Mendaki looking at ways to keep pre-schools affordable

From left: Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, dialogue moderator Adi Rahman and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam at yesterday's dialogue on the National Day Rally, organised by Berita Harian, Mendaki and Reach.
From left: Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, dialogue moderator Adi Rahman and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam at yesterday's dialogue on the National Day Rally, organised by Berita Harian, Mendaki and Reach.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Self-help group Mendaki is looking at ways it can help keep the push for quality pre-school education affordable for the Malay-Muslim community, by extending financial assistance to children below the age of three and providing bursaries for those who want to work in the sector.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who is also Mendaki chairman, spoke of these possibilities last night, during a dialogue with the Malay community on the National Day Rally.

Improving pre-school education, one of three issues that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted during Sunday's National Day Rally, was a hot topic during the Facebook Live dialogue organised by government feedback unit Reach, Mendaki and Berita Harian.

Several netizens who sent in questions had raised concerns that pre-schools would become more expensive amid plans announced during the rally to improve the quality of the sector.

Dr Yaacob said Mendaki's Education Trust Fund, which subsidises fees for children in nursery up to ITE, could be extended. This could cover costs for childcare and infantcare.

PM Lee had announced that a new centralised institute, the National Institute of Early Childhood Development, would be set up to train pre-school educators in a bid to improve the profession.

Dr Yaacob told reporters after the dialogue that Mendaki is also exploring how it can support those keen on becoming pre-school teachers, such as through providing training bursaries and scholarships.

He added: "The message is: Please send children to pre-school. Don't allow finances to be a hindrance to that, because we want to allow every child to go to a pre-school as far as possible."

Dr Yaacob and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, who also participated in the dialogue, fielded questions on diabetes - another key focus of PM Lee's speech.

While the Government is working with hawkers and food providers to come up with healthier meal options, people should also switch to healthier ingredients at home "so that our children's taste buds are used to it", said Dr Yaacob.

Ms Rahayu, meanwhile, spoke about how younger Singaporeans can help make sure the elderly do not get left behind in Singapore's push to become a Smart Nation, a concern raised by some during the dialogue.

She suggested that existing programmes, such as classes in community clubs started by youths to teach the elderly how to use mobile phones and apps, can be expanded to include topics like e-payment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Mendaki looking at ways to keep pre-schools affordable'. Print Edition | Subscribe