Many grants and subsidies keep pre-school affordable, accessible

We thank Mr Darren Chan for his letter (Engage needy families on pre-school fee hike; Jan 4).

Providing affordable, accessible and quality pre-school services is a key priority for the Government.

To this end, the Government has put in place the Anchor Operator (AOP) and Partner Operator schemes, where centres under them are subjected to fee caps and quality requirements.

There are also kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE). They make up almost half of the pre-school market today and will increase steadily to two-thirds by 2023.

In recent years, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has been working with operators to reduce cost.

Despite these efforts, operators may still need to raise fees to improve their services and be sustainable. These increases, however, will have to be within the fee caps set by the Government.

All operators are also required to provide early notice about intended fee increases and engage families who may face difficulties in coping with the increase.

A number of operators also have support schemes for low-income families, such as the PAP Community Foundation's Headstart Fund and NTUC My First Skool's Bright Horizons Fund.

The Government, too, has various initiatives and subsidies that help parents with the cost of pre-school services.

Cash grants via the Baby Bonus and Child Development Account can be used to offset pre-school fees.

For childcare, all Singaporean children receive a basic subsidy of up to $300 per month, and lower-and middle-income families may receive additional subsidies of up to $440 per month.

Lower-and middle-income children enrolled in kindergartens run by the AOPs or by MOE are also eligible for the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme.

With these subsidies, pre-school could cost just a few dollars a month for low-income families with children attending childcare centres or kindergartens.

If there are extenuating circumstances and a low-income family is still unable to afford childcare fees despite the subsidies, they may apply for ComCare financial assistance through the childcare centre.

Charlene Han (Ms) Director/Policy & Sector Funding Early Childhood Development Agency

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Many grants and subsidies keep pre-school affordable, accessible'. Print Edition | Subscribe