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Bertha HarianBertha Harian


Paying for pre-school

I thought the most useful article today was in the Opinion page of the ST by the author of Starting Well, which argued for G intervention in the pre-school sector, or rather, a takeover.

It was filled with statistics on how Singapore’s pre-school system fared against others (not well) and gave reasons on why this was so. It also referred to how other countries do it. It makes four recomendations to a) raise minimum teacher qualifications b) have  more teachers so as to reduce class ratio c) bolster parental awareness of the importance of pre-school education 4) increase state spending.

On the last bit, it made the interesting point about subsidies being given to the demand side, that is, to parents. Rather than supply-side to the pre-school providers – and asked for a balance.

The report is laudable but methinks it lacks some  bits – more Singapore numbers beyond the average pay of teachers here and teacher-student ratio.

First, do ALL in the Primary One cohort have a pre-school education, which is not mandatory?

Second, of those who do, how equipped are they? Is there a great difference in standards, say between the PCF trained and the privately trained?

Third, what IS the minimum standard that a kid has to start with in Primary school. Must he already know his alphabet and multiplication tables?

Fourth, is the teacher shortage due to low pay, therefore pushing teachers to take on more  lucrative jobs as private tutors?

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What is the issue about? I suppose the main thing is the general quality of pre-school education here compared to others. But I figure that for most parents it is a question of equitability. Those who cannot afford the fancier kindergartens will wonder how their kids will fare when they start primary school with their more “expensively-educated” classmates. Worse, they may blame themselves for not giving their kid a good head start. The 10 years of compulsory education starts at Primary One, but it doesn’t seem to be that every child is at the same starting line.

Then there is the issue of teaching standards and curriculum. I believe the G has made some changes over the years regarding requirements of the syllabus and teacher qualifications. But the advent of the private sector and the willingness and ability of parents to pay means varying standards – and additional worry about some children being left behind . Parents expect money NOT to play too big  a part in pre-school education, after all, education is affordable at the later primary and secondary school. But money DOES play a part , and so early in a child’s  life, even with G subsidies for them. In fact, I don’t understand why the report says that Singapore doesn’t have available its spending on pre-school children – surely it keeps track?

Hence, it seems that the G’s oft-cited 10 years of schooling should be increased to at least 12. I think that is a far better way to raise the water level, far better than having even more universities and polytechnics  which might actually lower the crest of the wave… Or it can take a closer look at the New Zealand model, which is private sector led, but with G help on both demand and supply side.

We’ve got to bring back that old maxim – That in Singapore, you study hard, you work hard, you can get a good job, raise a family and support your elders. That in Singapore, you don’t have to depend on who your parents are, or how much money they have. Meritocracy will see you through.

Makes sense, right?


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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