SINGAPORE - The largest pre-school operator in Singapore will be organising more field trips for the children in its care to enrich their learning experience.
From next year, PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots will also offer structured learning programmes at subsidised prices, in areas such as speech and drama, sports or social etiquette.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is also the PCF executive committee chairman, said these offerings come on top of the standard curriculum, and are meant to "give children the best start in life".
She was speaking to the media on Monday (Nov 5), on the sidelines of a field trip for 60 children from a PCF pre-school centre in Sengkang to Bee Amazed Garden in Yishun, where they learnt about honey bees and how they work.
Mrs Teo said: "The world is a big place. As early as we can, we want to expose our children to the wider world, develop their sense of curiosity and encourage them to ask questions, read and have diverse interests.
"It's all part of enriching their experience. The earlier we do it, the more we open up their minds."
Children could go on field trips to the KidZania indoor theme park or the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa, for instance.
PCF chief executive Victor Bay said parents would only have to pay a nominal fee of about $3 to $6 per trip to cover costs such as transport.
PCF Sparkletots has about 43,000 children across more than 360 centres. Mrs Teo said that for a start, this outdoor education programme would involve about 6,000 children from 73 centres over the school holiday period this year.
If the experience turns out to be good, PCF would like to extend it to more centres and children, she added.
News of the PCF initiative follows the setting up of an inter-agency task force, headed by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, to help children from disadvantaged households realise their full potential.
The Straits Times reported that a key part of the task force's work would be directed at children in pre-schools and primary schools, as research showed it was especially critical to intervene in the early years to give a child a good start in life.
Asked about whether PCF's focus on outdoor learning was part of the Government's move to level the playing field in pre-school, Mrs Teo said: "Starting early is very valuable - you want to give children the best start in life, and by that, we mean all children.
"Broadening the availability of affordable and quality childcare is one part of it, but it's not the only thing happening. You need interventions on all fronts and you need to consider the various aspects."
She said: "It is always about uplifting every single child and making sure that whatever starting lines they're at, they have the opportunity to have the richest and the most broad learning experience."
Ms Janelle Kok, 31, whose five-year-old daughter went on the trip to Bee Amazed Garden, said it was an eye-opening experience for the children.
"At her age, she's starting to develop curiosity about things happening around her. I think these trips are more helpful because they leave a deeper impression on her; in-class learning is more theoretical," said Ms Kok, who works in sales.
PCF Sparkletots teacher Siti Aisyah Rahmat, 31, said that learning takes place best in an authentic setting.