Compliance costs, fees unlikely to rise: Tan Chuan-Jin

A teacher with the pre-school students during an activity class at Eshkol Valley Preschool.
A teacher with the pre-school students during an activity class at Eshkol Valley Preschool.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A proposed law on pre-schools that requires them to adhere to higher- quality standards worried some MPs, who feared it would raise compliance costs for operators and, in turn, push up fees for parents.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, however, assured them that it is unlikely to happen.

Six MPs raised the issue yesterday during the debate on the Early Childhood Development Centres Bill, which was later passed by Parliament.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked if operators would be expected to hire staff designated to ensure the pre-schools meet the regulatory requirements.

Mr Tan said the requirements have been "calibrated" to raise the quality of programmes without raising costs or making it too onerous for pre-schools. The changes were made after discussions with the sector and field-testing the requirements with large and small centres.

He pointed out that rent and staff salaries are the main costs for pre-schools, but there are no plans to raise requirements on space- child or staff-child ratios.

The maximum licence tenure has also been extended from two years to three under the new law.

Mr Tan said: "(This) is intended to reduce the administrative costs of centres with consistently good regulatory track records."

He said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) is also studying ways to lower operating costs, such as by giving operators greater flexibility in how staff are deployed. For instance, it is exploring allowing non-teaching staff, such as cooks and cleaners, to support trained teachers in supervising children when they play outdoors.

Mr Tan said many of the new requirements are in place. For instance, ECDA recommends that pre-schools have air purifiers during haze episodes - and it is looking at making this a requirement in subsidiary laws. But many pre-schools are already doing this, he noted.

Mr Tan said: "We don't expect (compliance) costs to be onerous and, therefore, we are not expecting it to translate into higher fees... I also don't want centres to think, 'There is a new Bill, so there is no choice but to increase fees.' "

Chatsworth Kindergarten principal Felicia Lim said the new rules are "a matter of getting used to (them)", as kindergartens will need a licence that has to be renewed regularly.

She added: "There are some compliance costs, as we have to pay more attention to the maintenance of the physical environment, to ensure the children's safety.

"But I don't foresee increases in fees. The authorities have helped to inform and prepare us to meet the new requirements."

Priscilla Goy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Compliance costs, fees unlikely to rise: Tan Chuan-Jin'. Print Edition | Subscribe