Training for childcare teachers under spotlight

SINGAPORE - Last month, Ms Tracy Er and other pre-school teachers from the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) attended a course on how to better engage special needs children, and another one about teaching phonics.

Ms Er, 42, a YWCA teacher for six years, finds such training is beneficial. "With proper training, we're more proficient in the delivery of our lessons," she said.

At YWCA childcare centres, teachers go for a minimum of 20 hours of training each year - even though it is not mandatory.

It has more than 100 teaching staff in its 10 childcare centres here.

Sending childcare teachers for upgrading courses may become compulsory in future, if a proposal by the Education Services Union takes off.

The union, which represents pre-school teachers here, said last week it was in talks with the authorities to require childcare centres to send their teachers for a minimum number of hours of upgrading courses before the centres can renew their operating licences.

MP Ang Hin Kee, who is executive secretary of the union, said more discussions would be needed on the minimum amount of training, and whether it should be spread over a few years to allow centres more flexibility.

Mr Ang floated the idea as part of a move to raise the quality of the pre-school sector after an alleged child abuse incident at an NTUC My First Skool centre happened earlier this month.

Pre-school experts said most operators send their staff for continual training during the few days each year when the centres are closed.

The Early Childhood Development Agency, which oversees the preschool sector, allows childcare centres here to close for 5½ days each year - apart from Sundays, public holidays and the half-days that they may observe on the eve of any three public holidays. They are advised to use 2½ days for staff training.

But early childhood consultant Philip Koh said this is hardly enough. "It is good to set a minimum number of hours, to make sure teachers keep abreast of new developments and have refresher courses," said Mr Koh, who suggested centres close for around seven days each year for staff training.

Childcare centres, some of which open six days a week, said it is difficult to allow teachers to go for training during working hours - a problem made worse by the sector's manpower crunch.

YWCA childcare manager Sandy Koh said its teachers go for training during working hours on a rotational basis, but added: "We don't have school holidays like kindergartens. If we conduct the training during school days, operationally, it could be difficult."

Others said they have to find creative ways to squeeze in more training time for teachers.

Said Ms Rhonda Ng, director of childcare chain Carpe Diem which has over 220 teachers in 26 centres: "If it is a school day and teachers go for training, they would usually do so in the afternoons, during the kids' nap times or when some children go home. Otherwise, the rest of the teachers will have a heavier workload."

Mr Chris Lim, director of Agape Little Uni which has about 100 teachers in its 10 childcare centres, added: "We make an effort to plan duty rosters such that teachers can still go for courses when centres are open, and such that the required teacher-student ratio is still met."

Dr Khoo Kim Choo, who runs Preschool for Multiple Intelligences, suggested centres close on Saturdays, as many parents work five-day weeks: "There would be more opportunities for parent-child bonding, and teachers can rest or go for training on Saturdays. This would benefit both parties."

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