Pre-school kids too young to compete for scholarships

While I agree with Ms Chin Hui Wen that quality pre-school education should be made accessible to the poor, I disagree with using pre-school scholarships to achieve this objective (Make quality early education accessible to the poor; July 27).

The first problem with such scholarships is that there is no equitable way of distributing them to young children.

Scholarships operate based on merit, where the "most deserving" students are chosen on the basis of their talent or diligence.

At such a young age, however, there is little to separate children in terms of either quality. Moreover, as pre-school children are often too young to be responsible for their own actions, it does not seem fair to hold their behaviour to account through a competitive scholarship.

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Even if it were possible to distribute pre-school scholarships equitably, such a policy risks introducing a culture of toxic competition into the lives of young children.

"Kiasu" parents may hot-house their children to enter a "prestigious" pre-school, creating an environment unconducive to growing and learning.

Children may grow up with a risk-averse attitude or an aversion to learning that may hinder their development.

A pre-school education is essential in a child's development. Children who attend pre-schools learn better than those who do not; they also get to learn social skills from peer interaction.

The advantages of a quality pre-school education should be guaranteed to all. Despite moves to make it more accessible, many still fall through the cracks due to the cost of attendance or ignorance of its benefits.

The Government should integrate pre-school education into the national education framework, making it compulsory and free, like primary education, to ensure universal coverage.

To achieve this, it should establish government kindergartens under the Ministry of Education.

Ministry oversight will arguably lead to better and more unified standards of instruction, compared to leaving it in the hands of the private sector. There can be reduced pedagogical inequality and improved instructional quality.

Though this policy will require significant investment, we must remember that people are our only resource - no expense should be spared to ensure that all Singaporeans are equipped to contribute to our nation's prosperity.

Ng Qi Siang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Pre-school kids too young to compete for scholarships'. Print Edition | Subscribe