's feedback unit Reach to be valid, because the present divergence in quality of pre-school operators does not dovetail with the mainstream primary school system.

Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said diversity is beneficial as it gives parents the ability to decide what best fits the needs of their children. I beg to differ. We are different from Nordic and some other European countries with free education systems. We even stream pupils at the early primary level. The present pre- school arrangements do not allow all pre-schoolers to start on a level playing field.

Given the wide range of pre-school fees, from $150 to $1,500 a month, I doubt that parents in low- and middle-income families can afford to choose the best pre-schools for their children. The annual $200 subsidy hardly helps to defray costs. As a result, many bright children are marginalised through no fault of their own.

It is universally recognised that the first six years of a child's life are crucial to his rapid positive development, both physically and mentally. Stimulating physical, social and emotional environments in national pre-schools can help to develop the child to his full potential.

Nationalising pre-schools will ensure a good basic entry level into the mainstream education system for children from low- and middle-income families, while allowing high-income families to opt for private pre-schools for additional enhancement programmes.

Giving every child an equal opportunity from pre-school education onwards should be a basic national obligation.

Paul Chan

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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