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Three more pre-school players get 'anchor operator' status

An EtonHouse teacher conducting an art lesson. Amid the push to build more childcare centres, the new pre-school anchor operators said they face the common problem of finding enough qualified teachers
The Straits Times - January 28, 2014
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Three more pre-school players get 'anchor operator' status

Parents can look forward to big-name private operators setting up more childcare centres in the heartland and charging a fraction of their current fees, from as early as July.

Three more pre-school players have been appointed anchor operators under a scheme that requires them to keep fees affordable in return for government subsidies.

They are: c, Kinderland Consortium's Skool4Kidz, and Metropolitan YMCA's MY World Preschool. The first two are private operators, while the third is a non-profit organisation.

The operators, which have been appointed for a tenure of five years, were the first to qualify for the expanded anchor operator scheme announced last year to include private players for the first time. The expanded scheme attracted 16 applications. Previously, the scheme was open only to non-profit organisations and the anchor operators were NTUC's My First Skool and the PAP Community Foundation.

The five anchor operators are expected to provide about 16,000 more childcare places by 2017. This year alone, at least 45 childcare centres will be built islandwide, of which 33 sites have been set aside for anchor operators.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing presented certificates of appointment to representatives of the five anchor operators yesterday.

Mr Chan gave the assurance that "the fees will be affordable to parents". Anchor operators' monthly fees for a full-day childcare programme cannot cost more than $720. The industry median as at last month was $830. "I think they've made a commitment that the profit motive cannot be their No. 1 objective," he said, adding that there are "strict financial regulations" on the separation of the operators' accounts.

Besides providing affordable and quality programmes, he said, the selection process also factored in other key requirements.

"One was their commitment to continuing professional development of our teachers... The other was their commitment to play a part to uplift, especially, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, to give them a good head start in their pre-school development."

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said the scheme is "very much in line with (our efforts in) supporting families" and underscores the importance of pre-school education.

Amid all this, the new anchor operators said they face a common challenge in finding enough qualified teachers.

"During this transitional period when... our local teachers are still being trained, we hope to be able to get more manpower from overseas," said EtonHouse group managing director Ng Gim Choo.

The two existing anchor operators said the new players will help raise the industry's overall standards.

"The hope is that everyone tries to bring in new people from elsewhere so that the sector is built up as a whole," said NTUC First Campus chief executive Chan Tee Seng.

Housewife Ong Shi Yee, 37, who is looking for a pre-school for her one-year-old son, welcomed more choices of anchor operators. She added: "Hopefully they don't water down the curriculum just because it's going to be cheaper.



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