The subject of early childhood education dominated a forum on education as a social leveller, with calls for pre-schools to be nationalised so that children from poor families enjoy the same standards of learning as those from rich ones.
But Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said it was more important to focus on the centralised training of pre-school teachers to raise the overall quality of teaching. "It is natural for parents to want the best for their children," he said at last night's forum, organised by the National University of Singapore and held at the University Cultural Centre. "Let's try our best and have a societal consensus not to cap the top, but do what we can to lift the bottom."
At the forum, high-quality early childhood education was earmarked as one of the best ways to ensure social mobility.
Mr Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said: "When you think about levelling the playing field, you think about the early years, about early childhood education. If there's one thing we could do to give people equal chances, it's about equipping them with foundations." The OECD aims to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people.
Mr Viswa Sadasivan, who chairs the forum's organising committee and moderated the session, highlighted the disparity in pre-school fees, with some charging $1,400 a month or more.
Mr Schleicher said early childhood education is often fragmented and may be poorly regulated, leading to wealthier families finding better providers.
"Early childhood education can still reinforce, not moderate, social inequality and that's obviously where we need to start."