Tackling Singapore's childcare crunch

Tackling Singapore's childcare crunch

SINGAPORE - Just Kids Learning Place has opened one new centre every year since 2004 - until recently.

The childcare chain, which has seven centres, has not been able to find a suitable site in the past two years due to the keen competition among operators for space to expand.

This has in turn pushed up rental rates to as much as $40,000 from $20,000 five years ago.

"While there is strong demand for childcare places, we find it hard to expand because of the lack of suitable sites and trained teachers," said Ms Lurvin Lee, director of the pre-school chain.

Meanwhile, demand for childcare services has almost doubled in the past eight years, as more working parents enrol their children in pre-schools.

Last year, 75,530 children were enrolled in these centres, up from 44,224 in 2005 - even though the number of children aged seven and below has remained stable at about 280,000 in the past decade.

Queueing up for a childcare place

The result: a worsening childcare crunch, with some parents having to wait as long as two years for a place at the more popular centres.

As at August, all estates across Singapore have enrolment rates exceeding 73 per cent.

In "hot" areas like Punggol and Sengkang, which tend to attract more young couples, the figure can go up to close to 90 per cent.

To meet the growing demand, the Early Childhood Development Agency, which oversees the sector, has recently rolled out a slew of measures to encourage operators to set up more centres.

These include offering rental subsidies to eligible private operators who agree to keep fees affordable.

The aim is to add 20,000 more places by 2017 - enough for one in two children, up from one in three now.

But the impact of the measures will go beyond adding places. They will allow the Government to better regulate the industry in terms of fees and quality, short of nationalising the sector as some have suggested, say observers.

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