4 pre-schools apply to widen heartland reach

SINGAPORE - Four of Singapore's biggest private pre-school operators have applied to a new help scheme to set up more centres in Housing Board estates.

They are EtonHouse, Knowledge Universe, and a joint proposal by Modern Montessori International (MMI) and Carpe Diem.

But one much-anticipated operator gave the government scheme a miss on Tuesday when applications closed at 4pm.

The Young Women's Christian Association said it was worried that with the manpower crunch in the sector, it may not meet the official requirement to create at least 1,000 places by 2018.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development, which is co-managing the scheme, was unable on Tuesday to confirm the total number of applications it received.

The scheme aims to extend the list of anchor operators beyond the current two: NTUC's My First Skool and PAP Community Foundation.

It requires the operators to keep fees affordable for the average family, in a government bid to offer more options to low- and middle-income families as it ramps up childcare places to meet demand. In return, they will get subsidised rent and a government grant they can use to hire better-trained teachers, among other things.

The private operators will know the outcome of their applications by the year end.

MMI's chairman T Chandroo foresees attracting and retaining teachers as one of his biggest challenges.

"We will offer more training opportunities and work-life balance initiatives to overcome this," he told The Straits Times.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, who provides educational resources to schools, said the scheme has given the existing two operators huge advantages "so it is good that there is now more competition as parents will stand to gain".

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