Sixteen new kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) will open in the next three years as part of a wide-ranging effort to offer affordable, high-quality pre- school education to more children.
By 2023, MOE hopes to have 50 such kindergartens located in primary schools and providing 14,000 places - enough to cater to a fifth of all Singaporeans and permanent residents aged five and six.
Over the next five years, full-day pre-school places will also be ramped up by another 40,000, part of which will come from new "early years centres" that take in children aged up to four and are run by government-funded pre- school operators.
To ensure a steady pipeline of quality educators, the National Institute of Early Childhood Development will take in its first batch of students in 2019. It is expected to provide 60 per cent of all trainee pre-school teachers in the next few years.
These details were revealed by MOE yesterday, expanding on initiatives announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Sunday's National Day Rally, in which he said he wants every child to go to a good pre-school.
Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng stressed that these moves were not an attempt to nationalise the early childhood sector. He pointed out that the 50 kindergartens MOE aims to have are still a minority compared with the 450 or so kindergartens already running.
Instead, the MOE kindergartens will serve as the "engine" driving higher teaching standards, and better pedagogies and curricula in a bid to "uplift the (early childhood) landscape".
He said pre-school education has moved on from rote learning methods in his time, "when we learn mathematics is one plus one equals two and we recite the timetables". The focus now is on getting young children to learn through exploration and play, and "allow them to expand their natural curiosity and develop that creativity".
"We want to ensure that every child in Singapore will have access to equal opportunity and social mobility - that every child has a strong start regardless of family background so that they can have a solid foundation in the first steps towards our education journey," said Mr Ng. He highlighted how subsidised monthly fees at MOE kindergartens are as low as $1.50 for households with an income of less than $2,500.
He also said that "parents will still have a choice" in picking the right pre-school option for their child, given that pre-schools run or supported by the Government will make up two-thirds of the market by 2023.
Since 2014, MOE has launched 15 kindergartens. Of the upcoming 16, three will open next year, seven in 2019 and six in 2020. They will be in newer estates such as Punggol and Sengkang, where there is high demand for pre-school services.
Asked if the moves will encourage Singaporeans to have more children, Mr Ng said he hopes so.
"But education outcomes in themselves are already a good achievement, if we can get this right. There is (a lot) of work to be done, and we intend to do it well."
SEE TOP OF THE NEWS