Coronavirus: 42 Sparkletots staff stuck in China due to travel difficulties

PAP Community Foundation chief executive Victor Bay with (from left) the principal of PCF Sparkletots Preschool @ Kolam Ayer Block 26B, Ms Kalamathyin; and pre-school staff. Most of the pre-school operator's Chinese language teachers, who are work pa
PAP Community Foundation chief executive Victor Bay with (from left) the principal of PCF Sparkletots Preschool @ Kolam Ayer Block 26B, Ms Kalamathyin; and pre-school staff. Most of the pre-school operator's Chinese language teachers, who are work pass holders, have been stranded in China since the Chinese New Year break. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots, Singapore's largest pre-school operator, has 42 staff stuck in China, about a third of them in Hubei province where most cases of the coronavirus outbreak have been reported.

Most of the Chinese language teachers, who are work pass holders, have been stranded since the Chinese New Year break.

They are staying with their families and are unable to return to Singapore because of travel restrictions and airlines cancelling flights. Some are in other provinces like Shaanxi and Anhui.

PCF chief executive Victor Bay told The Straits Times last Friday that while it was likely to take some time before the teachers can come back and resume teaching, they will continue to receive their full salaries, and will not have to apply for additional leave.

The pre-school operator has also given an allowance to help six staff here, who are on leave of absence, find alternative accommodation at hotels. They were evicted by their landlords.

PCF has about 40,000 children across 360 centres.

As of last Friday, 117 of its staff and 196 children were on leave of absence.

Some staff and children have returned to school since last week, after staying away for 14 days due to their travel history.

"For the staff in China, we keep in touch with them, check on their well-being, keep their spirits up. We also update them on the developments back in Singapore," said Mr Bay, adding that those at home in Singapore also received a bouquet of roses to cheer them up.

"I think our China colleagues will be able to see that no matter what's happening and what people are saying, they're part of our family and we'll continue to support" them, he said.

"By and large, parents are very understanding, I don't have any parents saying 'I don't want the Chinese teacher from China to be teaching my kids'."

To cope with the manpower shortage, PCF has redeployed teachers to affected centres, and staff from its headquarters have also helped out on the ground.

Parents are updated regularly via a mobile app, and Mr Bay said that the additional measures, like restricting visitors and travel declaration forms, have reassured parents that the pre-school centres are safe. Children who are unwell or have a slight fever also have to return home.

  • 117

    Number of PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots staff on leave of absence as of last Friday.

    196

    Number of children at PCF Sparkletots on leave of absence as of last Friday. The pre-school operator has about 40,000 children across 360 centres.

"Kids are still coming to school as per normal. Sure, there will be some families who decide to make alternative care arrangements for their children… But it's not a huge drop in attendance. We want to tell parents to feel free to bring the kids back, we are more than happy to look after them."

PCF has also put together an educational kit meant to keep children at home occupied.

Its curriculum and mother tongue language team developed 24 sets of activities both in English and the three mother tongue languages, involving craft, storytelling and role-playing.

PCF Sparkletots teacher Zhu Huijian returned to work at her Choa Chu Kang pre-school last Friday, after being on leave of absence.

She had come back from Xiamen, a city in China's Fujian province, where she returns to annually to spend Chinese New Year with her family.

"I missed the children so much, and when I went back on Friday they were so happy to see me," said the 40-year-old permanent resident, who has been teaching with PCF for about 10 years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2020, with the headline '42 Sparkletots staff stuck in China due to travel difficulties'. Print Edition | Subscribe