Set right pay scale to raise image, quality of pre-school educators

I read with interest the recent reports and letters on pre-school teachers and childhood education ("Call to boost pay and image to attract more pre-school teachers"; Oct 17, and "Teach parents about pre-school education" by Miss Jacelyn Chia Yee Fang; Wednesday).

I had, in the past, considered a mid-career switch from the corporate world to pre-school education, but was deterred by the stark difference between the salary a pre-school teacher earns and what a degree-holder can command outside the childcare sector.

As much as it can be argued that teaching is a passion, this should not be used as an excuse to short-change teachers.

Sadly, many people see pre-school teachers as mere babysitters ("Childcare teachers deserve more respect too" by Miss Sharis Wong Chien En; Tuesday).

These teachers often do not get as much recognition, compared with teachers in primary and secondary schools, as what they teach is deemed to be a lot simpler.

But pre-school teachers have more important roles than just imparting knowledge.

They are often the caregivers children have the most contact with after their parents, especially for children in full-day childcare.

There are well-documented studies which show that children's emotional and personality development is shaped through their early interactions with caregivers.

It is important for pre-school educators to be knowledgeable in childhood emotional development, so that they can apply appropriate methods and techniques in handling and interacting with children, particularly when they are in emotional distress.

In Finland, all pre-school teachers need to have a university degree specialising in early childhood education. This reflects the importance the country places on pre-school education.

Improving the image of pre-school teachers is important. But this must be matched with a pay scale that recognises their skills and hard work, and their importance in society.

The right pay scale will also attract talent to the industry and raise the quality of childhood education in Singapore.

With early childhood educators being one profession which is finding it hard to attract the needed talent yet will be in demand in the coming years, a change in mindset about pre-school education in Singapore is imperative.

Teo Leng Lee (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Set right pay scale to raise image, quality of pre-school educators'. Print Edition | Subscribe