SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education's move to give priority to children attending its kindergartens has left many parents asking if they should look into sending their children to such kindergartens, instead of private or church-run ones.
Some, whose children are already in nursery or pre-nursery care in private kindergartens, are also considering transferring their children to MOE-run kindergartens.
Children in MOE kindergartens will have priority under Phase 2A2 to get into the associated primary school, putting them ahead of children in the next phase, 2B, which gives priority to parent volunteers and those with church or clan links.
MOE has sound reasons for the move - remaining in a familiar physical, social and educational environment will help smoothen the transition to Primary 1 for the children.
Parents whose kids have moved from MOE kindergartens to the associated primary schools have also seen the benefits.
MOE said that currently about 50 per cent of their kindergarten children move on to enrol in the co-located primary schools.
Still, parents considering a transfer should ask themselves this: If their child is happy and enjoying learning in the pre-school that he or she is now, is it in the child's best interest to switch to another pre-school just to gain admission priority?
MOE kindergartens provide high quality curriculum and facilities at an attractive price but so do many other kindergartens run by private organisations, churches and anchor operators.
I have visited several that offer sound, play-based curriculum, highly qualified teachers and low student-teacher ratios, so that children have more individual attention.
Several private centres also offer bilingual programmes for their students, where Chinese is given equal exposure and importance as English.
Parents who send their kids to church-run kindergartens also praise the emphasis on values and character development.
Parents who still want switch to an MOE kindergarten should also consider if they will be able to secure a place in the kindergarten which offers between 60 and 120 places a year.
Also, they should realise that MOE kindergartens give priority to siblings of their current pupils and one-third of the places are set aside for children from lower-income homes.
Beyond that, children who live near the kindergarten are given priority, first for those living within 500 m, then for those living between 500m and 1km and finally for those living outside 1km. As with Primary 1 admission, Singapore citizens will be given places before permanent residents.
There are some parents who are considering a switch because of the priority gained for the co-located primary school.
Again, parents should not just go for schools because they are "reputed to be the best in the neighbourhood" . What parents should consider is if it is the best fit for their child.
If you still think it is a good choice for your child, then have a look at the figures from previous Primary 1 registration exercises to see if there is a need to transfer your child to the co-located kindergarten just to gain a place in the primary school.
But having said that, as MOE officials said earlier today, demand situations differ from year to year, and it is difficult to predict the demand situation for the individual schools and MOE kindergartens.
Parents must keep in mind that MOE kindergartens are located in areas with upcoming developments and families with young children. So there is likely to be healthy demand for these school-based kindergartens as well as the primary schools.
The Ministry has assured parents that the intake for the kindergartens - which at the moment ranges from 60 to 120 - will be below that of the planned Primary 1 intake of the co-located primary school. On average, the intake for a primary school is 210, although some schools in high demand areas have intakes of up to 300.
The Ministry has also said that it will continue to set aside a minimum of 40 places for Phase 2B and 2C and provide sufficient school places on a regional basis so that no child will have to travel long distances to his or her primary school.
The guessing game for the locations of the new MOE kindergartens has started with some parents hoping that MOE will set up kindergartens at aided primary schools and some of the more popular government schools.
MOE has said it will set up kindergartens only in areas where there is demand and it will not include any government-aided primary schools.