PCF to add 2,500 pre-school places by end-2023, expand eldercare centres

PCF is the largest pre-school operator in Singapore. The additional places will be in areas with high demand, such as Bidadari and Tampines North. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
(From left) Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo with children from PCF Sparkletots @ Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Blk 8 on Sunday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - About 2,500 places will be added at pre-schools run by the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) by the end of next year, in areas with high demand, such as Bidadari and Tampines North.

Over 36,000 more children will also be able to learn critical-thinking and problem-solving skills as part of a specialised programme that will be rolled out to all 320 PCF Sparkletots centres that offer kindergarten services here by 2024.

PCF said in a statement on Sunday that the expansion of its Stemie programme, a move that was announced in January, will benefit close to 50,000 children, compared with 13,500 children currently.

Stemie stands for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, invention and entrepreneurship. The programme was piloted in 12 PCF Sparkletots pre-schools in 2018, and has been adopted by a total of 175 PCF pre-schools since.

PCF, which is the People's Action Party's social and charitable arm, also aims set up more senior care centres here over the next five years.

While it did not specify how many more senior care centres will be built, the foundation said there are plans to open its eighth eldercare facility in the Bukit Panjang area some time in 2024 or 2025.

PCF is the largest pre-school operator in Singapore, with 40,000 children enrolled in its 360 pre-schools islandwide.

It also operates seven eldercare centres that currently serve about 750 seniors.

PCF did not say whether the upcoming expansion plans will impact fees for both its pre-school and eldercare services.

Ms Marini Khamis, senior director of PCF's pre-school management division, said demand for pre-school places is typically higher in newer towns and public housing projects, where there are more families with young children.

"As part of our expansion plans, we will be (adding) 2,500 more pre-school spaces in such areas, where demand for pre-school spaces remains high, through setting up new centres or expanding capacity in existing locations," she added.

In June last year, PCF said it would be expanding its pre-school services by an additional 4,000 full-day places by 2023. The 2,500 additional pre-school places announced on Sunday are part of this, PCF said when asked.

Ms Khamis said: "We will continue to work closely with the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to monitor demand and trends, and remain nimble to adjust our pre-school services to best support families and give young children a good start in life."

Meanwhile, to ensure that children with different learning abilities have access to the same educational opportunities, PCF said at least one staff member at 260 of its pre-schools will be trained to be an inclusion coordinator by early next year.

This is part of a sector-wide initiative announced in Parliament last year.

Such staff members will be able to identify children with potential developmental needs, and connect teachers and parents with PCF's inclusive education team so the children can get targeted help.

This push for inclusivity has enabled two-year-old Elliot Koh, who is visually impaired, to attend pre-school at the PCF Sparkletots centre in Tampines Central since October last year.

Elliot Koh has attended pre-school at the PCF Sparkletots centre in Tampines Central since October last year. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

He was diagnosed at four months old with Leber's congenital amaurosis, a condition that results in severe vision loss at an early age.

His parents, Mr Eric Koh, 33, and Mrs Koh Wei Shi, 32, started their search for a pre-school when Elliot was just eight months old as they knew it would be a challenge.

Mr Koh, who works as a consultant, said it was initially quite demoralising when they were rejected by pre-schools that said they could not accommodate their son as they did not have the necessary experience.

So it was a relief when ECDA was able to link the couple up with PCF Sparkletots and their inclusive education team, he said.

"They were very open to helping us, guiding us on our next steps and finding the right school for us. At the start, they even put in tactile ground (at the pre-school) just to try and accommodate Elliot's needs," Mr Koh said.

The textured surface helps to help those who are vision-impaired move around safely.

Mrs Koh, a public servant, added: "What we are very thankful for is that he gets to enjoy and learn in the same space, and do the same things, as other children."

The Koh family was among more than 1,000 people who were at the Singapore Zoo on Sunday for PCF's annual Family Day. The event was held for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020.

A child giving a presentation on the Komodo dragon during PCF's Family Day 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At the event, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who helmed PCF from 2016 until June this year, cited Elliot's case as an example of how PCF has been a champion for inclusivity, and a forerunner in terms of innovation and service delivery.

Mr Wong said to laughter from the audience: "I too am a PCF graduate and alumnus... Maybe in time to come, I will also enrol for PCF eldercare. Then, at the start of my life and at the end of my life, I know that PCF will always be there for me."

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