Big welcome for jumbo childcare centre

The new My First Skool childcare centre at Punggol Waterway Point has a floor area of 1,648 sq m and can accommodate 375 children. This means shorter waiting times for parents. Three more jumbo MFS childcare centres are slated to open in Edgefield Pl
The new My First Skool childcare centre at Punggol Waterway Point has a floor area of 1,648 sq m and can accommodate 375 children. This means shorter waiting times for parents. Three more jumbo MFS childcare centres are slated to open in Edgefield Plains in Punggol, Jurong West and Sengkang.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Before the year began, Punggol resident Sue Bing Hao was concerned about whether he could find convenient childcare options for his four-year-old daughter.

"There are a lot of young families here and I've heard of cases where parents had to travel up to 40 minutes to take their kids to childcare," said the 30-year-old interior designer.

But the opening last month of a new jumbo childcare centre at Punggol Waterway Point that can accommodate 375 children made the question moot. His daughter now goes to NTUC's My First Skool (MFS), a five-minute LRT ride from their home.

Most childcare centres set up in HDB void decks can usually admit only about 100 children but this one in the neighbourhood mall is bigger - and means a shorter waiting time for parents. Mr Sue waited six months to enrol his daughter at this childcare centre, while other parents in Punggol, a new estate with many young families, had to wait one to two years.

It was officially launched yesterday by NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, who first brought up the idea last year of opening bigger childcare centres to cater to growing demand.

MFS also said yesterday it would be expanding enrolment from the current 13,000 to 20,000 by 2020. It currently has 123 centres and plans to build more. This is in tandem with the Government's plans to add 20,000 more childcare places between 2013 and 2017.

The new childcare centre, for children aged between two months and six years, is the anchor operator's largest centre to date. Anchor operators receive government grants and priority in securing Housing Board sites for centres in exchange for keeping fees below $720 a month, among other things.

Three jumbo MFS childcare centres are slated to open in Edgefield Plains in Punggol, Jurong West and Sengkang by the third quarter of this year. They each can take in between 200 and 500 children.

NTUC First Campus chief executive officer Chan Tee Seng said that the number of staff will grow from the current 3,500 to around 5,000 by 2020. The staff-to-child ratio depends on the age group, and is 1:20 for six-year-olds and 1:8 for two-year-olds.

Mr Chan Chun Sing said he was heartened to see the concept bear fruit. "I've never understood why we used to constrain ourselves with the void-deck structure with small centres of 50 to 100 each... (This is) a tremendous opportunity for us to convert (retail) space for community use and have the children closely integrated into the community."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Big welcome for jumbo childcare centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe