Couple looking forward to pre-school subsidy boost

This will allow them to channel funds to develop child's interests; they are also expecting second boy

Madam Julia Koh and Mr Jason Low, both 32, with their three-year-old son Joern, who is enrolled in a PCF Sparkletots pre-school. The fees come up to about $500 monthly, about 20 per cent of their total expenditure. The couple are expecting another boy in October. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Sending their three-year-old son Joern to a childcare centre costs Mr Jason Low and his wife Julia Koh about $500 monthly, about 20 per cent of their total expenditure.

More help is on the way for the couple, who now draw a combined monthly income of just above $7,500, as the Government is raising the monthly income ceiling from $7,500 to $12,000 starting next year, for parents to enjoy additional subsidies for pre-schools.

"The extra subsidy can allow us to channel more funds to our child's development, such as taekwondo and swimming lessons, which he has expressed an interest in," said Mr Low, 32, an executive at a supermarket.

His wife is a pre-school educator. They are also expecting a second boy in October.

At the National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced changes to the additional subsidies for pre-school education, which will benefit about 30,000 more households.

Pre-schools refer to centres that provide infant care (for children two to 18 months old) or childcare (up to age six). They include childcare centres and kindergartens.

All Singaporean children now receive a basic subsidy of up to $300 monthly if they are enrolled in a childcare centre licensed by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), and up to $600 monthly in infant care. The basic subsidy amount also depends on whether the parent is working.

Additional subsidies - which go up to $540 monthly - apply only to those who are working and have a gross monthly household income under $7,500 or a per capita income of $1,875 for larger families.

The amount depends on the age of the child and the family's income level, and is set to rise too.

PM Lee also said that over time, 80 per cent of pre-school places will be government-supported, up from just over 50 per cent now, which include those in Ministry of Education kindergartens.

They also include places run by centres under ECDA's anchor operator or partner operator schemes, where the operators receive government funding to keep their fees low. They can include public or private pre-schools.

Anchor operators include PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots and NTUC First Campus My First Skool, while examples of partner operators are Star Learners and Carpe Diem. Private operators include MindChamps and EtonHouse.

The Singapore Muslim Women's Association, which has seven childcare centres under the partner operator scheme, supported the changes, saying a third of its 827 pupils would be potentially eligible for the additional subsidies.

PM Lee also said that in the medium term, full-day pre-school expenses should be brought down to around $300 a month - the same as the cost of primary school plus after-school student care.

Ms Fiona Walker, group managing director for Julia Gabriel Education, which operates the Chiltern House pre-schools, said it would help if more private pre-schools were given government support. "We do not want to reduce the quality of our programmes and the team of specialists we have at our pre-schools."

Fees at private pre-schools can range from around $1,500 to $2,000 a month at MindChamps, to over $5,000 for a 10-week school term at EtonHouse.

Childcare provider Busy Bees Asia's chief executive June Rusdon said increased subsidies will benefit all pre-school operators. "Private pre-school operators still have a lot to offer and will continue to have a place in this industry."

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2019, with the headline Couple looking forward to pre-school subsidy boost. Subscribe