Why It Matters

Getting it right for pre-schools

Tougher new rules on pre-schools have been proposed by the Early Childhood Development Agency, a government body which oversees childcare centres and kindergartens here.

They include larger penalties for not meeting licensing conditions like the staff-child ratio , and requiring a security bond for new operators or those with poor records.

These come at a time when the Government has been trying to meet high demand for childcare as well as improve its affordability and quality. The laws will regulate childcare centres and kindergartens, which now respectively come under the Child Care Centres Act and Education Act, both enacted in the 1980s.

Regulation is important in order to have consistent standards in a sector that is highly fragmented, with hundreds of operators running over 1,500 childcare centres and kindergartens.

Parents can have greater peace of mind, knowing that their child's pre-school - regardless of its brand or fees - meets quality criteria set by the authorities.

But it can be tricky to ensure that the amount of regulation is just right and not too stifling.

As The Straits Times reported yesterday, industry players have deemed some of the rules to be "punitive". Under the proposals, a fine of up to $5,000 could be imposed for administrative breaches, such as not keeping a register of particulars of staff members or children enrolled.

Operators say such breaches should not warrant fines as they do not concern the safety or well-being of children. Experts say the punitive measures could discourage people from joining or staying in the pre-school sector, which faces a manpower crunch.

Teachers may lose job satisfaction because of the administrative work or, worse, feel stressed - at the expense of providing quality care.

It will be challenging to get the proposed rules right, so that the authorities can regulate the sector while supporting teachers in fulfilling their roles.

The quality of care depends on the curriculum, environment, and the caregivers - the teachers - too. If teachers can't have peace of mind, it is likely that parents won't either.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Getting it right for pre-schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe