Tuesday 30 April 2013

Parents need to change mindsets about pre-school: Indranee Rajah

Indranee Rajah says current model lets children learn through experience and play
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 29 Apr 2013

The Ministry of Education (MOE) might have answered long-standing calls by making its foray into the pre-school sector but much work remains to be done — not least changing parents’ mindsets about what pre-school education should be like and, in the case of some lower-income families, convincing them of its importance, as Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah noted.

Speaking to TODAY last Friday in an interview, Ms Indranee revealed that after the ministry unveiled an updated kindergarten curriculum framework in February — which emphasises learning through play — parents have been asking why it is “so light” and why it does not include “more homework”.

“Parents who ask those questions or have the views still adhere to the older way of looking at pre-school education as homework, homework and more homework. Whereas the current way of thinking is really about letting the child learn through experience (and) play,” she said.

Ms Indranee cited an example of what she saw at a pre-school: A child was first given small pebbles to line against a string. These pebbles were then taken away and the child is asked to repeat the exercise with bigger pebbles. “On the face of it, it does not look like you are teaching the child anything deeply profound but what you are teaching the child is … different units of measurements — the child can understand that the same length can be measured in small units and big units. That lays the ground work for centimetres and inches,” she said.

Then there is another group of parents who might not understand the importance of pre-school education. Ms Indranee noted that these parents are usually from lower income households who are not fully aware of the role of preschool education in a child’s development and to prepare a child for Primary 1.

The Tanjong Pagar GRC Member of Parliament said that based on her interactions with her residents, these parents see pre-schools as a place to leave their children “when they go out to work”, she said.

Over the next five years, the Government will spend more than S$3 billion to improve accessibility and quality of pre-school education. The majority of the funding will go towards expanding child care services, infant and childcare subsidies, and raising the quality of pre-school education, said an MOE spokesperson.

On the response to the first five MOE kindergartens — applications were received for only about half of the 560 places offered — Ms Indranee said the numbers will improve in the coming months as childcare services are added and awareness among parents increases. The MOE has contacted some childcare centres to work out possible partnerships in response to parents’ desire for childcare services.

Addressing perceptions that the rollout of the MOE kindergartens was rushed — leading to grassroots leaders lamenting that they did not have enough time to drum up publicity, Ms Indranee stressed that the MOE had been thinking about setting up its own kindergartens for a period of time.

The announcement was made after the curriculum framework was finalised. Adding that the framework required a “quite a long time of work”, Ms Indranee said that the ministry did not want to proceed with the MOE kindergartens until the framework was settled.

The MOE spokesperson said that planning for the curriculum framework and MOE kindergartens started since 2011. Just as the United States conducts the Perry Pre-school Project, for example, to determine the impact of quality pre-school education on needy children, the MOE kindergartens will also be used as a platform for longitudinal studies. This includes long-term research that will track children over time on cognitive development, among other things, she said.

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