2 'model' centres to push boundaries in pre-school teaching

SINGAPORE - Childcare centre operator NTUC First Campus and local philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation are teaming up to open two "model" centres in Serangoon and Jurong to explore new ways of teaching pre-schoolers.

The organisations, which also want to start a campaign to raise the status of pre-school teachers, hope to set the standard in facility design and early education.

"We are not satisfied with the status quo and will push the boundaries to bring early childhood education to greater heights, to benefit families in Singapore," said Mr Chan Tee Seng who heads NTUC First Campus, which runs 119 childcare centres.

He referred to last year's Starting Well report commissioned by the Lien Foundation which showed that Singapore was lagging behind many developed countries in the pre-school sector.

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah, whose charity is pledging $5 million to the two centres, added: "We wish to spur the development of more well- designed pre-schools which not only optimise resources but also become inspiring places of learning for children, teachers and parents."

My First Skool@Braddell Heights Community Hub in Serangoon will take in 200 children aged two months to six years when it opens in December.

It will feature rooms designed for specialised play and music lessons, plus a courtyard for art and water play. Fees are set at $630 a month but with subsidies, children from low-income families will pay as little as $3.

The other centre in Jurong, which will begin operating by next April, will be the second branch of The Caterpillar's Cove, a childcare centre which NTUC First Campus runs in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

As this centre will receive no funding under the Government's Anchor Operator Scheme, fees will be $1,352. But 15 per cent of places will be set aside for children from lower-income families, who will receive grants from the Lien Foundation.

Teachers at the Jurong centre, which will cater to 130 children, including 12 infants between the ages of two months and 11/2 years, will have at least a degree in early childhood education.

It will be located next to NTUC's Seed Institute, which trains pre-school teachers. That will allow it to serve as a living classroom where trainee-teachers can be attached.

The centre will let academic staff from the Seed Institute study infant care - an area in which research is lacking - as well as how children from low-income families can be levelled up through pre-school education.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in March that it is opening five kindergartens next year to distil best practices in childhood education and spur improvements in pre-schools here.

But there has been a muted response from parents to these new pre-schools, which open next year and cost Singaporeans $150 a month, partly because of their location in mature estates and a lack of childcare services.

Mr Lee said MOE should consider offering childcare services at its kindergartens. Mr Chan added that the locations of the two private centres were chosen carefully to ensure that there will be demand.

Registration for the My First Skool centre will open by the end of next month but parents can go onto the My Skool website to indicate their interest.

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