SINGAPORE - There has been much progress in the pre-school sector but children with special needs and those from low-income families still need more support.
And training teachers to understand that their job is far more than just imparting knowledge to their young charges must be a top priority, said a group of 35 leaders from the early childhood development sector who cut across the education, health and social services.
They came to this consensus in a report released on Thursday (May 9), which examined the progress made in the early childhood sector and looked at what more can be done.
The walls between pre-schools and fields like health, social service and early intervention should be broken down, they said, and more early childhood educators need to be equipped to support children who do not seem to fit in, whether by their developmental needs or complex home backgrounds.
The report, commissioned by the Lien Foundation, a philanthropic group, comes seven years after its first study of the pre-school sector, where the group had called for the Government to be in charge of pre-school education, and to provide it free for all children.
The latest research effort was led by principal investigator Lasse Lipponen, professor of education at the University of Helsinki; and co-principal investigators Lynn Ang, professor of early childhood at University College London, and Sirene Lim, academic lead of the early childhood education programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
At a press conference on Thursday, Associate Professor Lim said that the process of canvassing the views of the 35 key leaders from a range of disciplines, including the education, health and social services, is "seminal", given the fact that practitioners in the fields of early childhood and early intervention have not really worked together here in a significant way in the past.
The interviews were conducted between April and September 2018, and the report was completed in March this year.
Prof Ang said that educators and professionals all need to look at children from different perspectives to consider their "education, care and health", rather than being fixated on their own specialisations.
The three academics said that based on their findings, there should be a review of the career pathways of pre-school teachers and early intervention professionals, so that practitioners in both groups can better work together to meet a child's holistic needs.
Their recommendation, which is part of the report, comes as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced in April that it would be setting up a workgroup to look at how to better integrate children with learning needs into pre-schools.
The ministry had also said that from July, early intervention programmes will be transferred from MSF's Disability Office to the Early Childhood Development Agency in stages, so that the agency will have better oversight of developmental needs of all children under the age of seven.
The Lien Foundation report cited fresh figures to show the increasing demand for early intervention.
In 2018, there were more than 5,500 new cases of pre-schoolers diagnosed with developmental problems, compared with an average of 4,362 new cases each year from 2015 to 2017.
These figures came from the Child Development Programme at KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the National University Hospital, the two main centres which screen children aged six and below.