Void deck pre-school mixes fun with quality programme

The children focus their attention on Ms Rosemarie Somaiah from the Asian Storytelling Network. Child At Street 11 is named after its location in Ang Mo Kio Street 11 and nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus children are from low-income families. Pupils
Pupils of Child At Street 11 playing dress-up during their play time. The charity-run centre charges $650 a month for full-day childcare before subsidies. Some activities the pupils have participated in include watching arts performances and visiting nature reserves – at no extra charge. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The children focus their attention on Ms Rosemarie Somaiah from the Asian Storytelling Network. Child At Street 11 is named after its location in Ang Mo Kio Street 11 and nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus children are from low-income families. Pupils
The children focus their attention on Ms Rosemarie Somaiah from the Asian Storytelling Network.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The children focus their attention on Ms Rosemarie Somaiah from the Asian Storytelling Network. Child At Street 11 is named after its location in Ang Mo Kio Street 11 and nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus children are from low-income families. Pupils
Child At Street 11 is named after its location in Ang Mo Kio Street 11 and nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus children are from low-income families.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

They have attended a lunchtime election rally by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, watched arts performances and visited nature reserves - all at no extra charge.

And they are children from a pre-school sited in a Housing Board block void deck in Ang Mo Kio.

At $650 a month for full-day childcare before subsidies, the fees charged by Child At Street 11 are more than 35 per cent below the average in the industry.

It organises about 20 learning trips a year - more than that offered by most pre-schools - and most trips are arranged with help from community and corporate partners, said its chief executive Nirmala Murugaian.

The charity-run centre, named after its location in Ang Mo Kio Street 11, gives priority admission to low-income families. Nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus children are from such families. It can take in more than 70 children.

It also works with partners - including social workers, psychologists and counsellors - to help disadvantaged children and their families in an integrated manner.

Set up 18 years ago, the pre- school was renovated in 2014. Ms Nirmala said: "It was a big struggle initially - when we focused on improving pedagogy and training staff, our funds went down; when we focused on raising funds, our quality was not as good.

"But when we became a beneficiary of the President's Challenge later, more funds came in, our programme quality improved, donors saw the good quality, then even more funds came in."

The centre is one of the few that offer all three mother tongue languages. Its pupils also appeared confident, with different ones taking photos, serving water to this Straits Times reporter during the visit, and sharing about their recent trip to watch a rehearsal by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

 

Secondary school teacher Thilagam Subramaniam, 39, has an older daughter, 12, who graduated from the centre and has a place in Raffles Girls' School next year. She said the quality offered by the centre was better than others her daughter had gone to previously, despite their fees being much higher.

She added: "Other centres lacked that 'fun element'. I think my daughter's leadership qualities and confidence were built when she was at Child At Street 11."

She has also since sent her younger daughter, aged five, to the same centre. "They like going to pre-school - even when they are sick, they would still want to go."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Void deck pre-school mixes fun with quality programme'. Print Edition | Subscribe