Pre-school teacher Joanne Tan, 25, has been working at St James' Church Kindergarten for 31/2 years and now wants to take on a larger role at work - perhaps becoming a senior teacher, an assistant level head, or teaching art and music.
Now, a new Professional Development Programme (PDP) will let early childhood educators like Ms Tan spend 180 hours over three years on courses and projects that will prepare them for more responsibilities at their workplace.
The programme - announced by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) yesterday at the Early Childhood Conference and Carnival - is the latest development in a push to improve pre-school education, including certifying more centres for their quality.
The Professional Development Programme will put teachers through courses run by universities and polytechnics, including a compulsory module in teacher and centre leadership, while they continue working.
Some modules can also count towards a specialised diploma, advanced diploma or a degree in Early Childhood Care and Education.
Employers will have to nominate teachers for the programme and only pre-school educators with at least three years' experience are eligible.
The ECDA will pay out $12,000 in cash awards to those who remain employed at the same workplace. This develops talent in the sector and also helps retain staff.
"It's professional development for people like me," said Ms Tan. "This opens up doors to leadership roles."
Ms Chels Chung, head of operations at MY World Preschool, is "delighted" that the programme has been introduced, saying it will "aid in staff retention".
About half of all 14,000 registered early childhood educators are eligible for the programme and the ECDA hopes to attract a few hundred to take it up each year.
Nomination opens next month.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said: "The PDP is meant to complement employers' human resource management and development frameworks... We also need educators to take ownership and commit to enhance their professional competencies and skills, and in turn contribute back to improve their centres and the sector as a whole."
To help keep track of pre-school educators' training, the ECDA will also launch an online platform at the end of the year called ONE@ECDA.
ONE@ECDA will have all 14,000 early childhood educators on the platform where they can easily sign up for training courses - such as the 50 Continuing Professional Development courses offered by ECDA.
Pre-school operators can also use the platform to nominate teachers for training courses.
Another 203 pre-schools were awarded the Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework (Spark) certificates yesterday, bringing the total number of Spark-certified centres to 431 - or one in four pre-schools here.
Spark serves as a guide to identify good-quality pre-schools.
Also, 59 centres became the first to get the new Spark (Commendation) certification.
The commendation category is meant to reward pre-schools with the best teaching and learning practices. Educators' guides for mother tongue languages were also launched at the event.
The guides are written in Chinese, Malay and Tamil and will provide lesson ideas and strategies to help early childhood educators better teach these languages.
"These initiatives are part of the Government's commitment to invest in and develop our early childhood professionals," said Mr Tan. "They will strengthen the fraternity, and raise professionalism and overall quality in our sector."