SINGAPORE - Parents of pre-schoolers will have to pay higher fees in 2023, with major chains set to raise monthly charges by up to 11 per cent.
Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse, which has eight centres, will bill at least $1,600 before GST (up by $80) for its half-day programme and $1,800 (up by $100) for a full day from Jan 1.
In a circular to parents on Sept 1, it cited inflation and higher operational costs for the increase.
At Cherie Hearts, which has seven centres, fees will go up by 11 per cent, from $1,316 to $1,461 (including GST).
Charis Montessori, which has four outlets, will charge 10 per cent more, from $1,500 to $1,650, for its full-day programme, while MindChamps, which has about 40 outlets, will raise fees by 7 per cent from $2,055 to $2,195 before GST.
But pre-schools that receive subsidies from the Government to boost access to early education, especially for children from lower-income or disadvantaged backgrounds, have to keep fees affordable.
Anchor operator pre-schools appointed by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) currently have a fee cap of $720 before GST. These include PCF Sparkletots Preschool, My First Skool, M.Y World Preschool, Skool4Kidz and E-Bridge Pre-School.
ECDA-appointed partner operators such as Star Learners Child Care and Little Skool House have a fee cap of $760 before GST.
The agency said fee caps for anchor operator pre-schools have not changed since 2014, while those for partner operator pre-schools were lowered in 2021.
This has brought down median fees in the pre-school sector from $800 for full-day childcare in 2016 to $760 in 2021 before subsidies, it added.
The Straits Times understands that PCF Sparkletots, the largest pre-school provider with more than 360 centres that are attended by more than 40,000 children, is in discussions with ECDA over the fee issue. Its full-day programme costs $770.40 (including GST) before subsidies.
Star Learners, which currently charges $760 for its full-day programme, said it does not plan to increase its fees.
M.Y World, which currently charges $720, told ST that it is committed to "ensuring our curriculum continues to evolve with the interests of children today", but did not say whether it will be raising its fees.
There is good news for parents whose children attend MOE Kindergartens, whose fees will remain at $160 across its 43 centres for the K1 and K2 half-day programmes.
Its fees were last increased in 2018, by $10, said the Ministry of Education. The MOE Kindergarten programme was started in 2014 to provide affordable pre-school education to Singaporeans.
The fee hikes come on top of the current higher costs of many other goods and services because of inflation.
Mr Mark Lee, who has two children aged three and five in My First Skool and a one-year-old on the waiting list, is concerned about the potential hike in pre-school fees.
"It will be costly amid rising food, petrol and utility prices, and I will definitely feel the pinch," he said.
"The Government should consider subsidising or absorbing the increase for government-aided pre-schools. Private pre-schools can bear the bulk of the increases since they already charge a premium for their curriculum."
Noting that switching to a cheaper pre-school is not a simple matter, Mr Lee, who is in his 30s and works in business development, added: "Convenience is key too. If the cheaper option is a lot farther, then that is another (factor)."
More than 60 per cent of pre-school children are enrolled in government-supported pre-schools, according to ECDA.
ECDA provides basic and additional means-tested subsidies, with working mothers receiving $300, while others get $150.
In 2020, ECDA raised the gross monthly household income ceiling for means-tested subsidies from $7,500 to $12,000, and increased subsidy amounts.
Around 92,000 families now receive means-tested pre-school subsidies, up from about 48,000 children in 2019, said ECDA.