In a stacking ring toy used to develop a child's fine motor skills, the biggest ring goes in first to form a sturdy base.
That base is what the Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDC) Bill hopes to be for the early childhood sector, said Minister of Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.
"The ECDC Bill seeks exactly to be that strong and reliable base for the sector - to consistently provide good quality programmes that give our young parents peace of mind when it comes to the safety, well-being and development of their children," he told Parliament yesterday to kick off the debate.
The Bill was passed yesterday and the law will come into effect over the next year.
It will cover private childcare centres and kindergartens, which now come under the Child Care Centres Act, but exclude those run by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which are governed by the Education Act.
Three key provisions were introduced in the Bill:
- Childcare centres and kindergartens have to renew their licences regularly. Childcare centres already do this while kindergartens are registered through a one-off process. The maximum tenure will be extended to three years, up from the current two. Pre-schools with at least two consecutive two-year licences will be given a three-year licence.
- On top of entering and inspecting pre-schools and taking documents from them, Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) officers will get more investigative powers to interview people, and take photos, videos or audio recordings at pre-schools.
- The penalty framework will now have a wider range of regulatory sanctions to make sure the penalty is proportionate to the breach. The new law carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and a year's jail.
The current Child Care Centres Act carries a maximum of $5,000 fine and two years' jail while the Education Act has a maximum $2,000 fine and a year's jail.
While MPs supported the Bill, some were concerned with potential fee rises.
Mr Tan said the new law is unlikely to, and should not, lead to higher fees as the regulatory framework has been carefully calibrated to raise the quality of programmes without unnecessarily raising costs.
He said the two main cost drivers for pre-schools are rental expenses and teachers' salaries.
Some MPs also raised concerns about MOE kindergartens staying under the Education Act instead of coming under the new law, with Nee Soon MP Lee Bee Wah asking if it was a case of double standards.
Mr Tan said that prior to ECDA, the early childhood space was left to the market. MOE later stepped in with MSF to develop a curriculum and standards for the sector.
"MOE is not a fringe player that's coming in or one of those establishments that has no background. They are intimately involved in the process from day one. And MOE, I think, will fulfil ECDA's requirements along with the rest of the industry," he said.
Manager Alan Cheng, 34, who has a three-year-old girl, told The New Paper: "As my wife and I work, we have no choice but to put our girl in a childcare centre.
"Knowing that everyone who works there, from cleaners to third-party vendors, will have to be approved by ECDA for their suitability gives us peace of mind."
This article was first published on March 1, 2017.
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