Since its launch in 2013, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and the Ministry of Education kindergartens have boosted the early childhood education industry's services and professional development considerably.
As long as the industry continues to be on the political radar and benefit from funding and priority, it is possible for Singapore to be No. 1 in pre-school education.
Research has shown that teachers' qualifications play a great role in quality care. They impact the quality of teacher-child interactions and relationships, curricular decisions in lesson planning, and pedagogical practices that influence children's development and learning outcomes.
In the long term, we need to raise teachers' and leaders' qualification requirements from a diploma to a bachelor's degree, and then to a master's degree, as exemplified by Finland, where pre-school professionals are respected, recognised and well-remunerated.
However, it is currently difficult to attract suitable candidates, given the low salary and heavy workload. This in turn makes it hard to improve teacher-child ratio.
Once we make headway in teacher-child ratio, practices that cater to diverse income groups and backgrounds, and the learning and development of children with different needs, in collaboration with other professionals, will reap the best benefits.
We also need to enhance the quality of the pre-school-family partnership. Perhaps employers can release their staff earlier once a month so that parents can attend pre-school functions and events aimed at enhancing parenting skills and knowledge.
Independent childcare operators that are not part of the anchor operator and partner operator schemes should also enjoy increased subsidies.
These centres, in their various ways, contributed significantly to Singapore's childcare landscape before these operator schemes were introduced.
With the Government's continued support and the ECDA's good work, together with the passion, commitment and knowledge of early childhood educators, we will be No. 1 in pre-school education in Asia, and perhaps, the world.
Also, families in Singapore should be able to enjoy at least one year of free pre-school education before their children enter primary school.
Rebecca Chan (Dr)