Cabinet B- Education in Singapore Enabling Students To Have An Equal Chance At Succeeding Improving Pre-School Education

 
Cabinet B- Education in Singapore Enabling Students To Have An Equal Chance At Succeeding Improving Pre-School Education
Cabinet B- Education in Singapore

Enabling Students To Have An
Equal Chance At Succeeding

Improving Pre-School Education
                           1
Cabinet B- Education in Singapore Enabling Students To Have An Equal Chance At Succeeding Improving Pre-School Education
Table Of Contents

ENSURING EQUALITY IN EDUCATION                           4

Historical Overview                                      4

Current situation                                        7
  Previous Solutions                                     8

Challenges                                              10
  Social Equity Gap                                     10
  Stigmatisation                                        13

Projecting into the Future                              14

Conclusion                                              16

Questions for Discussion                                17

Bibliography                                            18

IMPROVING PRESCHOOL EDUCATION                           23

Background Information                                  24
  Premium                                               24
  Anchor Operators                                      25
  Partner Operators                                     25
  Development of Preschool Education in Singapore       26
    The Birth of PAP Kindergartens                      26
    PCF Kindergartens                                   26
    Nurturing Early Learners Framework                  27
    Early Childhood Development Agency                  27
    The Birth of MOE Kindergartens                      27
    Early Childhood Development Centres Act 2017        28
    National Institute of Early Childhood Development   29
    Heightened Support for Preschool Education          29

Current challenges                                      30
  Providing the capacity to accommodate diverse needs   31
  Resource constraints                                  31
  Standardisation vs. Flexibility                       32

                                                        2
Conclusion                 33

Questions for Discussion   34

Bibliography               35

                           3
ENSURING EQUALITY IN EDUCATION

Singapore has long prided itself on meritocracy. This belief that the brightest perform the best

permeates into our world-class education system as well, one that constantly places at the top in

overall PISA scores (The Economist, 2018). Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) has

expressed commitment in ensuring all students get equal opportunities to succeed in the system,

from the very start of students’ education journey in kindergarten (MOE, 2017). However, a

growing class divide has raised questions on whether all Singaporeans have equal chances to

succeed in the current system (Channel NewsAsia (CNA), 2019). Much like the Matthew Principle

where the haves will have even more and the have-nots will have even less, the affluent appear

to be increasingly going to more ‘elite’ schools, while the less affluent go to so-called regular

‘neighbourhood’ schools, fostering a sense of elitism (CNA, 2019).

Historical Overview

Singapore’s education system has evolved greatly over the decades under MOE's guidance.

From the industralisation-era machine focused on readying the masses for workforce recruitment,

to the current learner-centred model centred on inclusivity and individual progression, the

education system is constantly adapting based on the nation’s needs.

It largely seems that the system has been consistently successful, as reflected in metrics such as

the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Programme for

                                                                                                4
International Student Assessment (PISA), or the many editorials written about how to emulate the

system.

The table below roughly outlines the history of Singapore’s education system from the 1960s to

the present day (2020).

 Survival-driven Phase (1960s-1970s)

 1960           Introduction of Primary School Leaving Examination (NLB, 2015)

 1969           Junior college stream created (NLB, 2014)

 Efficiency-driven Phase (1970s-1980s)

 1979           Special Assistance Plan created (Ho, 2016)

 Ability-driven Phase (1980s-1990s)

 1980           New Education System created (ST, 2016)

 1982           Last vernacular schools close

 1984           Gifted Education Programme created (Loo, 2016)

                Laselle School of the Arts founded

 1987           SAP schools use English as a first language

                Independent schools formed (The Straits Times, 2016)

                Centralised Institutes formed (Outram Institute, 1989)

 Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (1990s-2000s)

                                                                                              5
1992         Joint Polytechnic Admissions Exercise introduced (JPAE, n.d.)

             Institute of Technical Education founded (Kow, 2011)

1993         Edusave system created (MOE, 2007)

1994         Normal Technical stream created (MOE, 2007)

Teach Less, Learn More (2000s-2010s)

2004         Direct School Admission programme created (CNA, 2018)

             EM1 and EM2 streams merged

             Singapore Sports School opened

2008         EM 3 stream scrapped

             IP Programme created

             School of the Arts created

             Primary school subject-based banding started

Every School a Good School (2010s-Present)

2012         MOE stops banding secondary schools (ST, 2016)

             MOE stops releasing information on PSLE top scorers (ST, 2016)

2014         Secondary school subject-based banding started (Teng, 2019)

2016         Early Admissions Exercise introduced (MOE, 2016)

2019         PSLE to be reformed using AL system by 2021 (ST, 2016)

One Secondary Education, Many Subject Bands (Proposed 2020s) (MOE, 2019)

                                                                              6
2020            MOE plans to remove secondary school streaming by 2024 and stop O’ and N’

                 Level examinations by 2027 (ST, 2016)

Current situation

The results of Singapore’s education system appear to speak for themselves, with Singapore

ranking at the top internationally for 3 consecutive PISA rankings (which take into account Math,

Reading and Science), until the most recent ranking from 2018 (although it still placed second).

