New national training institute can help address pre-school sector's biggest challenge: attracting good talent

SINGAPORE- The new National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) will help tackle one of the biggest challenges forthe pre-school sector: attracting good teaching talent.

But while industry observers hail its establishment, some are worried that private training providers may be pushed out of the market.

The institute will consolidate programmes run by Temasek and Ngee Ann polytechnics, the Institute of Technical Education, and the Seed Institute.

Dr Sirene Lim, academic lead of the early childhood education programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the NIEC could be a way to unite the profession, better advocate for children's well-being, and strengthen the profession's knowledge base and practices.

Ms Cheong Su Fen, founder of social enterprise Preschoolmarket added that "pre-school teachers may also be able to look forward to higher salaries because of better qualifications."

Other than the four institutions under the NIEC, about eight private training agencies also offer diplomas and certifications in early childhood that are accredited by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

And they are worried.

Dr T Chandroo, chairman of Modern Montessori International Group (MMI), which trains about 50 students a year under its ECDA-accredited programme, said that private academies like MMI may see fewer trainees due to competition from NIEC, which can cover fees and even provide an allowance for trainee pre-school teachers.

Though he recognises a need for the institute, Dr Chandroo said it will lead to less diversity of training opportunities.

The Singapore Muslim Women's Organisation (PPIS), which runs six early childhood education centres, said a centralised institution "might hamper innovation, which (is) mainly driven by competition in the private sector."

Nanyang Institute of Management (NIM), which offers early childhood courses, has already put its ECDA-accredited course on hold this year because of low demand. Its academic director, Mr Alfred Pang, said NIM will now see how it can complement the NIEC's offerings in the future. The Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore), for example, said that it will support the work of NIEC by conducting professional development courses for current pre-school teachers.

On Sunday (Aug 20), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the government will work with employers to ensure good career prospects and competitive salaries for pre-school teachers.

But Ms Cheong said that in the short-term, pre-school teachers in centres run by smaller operators may be tempted to jump ship to larger, Government-funded operators because of a perception that they have more resources and can offer higher salaries.

However, Mrs Patricia Koh, chief executive of private pre-school chain MapleBear Singapore, said that the institute can ultimately benefit both public and private sectors. "(NIEC-trained educators) may also eventually join other centres, so it's a good thing to me. If formalised training can upgrade standards across the board, why not?"