Parents worry about overcrowding, standard of care in bigger childcare centres

Parents worry about overcrowding, standard of care in bigger childcare centres

Is bigger better?

With childcare centres of the future set to take in as many as 300 to 500 children, that question is on some parents' minds.

While some laud the move to ease demand for childcare at areas concentrated with young families, others are concerned about whether the standard of care can be maintained.

On March 13, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing mentioned during the ministry's debate in Parliament that the Government is helping anchor operators develop bigger childcare centres and provide an additional 2,400 new places over the next few years.

This is beyond the original target of adding 20,000 childcare places between 2013 and 2017.

Usually, a centre in a HDB void deck can take in about 100 children.

A father of three, Mr Kong Yew Kiin, 36, said the bigger centres "allow more parents who are both working to have a solution to take care of their kids".

But it should extend beyond primary caregiving since children are in childcare most of the time, said the business owner, who has two-year-old twin sons and a son, aged four.

Madam Chan, a teacher who has two daughters, aged two and four, is concerned about the quality of care and whether standards can be maintained.

GOOD LEADERS NEEDED

She said: "The centre will need strong leadership to ensure that it can be well run."

Madam Siti Rufeah Abu, 33, a mother of three children aged between three months and five years, is also worried about overcrowding.

Said the housewife: "There's a risk of 'expanded ratio', especially if a teacher is on leave or resigns and (the school) cannot get a replacement.

"This will reduce the amount of attention given to each child."

And when seasonal illnesses like influenza hit, there's a higher likelihood of children catching the virus, "as the centres will be more crowded and it will be difficult to isolate the sick children", she said.

Smaller childcare centre operators said size does not matter, as long as the ratio of teachers to students is kept low.

What matters is the management standards of the heads as there will be challenges, said the principal of Bright Kids School House in Punggol, who wanted to be known as Ms Tang, 30.

She said: "There are not just children but parents and employees to handle as well."

But bigger centres may slowly edge out the smaller ones, as the smaller operators may not be able to compete.

Madam Lena Ng, who is in her 40s, principal of Genius School House in Punggol, said the bigger operators have the financial muscle to afford newer and better facilities such as air- conditioning, which some feel provides a more conducive environment for children to play and learn in.

She said: "Parents are going for affordable centres. My centre is 10 years old and it is hard to compete. When parents come in, the first impression lasts.

"I have to think of how to renovate my centre. Then there's rental to pay and teachers' salaries are going up."

Despite that, she receives at least two inquiries about vacancies daily from parents and she has had to turn them down as her centre is full at the moment.

"There's a long waiting list, about 100 in total for all the age groups," she said.

One of the anchor operators, PAP Community Foundation (PCF), said the jumbo centres are likely to be standalone large sites.

With larger spaces, PCF will have the opportunity to vary the curriculum and design a more varied and innovative programme, such as to include more science and other project- based activities, said its spokesman.

She also said quality can be maintained as PCF will establish "effective human resource and operating practices which commensurate with the scale of the centres".

PCF's largest childcare centre is in Nee Soon South, which can accommodate 248 children.

"We are able to operate this centre without concerns raised," the spokesman said.

But from a child's development point of view, a bigger centre is not better, said Dr Lily Wong, 70, a teacher-educator and educational psychologist.

The executive director of Advent Links-SAUC, a centre that specialises in training early childhood teachers, said: "Preschool children are not socially-inclined. They will feel lost. The attachment is very important. The communication has to be one-to-one.

"When the centre gets very big, it has to be very community-based. The basic care is taken care of, but the children's socio-emotional development will be neglected."

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