Some pre-school operators have called for a review of proposed rules that will give the authorities more power in ensuring that pre-schools uphold standards.
While acknowledging the need to ensure quality in pre-schools, they told The Straits Times that some of the proposed rules are "punitive" and add pressure on operators amid a manpower crunch.
Under the proposals, a fine of up to $5,000 could be imposed for administrative breaches, such as not keeping a register of particulars of staff members or children enrolled.
Preschool for Multiple Intelligences founder Khoo Kim Choo, who has been in the early childhood field for more than 25 years, said: "We should be more concerned about breach of care of the children, rather than administrative breaches, unless it has to do with making false subsidy claims.
"We should not be overly consumed with administrative matters at the expense of actually providing quality care to children."
(The proposed rules) seek to use the power of legislation in a harsh manner... to 'increase standards' while ignoring the visible need for state funding and other peripheral forms of support for parents, teachers and children alike.
MRS DENISE LAI, founder of Wee Care (Singapore)
Sheffield Kidsworld director Puhalenthi Murugesan agreed. He said: "If the fines are for breaches of safety and hygiene, or when teachers abuse children, they make sense. But imposing fines for administrative breaches seems harsh."
One operator submitted a petition to the authorities last month. It had garnered about 240 signatures.
Details of the proposed rules for early childhood development centres were revealed in a public consultation paper released by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) last month. The consultation ended on July 31.
The proposals will regulate childcare centres and most kindergartens - which now come under the Child Care Centres Act and Education Act respectively - but not government-run kindergartens.
On why fines were needed for administrative lapses, an ECDA spokesman stressed that such breaches will be decriminalised, a change from rules in the existing two Acts. "This will better help ECDA ensure licensees comply with regulations by providing a wider range of enforcement options, in proportion to how serious the lapse was," he said.
But operators say such breaches should not warrant fines at all.
Mrs Denise Lai, founder of Wee Care (Singapore), who started the petition, said the proposed rules "seek to use the power of legislation in a harsh manner... to 'increase standards' while ignoring the visible need for state funding and other peripheral forms of support for parents, teachers and children alike".
The State Courts said no charges were filed under the two Acts from 2010 to June this year. But Ms Shaireen Selamat, a doctoral researcher in early childhood, said it was necessary to have more clarity on the situations in which the authorities' powers can be exercised, as the punitive measures could "create a climate of fear" among pre-school teachers.
Mrs Lai said there are other ways to encourage operators to uphold quality, such as the Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework (Spark) and shortening of licence tenures.
She said: "We can tweak Spark to be similar to how food stalls are graded for their hygiene and customers can decide if they want to patronise the stalls or not.
"Parents can decide if they want to enrol their children in a centre that is a grade A, B or C."