My First Skool raises fees - are parents paying too much?

My First Skool raises fees - are parents paying too much?
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Your child may not be old enough for you to worry about tuition just yet, but get ready to pay all the same.

My First Skool, the NTUC-run childcare/infantcare centre and preschool, one of Singapore biggest chains, has raised their school fees yet again, sending new parents into a panic.

The fee increase will be between $6 and $33 a month for childcare and $5 and $20 for infantcare.

Is this overkill when NTUC is supposed to be committed to making childcare services more, and not less, affordable?

They have been hiking up their prices a lot over the years

Up to $34 a month more may not sound like much at first glance.

But take into account the fact that My First Skool has been increasing their school fees every year from 2014-2016.

In 2013, it was announced that My First Skool would raise fees in 2014 by up to $32.10, as well as remove the sibling discount extended to parents with more than one child enrolled.

In 2015, they once again increased childcare and infantcare fees by an average of $32 a month.

2016 saw yet another fee hike, of an average of $34 per month for childcare and $14 for infantcare.

This means that it now costs about $100 a month more, or over $1,200 a year, to send your kid to My First Skool than it did in 2013.

To put things into perspective, My First Skool's monthly fees for childcare are currently $712.21 to $770.40 a month, while infantcare fees are $1,356.78 to $1,364.25 for Singaporeans.

The fee hikes since 2013 have thus added up to a good 15 per cent. The inflation rate from 2013 to 2016 certainly doesn't justify it, while wage increases over the same period have not kept pace either.

Pre-school is a financial commitment that spans many years

For many parents, the pre-school years are long and expensive.

Dual-income families who do not disrupt their careers after the arrival of their child, and who don't have maids or in-laws who can look after their children, are looking at paying for a good five or six years of infantcare and childcare before their kid is old enough to go to primary school.

That means that any price hike has lasting repercussions on families' cash flow.

Their fees are below the official cap, but so what?

My First Skool has retorted that they are still below the fee cap imposed on anchor operators.

Under the scheme, preschool operators are obliged to keep their monthly fees below certain limits, in exchange for funding.

The goal of the scheme is to keep childcare affordable, especially for lower income and disadvantaged children.

But this is cold comfort for parents who'll be feeling the pinch.

As one of Singapore's two largest pre-school operators, keeping fees below the fee cap is the LEAST they should be doing. In fact, they should not be charging anywhere close to it.

Financial assistance is not enough

While preschool operators might protest that they're offering financial assistance to those in need, in reality it is generally only offered in very strictly defined circumstances.

My First Skool's financial assistance programme is only extended to those with a gross monthly household income of $3,500, or $875 per capita.

But at such income levels, these families are usually already eligible for significant Infant and Child Care Additional Subsidies, which means My First Skool won't even have to fork out much to help them.

On the other hand, for squeezed middle class families, particularly those who are not eligible for the Additional Subsidy, the message being sent out is: don't have kids unless you are prepared to bear the costs.

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