Singapore pre-schools hire teachers from Taiwan

SINGAPORE - Pre-schoolers at some childcare centres in Singapore will soon be saying zao an to teachers speaking Mandarin with a slightly different accent.

Childcare operators from smaller, private ones to big players like NTUC First Campus have begun hiring Chinese-language teachers from Taiwan as pre-school education expands rapidly in Singapore.

The draw of Taiwanese hires: They come with good qualifications - all are university graduates in early childhood education; they have the famed Taiwanese warmth and friendliness; and their accent and culture are similar to Singapore's.

The teachers themselves gain from the international exposure and draw a salary that is about double what they earn in Taiwan.

Three of them are due to start work soon at Discovery Garden, a private operator of two childcare centres with 150 children in Yio Chu Kang Road.

The teachers - two Taiwanese and one Malaysian - are recent graduates of Hung Kuang University in central Taichung city.

They will join the school's current cohort of 25 teachers who, other than Singaporean English-speaking teachers, include one from Taiwan and seven from China.

The school's founder and director Sophie Shieh told The Sunday Times that Taiwanese teachers, aside from their Mandarin proficiency, are "pretty caring", which is the feedback staff and parents have given on the school's first Taiwanese hire.

"Caring teachers are what we need in this industry as they take care of children from one-and-a-half to six years," said Ms Shieh, a Taiwanese who is married to a Singaporean and has lived in the Republic for 13 years.

Pre-school education in Singapore has been expanding since 2008 under a government drive.

There are more than 1,000 childcare centres in the country, an increase of some 40 per cent compared with 2008.

The centres hire some 11,000 teachers and centre managers, of whom 20 per cent are foreigners, according to the Early Childhood Development Agency. It does not have figures on where the foreign hires are from.

Ms Chen Yi-ching is starting a two-year stint with NTUC First Campus later this month.

"It will be my first visit to Singapore and I'm looking forward to it," the 25-year-old Taiwanese told The Sunday Times.

She graduated from Chaoyang University of Technology in Taichung with a degree in early childhood development and education and has worked for two years as a community baby-sitter trainer.

"Singapore is very cosmopolitan and will give me exposure and fresh experiences, as well as a chance to practise English," she said.

NTUC First Campus, one of the largest childcare operators in Singapore with more than 11,000 pre-schoolers at its 119 centres, has offered 12 internships to Taiwanese early childhood education undergraduates since 2011 and has hired 10 graduates so far. It has a total of 1,700 teaching staff, of whom more than 500 are Chinese-language teachers.

A spokesman says the hirings are part of education exchange partnerships it has with universities in Taiwan and China.

Associate Professor Pan Thie-tzuen, head of the childcare and education department at Hung Kuang University, which is one of NTUC First Campus' Taiwanese partners, said Taiwanese teachers are on the whole better qualified than their counterparts in Singapore or Malaysia as they majored in childhood education in university.

Fifteen Hung Kuang graduates have worked or are working in Singapore, he said. Their starting pay is about S$2,000, compared with NT$18,000 (S$760) to NT$40,000 in Taiwan.

"On that pay, they can save as much as NT$25,000 a month," said Prof Pan.

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