Singapore's largest pre-school operator will continue to raise standards and quality at its pre-schools to meet the rising expectations of parents, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
Speaking at the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Family Day at Resorts World Sentosa, Mr Lee said PCF would work closely with the Government to raise the quality of kindergarten education while keeping costs affordable.
His comments come amid recent changes to the Government's anchor operator scheme, which will now be extended to private operators as well as PCF, giving them access to choice HDB sites at subsidised rental.
That means PCF centres are set to face competition in the heartland, where they have held sway for years.
To raise its game, PCF has moved to revamp itself. Since 2011, it has started bringing all its kindergartens and childcare centres under a centralised system to address the issue of uneven standards at different centres.
So far, more than two-thirds of its 353 pre-schools have been consolidated, with the rest to be completed next year, said PCF executive committee chairman Lawrence Wong yesterday, giving an update on the exercise.
The restructuring is expected to standardise the quality of education, which is known to vary among PCF's different centres.
"We don't want the PCF to become a pre-school centre where people say 'I don't have anywhere to go, then I just go to PCF'," he said, acknowledging that there are people who see it as offering poorer quality education than other pre-school operators.
"I think PCF has always been committed to affordability and quality. Many people are from PCF and have done well. I am from PCF," added Mr Wong, who is also Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
Under the new system, recruitment and training of teachers are done centrally, and all centres follow a similar curriculum.
Mr Wong said centralising operations also means PCF can provide better career prospects for its teachers, who can now develop their careers over the entire organisation.
Anecdotally, it has already reduced the attrition rate among teachers, he added.
PCF scholarship recipient Ng Qiqi, 17, who has been a volunteer teacher at PCF MacPherson since her secondary school days, welcomed the move.
"They now have courses to help people achieve their career goals. For me, I want to become the principal one day," she said.
The first-year student in early childhood education at Temasek Polytechnic hopes to teach at PCF MacPherson, where she attended kindergarten as a child, and where her mother Adelene Won has been a teacher and principal for 18 years.
Said Madam Won of the changes at PCF pre-schools over the years: "In the past, it was more like mommy taking care of children, but now, it's so different with all the technology and programmes."
Their story was highlighted by Mr Lee, who said during his speech in Mandarin that strong family bonds are central to a stable society, and that PCF plays the role of an extended family.
Yesterday, PCF also gave out $610,000 to 30 charities, voluntary welfare organisations and self-help groups.
The money was raised this year by a group of People's Action Party MPs, led by Mountbatten's Mr Lim Biow Chuan, for the party's charity arm. About $98,000 of it went to 49 polytechnic students as study grants.
Reiterating the importance of education as a leveller, Mr Lee said: "We believe that nobody should miss out on life's opportunities just because of his or her family background. We see education as the way to give every Singaporean child a good start in life."