Early childhood sector to get boost
350 pre-schools to offer Malay or Tamil language education, or both, by 2022
When teacher Premlatha Selvaraj, 36, was choosing pre-schools for her two children, she was concerned whether they would learn Tamil, their mother tongue, in school.
To allay such fears, there will be more pre-schools offering Malay and Tamil language education over the next five years, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim yesterday.
This move complements the Early Childhood Industry Transformation Map (ITM) released yesterday to raise the quality of the early childhood sector.
Ms Premlatha's older child initially went to a private preschool that only taught Chinese as a mother tongue.
Eventually, her two children were sent to the Ministry of Education (MOE) Kindergarten @ Springdale because Tamil is taught there.
She told The New Paper: "Being effectively bilingual is important as this gives our children a competitive edge without losing their cultural identities.
"This is best done from a young age when they are still impressionable so they enjoy the language learning through fun activities."
Currently, all 550 anchor operator (AOP) pre-school centres provide Chinese language education. About 200 AOP centres provide Malay or Tamil language education, or both.
By 2022, there should be about 350 AOP centres providing Malay or Tamil language education, or both. There will also be more MOE Kindergartens, which provide education for all three mother tongue languages.
The Early Childhood Development Agency will work with operators to look at the demands of various estates.
Prof Faishal said: "I agree that mother tongue language is important, and when it comes to language, starting early helps.
"To support the sector's growth, we may need over 1,000 more mother tongue language teachers by 2020.
"The Government has been supporting more locals to become mother tongue language pre-school teachers."
Besides mother tongue education, pre-schools will also help children to better transition from one stage of education to another.
For instance, Early Years Centres, which provide infant and childcare services for children aged two months to four years old, are partnering MOE Kindergartens to ensure a smooth transition for their charges.
Several pre-schools are also piloting the co-sharing of spaces for infants and toddlers, which are typically separated.
Dr Faishal said with shared spaces that help children transit from infant to toddler age groups, operators can also enrol more children while maintaining standards of quality and safety.
To help them manage costs, the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services is piloting the use of centralised services, such as catering and bus services.
To develop pre-school educators, there will be more opportunities for career progression. Teachers can fill roles such as mentors for younger teachers or centre management.
Over the next five years, there will be some 1,000 more senior professional positions at AOPs, double the current number.
Making it easier for needy to get help
It can be tiring for needy individuals to repeat the same personal details when seeking help from different government agencies.
To combat this, the Government and community agencies will coordinate and share information to help those in need.
This was announced by the Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Desmond Lee at the Committee of Supply debates yesterday.
When someone goes to a public agency or organisation to seek help for a specific need, they can get information both on the agency's schemes and be referred to other social assistance schemes and services that support their needs.
For a start, Social Service Offices, the Housing Board and People's Association officers at community clubs will be equipped with basic information on a range of help schemes, beyond their individual agencies' programmes.
This will later be extended to medical social workers and school counsellors.
Mr Lee said: "This will help reduce the burden often faced by low-income individuals and households seeking help, who may already be in distress or urgent need."
From the second half of this year, Institute of Technical Education students from households receiving ComCare assistance will be assessed for their eligibility to receive bursaries, instead of needing to apply for them separately.
Single parents and mothers, who are working or seeking work and receiving ComCare assistance, will also find it easier to access financial support for childcare.
Pay rise for social workers
Ms Tan Sze Wee, social worker and executive director of voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) Rainbow Centre, finds the social service sector is growing and needs more talent.
She said challenges in the sector include attracting and retaining manpower in jobs that can be demanding and require a range of skills.
To get people to join and stay in the sector, there will be enhanced salary benchmarks for social service professionals, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.
From April 1, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will be enhancing salary norms for MSF-funded programmes by up to 12 per cent across all professions and job levels.
These range from social workers and therapists, to those in leadership positions such as executive directors and heads of organisations.
For example, a senior teacher trained in early special needs education may expect an increase of about 8 per cent after the revision, Mr Lee said.
MSF and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) review salary norm benchmarks every three years to keep pace with salary growth in the labour market. The last review was done in 2015.
Mr Lee said: "For our VWOs to be effective, we need to continue to get good people to join and stay in the sector. Our social workers, therapists, psychologists and teachers all work to improve and shape the lives of their beneficiaries, with many of them going the extra mile."
The social service sector salary guidelines published by NCSS will be updated on March 29 to reflect the latest salary norms.
VWOs are encouraged to take reference from the guidelines for salary structures in their organisations.
The total programme funding to support the manpower costs of VWOs will increase by about 5 per cent, or $11 million, in this financial year.
Mr Lee said: "Many of those who work in the social service sector do not do it for the remuneration. They see it as a calling.
"Nonetheless, they deserve to receive a fair and competitive wage and have their contributions duly recognised."
Ms Tan said: "(The revisions) make social workers feel appreciated that their work is being recognised. Coupled with more developmental programmes, this shows social workers there is a career pathway for them."
MSF will also launch the Skills Framework for Social Service later this year. It will help professionals better plan their careers and develop skills to meet the sector's demands. - SUE-ANN TAN