Other indicators of its international competitiveness includes winning all but one edition of the

Angus Ross Prize for top ‘A’ level English Literature students outside the UK (Yang, 2017); as

well as overperforming in its IB results by containing over half of the global cohort’s perfect scorers

in 2020, alongside a 96.66% pass rate and an average score of 37.99 against the global average

of 28.52 (Ang, 2020).

Yet, there are signs that not everyone is given the same chance to perform at a similar level. For

instance, OECD’s PISA data indicates that Singaporean students from poorer social backgrounds

underperform by a greater degree when compared to their equivalents in other countries, which

hints that social class is a relatively greater obstacle locally (OECD, 2019). In Raffles Institution,

often considered Singapore’s top school, only 53% of its 2018 student cohort lived in public

housing (Ng & Toh, 2018), compared to the national average of 81% during the same year

(Data.gov.sg, 2019). While the PISA data does also suggest that Singaporean students have a

tendency to overperform their predicted performance based on social background (Teng, 2017),

                                                                                                     7
a clear gap still seems to exist hindering poorer students’ ability to gain access to the top

educational institutions, and hence further their prospects even more. Students who venture

outside the standard 6-4-2 system which has been in place since 1961 (MOE, 2007) - 6 years in

primary schools, 4 in secondary schools and 2 in tertiary institutions - may find themselves judged

or stigmatised.

Previous Solutions

MOE has implemented various strategies in an attempt to ensure every student has the

opportunity to play to their academic strengths and maximise their potential. These include (i)

curriculum standardisation, (ii) subject-based banding, (iii) specialised programmes to meet

specific learner needs and (iv) social and financial support programmes for the underprivileged.

For instance, all students are currently instructed a standardised curriculum with English as the

primary language of instruction. This was in contrast to vernacular schools of the past, which

divided students along racial lines and caused issues such as ineffective bilingualism and poor

literacy (ST, 2016). Streaming, which was intended to let students pursue their education at a

pace aligned with their perceived aptitude, has also been eliminated at the primary school level

in lieu of ‘subject-based banding’ that allows more flexibility for students in extending their

potential for subjects they are strong in, while working to improve their grasp on subjects where

they needed more assistance (MOE, n.d.). This move also came after parents were concerned

with the labels put on children for entering ‘slower’ streams (especially based on their aptitude at

the age of 9), and how that would affect their psychology. Secondary schools will also move

towards a similar system from 2020 onwards.

                                                                                                  8
Additionally, MOE has introduced a wide range of programmes over the decades to meet both

diverse learners’ needs, as well as the demands of an increasingly globalised and modern society.

The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was created in 1984 for students who excelled

academically. This special programme was meant to cultivate critical thinking (NLB, 2014). At the

secondary school level, this was officially replaced by the Integrated Programme was later created

in 2008 (Chang, 2014), allowing academically stronger students to enter a 6-year course at the

secondary level, culminating with tertiary credentials (MOE, n.d.). Through bypassing the ‘O’

Levels, students had more time to pursue a more holistic and comprehensive educational

experience, particularly non-academic competencies, and might even pursue qualifications such

as the IB, which allows student to pursue a more flexible course of personal development, and

also covers social and emotional growth (IB, n.d.).

Over the past 2 decades, secondary schools dedicated to specific learners’ needs have also been

set up. For instance, Specialised Schools for students who learn better under a more technical

and practical-oriented curriculum also have higher levels of resources dedicated to supporting

special needs students (Teng, 2018). Other specialised independent institutes include the NUS

High School of Mathematics and Science, the School of Science and Technology, the School of

the Arts and the Singapore Sports School, all of which have programmes tailored specifically to

their niche student intake. A similar diversity is reflected at the post-secondary level, which

includes polytechnics, junior colleges, centralised institutes and ITE.

