Pre-school education costs will come down for more families, as the Government raises the monthly income ceiling for additional subsidies from $7,500 to $12,000 and increases the quantum of the subsidies.
This means 30,000 more households will qualify for the subsidies starting next year, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
In the medium term, full-day pre-school expenses should be brought down to around $300 a month - the same as the cost of primary school plus after-school pupil care, as part of the Government's plan to make quality early-years education more affordable.
He referred to a survey done by People's Action Party women MPs which showed that parents were concerned about the affordability of pre-school education, and agreed with their call for a "government-funded option" in the sector.
"For housing, we have HDB. For healthcare, we have restructured hospitals. Similarly, for pre-school, we should have good-quality, government-supported choices available to all Singaporeans," said PM Lee.
In the future, 80 per cent of pre-school places will be government-supported. Today, just over 50 per cent of all places are government-supported, including those offered by Ministry of Education kindergartens, as well as privately run centres which come under the Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes and receive government funding to keep their fees low.
PM Lee said the Government invests heavily in education and the starting point used to be Primary 1. But research shows pre-school education can make a big difference to a child's development. That is why the Government made the shift several years ago to raise the quality of pre-school education and make it more accessible and affordable.
Although the Government gives significant subsidies for childcare, with lower-income parents receiving substantially more, for middle-income parents, pre-school fees can take up a large chunk of their household budget, said PM Lee.
GOVT-FUNDED OPTION FOR ALL
Pre-school should be like housing and healthcare, where we have a good and affordable government-funded option for all Singaporeans.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
He cited the example of Mr and Mrs Low Soon Hon, who have two children, aged five and two. With the higher income ceiling for means-tested subsidies, as well as the increase in the quantum of pre-school subsidies, the Lows will pay $370 per child every month, as opposed to $560 for each child a month.
PM Lee said the Government spends $1 billion a year on early childhood education and this will more than double over the next few years.
He said that the younger ministers have come up with more ideas to support couples in having more children and announcements will be made later. "Meanwhile, I will be counting the number of babies born, and hoping for the number to go up," he said to much laughter.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling, who led the survey by women MPs, said she felt relieved for her younger residents, who would benefit from the subsidies.
She also hopes government-backed pre-schools will be in locations easily accessible to young families, near their workplaces or homes.
Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira noted that the decision to have children depends on more than the cost of pre-schools. "There are other factors at play, like when people get married and their ability to care for children," she said.