FIFTEEN government-run kindergartens will be set up over the next three years in Housing Board estates, with the first five opening in January next year.
These kindergartens, sited at primary schools or in community spaces, will use the latest research in early childhood education to develop the best teaching methods and practices.
These would then be shared with other pre-schools to spur improvements all round.
The admission criteria, details on number of places and locations will be released in two weeks.
This is the latest and, as some pre-school experts say, "most significant" in a series of recent measures to lift standards in the pre-school sector.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development have over the years raised the baseline qualifications of principals and teachers, developed and disseminated curriculum resources, and introduced a quality accreditation framework for pre-school centres.
During the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said MOE is prepared to go beyond these 15 centres. But it will study if indeed they create significant value for parents and children.
He said the Government is pushing for quality in the pre- school sector as it builds a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
But MOE will not stop there, said Mr Heng as he went on to announce literacy and numeracy programmes aimed at weaker students in primary and secondary schools, right up to post-secondary in the Institute of Technical Education.
Currently, there is the Learning Support Programme (LSP) in English and mathematics at the lower primary level for those lagging behind in those subjects.
The new schemes, starting from Primary 1, will cater to those who do not qualify for the LSP but who still need extra coaching. In the primary and secondary schools alone, about 60,000 students will benefit from the new schemes every year.
For English, students will receive extra coaching from specially trained teachers in small groups of about 10.
The numeracy programme will focus on helping weak students understand concepts through the use of learning aids.
"It is about providing the best opportunities for every child to succeed," he said, in response to MPs including Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC), Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) and Ms Low Yen Ling (Chua Chu Kang GRC) who had spoken earlier on help for weaker students.
He also put before the House some fundamental questions on the future of education, including those raised during the Our Singapore Conversation - such as the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and streaming.
Mr Heng said that on PSLE, the questions to ask concern how to maintain the rigorous standards and allocate secondary places without an objective benchmark like the national exam.
On streaming, the issue is if every child can learn at his own pace without streaming, and if schools would become even less diverse if they did not have students from various academic streams.
In many respects, the education system reflects societal norms and expectations, he said. "We cannot have broader definitions of success in education without our society accepting broader definitions of success in life."
Ms Catherine Teoh, 30, an administrative executive and divorcee with young children, hopes a government-run kindergarten will open near her Jurong home.
She said her elder daughter, who is in Kindergarten 2, is struggling. "I cannot afford to send them for tuition or phonics or speech and drama classes, so I worry if they are going to fall far behind... I feel an MOE-run kindergarten will be good and give them a leg up."
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