Last but certainly not least, an array of financial programmes is in place to ensure that every

Singaporean child has the means to afford attending school. All Singaporeans are entitled to

about $11,000 of subsidies in primary and secondary school, regardless of their family's financial

background (Ministry of Finance, n.d), as well as subsidy schemes accessible through schools,

                                                                                                9
government networks and even interfaith organisations, and the Edusave scheme founded in

1993 where students will receive annual government top-ups for special programmes. The most

prominent of this is the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), which covers students from low-

income backgrounds in all government aided and specialised institutes, while independent

schools are covered by MOE Independent School Bursary (ISB) Scheme. The Ministry of

Education also has bursary schemes and loans for post-secondary education. All government

ministries and statutory boards also offer scholarships and sponsorships (MOE, n.d.). This does

not account for other programmes, some of which are founded by charities and corporations, that

cover miscellaneous costs including pocket money for recess, overseas experiences, to even free

tuition.

All in all, an umbrella of financial support is more widely accessible than before, allowing poorer

students to partake in a more holistic school-going experience. Yet, despite these programmes

and policies, the ongoing class divide in education seems to be wider than ever.

Challenges
Social Equity Gap

The perception of top schools in Singapore being a reflection of personal merit dates back to their

origins. For instance, junior colleges were the brainchild of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew,

who wanted a ‘super secondary boarding school’, explicitly branded to provide the best quality

education and a direct pipeline into university. This had the consequence of generating intense

competition for junior college and university placements. Despite shifts in recent years where

polytechnic diploma holders are increasingly touted by the government to be competitive in the

                                                                                                10
workforce, a monthly starting salary gap of over $1,000 (and thus about 50% of the median

monthly polytechnic starting salary) still persists between diploma and degree holders (Ministry

of Manpower, 2019). A further barrier to entry exists given how degree programmes generally

cost a lot more than diplomas and might thus be out of reach for poorer families.

When put against each other, a sense of division between the different streams is easily bred.

Despite governmental attempts at providing equal access to the education system, the resource

gaps springing from external factors such as socio-economic status persist. For instance, even

though subsidised or free tuition is offered to underprivileged students, this is also in contrast to

more expensive and intensive tuition centres aimed at middle- and upper-income families, often

touting selling points like tutors from prestigious backgrounds and access to exclusive learning

materials. With the highest quintile of Singaporean households spending four times as much on

tuition as the lowest quintile (Seah, 2019), this is at least one advantage the well-to-do possess

which can translate into improved academic performance.

Lower-income families might also lack the familial and cultural resources to help their children

achieve better results academically (Paulo & Low, 2018). Some forms of financial support, such

as Edusave, are also not progressive as they are a lump sum regardless of one's socioeconomic

background. Other school admission policies, including allocating school placements through

proximity drawing and alumni affiliations, advantage wealthy families who can either afford to live

near the top schools or are affiliated with them (Tan & Tan, 2016), as illustrated by the infamous

'Bukit Timah belt' of top schools. Some mitigating measures have been implemented, such as all

primary schools having to reserve at least 40 places or 1 class for 'non-affiliated' students, and

2013 MOE guidelines that that every 100 Secondary 1 students in a school should come from 20

or more primary schools (Awang, 2019).

                                                                                                  11
There is also a question of whether lower-middle class families who exceed the threshold for most

bursaries or schemes can receive adequate support, or risk being overlooked. Minister for

Education Ong Ye Kung himself once noted in Parliament that as "...we successfully uplift more

poor families, the smaller group of families that remained poor are facing increasingly difficult

challenges. Their challenges are also translated to their children’s performance in school. So as

we uplift poor families, the greater the achievement gap between the rich and poor.” (MOE, 2018).

This inequality manifests in the different profiles and results from students in various institutions.

For instance, 46% of students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile were concentrated in the

same schools (Teng, 2018), often labelled as 'neighbourhood schools' as opposed to so-called

elite institutions. Another 2016 study by the Singapore Children’s Society (SCS) found that 40.7%

of IP students come from families with monthly family incomes of over $10,000, and 30.7% of

them live in private housing, compared to corresponding figures of 7% and 2% respectively for

government school students (Teng, 2016).

Results wise, socio-economically disadvantaged Singaporean students score over 120 points

lower for PISA tests than their more privileged counterparts for Maths and Science tests, a gap

exceeded only by other nations with similar or higher income inequality (CIA, n.d.), and its equity

in Reading by social background is also below the OECD average (PISA, 2018). Given the

extremely competitive grade profile required to enter the most sought-after programs at the post-

secondary level (such as top junior colleges or degree programmes), since PISA measures the

abilities of 15-year olds, this will have a knock-on effect on their lives subsequently.

