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NDR 2019: "We Continue To Make Preschool More Affordable"

Here’s a piece of great news for parents who constantly worry about the expenses of sending their little ones to preschool: the Government is putting a lot of efforts into enhancing preschool subsidies. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced such plans on investing heavily on education, “giving our young the best possible start in life,” during his National Day Rally speech on 18 August. For Mr Lee, it is important to “start earlier in a child’s life because these years make a big difference to his development” and that “a good preschool education can make a crucial difference.”

To help middle-income families, the income ceiling will be raised from S$7,500 a month to S$12,500 a month—extending means-tested subsidies to 30,000 more households. Quantum subsidies will also be increased across the board. 

“Already, the government spends about S$1 billion a year on early childhood education, and this will more than double over the next few years,” said Mr Lee. “We continue to make preschool more affordable. We will enhance preschool subsidies. The increase in subsidies will knock off a third of their (families’) preschool expenses.”

Mr Lee cited the Low family—a middle-income family with two children enrolled in a government-supported preschool—to illustrate the Government’s plans. Because the Lows do not qualify for additional subsidies, they pay about S$650 per month for each of the kids’ preschool education. According to Mr Lee, the enhanced subsidy will knock off one-third of the family’s preschool spending to just around S$370 per child. He furthered that the family’s education expenses will be reduced further when the two children enter primary school as it is almost free. Even with after-school student care, they will only need to spend S$300 per child. 

The goal for the medium term, he said, is to bring down full-day preschool expenses to around that level—the cost of primary school plus after-school student care. 

Speaking of full-day preschool, its capacity was doubled to almost 180,000 places since 2012. Other efforts by the Government include increasing the current number of kindergartens (24) run by the Ministry of Education in the next few years and setting up the National Institute of Early Childhood Development, which gives preschool teachers access to more trainings and career advancement. 

In a survey by the People’s Action Party Women’s Wing, young parents were understandably worried about the affordability of preschools. Mr Lee said he agreed when MPs pointed out that preschool should be like housing and healthcare, where there are good and affordable government-funded options for Singaporeans.

“For housing, we have HDB. For healthcare, we have the restructured hospitals. Similarly, for preschool, we should have good quality government-supported choices available to all Singaporeans.” So the plan includes increasing the number of government-supported preschools to 80 percent over time.

The KidSTART programme, which began in July 2016 and aimed to help 1,000 children from disadvantaged families, will be extended to another 5,000 children over the next three years.

“Hopefully with all these improvements, parents will no longer think of preschool as an expensive phase of bringing up their children,” Mr Lee said.

Watch the Prime Minister’s full speech here

Photo credit: PCF Sparkletots @ Punggol North

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