A new national institute will be set up to train pre-school educators to improve the profession and attract good people.
The National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) will offer the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for pre-school professionals.
It will be the pre-school equivalent of the National Institute of Education (NIE), which trains teachers in primary and secondary schools as well as junior colleges.
Its establishment comes at a time when demand for pre-school teachers has gone up, with the sector expanding to meet increased demand for childcare services.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announcing the setting up of NIEC at the National Day Rally, said it was important to upgrade the profession as pre-school teachers "make all the difference to our children".
With the institute, pre-school teachers can go through the same rigorous training as school teachers employed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), who attend NIE before they start teaching, and to upgrade their skills and prepare for senior roles. NIE also conducts research on teaching methods and keeps them up to date. After obtaining the requisite qualifications, they can progress to be master teachers who show others how to teach, be subject specialists who develop new curricula or school leaders.
"Because teachers are trained well, paid well and have good career prospects, good people take up teaching, and we have a good education system," said PM Lee.
"We will take the same approach with pre-school teachers - train them well, reward them well and attract good, passionate people."
The NIEC, which will come under NIE, will bring together training programmes offered by the Institute of Technical Education, Ngee Ann and Temasek polytechnics, and NTUC's Seed Institute.
It will also have the scale to develop curricula with different specialisations such as music and art, and the faculty will have more professional development opportunities in a larger fraternity.
All trainee pre-school teachers will get their fees fully covered, plus an allowance.
Mr Victor Bay, chief executive of pre-school operator PAP Community Foundation, said the NIEC "will expand the availability of continuous professional development for our current teachers".
The Government will start a three-year campaign to attract people to the sector, and work with employers to ensure pre-school teachers have good career prospects and competitive pay.
PM Lee said: "As we upgrade the profession, salaries need to improve further... Only then can we upgrade the pre-school sector and get good people to join and make it a career. Only then can we build a strong pre-school system."