Why It Matters

Quality is key for childcare

With four more mega childcare centres on the way, the shortage of childcare places here will soon be alleviated, and children will have more room to play.

These centres, which can admit from 300 to 1,000 children each, will open by the middle of next year and offer a total of 2,700 places, the Early Childhood Development Agency said on Wednesday.

These standalone centres will be in estates with many young families and high demand for childcare services. Two are in Punggol and offer 1,000 places each, 10 times that of a childcare centre in a Housing Board void deck; the others are in Bukit Panjang and Sengkang. The centres' childcare services and facilities are not out of parents' financial reach.

These centres, as well as four existing mega centres and one to open next month, are all run by government-appointed anchor operators which have to meet stricter fee and quality requirements.

Such operators get government grants and priority in securing sites in HDB estates for setting up the centres, but must cap fees at $720 a month for full-day childcare - below the industry median fee of $856 currently - and meet other criteria on the quality of services.

It is vital to ramp up places to meet the demand for childcare - some parents in Punggol and Sengkang had to wait for six to 12 months for a childcare spot.

But in the rush to do so, the authorities and operators must ensure that the quality of teachers and hygiene standards are not compromised.

Qualified teachers do not equate to quality ones. There must also be measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as hand, foot and mouth disease - pre-schools are hot spots for this disease as it is easily transmitted among children.

As the anchor operators get bigger, the rest of the industry may need to rethink their strategy as it is much harder for non-anchor operators to secure large sites to expand their business. Beyond the setting up of large play areas, it will be the less visible factors such as quality and safety that make the difference to children's lives in the long run.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'Quality is key for childcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe