52 pre-school operators keen to join government-funded scheme with lowered fee caps

A pre-school teacher at Carpe Diem @ ITE Ang Mo Kio interacting with the children. Carpe Diem is one of the current pre-school partner operators. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More than 50 pre-school operators have applied to be under a government-funded partner operator scheme from 2021 that would see lower fee caps.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said on Wednesday (Feb 5) that it received 52 applications before the Jan 31 deadline.

There are currently 23 operators running 250 centres for the first term of the partner operator scheme, which began in 2016 and will come to an end this December.

There are currently more than 20,000 children attending these pre-schools.

Partner operators get government funding to keep fees low, and have to adhere to the fee cap. Current operators include Busy Bees, Star Learners and Carpe Diem.

ECDA hopes to expand the scheme and appoint more centres for the second term from 2021 to 2025.

It added that applications were received from a mix of both commercial and not-for-profit operators, as well as operators on the existing partner operator term.

For centres under the second term, the maximum fee that partner operators can charge for full-day childcare services will be set at $760 monthly, $40 lower than the current fee cap of $800.

For full-day infant care services, the amount is set at $1,330 monthly, $70 cheaper than the current $1,400 per month. Both fees are not inclusive of GST.

ECDA chief executive Jamie Ang said: "As we review the applications carefully, we hope to be able to increase the number of government-supported pre-schools so that we can continue to assure families of quality, affordable and accessible pre-schools."

Nobleland Arts N Learning Place, which is not currently on the partner operator scheme, had previously told The Straits Times that it was keen to apply. It confirmed on Wednesday that it had applied for its four centres to be on the scheme.

The operator currently caters to about 400 children, with fees at three centres at $850 for full-day childcare, and about $1,300 for the last one.

Its director and founder Chua Shian Luan said: "We can reach out to more children of diverse needs, and unveil their potential from our unique arts integrated curriculum and programme."

A Little Footprints Preschool spokesman confirmed that it had applied for the second term as well.

Currently, 22 out of its 24 centres are under the partner operator scheme. There are 1,712 children across all its centres, with capacity for 2,000 in total.

"We believe in quality education at affordable prices, which is why we would like all Little Footprints centres to be in the partner operator scheme," added the spokesman. Its monthly fees are currently at the first-term partner operator fee cap.

The expansion of the partner operator scheme comes after the Government said last year that it would be increasing government-supported pre-school places to 80 per cent by 2025, up from 50 per cent now.

It also said that in the medium term, full-day pre-school expenses should be brought down to around $300 a month, which is about the same as the cost of primary school plus after-school student care before means-tested subsidies.

ECDA added then that it aims to further lower fee caps at government-supported pre-schools over the medium term.

Besides the partner operator scheme, the Government also runs the anchor operator scheme as part of measures to keep pre-school fees affordable.

There are five anchor operators in Singapore, which receive more funding and follow lower fee caps.

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