MOE looking to provide childcare at 2 pre-schools

Families at a roadshow, informing them of the five new MOE kindergartens, at Punggol View Primary in April. Demand at Punggol View has been strong, but the take-up rate at the other four pre-schools has been low.

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) said it is working with operators to provide childcare at two of its five new kindergartens if there is enough demand from parents.

School buses will also be made available, but only for those attending the centre in Punggol due to a lack of interest in transport services at the other pre-schools.

While parents may be drawn to the MOE brand name, they have cited the lack of childcare and school bus services as key concerns when deciding whether to sign their children up.

Close to 20 parents have even withdrawn their children after getting places. Those interviewed gave the lack of after-school care and transport as their reasons.

The Straits Times understands that about 250 children have enrolled for the five kindergartens, down from 269 three months ago, despite the ministry extending the April registration deadline.

The pre-schools, which open next year, offer 560 places. But with the exception of the one at Punggol View Primary, the take-up rate has been low.

The centre at Farrer Park Primary, for instance, filled 18 of its 120 spots by April's deadline. The other centres are at Dazhong Primary in Bukit Batok, Blangah Rise Primary in Telok Blangah and a void deck in Tampines Street 45.

Unlike many pre-schools, which have after-school care up to 7pm, classes at MOE's centres run for four hours in the morning or afternoon.

After getting feedback from parents, the ministry in May polled those who applied to the kindergartens to check on whether they wanted transport and childcare services. A third said they were interested.

After queries from The Straits Times, the ministry revealed that it is working with "possible providers" who are able to offer childcare services for the kindergartens in Blangah Rise and Punggol View depending on demand.

"The child could attend MOE kindergarten in the morning and care services in the afternoon," said an MOE spokesman. "We are re-surveying the parents to confirm demand and will update them on the availability of care services in mid-September."

Childcare will not be provided at the other three centres as operators were not interested or could not give viable schemes at reasonable fees "owing to the low demand", the spokesman added.

Parents have been advised to enrol their children in nearby childcare centres instead.

But the news that care services may be provided at two centres came too late for some.

A mother of four, who gave her name as Mrs Suriyanti, pulled her son out of MOE's Punggol kindergarten as "the childcare arrangement was unconfirmed".

"So I registered my child at another Punggol kindergarten which had childcare," said the 35-year-old housewife.

Real estate manager Tan Hwee Ling, in her 30s, who registered her four-year-old son at the Blangah Rise centre, also changed her mind after being told there would be no school bus service.

"It is quite a pity... I have faith in the MOE curriculum," she said.

But most are staying put.

Said shop owner Sherry Lim, 45, who signed her only son up for the Tampines kindergarten: "An MOE officer called to say that the school won't be providing school buses, so I'll have to think of other transport options. But I'm still keen to try the MOE curriculum."

Stockbroker Won Tien Ching, 32, enrolled his child in the Farrer Park pre-school. He said: "Some may not be confident as the kindergartens are part of MOE's pilot programme, but I believe that MOE will set a high standard."

Still, several parents hope that details on childcare will be firmed up soon. Information technology technician Andy Lee, 38, who enrolled his daughter in the kindergarten in Punggol, said: "They must confirm fast, or else we might not stay on. Both my wife and I are working parents and we really need childcare."

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