Some seek stiff penalties for errant pre-schools

Earlier this year, ECDA proposed laws that will give the authorities more teeth to ensure that pre-schools uphold standards. It consulted the public in July and has now posted a summary of key feedback and its responses online.
Earlier this year, ECDA proposed laws that will give the authorities more teeth to ensure that pre-schools uphold standards. It consulted the public in July and has now posted a summary of key feedback and its responses online.ST FILE PHOTO

But as they form a small minority, watchdog proposes measured approach

Some parents have asked for heavier penalties - including jail terms - for errant pre-schools than what is prescribed in proposed rules for them.

But the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said errant operators form a small minority, and it will continue with a "measured enforcement approach".

Earlier this year, ECDA proposed laws that will give the authorities more teeth to ensure that pre-schools uphold standards.

For instance, a fine of up to $5,000 could be imposed for administrative breaches, such as not keeping a register of particulars of staff or children enrolled.

ECDA consulted the public about the rules in July and posted a summary of key feedback received and its responses online today.

It received 35 written comments from pre-school operators, parents and other industry partners. It also briefed 750 pre-school staff, met 14 parents from support groups, and held discussions with the Education Services Union.

Some operators were concerned that the administrative burden of the new rules could be heavy, and asked why administrative lapses warranted financial penalties.

"On the other hand, some parents have given feedback that the fines... may not be an effective deterrent against larger operators, and suggested more punitive measures, such as a prison term," said ECDA. It explained that administrative lapses are serious as they can have severe consequences. A lack of proper records could hinder contact-tracing efforts in disease outbreaks, for instance.

Now, all administrative lapses are considered criminal offences, though ECDA typically only gives warnings or shorter licence tenures to errant centres.

The new fines proposed allow the authorities to de-criminalise lapses and give them "more enforcement options to effectively deal with recalcitrant operators", said ECDA. But if breaches are severe, it will still consider options such as closing down centres. "This enforcement approach is already being applied today."

Sheffield Kidsworld director Puhalenthi Murugesan welcomed the balanced approach. He said: "The authorities should not clamp down on the sector, or else operators may end up focusing too much on admin work instead of caring for children."

Another point of contention was the proposal that kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) be exempted from the regulations, and some suggested this be changed. ECDA said it "considered this suggestion carefully", but was sticking with its proposal. The kindergartens will be held to "consistent standards", with MOE being directly accountable to Parliament.

The Bill on the new regulations is expected to be introduced in Parliament in the first half of next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'Some seek stiff penalties for errant pre-schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe