SINGAPORE - By 2021, PCF Sparkletots, the largest pre-school operator here, will have 38 centres that admit younger children aged up to four.
These Early Years Centres, first announced in 2017, are part of the Government's efforts to raise the quality of pre-school standards in children's early years and meet the growing demand for full-day childcare places.
Under the scheme, eligible Singaporean and permanent resident Nursery 2 children in these Early Years Centres will be guaranteed a place in a nearby Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergarten.
At the official opening of PCF Sparkletot's first and largest Early Years Centre in Punggol North on Saturday (April 20), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said he was glad to see the pre-school operator expanding its services in the early years sector.
"Good pre-schools like PCF Sparkletots not only offer good support for working parents, but can also give young children a strong start and foundation for life-long learning."
He added that the early years of a child's life are the formative and golden years, where they are versatile, ready to absorb and learn.
The pre-school in Edgefield Plains in Punggol North, which opened its doors in May last year, is designed to take in 1,060 children. It now has 449 children, aged two months to four years old.
Children from the centre will have the option of attending one of three MOE kindergartens in Punggol in the year they turn five. It is PCF's largest childcare centre, with a land area of 10,000 sq m and built-up area of 8,400 sq m.
The centre is also one of the pre-school operator's 12 Early Years Centres which are in operation - each with 30 to 180 children - and are mainly located in new towns like Sengkang and Punggol. Another two more centres in Toa Payoh will open by the end of this year.
The event on Saturday was also attended by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is PCF's executive committee chairman, and Mr Ng Chee Meng, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and chairman of PCF Punggol North Branch.
The centre in Punggol North, which places an emphasis on outdoor play and learning, was designed with the needs of young children in mind. For instance, there are three separate play areas for three different age groups: infants from two months to 18 months, toddlers from 18 months to 24 months and children in Nursery 1 and Nursery 2.
Ms Michelle Lee, senior principal of the centre, said that the activities, facilities and environment cater to children's developmental stages. For example, the playground for toddlers has real grass while the infant play area uses artificial turf. The toddler playground also has steps, benches, a balancing beam and an outdoor cooking setup, while the infant play area has gentler slopes for crawling.
Besides 131 teachers and assistant teachers, the pre-school also has two state-registered nurses who look after the infants. The nurses also advise teachers and parents on infant well-being, hygiene, allergy issues and what types of food are suitable for weaning.
Ms Marini Khamis, senior director of PCF's pre-school management division, said that research has shown that the early years - from birth to four years - are critical for brain development.
"Experiences affect many aspects of children's development and have lasting effects on life outcomes, in physical, socio-emotional and intellectual areas," she said. "By focusing on the early years, we aim to make a bigger, positive impact on children's development and educational outcomes."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in 2017 that more EYCs would be set up to address the shortage of pre-school places for children aged up to four.
NTUC's My First Skool also opened two Early Years Centres in the middle of last year, and is starting another one later this year.
As of April 2019, a total of 38 centres have finalised plans to collaborate with the MOE kindergartens as Early Years Centres.