Of around 600 O-level students applying to train as pre-school teachers, more than half have already secured places in courses for next year, it was revealed yesterday.
Ngee Ann and Temasek polytechnics have been given greater flexibility to admit them through a discretionary route under the direct polytechnic admission (DPA) scheme. The two institutions offer four full-time diploma courses in the early childhood field between them and this year's number of applicants was 50 per cent more than last year's.
The 300 offers for early childhood courses is the highest number since the DPA was set up in 2007.
It allows polytechnics to select students based on criteria other than academic results, such as their suitability for certain courses and how they fare in interviews.
Each student accepted through the DPA will receive an Early Childhood Development Agency training award of up to $40,000.
From this year, Temasek and Ngee Ann polytechnics can admit up to half of their intakes in the early childhood programmes under the DPA - compared to a 30 per cent cap for other courses.
It comes amid efforts in recent years by the Government to attract and retain pre-school teachers with better pay and training incentives.
Each student accepted through the DPA will receive an Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) training award of up to $40,000.
Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah revealed the offer figures and said interest in the sector is "heartening", given its shortage of teachers. She attributed the growing interest to factors including a "good career progression plan" developed by the ECDA and greater awareness of the diplomas.
Ms Nur Afiqah, 16, who has accepted an offer to study child psychology and early education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic next year, is relieved to have secured a place before sitting her O levels in October.
"I've been interested in being a pre-school teacher since primary school because I like playing with young children and toddlers," said the youngest of five children.
"I'm looking forward to learning about children's behaviour and how they think. I want to understand them better."
Ngee Ann Polytechnic will set up an Academy for Early Childhood Education to train school-leavers and those already in the sector. It will start next year and combine the institution's existing part-time and full-time programmes.
It will also expand the courses' intakes, from 200 students in full- time diplomas to 500 next year. It hopes to enrol more people for its continuing education and training courses, which now have about 100 mid-career students. The academy will hire 80 staff over three years and develop more courses on topics like pedagogy, languages, developmental needs and early care.
Ms Indranee said: "We hope that with this, we will encourage those who have been out of the workforce to re-enter... and take up early childhood as a career."
She was speaking at the launch of a revamped internship scheme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Next month, 24 diploma students training to be pre-school teachers will go on placements lasting 51/2 months, almost twice the length of previous stints.
They are part of SkillsFuture, a national effort to integrate education, training and career progression.