Why It Matters

Ensuring quality of all pre-schools

The passing of a new law that regulates both childcare centres and kindergartens is timely.

The Early Childhood Development Centres Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday and is expected to take effect over the next year.

Childcare centres and kindergartens come under separate laws currently, with different requirements.

But to most parents, both types of pre-schools offer similar services for children aged below seven, although kindergartens generally have shorter operating hours and do not allow infants to be enrolled. Why should the requirements - in terms of physical space, environment safety and hygiene, or staff quality - then differ between the two types of pre-schools?

The new law places both types of pre-schools under a common licensing framework.

As Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin put it on Tuesday, this means that "instead of the current 'lifetime subscription' model for kindergartens, where they are registered one-off... all (pre-schools) will now run on the 'renewal subscription' model, which is already the practice for childcare centres".

The passing of the new law also comes four years after the setting up of the Early Childhood Development Agency, jointly overseen by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

With a single agency overseeing the sector, it is fitting to have a single regulatory framework.

For parents, this could mean greater assurance of quality across both types of pre-schools.

MOE kindergartens will not be governed by the new law because they are run directly by the Government and come under the Education Act, along with other national schools.

But with five MPs saying on Tuesday that MOE kindergartens should not be exempt - with some worrying about accusations of "double standards" - MOE may need to communicate how its pre-schools will be held to the same high-quality standards as the rest of the sector.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ensuring quality of all pre-schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe