First mega childcare centre opens doors

With 500 places on offer, the new E-Bridge Pre-School in Edgedale Plains in Punggol is five times larger than the average childcare centre in a Housing Board block, and it is already fully subscribed.

The centre, run by EtonHouse International, formally opened its doors yesterday - the first of five mega childcare centres being built by anchor operators to do so.

These operators, which include NTUC My First Skool and PAP Community Foundation, get government grants and priority in securing sites in HDB estates, and are part of efforts to meet the high demand for childcare places. But they cannot charge more than $720 a month for full-day childcare, among other conditions.

Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, who was at yesterday's ceremony, joked about wishing to be four again after touring the facilities.

He also stressed the importance of making available good-quality, affordable childcare under the Anchor Operator scheme. "The early childhood years set the foundations for life," said Mr Ng, who is also an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

"The experiences our children have in early childhood shape their capacity to learn and respond to future challenges."

The new centre is equipped with a specially developed sanitation system and temperature scanners similar to those used at airports. This will help to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), which is spread via bodily fluids and is common in pre-schools.

Previously, some parents had raised concerns that such large centres would allow HFMD to spread more easily. Last week, the Health Ministry also sent out a statement saying that it is working with partner agencies to step up HFMD prevention. As of April 28, it said, 36 childcare centres and kindergartens had clusters of prolonged HFMD transmission this year.

Special disinfectant canisters in the new centre's classrooms will keep the air free of contaminants. It is also designed such that various sections can be easily closed off in the event of a disease outbreak.

The new E-Bridge campus, which sits on 5,000 sq m of land, takes in children between two months and six years of age. It currently has around 80 teachers.

The building is divided into five sections, or "pods", which roughly correspond to five different elements - water, earth, fire, wood and metal. For instance, there is a water-play area equipped with taps, buckets and funnels, a sand pit representing "earth", and a mock cooking area associated with "fire".

The corridors between these sections, meanwhile, appeal to the five senses. One is lined with windchimes, while another is stocked with jars of dried spices.

There is also a hedge maze on the rooftop and a herb garden behind the school that is stocked with plants like mint, lemongrass and pandan.

"Older children will be able to grind and touch the spices, for example, while the younger ones can smell them," said Ms Leanne Sunarya, executive director of pedagogy. "We believe that children learn best through play, and all the areas are designed to help them develop a wondering curiosity about the world."

The other centres, located in Yishun, Woodlands, Jurong West and Sengkang, are expected to be ready by the end of this year.

This article was first published on May 8, 2016.
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