Lower pre-school fees and more childcare centres expected under government-funded scheme

Pre-school children interact with their teacher at Carpe Diem @ ITE in Ang Mo Kio. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More parents can save on pre-school fees in 2021, as the fee cap for centres under the government-funded partner operator scheme will be lowered, and more centres may come under the scheme.

The maximum fee that partner operators can charge for full-day childcare services will be set at $760 monthly, $40 lower than the current fee cap of $800.

For full-day infant care services, the amount is set at $1,330 monthly, $70 cheaper than the current $1,400 per month. Both fees are not inclusive of GST.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) announced on Friday (Nov 29) that applications are now open for pre-schools interested in being partner operators from 2021 to 2025.

Partner operators get government funding to keep fees low, and have to adhere to the fee cap. Current operators include Busy Bees, Star Learners and Carpe Diem. If interested, they have to reapply for the next term as well.

Other requirements of partner operators are to invest in improving centre quality and support continual professional development in the early childhood sector, as well as offer at least 300 places. These criteria are the same as the previous round of applications.

ECDA said it aims to have more centres come under the partner operator scheme after the current five-year term, which has 250 centres among 23 partner operators on board, ends in December 2020.

More than 20,000 children are currently attending these pre-schools.

ECDA said the number of new operators that it would be taking on board is not fixed.

"The eventual number of operators or centres appointed will depend on the quality of operators or centres that apply. We encourage all affordable and quality childcare operators to submit applications to join the scheme," it added.

Besides the partner operator scheme, the government also runs the anchor operator scheme as part of measures to keep pre-school fees affordable.

There are five anchor operators in Singapore, which receive more funding and follow lower fee caps of $720, $1,275 and $160 for full-day childcare, full-day infant care and kindergarten respectively.

The current term for anchor operators ends in 2022. These include PAP Community Foundation's Sparkletots and NTUC First Campus' My First Skool which have about 500 centres between them.

ECDA's announcement on the partner operator scheme comes after the Government said earlier this year that it would be increasing government-supported pre-school places to 80 per cent by 2025, up from 50 per cent now.

It also said that in the medium term, full-day pre-school expenses should be brought down to around $300 a month, which is about the same as the cost of primary school plus after-school student care before means-tested subsidies.

ECDA added then that it aims to further lower fee caps at government-supported pre-schools over the medium term.

Nobleland Arts N Learning Place, which is not currently on the partner operator scheme, said that it is keen to apply.

It has four centres here with more than 400 children, with fees at three of them at $850 for full-day childcare, and about $1,300 for one of them.

Its director and founder Chua Shian Luan said: "We have a very unique arts integrated curriculum and programme that is robust, diverse and multidisciplinary, and with the partner operator scheme we hope we can reach out to more children and more can benefit from this unique approach."

Kinderland Educare Services general manager Seet Lee Kiang said that the company is interested in finding out more about the scheme, though it may not apply for all its 23 centres to be on it, depending on their location.

Fees currently range from $860 to $1,636 for full-day childcare across its centres.

Mr Seet said: "Expanding the scheme to more operators will be helpful in defraying the rising operating costs. Currently, the two major costs are manpower and rent.

"The grant from the scheme may indirectly defray operating costs while allowing us to continue providing good service to the children and parents."

Ms Li Yaxing, who has two children, one in Kindergarten 1 and one in Nursery 1, at Nobleland, felt it would be good if the pre-school joined the scheme.

"If Nobleland joins, the lower fees will really help parents to cope with the rising cost of living," said the 35-year-old software engineer.

"With government funding, the pre-school can also continue the good quality of education for the kids without sacrificing things like the teachers' welfare or career progression. It's a win-win situation for all involved."

Interested operators should e-mail sector_funding@ecda.gov.sg and submit their applications by 5pm on Jan 31, 2020.

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