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How to improve the quality of pre-school services here in Singapore


Wheelock alums Lee Wan Ling, Ang Hui Teng, Beth Fredericks, Priscilla Tan, and Choo Wan Ting celebrating Autumn Moon Festival at Preschool By-the-Park.

By Beth Fredericks

Many thanks to the Straits Times for its coverage of Singaporean preschool principals traveling to Wheelock College in Boston to learn new ways to improve the quality of pre-school services here in Singapore. (“Pre-school heads get fresh ideas from learning trip to US,” 30 Oct., by Priscilla Goy, click here for story).

Many thanks also to the Lien Foundation, a leadership organization that has showed the way once again by providing a grant to send 24 pre-school leaders to the United States for the innovative learning journey.

The six-month leadership programme is called Principal Matters, and it includes leadership seminars, mentorships, and the recently completed nine-day trip to Boston, the home base of Wheelock College, a top pre-school training institute which has had a local presence in Singapore for the last quarter century. Partners in the programme include Wheelock College; the NTUC’s Seed Institute, the largest pre-school training provider in Singapore; Sequoia Consulting, and human resources consultancy firm Korn Ferry Hay Group.

Preschools need strong leadership like never before. As demand for quality preschool continues to grow, Singapore’s pre-school sector faces challenges that urgently need to be addressed, including a high exit rate in the profession, with too many preschool teachers leaving the classroom after only a few years.

Low pay is among the reasons for the shortage of preschool teachers. In a separate story, Priscilla Goy reports that educators in publicly funded pre-schools in Boston are on the same pay scale as those teaching in primary schools if they have the same qualifications.

By contrast, Priscilla reports, preschool teachers in Singapore receive relatively low pay and are still seen by some as glorified babysitters.

Pre-school teachers earn an average of $2,200 to $3,000, based on data gathered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) last year.

The median salary for university graduates last year was $3,300.

Meanwhile, the Government’s plan is to ramp up childcare places to make it easier for women to enter and remain in the workforce. A projected 4,000 more preschool educators are needed by 2020, on top of today’s 16,000 preschool educators.

So let’s connect the dots … innovative leadership in the early childhood sector could better bring to public attention the need for better salaries, and foster a larger pool of preschool teachers and smaller staff-child ratios.

Examples abound of good teachers who make a difference in the lives of children. The Straits Times recently told the story of Bianca Tan, a young Singaporean who was inspired by the support she had growing up with dyslexia to become an early childhood educator. Good public policy is needed to keep such driven early childhood educators in the classroom, instead of leaving in search for better pay and recognition. See http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/helped-as-a-kid-struggling-with-dyslexia-she-now-teaches-other-kids

Another young preschool teacher recently wrote on her Facebook page about the collaboration between teachers and parents.

 Parent: is there anything you think we should do at home?

 Me: you should read with your children, read for pleasure. Get them to choose a book they will like to read with you and just do it.

As Eugene Leong, chief executive of the Early Childhood Development Agency, pointed out in a recent letter, pre-school educators play an important role in building a strong foundation for our children in their early years. See http://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/efforts-to-better-support-pre-school-educators

The availability of quality preschool teachers makes all the difference in the lives of children and families, and makes life more manageable for working parents as well.

Neuroscientists and policymakers have shown us the critical importance of early learning, and the government has subsidised fees at childcare centres according to the salary of the parents. But it is still a challenge to find and keep enough good teachers to make up for low compensation and the allure of higher paying professions. The Lien Foundation was giving us a big clue when they named this leadership grant “Principal Matters.” It is the principals who can make all the difference.

BETH FREDERICKS is executive director of Wheelock College-Singapore.

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