                                                                                                   12
Stigmatisation

Right from the get-go in the history of junior colleges, whoever managed to attend these schools

were thought to unquestionably be deserving. Some even called the pioneer batch of students

the ‘lucky six hundred’ and ‘super students’ (NLB, 2014). One unintentional consequence was

that students who failed to break into these upper echelons must thus by virtue of their exclusion

be less intelligent or less deserving of recognition. In fact, a general societal misconception began

to develop that this was the only way to be successful in life, and students who undertook

alternative pathways (including not attending the best schools at every juncture) might expect to

find their credentials questioned, and opportunities reduced.

Some attempts at rectifying this perception issue include MOE revising its school funding formula

to make resource allocation more equitable according to the size of school cohorts, to dispel

notions that 'neighbourhood' schools with larger enrolments are more resource-strained, and

fostering a more uniform inter-school culture by increasing collaborations between schools,

encouraging principals, teachers and students to share knowledge and work together across

schools (TODAY, 2014).

Despite the government and MOE's attempt at messaging anti-discriminatory measures, such as

emphasising that 'every school is a good school', the stigmatisation of students who do not hail

from 'top' schools or programmes persist. Many students report not having many conversations

with students from other streams due to differing social backgrounds, and perceptions from

Normal stream students that they felt looked down upon and judged as inferior. Singaporeans in

general, including students, felt most comfortable socialising within their own communities (Paulo

                                                                                                  13
& Low, 2018). Students who struggle with academics at a young age are quick to be labelled as

‘slow’, and report being made fun of by peers and developing inferiority complexes (Teo, 2018).

Another data point showing disparate attitudes was the SCS study which found that IP students

felt 2.5 times more confident in getting a degree than students from other schools (Teng, 2016),

possessed greater stress resilience and confidence in their finances and future education

prospects. This might reflect a tendency for labels to become self-fulfilling prophecies, as well as

accelerating the differences in school resource and network levels (Ng & Senin, 2019).

Even when lower-income children qualify for top schools, their lack of family resources could

result in various detrimental effects such as underperforming relative to higher-income classmates

in elite schools, reinforcing stigmatisation from their admission process (as some may see them

as 'filling a quota'), and lowering self-esteem which also significantly determines their individual

performance. (Lim & Pang, 2018). This effect is compounded by the Direct School Admissions

(DSA) scheme created in 2004, which allowed direct enrolment into schools through outstanding

performance in co-curricular activities (CCA), but in practice may result in stereotyping that who

enroll through this means are academically lacking.

Projecting into the Future

MOE is grappling with increasing social inequity in the education system, with policies not fully

working to resolve the issue. With a relatively high Gini coefficient (i.e. income inequality) of 0.458

(CNA, 2019) and poorer students increasingly concentrated in the same schools (growing from

41% to 46% between 2012 and 2015), the social equity gap is only set to worsen if more is not

                                                                                                    14
done to help the needy. The reduction of this gap is crucial to ensuring everyone is truly on a level

playing field. Additionally, with socio-economic status currently linked to how strong a student’s

sense of belonging is to their school (Chua, 2018), it is imperative to ensure that all students feel

the same sense of belonging.

MOE is looking to revamp the curriculum and examination structure across the entire educational

spectrum. For instance, the current T-score system for PSLE will be replaced by a Academic

Level score system which grades students according to their own level of proficiency in a subject.

This is done to minimise the tendency to compare and rank, and by extension stigmatise, students

based solely on examination results.

The current ‘O’ and ‘N’ Levels will also be replaced with standardised national exams by 2024,

with a new Subject-based Banding (SBB) system where students may take a basket of subjects

at varying difficulties according to their precise strengths (MOE, 2019), rather than be relegated

entirely to a fixed academic band. This would theoretically also encourage mixing students of

different abilities and backgrounds together in the same class and promote a growth mindset

amongst all students (Mokhtar, 2019).

While all these proposals will go a long way to counter stigmatisation and inequality, a lot of their

effectiveness will also hinge on whether society itself changes, by allowing students to thrive

without the fear of being looked down upon or judged, by celebrating not just their academic

performances, and by working to nullify the advantages that can be simply bought through money.

                                                                                                  15
Conclusion

The financial burden of education is great for low income families, and educational opportunities

are more likely to be missed due to financial reasons. Government financial assistance has gone

a long way to help students, but increasingly, low income families need more than just money for

food and school materials. Low income students still have to compete against other students who

can either afford more tuition or have extra time for studying since they have no need to work.

