Tuesday 3 September 2013

Bilingual pre-school a hit with parents

Places at upcoming school in Tanjong Pagar oversubscribed
By Janice Tai And Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2013

A NEW bilingual pre-school championed by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has received an overwhelming response.

About 300 young parents thronged the first open house for Hampton@Tanjong Pagar, which aims to give pupils a head start in learning two languages.

Mr Lee announced the launch of the new centre last month at a National Day Dinner with residents in his Tanjong Pagar ward.

Yesterday's open house - which attracted parents mainly from the Tiong Bahru area - was held off-site in Bishan as the pre-school will not be ready until December.

Hampton@Tanjong Pagar will be run by private operator EtonHouse and the PAP Community Foundation. It will have an infant care centre and run nursery and kindergarten classes.

Just two weeks after registration opened on Aug 19, the 98 childcare places and 12 infant care vacancies were several times oversubscribed. More than 200 applications for childcare and 100 for infant care had been submitted as of yesterday.

Balloting will be held this month, said EtonHouse group managing director Ng Gim Choo.

Priority will be given to families who live in the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru division of the constituency.

The centre, which will start classes for its first batch in January, offers a bilingual English-Mandarin curriculum. Two teachers, one who speaks English and the other, Mandarin, will be present in the classroom at all times. To help the children develop cultural sensitivity and a natural love for Mandarin, they will be exposed to Chinese art, music, theatre and literature every day.

Procurement manager Jackson Lim, 32, who has applied for a place for his one-year-old son, said it was important for his child to be exposed to both English and Mandarin. "Kids absorb languages easily at a very early age. It's good to expose them to English, a business language, and Mandarin which is often used in conversations in Asia," he said.

Mr Lee has previously said Singapore's bilingualism policy makes learning difficult unless the child starts both languages at an early age. He said research by American social scientists had debunked the belief that teaching young children multiple languages would only confuse them.

Assistant manager Lam Sian Ling, 37, has applied for an infant care place for her daughter, who is due to be born this month.

"The cultural immersion programmes will provoke their interest, unlike mechanical learning," she said. "We won't need to send them to specialised enrichment classes on the weekends."

Other parents were attracted to the centre's location, at blocks 123 and 126 in Kim Tian Road.

Tiong Bahru and its surrounding precincts have become home to more young, middle-income families, said Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah. "This in turn has given rise to greater demand for infant care and childcare."

The centre charges $770.40 a month for full-day childcare - about the industry median - and $1,364.25 for infant care. Registration closes on Sept 14, when another open house will be held at the Bishan branch.

Creative learning at an affordable price
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2013

IN A darkened room, a projector flashes moving images of the underwater world as five small children mill around the screen, trying to match plastic fishes with the ones swimming above their heads.

Next door, a group of eight youngsters are busy shoving canned and fresh fruits into their mouths one by one.

"Instead of explaining to them which is healthier, we let them taste the difference for themselves," said childcare teacher Nur Syazwani Sutarman.

These activities are part of a typical day for children attending the first Hampton pre-school on Bishan Street 13. The centre is the PAP Community Foundation's first collaboration with a private operator, EtonHouse, which provides expertise in early childhood education.

The arrangement means parents get a childcare programme offered by a brand-name operator at an affordable price.

They are charged about $727 a month for a full-day programme. Housed at a void deck, the centre is accessible for families living in the heartland.

By contrast, most of EtonHouse's pre-schools are in private estates and commercial buildings.

The centre's curriculum emphasises inquiry-based learning that is centred around projects instead of sticking to a fixed timetable of English, maths or science lessons.

The projects start with questions posed by the children. For example, a child may be curious about the different ways in which eggs can be cooked.

"From there, the kids pick up language skills when learning how to write a menu as well as mathematical thinking about shapes and fractions when cutting an egg mayo sandwich," said Ms Rani Sidhu, director of pedagogy at EtonHouse.

One inquiry-based project could take a few days or even months if the question is extended to other topics such as where eggs come from and what the different types of bread are. Other typical activities could involve pre-nursery children going to the park outside, and later recreating the various rocks they have seen using paper mache.

This approach to learning has appealed to some parents.

"I like their programme as it is not too expensive yet it is very fun and creative," said Mrs Cindy Quek, 39, who has two daughters at the centre.

"The other day, my daughter saw some ants and while the teacher started a discussion on the different body parts of ants, the kids caught some and built them a nest."

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