The annual National Day Rally this year saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong affirming that Singapore will be expanding its yearly SGD$1 billion expenditure in early childhood education, manifold.
In doing so, the government is working on making preschool education more affordable over the next few years. Currently, only slightly more than 50% of preschools are supported by government. To implement affordability in the schools, the number of government-aided preschools will be increased to 80%.
These schemes come in light of a survey conducted by People’s Action Party Women’s Wing where affordability of preschools is the main concern of young parents.
Prime Minister Lee believes that just as local housing and healthcare comes with affodable and government-funded benefits, the preschool sector should also be able to offer quality, government-supported choices to all Singaporean parents.
MIDDLE-INCOME FAMILIES WILL NOT BE EXCLUDED
Apart from increasing the number of preschools, subsidies will also be raised. Currently, only families whose household income is below SGD$7,500 are eligible for additional means-tested subsidies. In order to include middle-income families in this scheme, the income ceiling will be raised to household income of SGD$12,000 per month, thus extending this subsidy scheme to 30,000 more households.
For middle-income families, preschool fees make up a bulk of the household expenses and the enhanced subsidy will help the families to cut down on the preschool expenses. As children grow and enter primary school, the academic expenses will only reduce to almost being free. Even with after-school student care, the expense would only amount to SGD$300 per child.
Thus, Prime Minister Lee stated that the goal of the government is to bring down full-day pre-school expenses to around the cost of primary school plus after-school student care.
Prime Minister Lee also noted that major developments have been made in improving preschool education. Apart from making preschool more affordable, efforts have been made to increase the preschool capacity to 180,000 places since 2012.
Additionally, the preschool centres have been transformed, with better-designed HDB void-deck centres and mega-centres, such as PCF Sparkletots at Punggol. The number of MOE kindergartens will also increase to 24 in the next few years. The National Institute of Early Childhood Development will also be set-up to provide enhanced training and career progression for preschool teachers.
KidSTART PROGRAMME WILL BE EXPANDED
Prime Minister Lee also announced that the KidSTART programme, that was established to help children from disadvantaged families, will be expanded to include another 5000 children in the next three years.
After the widening of the programme over the next three years, the government will analyse the results before taking stock again on how to expand it further.