Call to boost pay and image to attract more pre-school teachers

Ads, campaigns can highlight the important role that early childhood educators play

They are not high earners and are seen by some as babysitters. But Singapore's birth rates and demographic future may hinge on pre-school teachers - or, more precisely, whether there are enough of them.

In response to the Government's plans to ramp up childcare places to encourage the stork, industry players suggest that the job can be made more alluring by tackling the twin issues of pay and recognition.

For sure, the number of pre-school teachers here has grown, from 14,000 in 2014 to 16,000 today. But as Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, the Government's point person on population issues, mentioned recently, the plan is to increase childcare places from the current one for every two children.

It is "entirely possible" for this to go up to two for every three, she said.

About 4,000 more pre-school educators are needed by 2020.

Some experts propose having a public campaign or TV advertisements, like those by the Education Ministry, to boost the image of pre-school teachers.

Eshkol Valley Preschool managing director Vincent Yap suggested that these teachers be recognised, not only via industry awards, but also among the public, such as through TV advertisements.

Dr T. Chandroo, chairman of pre-school chain Modern Montessori International, suggested an awareness drive, similar to the National Courtesy Campaign launched in 1979.

"It would help bring more attention to the profession and emphasise the important role of early childhood educators. They mould young leaders and this is part of the nation-building process."

Higher pay could also help attract more pre-school teachers, said Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive secretary of the Education Services Union.

Pre-school teachers earn an average of $2,200 to $3,000, based on data gathered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) last year.

The median salary for university graduates last year was $3,300.

All new teachers must have at least an early childhood education diploma, but more degree holders have been joining the sector too.

Mr Ang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: "Many chose this profession because of their passion, but we should also ensure pay does not become too different from others in their graduating cohort."

Having more teachers would also make it easier for pre-schools to release staff to go for courses to upgrade their skills, which can in turn boost their social standing.

Preschool for Multiple Intelligences founder Khoo Kim Choo said: "There've been many workshops rolled out, more subsidies for training, but do teachers have time for these? There is a staff shortage and operators can't release staff."

Mrs Denise Lai, founder of Wee Care (Singapore), who has been in the business for about 20 years, hoped the authorities would be less "pedantic" and allow the hiring of teachers who may not have degrees or diplomas recognised by ECDA.

"Having more flexible entry criteria doesn't necessarily mean a lowering of standards," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'Call to boost pay and image to attract more pre-school teachers'. Print Edition | Subscribe