Private pre-schools worried about futures

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MOE to give children in its kindergartens priority admission; some private pre-school operators feel it puts them at a disadvantage

Some private pre-school operators are watching the changes in the sector with concern, after the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Monday that children in its kindergartens will get priority admission in the Primary 1 registration exercise.

Smaller players are worried about being squeezed out as MOE expands its reach and adds an advantage to attending its kindergartens, though MOE said the move is to better ease children into Primary 1.

Under the new rules, children in its 12 kindergartens will be allowed to apply for a place in the primary school whose premises it shares under Phase 2A2 of the registration scheme, which now applies to children whose parents or siblings were former pupils but are not in the alumni association, and children whose parent works in the same school.

Appleland Playhouse principal Kelly Chua said: "This will put private schools that are not affiliated with any primary school at a disadvantage."

Located in Telok Blangah, Appleland, a childcare centre with 170 children, might feel the heat from the MOE kindergarten at Blangah Rise, whose children will get priority admission to Blangah Rise Primary.

Parents whose children are eligible for admission in later phases than 2A2 may feel pressured to switch them to MOE kindergartens, said Ms Chua.

MOE entered the pre-school sector in 2014, with the goal of raising the quality of early childhood education here.

The kindergartens will charge $160 a month from next year, up from $150 now, and take in 60 to 120 children each.

This can go up to 160 if the demand is there.


By 2023, MOE hopes to have 50 kindergartens located in primary schools and providing 14,000 places - enough to cater to a fifth of all Singaporeans and permanent residents aged five and six.

There are about 450 kindergartens here now, with a median monthly fee of about $170.

Dr T. Chandroo, who is the chief executive of pre-school chain Modern Montessori International, which has two centres in Sengkang, said the new policy would affect all private operators in the long run as more MOE kindergartens come up.

"Thus, instead of being able to play a pivotal role in the child's life in their formative years from birth till six years of age, there is a likelihood that parents may leave our centre after the nursery programme for the MOE kindergarten."

Dr Timothy Chan, the director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said the role of the state stepping in is to "level the playing field from the beginning and provide an education experience that can be enjoyed by many people without them having to pay hefty fees that some private pre-schools charge".

He said private pre-schools will have to find "new value propositions" to keep parents going to them.

Dr Chandroo said his group's centres differentiate themselves by virtue of its core Montessori curriculum, emphasising a learning approach tailored to individual children's needs.

He said: "We are always open to re-inventing ourselves to be relevant in this changing business landscape."