In his National Day Rally, the Prime Minister covered many important topics. One of these is the government’s commitment to helping every Singaporean to succeed irrespective of background.
All Singaporean children can get a good education in our national schools. Over the years we have enhanced our education system – we have introduced specialised schools, applied learning, different CCAs and sports, done away with streaming and introduced subject-based banding. We have put a greater focus on skills, which is highly valued by employers and re-balanced the emphasis on purely academic outcomes. Through ITE, our polytechnics, universities and Skillsfuture we are creating multiple pathways for our children to achieve success.
We are now doing much more in the pre-school space. Research shows that the pre-school years have a great impact on how well a child does in later life. Unlike primary school where the focus is more on cognitive development, what is important in the pre-school years is the social and emotional development of the child. A pre-school child who is emotionally secure, and learns how to play and interact with peers and adults and encouraged to explore and be curious tends to fare better in life than one who does not have these attributes. The learning of languages is also far more easily acquired and retained when learnt in the early years. Pre-school education which focuses on social and emotional development and language learning is therefore important.
Recognising this, the government has made moves in recent years to improve the accessibility, quality and affordability of pre-school education. We have doubled the full-day pre-school capacity and upgraded pre-schools. We also set up the MOE kindergartens which offer all 3 other mother tongue languages. We set up the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) to upgrade the teaching and training of our pre-school teachers.
Recognising that the costs of pre-school education can be an issue for young parents, we took initial steps to lower the costs of pre-school through the anchor operator, partner operator schemes and the MOE kindergartens. This has helped lower costs. However, we know that for middle-income families with very young children pre-school fees still take up a substantial part of their budgets.
Hence, as announced at National Day Rally, the government is enhancing pre-school subsidies to make it more affordable for young families:
– We have raised the qualifying household income ceiling from $7500 to $12,000 per month. This will immediately extend the subsidies to 30,000 more households;
– In addition, the government will also increase the amount of pre-school subsidies across the board.
As mentioned by PM, we aim to bring down full-day pre-school expenses to around the level of that for primary school, if you include after school student care.
To complement the government-led pre-school initiatives, SINDA has a literacy and numeracy (LYNN) programme for Indian pre-schoolers, as well as a pre-school Tamil enrichment which are also heavily subsidised. I would encourage Indian families to take advantage of these programmes.
At the other end of the education pipeline, we have also done a review of tertiary fees and bursaries. To ensure that students from less well-off families are not prevented from pursuing further studies, MOE is significantly enhancing government bursaries.
– For university, government bursaries will be increased from 50% of general fees to 75%.
– In addition, we will increase the bursary for those studying medicine so that lower-income students need only to pay at most $5000.
– For polytechnic diploma programmes, we will increase the bursaries from the current 80% of fees to 95%.
In addition to government bursaries, Indian students in need of financial assistance for tertiary studies can also apply to the Singapore Indian Education Trust (SIET) for bursaries, scholarships and loans.
We hope that these moves by MOE and the complementary programmes by SINDA and SIET will ease the financial outlay of lower and middle-income families and help put our children on the path for success.
This is an excerpt from a monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance, Second Minister for Education and President, SINDA.