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PM: More pre-school places, better training for teachers

IN the next five years, the Singapore government will create an additional 40,000 new places, bringing the total number of pre-school places to about 200,000.

This is part of the Singapore government's aim to give every child, regardless of his or her family background, a strong start in life and a bright future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday night.

Referring to children, from infant to six-years-old, PM Lee said children pick up language skills most easily and rapidly in their first three years.

"Miss that window and it becomes much harder later on. In fact, it is best if they hear the language sounds as infants, before they are eight months old," he said.

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Speaking at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio, PM Lee said the shortage of pre-school places is mainly for those aged between infant and four years old.

"So PCF will create more places and build Early Years Centres just for this group," he said, adding that these centres will partner nearby MOE Kindergartens, started by the Education Ministry for children aged five to six.

The government will also improve the quality of pre-school education for ages five and six. Currently there are 15 MOE Kindergartens and MOE will "scale up to 50 kindergartens in the next five years".

PM Lee said Singapore will take the same approach with training of pre-school teachers as it is doing with the teachers for primary, secondary and junior college levels "to train them well and to attract good, passionate people".

Today there is no centralised institute for early childhood development. Instead, there are many pre-school training programmes at Temasek and Ngee Ann polytechnics, ITEs and SEED Institute.

"We will now bring all these different programmes together, under a new centralised, . . . called the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC). It will provide the full range of diploma and certificate programmes for pre-school professionals," PM Lee said.

The government will also be providing training awards for students of this centre, covering their fees and providing them with an allowance, he added.

In addition, PM Lee said special efforts will be made for children from low income and vulnerable families.

"We have doubled our annual spending on preschools in the last five years - from S$360 million to S$840 million this year. We will double the spending again in the next five years to S$1.7 billion in 2022," he said.