The government is also increasingly aware of the fact that our obsession with sorting and

streaming students needs to be replaced. However, it is still not yet clear what exactly will be

replacing the ‘O’ and ‘N’ Levels after 2024, beyond a common national exam that is no longer

segregated (Chia, 2019). Furthermore, members of Parliament like Denise Puah have called for

the government to ‘slay the sacred cow’ of the education system known as PSLE (Ang, 2019).

Overall, a lot of work is left to be done to improve equity in Singapore’s education system.

Representatives will need to consider the trade-offs between providing equality of opportunity

while ensuring meritocracy (i.e. fair advancement through individual performance) remains the

bedrock of our educational system.

                                                                                                  16
Questions for Discussion

 1. Who are the key stakeholders in the education system (ministries, statutory boards etc)

    that can help affect systemic reform?

 2. What are the costs (not just financial) of replacing or changing the education system? Do

    the benefits justify the means?

 3. What other policies can be implemented to help low income families afford the same

    quality and amount of education?

 4. Are current financial assistance schemes enough to uplift lower income families?

 5. How can Singapore ensure true equal opportunities to succeed in the education system?

 6. Besides income, are there any other factors which may create inequity in the education

    system?

 7. Is the stigmatisation of students systemic or cultural? How can Singapore change

    society’s mindset on success purely being based upon grades?

 8. What should replace the ‘N’ and ‘O’ Levels by 2024?

 9. Can the social divides between students be reduced through more initiatives for

    socialising and mixing?

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14, Sitting Date: 18-03-2004, Section Name: BUDGET, Title: HEAD K - MINISTRY OF
EDUCATION, HEAD K - MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, HEAD K - MINISTRY OF EDUCATION.
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Paulo, D. & Low, M. (2018). Class – not race nor religion – is potentially Singapore's most
divisive fault line. Retrieved from
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/regardless-class-race-religion-
survey-singapore-income-divide-10774682

Seah, K. (2019). Tuition has ballooned to a S$1.4b industry in Singapore. Should we be
concerned?. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/tuition-has-
ballooned-s14b-industry-singapore-should-we-be-concerned

Straits Times (2016). The education system over the years. Retrieved from
https://ww.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/the-education-system-over-the-years

Tan, E.S. & Tan, M.W. (2016). Two stories on class in Singapore: Diversity or division?,
Managing Diversity in Singapore. World Scientific.

Teng, A. (2019). From EM3 to subject-based banding: how streaming has changed over the
years. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/from-em3-to-subject-
based-banding-how-streaming-has-changed-over-the-years

Teng, A. (2018). Nearly half of low-income students in Singapore attend the same schools.
Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/nearly-half-of-low-income-
students-in-singapore-attend-the-same-schools

Teng, A. (2018). Parliament: Four specialised schools receive more resources to support
special needs students. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-four-
specialised-schools-receive-more-resources-to-support-special-needs

Teng, A. (2016). Students in IP schools more confident of getting at least a university degree.
Retrieved from
https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/students-in-ip-schools-more-confident-of-
getting-at-least-a-university-degree

Teng, A. (2016). Study: Kids from affluent families more likely in IP, GEP schools. Retrieved
from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/study-kids-from-affluent-families-more-
likely-in-ip-gep-schools

                                                                                                  21
Teng, A. (2019). Why they proposed streaming in schools 40 years ago. Retrieved from
https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/why-they-proposed-streaming-in-schools-40-years-ago

Teo, Y. Y. (2018). This is what inequality looks like. Ethos Press.
The Economist (2018). What other countries can learn from Singapore’s schools. Retrieved
from https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/30/what-other-countries-can-learn-from-
singapores-schools

TODAY (2014). MOE revises funding formula for independent schools to ensure equity.
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independent-schools-ensure-equity

Yang, C. (2017). Angus Ross Prize: Cambridge axes top literature prize for A-level students.
Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/cambridge-axes-top-literature-
prize-for-a-level-students

                                                                                           22
IMPROVING PRESCHOOL EDUCATION
The Singapore education scene is one that is always evolving based on the needs of the nation

and her people. Since her independence, efforts have been made to improve Singapore’s social

and educational development, as these are fundamental for allowing a country to thrive through

its people. The children of today will become the future of Singapore; thus, it is crucial for them to

be able to receive proper education from early on in their lives. Many believe that preschool

education is the launch pad of a child’s life; it may be a major determinant of whether the child

will be able to attain success in the future.

