Why It Matters

Key pre-school changes ahead

Many government initiatives to improve the pre-school sector have been rolled out in the past five years, but those announced last week are among the most significant to date.

The number of kindergartens run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) has gone from zero in 2013 to 15 now, and will more than triple to 50 by 2023, with enough places to cater to a fifth of children aged five and six.

The market share taken up by pre-schools that are run or supported by the Government will also go up from half to two-thirds by 2023, with the expansion of MOE kindergartens and other initiatives.

That means two-thirds of pre-schoolers will have education that is affordable and, according to the Government, of a good quality.

This will especially benefit children from low-income families, whose choices are limited.

Their parents will have more affordable pre-schools to choose from, and the children themselves will reap long-term benefits.

Research has shown that children with a good quality pre-school education are more likely to have better jobs and better marriages and commit fewer crimes, and this could break the cycle of poverty too.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in 2012 that having a mix of operators offers diversity, which is "useful for parents because different parents will have different views (of) what their kids need".

Parents still have a choice - the Government has not taken over the entire pre-school market - but would the reduced diversity have significant negative implications?

Some kindergarten operators worry about incurring higher costs to differentiate themselves - which would force them to raise fees, for instance.

The Government has taken a big leap - but it must ensure that there are enough pre-school choices available, and that the reduced diversity would not lead to big players getting complacent about offering quality programmes for children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Key pre-school changes ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe