MOE kindergartens may lead to pre-school admission stress: MPs

They raise concerns over priority access to some primary schools

With the Ministry of Education (MOE) playing a bigger role in the pre-school sector, some MPs have expressed concerns on whether stress over school admission is moving upstream to its kindergartens.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) asked about the rationale for a new policy announced in November, which gives MOE kindergarten pupils priority access to a primary school that shares a compound with their kindergarten.

One positive impact of this, said Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), is that the primary schools can become more popular as a result.

But what happens when demand for spots in the MOE kindergartens outstrips supply? What will the admission criteria then be?

In his response yesterday, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that in such cases, "a fair, transparent balloting system will take place".

The reason for the move to first affiliate 12 kindergartens to primary schools, which takes effect from this year's Primary 1 registration exercise, came about after a review. It found there were developmental benefits for young children if they stayed in a familiar environment, he said. Parents also hoped their children would have fewer transitions.

The minister acknowledged that there were some who felt priority admission for MOE kindergarten children may bring the stress of primary school admission upstream, when those kindergartens become too popular as a result.

"We are mindful of this and have put in place measures to mitigate it," he said. These include putting the admission eligibility for MOE kindergarten children at Phase 2A2, behind that for younger siblings of pupils in the same school (Phase 1) and children of alumni members (Phase 2A1).

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said children not from MOE kindergartens should not have to worry about not getting into primary schools, as the planned intake of the kindergarten will be significantly lower than the intake of the primary school they are located with.

He also said children not from MOE kindergartens should not have to worry about not getting into primary schools, as the planned intake of the kindergarten will be significantly lower than the intake of the primary school they are located with.

Responding to Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who asked how many MOE kindergartens will be located in popular primary schools that have had to undergo balloting, Mr Ng said that the likelihood of children in MOE kindergartens securing places in their co-located primary schools is "quite high", given the combination of factors such as intake figures and parents' choice of primary schools.

But it is "too early to give such guarantees", he added.

Ms Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, asked about the MOE's role in the early childhood sector - if it had gone beyond a piloting stage to being one of the key operators - and how it plans to level the playing field.

Mr Ng said that MOE is expanding its presence beyond the initial 15 centres, and added that it has shared its teaching or learning resources with the early childhood sector since 2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'MOE kindergartens may lead to pre-school admission stress: MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe