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Row as parents queue for childcare places

Tension as parents queue overnight to register for Punggol childcare centre

She started queuing at 10am yesterday.

Ms Stephy Lim, 26, who wanted to be sure that her 20-month-old daughter would get a place in a new childcare centre opening near her home in Punggol, was soon joined by others in the queue.

By about 6pm, there were almost 50 people in the queue for a place in the E-Bridge Pre-School, which is scheduled to open at Edgefield Plains in July.

So when a representative from EtonHouse International, which runs the E-Bridge Pre-Schools, suggested that they go home and return today for a ballot instead when registration opens at 9am, they were upset.

After being there for so many hours, none of them were keen to give up their spots in the queue and then take their chances in a ballot.

Ms Lim said: "He (the representative) suggested that we do a ballot but we don't agree with him."

Her friend, who was next in the queue and wanted to be known only as Mrs Liu, was also upset.

"I've been here since 10am because the pre-school said registration was on a first-come-first-served basis," said the 31-year-old salesgirl who has a two-year-old daughter.

"I never thought that I would have to queue almost 24 hours for a childcare place for my child."

The row occurred around 6pm when 40 people, who were mainly parents or grandparents, encircled the EtonHouse representative to protest against his balloting suggestion.

The representative explained that he was concerned about them having to wait overnight in the open shelter, especially with the rainy weather.

But faced with their objections, he demurred. The tension in the air was palpable as the crowd returned to their places in the queue.

Many had brought portable chairs, picnic mats, and food and drink. Some even had electric fans and a stack of newspapers to read.

By 7.30pm, there were more than 80 adults in the queue. With them were a number of children, some playing and others eating.

NOT KIASU, NO SPACE

Asked why she had queued up so early, Ms Lim said: "It's not that I want to be kiasu, but there is no space anywhere in Punggol.

"If I really want a place for my daughter, I knew I must be number one."

The hairdresser and her husband, who is in the Singapore Armed Forces, took the day off work so they could take turns in the queue.

She said: "I heard that the response last week for the other two E-Bridge outlets (in Sengkang) was very good, so I came early."

The E-Bridge website states the monthly fee for a place in childcare centres for Singaporeans is $720 before GST and subsidy.

Most parents The New Paper spoke to had tried at least six other centres before, to no avail.

A couple, who gave their names only as Justin and Joyce, said they had called some 40 centres over nine months.

They have a 19-month-old daughter and Ms Joyce is pregnant.

She said: "I will now also need a place in a centre for my infant. Will you plan to have a baby when you see the queue like this?"

Many parents said they were in the queue because they were desperate for a childcare centre close to home.

Mrs Liu said: "If my daughter goes to a childcare centre far away, can you imagine what time she will come home when we pick her up after work? That's about 7.30 to 8pm for a young child."

For Mr Zack Fu, getting a place in that centre means getting more time with his one-year-old daughter.

The 31-year-old accounts executive said: "If I don't get a place, I will remain a weekend parent.

"Now my parents care for my daughter, and my wife and I see her only on weekends because it's past midnight if we bring her home daily."

TNP spoke to at least five elderly people who were queueing for their grandchildren.

Mr Wang Zhan Wen, 63, who was there for his two grandchildren, said: "I think I will sleep on the floor and wait tonight."

But it looks like Mr Wang got to sleep on his bed last night after all.

Ms Lim called TNP after midnight to say that the people in the queue had been given queue numbers after having their particulars taken by EtonHouse representatives.

"The principal came after 9pm and announced at 11pm that we could give our details and come back in the morning," she said, adding that she was very happy.


I never would have thought that I would have to queue almost 24 hours for a childcare place for my child.

- Mrs Liu, who was in the queue

We may resort to queueing too, say other parents

People queueing overnight for childcare centre places?

When The New Paper told some parents that this was happening the E-Bridge Pre-School in Punggol yesterday, most of them reacted with disbelief.

Asked if she would do that, Mrs Sharon Lim, a mother of three children aged five, 14 and 16, said without hesitation: "No."

But the 46-year-old later reconsidered and said: "Punggol is a relatively new estate and there are a lot of young families there.

"If I had tried many other places and didn't get a spot, I may be that desperate for a place too."

Part-time tutor Novi Liu, a 39-year-old mother of three children aged five, nine and 11, laughed incredulously when she heard that at least 80 people were in the queue.

She said: "Childcare is in high demand now as many parents are working. So they want a good place for their children. But if there are enough places for all, why waste the time queueing?"

She was referring to last Friday when parents queued overnight for the two E-Bridge Pre-Schools in Sengkang.

Channel News Asia had quoted EtonHouse International (a government-appointed pre-school anchor operator which runs the E-Bridge Pre-Schools) group managing director Ng Gim Choo as saying that the two centres received about 170 applications last Saturday.

There are about 300 vacancies in total at its three centres.

Madam Liu said: "If other childcare centres have a long waiting list, I might sacrifice a night to ensure my child has a place."

She felt that each parent would face a different situation that may result in them resorting to such measures.

"In the end, what is important is the welfare of the child," she said.

More childcare centres on the way

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament in Marchthat the Government was on track to create an additional 20,000 childcare places - in about 200 centres - by 2017.

Last year, 60 new childcare centres were set up, opening up 7,000 new spots for children.

Mr Chan said there would be at least 45 new centres this year, which will provide 5,000 more places.

The Government's Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS), which previously reached out to the lower-income groups, will be extended to middle-income families.

From January next year, the monthly household income ceiling of those eligible will be raised to $6,000, up from $3,500.

Lower-income families will enjoy subsidies of up to $160 a month, up from $108. Those who are on the highest tier of support, depending on their gross monthly household or per capita income, could pay just $1 every month for their child to attend kindergarten.