$25m for small pre-school with social aim

SINGAPORE - Small pre-school operators with a social mission have received a $25 million funding boost from the Government.

The money will be paid out over the next five years, as part of two initiatives that support voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and other operators offering programmes to help disadvantaged children.

The schemes are also part of a drive to make quality pre-school education more affordable and accessible.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing revealed the details on Wednesday after a visit to Far Eastern Kindergarten in Newton.

First, the development grant for new childcare centre sites run by VWOs in Housing Board estates will be increased to 50 per cent of the start-up costs involving the development of infrastructure, up from 20 per cent.

The scheme began on Wednesday, and the first two eligible sites are in Tampines and Jurong West.

Said Mr Chan: "It will lower the cost pressures and we hope the VWOs will translate some of these savings into lower fees."

Pre-school fees have been rising over the years: The median fee for a full-day childcare programme at a pre-school on HDB premises was $615 a month last year, up from $548 in 2008.

The second scheme is a new Pre-School Opportunity Fund which will support projects that promote the holistic development of disadvantaged children, such as those from low-income and dysfunctional families.

These projects could include learning excursions, admission fees for plays, and resources for character development activities.

The grant is capped at $1,300 per child per project. Funding support lasts up to a year, with the first application window starting on Wednesday and ending on Oct 15.

The two initiatives are part of a package of support schemes for small operators.

Mr Chan said some of them have "good innovative programmes and they provide the added capacity for the mass market". He added: "At the end of the day, we want to uplift the entire sector."

Small pre-school operators welcomed the new schemes.

Learning Seeds Child Development Centre's supervisor K.S. Lash said: "We organise excursions for the kids, but parents who cannot afford it sometimes take their kids out of these trips."

Ms Margaret Chua, executive director of Bethel Community Services which runs three pre- schools, said the enhanced development grant could allow her to set up more centres to help more disadvantaged children.

More support schemes will be rolled out in the next few months, including efforts to raise the quality of teaching resources.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg


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