SINGAPORE - A study has been launched to find out if babies and toddlers develop better when they are cared for or taught by just one teacher instead of a few.
Conducted by the Seed Institute, the study aims to determine if a curriculum that emphasises relationship building makes an impact on a young child's physical, emotional and social well-being.
The institute is a unit of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and runs diploma and degree courses on early childhood education.
It said that if the findings from its latest research show that young children become more confident and learn better under the watch of one main teacher, parents can expect NTUC First Campus to implement the curriculum from next year. NTUC First Campus is the biggest childcare centre operator here, with 105 centres.
Research has shown that strong attachment to and bonding with an adult are crucial in a child's development, especially in the first three years when brain connections are being formed.
Studies emphasise the role of primary caregivers in helping children to be independent and resilient and to learn well. For example, a child has difficulties in forming secure relationships when he has to interact with many adults at the same time.
So having a key teacher should mean that the teacher would understand the young child's cues, needs and preferences better, said Professor Marjory Ebbeck, senior academic adviser at the Seed Institute and director of its centre for research and best practices, who is leading the study.
Over time, the child would then trust the teacher and become more responsive, she added.
The institute decided to conduct the study partly because the high turnover rate in the industry means children in childcare centres may be exposed to multiple new faces.
In 2011, 13 per cent of childcare teachers left the sector. It is common for some centres to change teachers every three to six months, said the institute's academic director Ho Yin Fong.
The study will be carried out for over a year on 65 children who are aged up to three years old. It will be funded by $354,000 from the Lien Foundation.
Three months ago, the institute started a pilot at My First Skool in Woodlands, run by NTUC First Campus. Instead of five teachers dividing their attention between 12 infants in a class, each teacher is now specifically assigned to two or three toddlers.
"This means that there will be less herding behaviour in which a teacher, like a sheepdog, instructs everybody to do the same activity at the same time," said Dr Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, deputy director at the Seed Institute.
Instead, the teacher can plan activities for the child based on his interests or abilities.
Ms Intan Ismail, 34, a childcare teacher who is involved in the pilot, said: "In the past, we had group activities. But now, some kids do hand painting and others handle Play-Doh or water, based on what they like to do or have an aptitude for."
Housewife Carolyn Quah, 32, took her son, then aged three, out of a childcare centre in Alexandra two years ago because he was behaving badly after having five teacher changes in two months.
"He was crying every day, his language skills worsened and he became violent towards his brother when he came home," she said.
Although the childcare centre was within walking distance of her home, she transferred him to another one in Ghim Moh that required her to drive to. "It's worth it because the teacher there bothered to build rapport with him one on one. From then on, he didn't cry any more," she said.
Childcare manager Sandy Koh at YWCA, which runs 10 childcare centres, said building such strong relationships is paramount but may not be feasible.
She said: "There are manpower challenges. It is hard for the same teacher to receive the kid at 7am and send him off at 7pm, as teachers work in shifts and there is a high turnover."
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