Pat's Schoolhouse in a fix over 'minimum space' rule

SINGAPORE - A childcare centre has been forced to scrap its new infant care services after parents found that it violated a little-known rule giving each child a minimum amount of space.

The Pat's Schoolhouse branch in Mount Emily even had the length of its licence cut from 24 months to six so that the national early-childhood regulator can keep a closer eye on it.

When parents and children returned for the first day of school on Jan 2, they discovered new arrangements in place at the centre, which is housed in a bungalow next to Mount Emily Park.

Four classes, for two- to four-year-olds, had been crammed into a sub-divided hall that previously housed two classes. And instead of napping in their own classrooms, some of the pupils in full-day childcare had to nap in another room.

After doing some research, one parent found out that the new arrangement violated the Early Childhood Development Agency's (ECDA) minimum space requirement of 3 sq m for every child. This area excludes the space needed for services such as showers, storage and a sick bay.

A group of parents wrote in to complain to the ECDA, pointing out this breach.

Housewife Sherry Wong, 33, whose four-year-old and six- year-old are pupils at the centre, said: "It was a huge shock to the parents. When you want to fetch your kid, you're tripping over all the little ones."

During a surprise inspection, ECDA officers found the centre had violated the rule and issued a warning letter.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, where ECDA is housed, said the centre had not informed the agency of the details of its renovation plan before the work was carried out. She also confirmed that the centre's 24-month licence had been revoked and replaced with a six-month one.

This is the first space-related complaint the agency, which was set up in March, has received "in recent times", added the spokesman.

A spokesman for Knowledge Universe Singapore, the parent company of Pat's Schoolhouse, said the centre had wanted to start infant-care services because parents in the area were asking for them.

In a meeting with parents on Jan 17 following the complaints, the centre said it would not go ahead with infant-care plans.

Now, one of the classes has been moved to a music room but parents are not pleased with that either. Operations manager Jesslyn Lim, 36, whose son is in K2, said she hoped the issue would be sorted out by this week.

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