More pre-schools with lower fees in the pipeline

PARENTS have been promised more pre-schools with lower fees and better quality, under a new scheme that will subsidise such centres.

The partner operator (POP) scheme will require participating childcare centres to cut fees - which must be capped at about $800 a month for full-day childcare - and attain government certification for quality.

In return, they will get government funding totalling about $250 million over five years. The median fee is now $900 a month.

The scheme also aims to encourage small operators to band together and share resources.

While having a variety of learning models is good as children learn differently, a pre-school sector that is too fragmented "does us no good", Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said during the debate on his ministry's budget in Parliament yesterday.

He asked: "Does it make sense for us to have more than 600 sets of curriculum requiring so many teams so much time to develop?"

He also announced other initiatives to improve the pre-school sector, including a plan to set up larger centres to meet the high demand for childcare, and a professional development programme.

All POPs are expected to reduce fees, even if their current fees are below $800, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) told The Straits Times.

The POP scheme will complement an existing scheme for anchor operators (AOPs). These larger players get priority in securing Housing Board sites for centres, and cap fees at $720 a month.

Non-AOPs that offer at least 300 childcare places each or as a group can apply to join the POP scheme by April 10. ECDA is expected to appoint POPs by the end of the year.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong asked Mr Chan if for-profit operators could apply. Mr Chan said they would have to "convince" the authorities they are not using public funds to increase profits.

"I am committed to help operators who put the social mission of caring for our children first... I want to make sure that services are affordable for the families, quality is assured and teachers are paid well, but it will not be my remit to help private operators make profits," he said.

Administration executive Lynnette Loong, 35, hopes her five- year-old son's pre-school will join the scheme, so she can pay less than the current $855 a month."We also have an infant and may have a third child, so all the childcare fees could become quite costly," she said.

This article was first published on March 14, 2015.
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