Taking the ‘kiasu’ nature of Singaporeans into account, the pursuit of a head start tends to be

aggressive, especially amongst parents of young children as they would want for their child to

strive for the best (Ng, 2016). From a survey conducted by Straits Time and research company

Nexus Link, it was discovered that 4 in 10 families in Singapore sent their preschool children for

tuition (Teng, 2016). A common motivation for this was parents wanting their young children to be

able to keep up with their peers, while a third of them believed that tuition would help improve

their children’s grades, even though they were only in preschool. This shows there are a sizable

number of parents out there who are willing to fork out the money in order to provide additional

support for their child. Despite their young age, parents believe that engaging external help such

as tuition would make for a good start to their child’s learning journey (Heong, 2018), while merely

adds on to their stress and limits time for play in reality (Jenner, 2017).

                                                                                                   23
Background Information

Preschools, also known as kindergarten or child care centres in Singapore, are educational

establishments providing early childhood (EC) education to children before they begin

compulsory education at primary schools. Kindergartens in Singapore offer up to three years of

preschool education for children ages three to six. They are commonly known as Nursery,

Kindergarten 1 (K1) and Kindergarten 2 (K2) respectively.

Kindergartens in Singapore tend to be classified into three tiers - Premium, Anchor Operators

and Partner Operators.

Premium

Premium childcare centres are privately-owned. They are generally located in prime locations

and private estates, typically offering special teaching pedagogy, and tend to expose students to

a wider range of learning experiences. Examples of such centres are MindChamps and Pat’s

Schoolhouse, which offer bilingual classes as a selling point while other centres provide creative

learning and art classes. Premium operators generally have a higher teacher-to-student ratio to

boost the attention and care a student receives. With these specialised programmes and

additional services, monthly fees of premium childcare centres tend to be significantly higher

than other types of childcare centres.

                                                                                                 24
Anchor Operators

Anchor operators are private-run childcare centres, which makes them similar to premium

childcare centres. However, the main difference between premium and anchor operators is that

anchor operators receive funding support from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to

provide quality early childcare and education at affordable prices. Anchor operators receive

funding to keep its monthly fees at a cap of S$770.40 (before GST) for full-day childcare, and

they are funded by the Anchor Operator Scheme (AOP). Examples of anchor operators include

My First Skool (operated by NTUC) and Skool4kidz (operated by a consortium led by Kinderland

Educare).

Partner Operators

Partner operators work in the same manner as anchor operators, although they receive funding

under the Partner Operator Scheme (POP). While anchor operators have a cap of S$770.40 on

their monthly fees, the cap for monthly fees for partner operators is between S$856 and S$1,498.

Some examples include Carpe Diem Holdings and The Little Skool-House International Pte Ltd.

                                                                                             25
Development of Preschool Education in Singapore

1960s     The Birth of PAP Kindergartens

          With an increasing need to groom children for primary school education, the People’s Action Party

          (PAP) introduced low-cost kindergartens. Over the years, this service became popular amongst

          parents, thus catalysing the increase in the numbers of kindergartens (PCF, n.d.).

1986      PCF Kindergartens

          The PAP Community Foundation (PCF) was formed as the charitable arm of the PAP, consequently

          rebranding all PAP kindergartens as PCF kindergartens. With the economical and structural

          development of Singapore and with the rise in construction of public housing, a majority of PCF

          kindergartens were located at Housing Development Board (HDB) void decks and is currently

          Singapore’s largest preschool operator.

          Since 2011, PCF has started bringing all its kindergartens and childcare centres under a centralised

          system to address the issue of uneven standards at different centres (Yuen-C, 2016). In 2019, PCF

          has announced that they will be converting 80 of its kindergartens to facilities offering full-day

          childcare over the next four years (Lai, 2019). With more than 50 PCF kindergartens having

          undergone this conversion last year, this conversion will be part of the Government’s plan to increase

          the number of childcare spaces, especially in younger estates such as Punggol, Sengkang and Choa

          Chu Kang. Additionally, the PCF runs the chain of Sparkletots preschools, and is expanding its

          curriculum to introduce concepts in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, innovation and

          entrepreneurship. This approach is currently being used at 12 preschools, with more to kick in place

          in the near future.

                                                                                                    26
2012
       Nurturing Early Learners Framework

       Revised in 2012, the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) Framework is a curriculum framework for

       kindergartens in Singapore (MOE, n.d.). Developed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), the NEL

       curriculum provides a set of resources to support early childhood educators in creating quality

       learning experiences for children attending preschool. It includes a parallel set of resources for

       Mother Tongue Languages (NEL, n.d.).

2013
       Early Childhood Development Agency

       The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) was officially launched on the 1st of April 2013.

