Extract of COS debate on MCYS – Preschool support for lower income families

The following is extract from the Singapore parliament publications (9 March 2012) pertaining to the debate after my ‘Cut’ on MCYS. My motivation for this Cut is that while child care and kindergarten sectors each have a generous financial scheme to help the lower income families get their children to study in preschool, the child care scheme allows all operators to be eligible while the kindergaren scheme has qualifying criteria that has allowed only PCF to qualify thus far, despite there being many other kindergarten operators in the industry. I feel the scheme should be inclusive of all operators, just like in the child care scheme, so as to give families the choice of where they wish to send their children to. 

My Cut:

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): A good early start to education is important to a child’s development. It is especially important for the lower income families to help the child be ready for primary school. Schemes like the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KFAS) with start-up grants and monthly fee subsidies are helpful to the low income group. However, after eight years of KiFAS’ implementation since January 2004, only one kindergarten group, namely the PAP Community Foundation qualifies as the eligible provider despite there being some 260 non-PCF kindergartens.

In contrast, all childcare centres licensed by MCYS are eligible centres for the Centre based Financial Assistance Scheme for Childcare (CFAC). While understanding the need to ensure quality of education, the bar is set so high that only organisation in the industry has qualified so far.

There are many established and reputable kindergarten providers in the industry including the kindergartens that my siblings, my wife and I attended as children. Many of these kindergartens operate within the community providing affordable and high quality pre-school education but are not KiFAS eligible. KiFAS eligible criteria amongst other include

one: have no religious affiliation or relation to racial group; and

two: be financially sound with a minimum paid-up capital of $5 million.

These two stringent criteria are not required for CFAC and I am not sure why they are required here. I hope MCYS will review the eligibility criteria to ensure greater choice of kindergartens for low income families to send children to, including to private kindergartens.

The Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (Mr Chan Chun Sing): …. (other replies) …

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked for a review of the kindergarten assistance criteria so that more operators can become eligible centres. Today, eligible children can receive such subsidies at 240 MOE-registered kindergartens that meet the criteria, such as being non-profit and secular, and are in a good financial position to provide quality pre-school education. I understand and I share Mr Yee Jenn Jong’s concern to better help our people access more affordable childcare and kindergarten. But let me explain how we try to do this on two levels. On one level we try to lower the fees that are charged across the board by helping the kindergartens and the child care to make sure that their costs are contained. On the other hand, CFAC is really a scheme targeted at the people at the lower end of the financial spectrum. It is centred on the family circumstances rather than centred on the operators themselves. So it is a family and children specific scheme and not so much to help bring down the costs for the high-end operators.

MCYS will continue to conduct regular reviews of our pre-school schemes to improve accessibility and affordability. To ensure that the lower income households with more dependants receive adequate assistance for their children, we will introduce a parallel per capita income criterion for our assistance schemes in child care, kindergarten and student care. From April, children from large families will qualify for child care and kindergarten assistance if their per capita income is less than $875. The same will apply for student care assistance from July. About 5,000 children will benefit from these enhancements.

… (other replies) …

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I am glad the Acting Minister emphasised inclusiveness as MCYS’ theme. I have two questions relating to his reply on my cut. He mentioned that there are 240 centres that are KiFAS-approved. I like to know whether there are any non-PCF centres included in the list. The second question is that he said that KiFAS is targeted at lower income families. It is a child and family specific scheme and not centre-specific. I understand so is CFAC which is for childcare and we have KiFAS which is for kindergarten. But I understand CFAC is inclusive; all operators included, including private centres are eligible. But KiFAS is exclusive; so far only to one organisation. So I am sorry I do not understand the Acting Minister’s explanation and I do not understand the reasons behind KiFAS’ very onerous criteria.

Mr Chan Chun Sing: Mr Chairman, Sir, in response to Mr Yee Jenn Jong’s clarification, let me just say that the current criteria for all the centres – there is a set of criteria, we do specify which operator can or not come in. So long as an operator meets the criteria, we will allow them to go onto the scheme. I do not preclude anybody else from coming onto the scheme so long as they meet the criteria, and I trust that the criteria are put in place to safeguard the balance of considerations for the use of public funds in all subsidies. At the same time, to make sure that there is a certain quality of education for the children available. So I do not for one, prescribe that there will only be one. So long as anybody who meets the criteria, we welcome them to join the sector and provide affordable and quality services to the children that they want to serve.

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