Move could hit private kindergartens, increase pressure at K1 registration: Experts

K2 children playing an educational game at MOE Kindergarten @ Frontier Primary on Aug 25, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With Ministry of Education kindergartens expected to become more popular - now that their children will get priority in Primary One admission - experts are concerned that this could lead to more pressure at K1 registration. Some also wonder if private kindergartens would now be seen as a less desirable option.

Dr Khoo Kim Choo, who founded the Preschool for Multiple Intelligences, said: "Parents could choose the MOE kindergartens over other preschools so that they can get easier access to primary schools. Many parents want to have a straight route to primary school, and they also think that the MOE kindergarten may better prepare their child for primary school because of the internal liaison."

Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said: "Whilst the said priority admission provides familiarity and less transitional angst for kids who choose the co-located school, it may create other unintended consequences. It may later create more anxiety and stress having to queue at an earlier age for some of the more popular MOE kindergartens."

"The new measure in effect provides additional benefits to the MOE kindergartens compared to other preschools including anchor operators like PAP Community Foundation and My First Skool and even private ones. MOE needs to reinforce and focus on its original goal of setting up these MOE kindergartens which is to create a preschool model that raises the bar for the overall preschool sector," she added.

Some private preschools might face a challenge going forward. Said Dr Khoo: "It's an uneven playing field, no longer as before. With MOE kindergartens having an added advantage, it may make it more difficult for the smaller private players especially who have to differentiate themselves to draw parents."

"To benefit all children entering primary schools, all kindergartens, - private, those run by voluntary welfare organisations and religious organisations - should also have some links with nearby primary schools, beyond the usual school visits, so that all children can have a smoother transition to primary school."

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said: "Every policy throws up winners and losers. Since each primary school has a finite number of places, having kids from MOE kindergarten getting priority to co-located primary schools implicitly also implies that some other kids will have less priority in getting to these primary schools."

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said that parents might put pressure on MOE to have kindergartens within popular primary schools, or primary schools under this scheme could become popular.

"That will shift the competition for a seat at popular schools at the kindergarten level, which is undesirable," he said.

But in reality, some parents choose preschools based on varying preferences and needs of children, said Dr Khoo. For instance, some might want their children to attend a church-based kindergarten, while others prefer preschools offering the Montessori method, or other types of programmes.

Mr Ng Yi Xian, executive director of the EtonHouse group, said that it caters to a diverse set of parents. "We are confident that we offer compelling reasons for parents to choose us," he said, adding: "Many of our schools are licensed childcare centres that offer day care services, catering to working parents. We believe in preparing children not just for primary school, but for life."

Experts also said the popularity of the MOE kindergartens would differ based on the reputations of the primary schools that are co-located with them. By 2023, the MOE plans to run 50 kindergartens, all of which will be based in primary schools.

Dr Seah said: "It actually depends on whether the co-located primary schools are those that are deemed by parents to be prestigious and staffed by relatively effective teachers. If so, we can expect parents to switch to the MOE kindergartens so that their kids will have higher priority getting into these primary schools.

"Otherwise, if the co-located primary schools are deemed to be just "average", then I wouldn't expect parents to react this way.

One such parent is Mr Chee Chin Young, 39, whose daughter attended the MOE kindergarten at Dazhong Primary School in the last two years, but will be starting Primary 1 at St Anthony's Primary School next year.

"The MOE kindergartens are doing a good job. They have a lot of resources compared to other operators. But I saw the choice of preschool and primary school as two separate decisions," said the tuition centre owner.

"Parents make choices based on many factors, whether the primary school is compelling, and they ask around to find out which are the good schools."

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