Demand rises for after-school care services

IT manager Henry Haw went through the nerve-racking process of balloting for a Primary 1 place at Hong Wen School for his daughter in July last year.

As if that was not stressful enough, Mr Haw, 41, had to go through another balloting four months later, in November, for a place at the school's student care centre.

He was vying with some 60 other applicants for 17 spots.

"It was a nerve-racking process," said Mr Haw.

"I'm glad that my daughter was selected. If not, I would have had to find other alternatives," he added.

More primary schools are holding ballots for their after-school care services, due to growing demand.

These school-based care centres, which are typically run by external parties such as voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators, offer services such as cooked meals, homework supervision, games and, in some cases, tuition.

Each centre takes in between 40 and 300 pupils, and most of them have a waiting list of about 20 to 40 children.

Over the past year, various operators of such centres have seen a 10 to 40 per cent increase in the number of pupils enrolled.

Besides Hong Wen School, other schools that have had to conduct balloting within the past year include Nan Chiau Primary, Punggol View Primary and Junyuan Primary.

Ms Peggy Ong, chief executive officer and founder of Pro-Teach Education Group, which runs the centre at Hong Wen, said that even after allocating places to priority cases, such as underprivileged pupils, there were still many other children who required the service.

"It is a case where there overwhelming response. We felt that it would be fairer for (them) to go through a balloting process," she said.

Pro-Teach, the largest student-care operator in Singapore, has had to conduct balloting for the past two years at Hong Wen Primary because of oversubscription.

At Nan Chiau Primary, operator Nascans had to hold a ballot last year for more than 260 applicants vying for 60 places.

The centre, which has 75 pupils now, said it is likely to hold a ballot next month if demand remains high.

More than half of Singapore's primary schools, or 101 out of 190, have in-house care facilities with an estimated 7,500 children enrolled. In 2008, there were only 32 such centres.

In March, the Education Ministry announced plans to raise the total number of these centres to 120 by next year.

This would mean nearly two-thirds of all primary schools will have a care centre, looking after about 10,000 pupils yearly.

For after-school care options, school-based centres are the next best alternative, especially for dual-income families, said parents interviewed.

They are cheaper, safer and more in tune with the school curriculum.

Fees for school-based care programmes range from $160 to $300 monthly, before subsidies.

These are generally lower than the $210 to $500 a month charged by community-based centres, typically located in bomb shelters and at void decks of HDB blocks and community centres.

Madam Lee Cher Ching, who has two sons in a care centre at Nan Hua Primary, said such places help to prevent children from having to wander around after school.

"It is more convenient and I don't have to worry about them as they are in a safe place," said the sales director for an IT firm.

But the biggest attraction is that such in-house centres work closely with the schools to develop programmes that are related to the pupils' studies as well as help identify behavioural issues in the children.

Make-up artist Iris Lau, whose son attends such a centre at Xishan Primary, said: "If he misses out on anything in school, the (care centre's) teachers will help him catch up."

This article was first published on Oct 17, 2014.
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