Forum: Consider mandatory pre-school, and make it free for vulnerable children

I read with sadness the report, "Panel discusses challenges faced by vulnerable groups" (July 22).

The chief executive of charity Montfort Care recounted how he recently came across a family of 13, crammed into a rental flat. A woman in her 80s was taking care of her six-year-old grandson after his parents had run away. The child did not know how to talk yet.

In Singapore, pre-primary education is not compulsory. Furthermore, there are government-recommended developmental touchpoints in the first six years of a child's life, but Childhood Developmental Screening to identify children at risk of developmental delay is not compulsory.

Unfortunately, this leads to the possibility of children below seven (when a child is expected to be in a primary school) facing significant developmental delays due to neglect or lack of resources, without the authorities knowing.

To protect our defenceless young from unnecessary developmental delays, perhaps the authorities could consider exploring ways to reach out to young children so that intervention can be made earlier.

For example, there could be free and compulsory annual health check-ups during which Childhood Developmental Screening could be conducted. This would be useful for all families.

Perhaps it could be studied if a basic level of pre-school should be made mandatory in modern Singapore and provided free for those who are unable to afford it.

In a Unesco study conducted in 2020 on pre-school education, it was found that 63 countries have adopted legal provisions for free pre-primary education and 51 countries have adopted pre-primary education as a compulsory level in national legal frameworks.

Reaching out to young children below seven would help prevent potential neglect. It would allow more children to avoid significant developmental delays due to their family's lack of resources.

Lam Yin Yin

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