One of Singapore's largest clan associations is setting up a pre-school with an emphasis on Chinese education, to tap rising interest in bilingualism in early childhood education.
The Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, known for its links to the popular Ai Tong and Tao Nan primary schools, will open the pre-school in Upper East Coast Road, at the site of the former Chai Chee Secondary School, next January.
It is the first clan association here to set up a pre-school in recent years. Previously, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations ran a kindergarten in Toa Payoh but it closed in 2010 because of dwindling enrolment.
The new pre-school will target English-speaking parents who want to give their children "a head start in building a strong foundation in character building and instilling a keen interest in Chinese language and culture", said the clan association's president, Mr Chua Thian Poh.
The clan association is optimistic that it can meet the new interest in bilingual pre-school education.
Although the premises have room for more than 400 pupils, the pre-school will start with four to six classes for 100 pupils and expand gradually.
The clan association said that its affiliation to five primary schools and a secondary school gives it an edge in the pre-school field, but there will not be any Hokkien classes and the pre-school pupils will not get priority to enrol in the affiliated primary schools, said vice-president Perng Peck Seng.
Besides Ai Tong and Tao Nan, the clan association is also affiliated to Chongfu, Kong Hwa and Nan Chiau primary schools, and Nan Chiau High.
Mr Perng, who is overseeing the setting up of the new school, added: "Eighty per cent of the lessons will be taught in Mandarin from nursery to K1 (Kindergarten 1) to give the children a strong foundation in the Chinese language."
The ratio will drop to 60 per cent at K2 to prepare the pupils for Primary 1.
Classes will not come cheap. A full-day childcare programme for nursery and kindergarten levels will cost $1,800 each month.
"We know it is not cheap, but it is also not among the most expensive," said Mr Perng, adding that the clan association is not starting the pre-school for commercial gain.
Other pre-school operators charge between $700 and $3,000 each month for similar programmes.
The pre-school is part of the clan association's new cultural academy which opens next year. Costing more than $20 million, it will promote Chinese culture and heritage through talks and enrichment courses.
Experts told The Sunday Times that the clan association pre-school's 80 per cent ratio of Mandarin class-time is likely to be the highest in Singapore, but views were divided on its effectiveness.
The model will appeal to English-speaking families or those who prefer a strong Mandarin curriculum, said Mrs Patricia Koh, 62, founder of Pat's Schoolhouse.
But Mr Philip Koh, 50, consultant and founder of Pre-school Teachers Network Singapore said: "More Mandarin exposure may compromise their command of English and this may not be helpful for the children."
Additional reporting by Janice Tai