       Jointly helmed by MOE and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the EDCA is an

       autonomous agency that is hosted under the MSF. It serves as the regulatory and developmental

       authority for the early childhood sector in Singapore across both kindergartens and childcare

       centres. With the existence of ECDA, the oversight of kindergartens is transferred from MOE to

       ECDA (ECDA, n.d.).

       The ECDA has also developed a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Masterplan 1 for the

       early childhood sector that encompasses the provision of CPD courses that aim to raise the quality

       and professional experience of EC educators (ECDA, n.d.).

2014   The Birth of MOE Kindergartens

       The first five MOE kindergartens were set up within HDB heartlands, mainly in existing primary

       schools (MOE, 2013). This provided more affordable preschool education and aimed to raise the

       quality of early childhood practices in the diverse preschool sector in Singapore.

                                                                                              27
The curriculum in the pilot kindergartens will be guided by the principles spelt out in the refreshed

       Kindergarten Curriculum Framework (KCF), also known as the NEL framework, which goal is to

       nurture children holistically (MOE, 2013). The curriculum will feature distinctive Singaporean content

       by incorporating local themes, stories and songs that draw on things and experiences familiar to

       children. The curriculum will also include resources for Language and Literacy development - in both

       English and the three official MTLs, namely Chinese, Malay and Tamil for children to develop

       auditory and vocal skills that will facilitate their language learning in later years (MOE, 2013).

       MOE will share the developed teaching and learning resources with other preschool operators. The

       Ministry will also cooperate with preschool centres that offer recognised programmes to study

       various approaches and identify best practices to enhance the learning of preschoolers. Such best

       practices that are found to be scalable, sustainable and suitable for the Singapore context will be

       shared with all preschool operators. These efforts will aid in the catalysing of quality improvements

       in preschool education across Singapore. MOE and MSF will also continue to work with various

       preschool-centre operators through the ECDA to raise the standards of early childhood education.

       MOE will gather the views of the industry, public and parents as they venture into testing out the

       different approaches and collaborating with the preschool sector to raise the quality of preschool

       education in Singapore.

       Moreover, there are plans to introduce 50 more MOE kindergartens by 2023 (Ying, 2017).

2017
       Early Childhood Development Centres Act 2017

       The Early Childhood Development Centres Act was passed by Parliament in 2017, with one of its

       objectives being to increase regulation regarding the operation of early childhood development

                                                                                                    28
centres. As a result, all preschools in Singapore are required to obtain a license under the Early

       Childhood Development Centres Act 2017 (Authority, 2017).

2019   National Institute of Early Childhood Development

       The National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NEIC) is a centralised training institute that

       specialises in grooming preschool teachers and carers. With the establishment of NIEC, all early

       childhood faculty members will be brought together under one organisation (Chia, 2017).

       Heightened Support for Preschool Education

       With the announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2019 National Day Rally

       speech that more preschool subsidies would be provided (ECDA, 2020), and with plans to introduce

       more MOE Kindergartens by 2023 (Chia, 2017).

       In 2017, the Government has doubled its annual spending on preschools in previous years from

       S$360 million in 2012 to S$840 million in 2017 (Chia, 2018). It will double its annual spending again

       over the next five years: to S$1.7 billion in 2022. With this increase in funding, the preschool sector

       of Singapore will see a vast improvement in its structure over the next few years:

          -   An additional 40,000 pre-school places, particularly for children aged up to four years old,

              will be created in the next five years, as announced by Mr Lee. With the increase, the total

              number of preschool places in Singapore will go up to 200,000, almost double what

              Singapore originally had.

          -   Anchor operators will increase their preschool places for these children, where the shortage

              of places is most prevalent. Preschool anchor operators, which include PCF, NTUC First

                                                                                                  29
Campus and EtonHouse International, will receive government grants in exchange for

             keeping school fees affordable.

         -   Anchor operators will build Early Years Centres in new HDBs, which will then partner nearby

             MOE Kindergarten, thus ensuring that the children in the Early Years Centre will have a place

             reserved in that MOE Kindergarten, if the parents wish to accept.

Current challenges

With more working-class millennials becoming parents, especially in the 2020s, there will be a

surge in demand for full-day childcare services. Since the start of the 21st century, statistics from

the Ministry of Manpower show that labour force participation rates among female residents have

increased (MOM, 2018). Along with a larger proportion of elderly from the era of baby boomers

being more educated and thus less willing to act as main caregivers of their grandchildren in lieu

of other active aging activities (Straits Times, 2016), this causes an increase in demand for full-

day programmes offered by childcare centres, rather than half-day kindergarten services.

