Pre-schools with plenty of frills at double the fees – The Straits Times

Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017

They come with in-house nurses and special chefs, boast facilities designed by award-winning architects, and offer enrichment classes like violin or gym lessons.

These pre-schools don’t come cheap – their fees are more than twice the average of around $1,000.

Over the past year, at least three upmarket pre-schools targeting parents who put a premium on early years education have set up shop here. They claim to offer facilities and programmes that go above and beyond what most offer.

Just last month, the Early Learning Village in Lorong Chuan was launched. With an area of about seven football fields and a capacity of 2,100 children, the $200 million centre is likely the largest pre-school facility here and – it claims – in the world too.

It comes with a pool, an indoor gym area, nine outdoor playgrounds and more than 100 classrooms. The facility hosts two pre-schools – one from the Australian International School (AIS) and the other from Stamford American International School (SAIS).

In January, childcare centre Tots and Teddies opened on the fourth floor of an office building in the Central Business District. It offers coding and speech classes. Meals are designed by a paediatric nutritionist and prepared by a former hotel chef.

The AIS and SAIS pre-schools charge $1,800 to $2,800 a month for full-day programmes. They are registered with the Committee for Private Education, so parents cannot get as much subsidy as at centres licensed by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). About 5 per cent of the 800 or so children enrolled are Singaporeans.

Tots and Teddies, which is licensed by ECDA, charges more than $2,200 per month for full-day childcare, before subsidies. This is more than twice the average of $1,032 per month, as of end-June.

Other premium brands like MindChamps and EtonHouse charge rates of around $1,800 to just over $2,000, according to ECDA’s Child Care Link website.

But are all the “perks” that the upmarket pre-schools offer mere frills that drive up costs unnecessarily?

Mr Michael Day, SAIS’ early years principal, said the pre-school’s large size means children can “have everything all under one roof”. Violin lessons, art and physical education classes are all included in the curriculum.

Tots and Teddies’ founder Oliver Houchin said his centre’s high fees reflect the care quality parents give at home and expect to be replicated in the centre. “It’s not really about spoiling the kids, but about giving them more personal attention,” said Mr Houchin, a permanent resident whose wife is Singaporean. For example, a smaller teacher-child ratio of 1:5 allows teachers to devote more time to helping children learn, he said. They also try to accommodate specific dietary needs of the children.

Mr Houchin, a Briton, does not have early childhood qualifications, but the centre’s programme is overseen by its experienced principal, Ms Judy Ng, who has a master’s in early childhood education from Wheelock College. But he acknowledged that centres with high fees do not always reflect good quality. In fact, he set up his centre after other premium-brand pre-schools he scouted or sent his daughter to fell short of his own expectations.

His daughter, four, is one of the 30 or so children at the centre, which can take in 49 children. About half the children are Singaporeans. It has two spots left for infant care.

Dr Chan Lin Ho, a senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), said pricing is not a reliable indicator of quality, which also encompasses how adults interact with children at a pre-school.

Dr Theresa Lu, SUSS’ head of early childhood education programmes, added that pre-schools that do not have extensive facilities can use resources in the neighbourhood “to provide the extension of learning experiences for children beyond their classrooms”.

AIS’ head of early years Adam Patterson agreed with Dr Chan.

“If the staff show respect, care and love when they communicate with the children, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a shack or in an incredible facility like this (Early Learning Village). Having this facility just means that we can push that further, because we’ve got everything here for all the areas children need to develop.”

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