Friday 17 August 2012

'Risky' to formalise preschool learning

Minister warns of negative impact; poll shows most parents want govt involved
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 16 Aug 2012

SENIOR Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong yesterday warned against "prematurely formalising" learning in preschools, which could have a negative impact on the young.

"Many studies around the world have shown that there is a risk of prematurely formalising learning in preschool, and it may lead to negative outcomes for the children," he said on the sidelines of a heritage event.

"(It is) not just about academic preparation but also about developing their children in a broader play-based environment."

His remarks came even as an online survey of parents showed that 72 per cent of the respondents wanted kindergarten classes to be made part of the public education system.

The survey, released yesterday by philanthropic outfit Lien Foundation, polled nearly 1,400 parents last month. It followed two reports commissioned by the foundation on early childhood education.

A parent who took part in the latest survey said preschool education should be a "public good", adding: "Teachers who teach the lower age group should be properly trained, get the pay and status they deserve... It should be a holistic sector and not fragmented."

The poll found that 73 per cent of the respondents were happy with their children's preschool education. But when asked to comment on the overall standards of the preschool sector, only 28 per cent gave the thumbs up.

They pointed out that more could be done to improve the affordability, accessibility and quality of the preschool sector here.

At the top of the parents' wish list: more government subsidies, more qualified teachers with better pay and status, and better regulation of fees.

In picking a preschool, parents rated the quality of its teachers first, followed by its location and affordability.

But parents also feel the burn when looking at the fees: 88 per cent said preschool education is "costly" or "very costly".

After subsidies, about half the parents with children in childcare paid less than $600 monthly, while about half the respondents with children in kindergartens paid less than $300 monthly.

A parent noted that lowering fees would affect the quality the schools are able to provide, asking if the Government would consider subsidising schools directly, as it does for primary education.

Another parent suggested that there should be a framework or minimum guidelines on what a standard preschool should offer for its fee structure. "Right now, I have no idea if what I am paying is value for money," said the parent.

The respondents are parents of children in childcare and kindergartens. Half the children are enrolled in privately operated schools, and the rest are from those run by NTUC First Campus, PAP Community Foundation, and those linked to faith-based organisations or run by non-profit organisations.

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