SINGAPORE - With the Ministry of Education (MOE) playing a bigger role in the pre-school sector, some MPs expressed concerns in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 9) about admission procedures and how the ministry plans to raise pre-school education standards on a wider scale.
In particular, Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), asked about the rationale for giving children who attend an MOE kindergarten priority access to a primary school that share a compound with the kindergarten.
The move, which takes effect from this year's Primary 1 registration exercise, was announced in November last year. MOE had said it would involve 12 kindergartens for a start. Kindergarten children applying for admission to a primary school would be eligible under Phase 2A2 of the Primary 1 registration scheme, which currently applies to children whose parent or siblings had studied in the primary school, but had not joined the alumni association.
In response, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that MOE found, during its review of the MOE kindergartens, that there were developmental benefits for young children if they remained in a familiar physical, social and educational environment.
Parents also expressed hopes that their children would have fewer transitions, he said.
Children in MOE kindergartens - which cater to K1 and K2 levels - typically transit twice in their early childhood, from nursery to kindergarten and then to primary school, he added.
He noted that while many parents welcomed MOE's plan to expand the number of kindergartens it operates to 50 by 2023, there were some who felt priority admission for MOE kindergarten children may bring the stress of primary school admission upstream to the kindergarten years.
"We are mindful of this and have put in place measures to mitigate it," said Mr Ng.
The admission eligibility for MOE kindergarten children is at Phase 2A2, behind that for younger siblings of pupils in the same school (Phase 1) and children of alumni members (Phase 2A1), he said.
There is sufficient access to primary schools for children not from the MOE kindergartens, as the planned K1 intake for the kindergartens will be significantly lower than the planned Primary 1 intake of the primary school they are located with, he added.
Responding to Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Ng also 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 noted that it has shared its teaching or learning resources with the early childhood sector since 2016. These included distributing large picture books for reading aloud to children - known as "Big Books" - and taking part in conferences.
The Government's foremost objective, said Mr Ng, is to ensure that parents have access to quality and affordable pre-schools for their children.
Hence, a third of the places at MOE kindergartens are reserved for children from low-income families, whose gross household income do not exceed S$3,500 a month and who live within 1km of the centre.
"This promotes better social mobility and social mixing in our schools," said Mr Ng.