Singapore Budget 2015: New initiatives to lower fees and improve quality of pre-schools

SINGAPORE - Parents could benefit from lower fees and better quality of pre-schools, if the centres that their children attend take part in a new scheme to start later this year.

The partner operator (POP) scheme will require childcare centres to keep their fees capped at about $800 a month for full-day childcare and attain quality certifications, among other criteria, in exchange for getting government funding. Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing gave these details of the scheme in Parliament on Friday, during the debate on his ministry's budget. The POP scheme is estimated to cost $250 million over five years.

One-third of the pre-school sector already benefit from the existing anchor operator (AOP) scheme, which requires operators to charge fees of up to $720 a month. The AOP and POP schemes together are expected to serve about half of all pre-school children by 2020.

Non-anchor operators which offer at least 300 childcare places can indicate their interest to take part in the POP scheme. The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) may also consider proposals from groups of smaller operators. ECDA is expected to appoint operators to the scheme by the end of the year.

To add even more childcare places, Mr Chan also revealed that ECDA will work with AOPs to set up large centres which can admit 300 to 500 children each. A centre run by an AOP in a void deck space usually can take in only about 100 children. These large centres will provide 2,400 new places over the next few years - on top of the 20,000 new places that the Government planned to add between 2013 and 2017.

Mr Chan also announced that a three-year Professional Development Programme will be introduced to help pre-school staff develop their careers. ECDA will offer new certifiable courses and cash incentives. The programme, to start from next year, is for staff who have about three years of experience and are identified by their employers for their potential to take on larger job roles.

He also proposed a new legal framework which aims to raise the overall quality of pre-school education. Kindergartens and childcare centres will be licensed under the Early Childhood Development Centres Act, with new and revised provisions to raise quality. This will be introduced in the second half of the year.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg