Bilingual pre-school a hit with parents

SINGAPORE - A new bilingual pre-school championed by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has received an overwhelming response.

About 300 young parents thronged the first open house for Hampton@Tanjong Pagar, which aims to give pupils a head start in learning two languages.

Mr Lee announced the launch of the new centre last month at a National Day Dinner with residents in his Tanjong Pagar ward.

Sunday's open house - which attracted parents mainly from the Tiong Bahru area - was held off-site in Bishan as the pre-school will not be ready until December.

Hampton@Tanjong Pagar will be run by private operator EtonHouse and the PAP Community Foundation. It will have an infant care centre and run nursery and kindergarten classes.

Just two weeks after registration opened on Aug 19, the 98 childcare places and 12 infant care vacancies were several times oversubscribed. More than 200 applications for childcare and 100 for infant care had been submitted as of Sunday.

Balloting will be held this month, said EtonHouse group managing director Ng Gim Choo.

Priority will be given to families who live in the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru division of the constituency.

The centre, which will start classes for its first batch in January, offers a bilingual English-Mandarin curriculum. Two teachers, one who speaks English and the other, Mandarin, will be present in the classroom at all times. To help the children develop cultural sensitivity and a natural love for Mandarin, they will be exposed to Chinese art, music, theatre and literature every day.

Procurement manager Jackson Lim, 32, who has applied for a place for his one-year-old son, said it was important for his child to be exposed to both English and Mandarin. "Kids absorb languages easily at a very early age. It's good to expose them to English, a business language, and Mandarin which is often used in conversations in Asia," he said.

Mr Lee has previously said Singapore's bilingualism policy makes learning difficult unless the child starts both languages at an early age. He said research by American social scientists had debunked the belief that teaching young children multiple languages would only confuse them.

Assistant manager Lam Sian Ling, 37, has applied for an infant care place for her daughter, who is due to be born this month.

"The cultural immersion programmes will provoke their interest, unlike mechanical learning," she said. "We won't need to send them to specialised enrichment classes on the weekends."

Other parents were attracted to the centre's location, at blocks 123 and 126 in Kim Tian Road.

Tiong Bahru and its surrounding precincts have become home to more young, middle-income families, said Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah. "This in turn has given rise to greater demand for infant care and childcare."

The centre charges $770.40 a month for full-day childcare - about the industry median - and $1,364.25 for infant care. Registration closes on Sept 14, when another open house will be held at the Bishan branch.

jantai@sph.com.sg

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg


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