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$2.8m IT aid for 60 non-profit pre-schools to lighten admin workload
Thu, May 27, 2010
The Straits Times

By Ang Yiying

SIXTY childcare centres and kindergartens run by non-profit groups in Singapore are to receive a US$2 million (S$2.8 million) boost that will put them on the IT track.

The gift from the Lien Foundation and the United States-based Salesforce.com Foundation will make available to the pre-schools an array of Web-based applications to manage data - such as student profiles or fee-collection information - and lighten the administrative workload of their teachers.

Even in a country as wired-up and high-tech as Singapore, teachers in some of these pre-schools have been, for instance, marking attendance manually and getting administrative assistants to file hard-copy attendance sheets.

Of the US$2 million donation, half will come from the Salesforce.com Foundation.

It will take the form of licences to use the Web-based applications of its commercial parent, Salesforce.com, a Web-based business applications provider. The 11-year-old foundation, the philanthropic arm of the business, has so far helped more than 8,200 non-profit groups in 70 countries with donated or discounted Salesforce.com licences.

The other half of the donation, from home-grown philanthropic organisation the Lien Foundation, will pay for customising the Web-based applications to fit the pre-schools' purposes, IT training and hardware.

Of the 1,300 childcare centres and kindergartens here, roughly four in 10 or 540 are run by non-profit operators such as voluntary welfare agencies, foundations and religious groups.

Sixty centres will be shortlisted from the 540 based on their existing ties with the Lien Foundation and their operators' willingness to adopt change through IT.

A consultant from Salesforce.com will evaluate the needs of each participating pre-school, which will choose from a suite of Web modules it can use to manage its data.

Lien Foundation chief executive officer Lee Poh Wah told reporters yesterday that the foundation is pumping funds into non-profit pre-schools because of the 'dismal state of IT adoption' in them.

These schools lack the budget to put such systems in place, he said, adding: 'This, to me, is not an IT project, but is a major change-management exercise.'

Ms Lindsey Armstrong, the Salesforce.com executive vice-president for Japan and the Asia-Pacific, explained that Web-based applications are more suitable for non-profit groups than traditional client server-based applications because they cost less to set up and maintain.

A pilot programme involving five centres will start next month.

Two of the five have been confirmed: the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS) childcare centre in Sembawang and the Presbyterian Community Services' childcare centre at Yishun.

Ms Nadhira Koyakutty, who oversees early childhood education for PPIS' five childcare centres, said she is expecting teachers' manual tasks to be lightened and student records to be streamlined.

Within 1-1/2 years from next month, all 60 participating centres will be on board the programme, which is expected to help 600 teachers.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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