Consequently, this has led some kindergartens to close down and be converted as childcare

centres that offer full day programmes, as seen in the conversion of PCF kindergartens to

childcare spaces, catering to the needs of younger parents (Lai, 2019).

                                                                                                  30
Providing the capacity to accommodate diverse needs

This creates an area of contention as certain preschools that are targeted at niche demographics,

such as faith-based preschools, may close down due to the lack in demand for its services, since

these preschools typically do not offer full-day childcare services. An instance of this is the

situation faced by two Church-based kindergartens, Zion Kindergarten in Serangoon and St

Andrew's Cathedral Child Development Centre, have made known to parents of their pending

closure as they are struggling to stay in the EC sector (Wong, 2019). Research has shown that

there are now less than 80 of such church-based kindergartens, compared to about 120 in 2012

(Teng, 2019). In light of this, parents who wish for their child to receive a faith-based preschool

education are fighting to support the existence of such preschools by organising publicity events

that may aid in increasing the enrolment in such kindergartens (Wong, 2019).

Another example of diverse learner needs is those of preschool children with special needs, which

include early interventions and extra attention required. However, the combination of managing

children along with special needs appears particularly challenging, and as of 2018, there were

only 75 EC educators trained to deal with special needs (Sin & Tai, 2019).

Resource constraints

This expansion in number of full-day preschool placements, as many as almost 60,000 from 2011

to 2018, has also led to a resource crunch: 3,000 more early childhood educators are required to

reach the 2020 workforce of 20,000, and yet a range of factors cited from low wages to fatigue

and lack of career advancement options have led to consistent attrition from the field (Paolo, Peh

& Grosse, 2018). Some remedies have been attempted, including building more pipelines into the

                                                                                                31
sector for students and mid-career switchers, as well as more attractive training programmes for

trainees.

Standardisation vs. Flexibility

In a Case Study of the Singapore Early Childhood Education and Care System, it states that

“Education—through schooling—has been central to producing the labour force necessary to

serve Singapore’s economic engine” (Bull et al., 2018). In the past, Singapore has been notorious

for running a factory-like system for its education system in order to produce efficient workers to

contribute to Singapore’s economy in the fastest time possible (Barr et al. 2011). An increased

standardisation would translate into replicating an ever-perfecting model of preschool education.

However, an issue that may arise from introducing more public MOE kindergartens and aiming

for standardisation amongst preschools island-wide is that this may prolong the issue of rigidity

within the education system. With the introduction of MOE kindergartens and plans to vastly

increase its numbers, this very well reflects the concept of ‘nationalised’ preschools that may

stipulate a set curriculum at each of its preschool centres. As a result, this causes unrest amongst

parents, as they believe that the running of preschool centres should not be limited to the oversight

of a general authority in order to promote diversity in today’s Singapore (Wong, 2019), and may

wish to focus on particular areas of interest of their choosing. Having various preschool operators,

or even allowing children to be home-schooled at the preschool level, allows for a wider range of

EC education philosophies for parents to choose for their children, thus providing every child a

unique growing experience, instead of going through a system that produces school children

through a set curriculum, at the expense of parental autonomy. On top of this, concerns have also

been voiced on whether the current EC sector is sufficiently mature and experienced to deal with

                                                                                                  32
children's holistic and unpredictable needs (Lim, 2019), and if too much emphasis has been

placed on accessibility of EC over quality.

Conclusion

With 50 new MOE kindergartens being built by 2022, and over 200,000 childcare and kindergarten

slots to be filled, this is an exciting time for EC to continue developing as a sector, especially with

the aid of an annual $1.7 billion investment. At the same time, a resource crunch and loss of

parental autonomy also highlights the tricky tightrope one must strike between nation building and

embracing creativity, and representatives will have to do likewise as well.

                                                                                                    33
Questions for Discussion

 1. What are the trade-offs in pursuing standardisation of preschools?

 2. With regards to standardisation, are we making the EC sector the best ‘one size fits all’?

    Will this inadvertently cause children who are lagging behind/ home-schooled to lose out?

 3. How can we ensure that the needs of diverse learners and of their parents are met

    without compromising between values (i.e. religious aspects of church-run

    kindergartens) and national objectives?

 4. How can we ensure fairness in opportunity and choice amidst catering to all these

    improvements?

 5. Should the Government regulate all preschools? Would this be fair to private preschools

    and their stakeholders?

 6. How can we increase flexibility in an increasingly standardised EC sector that has a risk

    in becoming a ‘factory model’?

                                                                                           34
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