TL;DR – The effort started as early as 2008.
Recently, Minister Shanmugam spoke about how the government will tackle the ‘serious issue’ of inequality from pre-school years. Not long after Minister Shanmugam said that, Dr Chee Soon Juan posted this on Facebook.
Dr Chee is the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The post suggested that the government is now prompted to do more for the pre-school years to tackle inequality because of SDP’s advocacy.
That is completely wrong.
SDP’s education policy was published in August 2015. But as early as 2008, during his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee had already spoken about doing more for the pre-school years. About building up the childcare sector, PM Lee said:
“So I think that we should do more to build up the childcare sector. It is important. I think we should do three things. Make it more accessible, that means more centres. Make it more affordable, that means bigger subsidies per child. Make it higher quality, raise the standard, so that we can work with this.”
And about kindergartens, PM Lee said then in 2008:
“We have got already government spending money on the kindergartens because qualifying institutions are getting subventions and help from MOE. I think we should push this up substantially. So that we can raise the standard, we can raise not just better teachers which we are doing. We can have better syllabuses, better run institutions, higher quality environment so the kids grow up much more confident and particularly for those whose backgrounds are not so ideal at home, they will be able to make it in kindergarten and start from a more equal starting point when they go to school. “
And that was way back in 2008.
In that same year, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, who was then Minister of State for MOE, presented the recommendations of joint MOE-MCYS Steering Committee for improving the quality of pre-school education.
In 2010, Mr Masagos updated Parliament on the progress of implementing the recommendations of that committee. In that update, Mr Masagos pointed out that since 2009, there had been moves to raise the minimum academic qualifications of pre-school teachers in both kindergartens and childcare centres. Also, by 2010, there had already been moves to provide clear guidelines as well as teaching resources to support educational programmes in all kindergartens and childcare centres based on best practices in early childhood education.
Then in 2013, to further support the development of the early childhood education sector, the Early Childhood Agency (ECDA) was officially launched.
Since its establishment, ECDA oversaw and continues to oversee the rapid expansion of the early childhood education sector. This includes creating 50,000 pre-school places in the period between 2012 and 2017, and planning to create 40,000 more places by 2022. That will bring the total number of pre-school places to about 200,000, which is almost double of what we had in 2012.
Also, did you know that the MOE kindergartens first started taking in registrations in April 2016?
Now, 2016 is after August 2015. Did the SDP fall into the illusion that it happened because of what SDP had published in August 2015? And just because of that, the SDP thinks they can claim credit just because of the (mis)fortunate timing?
In order for the MOE kindergartens to start taking in registrations in April 2016 for admission in 2017, it means that MOE must have planned and prepared for it years before that – fleshing out the details of the idea, getting approval from Cabinet, recruiting teachers, planning the curriculum, getting the physical space ready, etc etc etc. So the idea to set up MOE kindergarten must have happened way before August 2015, when the SDP published their education policy paper.
Similarly, in Mar 2016, the government announced that it would pilot the KidSTART initiative. That is an aggressive initiative to provide holistic assistance for children in low income families. Under the programme, the child’s parents will be given support, if possible, even before the mother gives birth. The parents will continue to receive support beyond this stage, with home-visits, parent education and family support programmes, as well as links to support groups and existing community resources, depending on their needs. Again, the details of this initiative must have been worked out way before the government’s announcements. In other words, the government would have been planning and preparing KidSTART way before the SDP published their education policy paper.
The government is currently continuing to build upon what they had done in the past. More MOE kindergartens have been set up. The KidSTART initiative has been expanded.
The government is setting up a National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC). It will provide the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for preschool professionals. It will also have the scale to develop curricula, with different specialisations, like music, art, mother tongue or special education. Within a larger fraternity, the faculty will have more opportunities for professional development and progression.
So the government has been progressively doing more to develop the early childhood education sector since 2008. There is thus no evidence to support any suggestions that the government is only doing more for the early childhood education sector only because of what SDP had done or published.
The SDP might have come up with some suggestions. But the government had come up with these ideas, thought through the implementation details, made preparations, and started implementing these ideas even before the SDP had come up with their suggestions. If anything, one can say that the SDP had copied and rehashed what the government had said.