They are both preschools, but cater to different types of needs. We show you the key differences between the two so you can choose what works best for you and baby.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
In Singapore, preschool education is offered by two broad categories of providers – kindergartens and childcare centres. There are over 500 kindergartens registered with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and more than 1,000 childcare centres licensed by the Ministry of Social and Family (MSF) Development. Most are run by commercial operators, but some are by religious organisations and non-profit groups. And in an effort to streamline the preschool education sector, a new government organisation, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), was set up in April 2013 to take over the role of overseeing the regulation and development of both kindergarten and childcare programmes in Singapore.
“Many parents were also unclear about the separate governing bodies. Thus, setting up ECDA has meant that parents, operators, principals and teachers can address their concerns, issues, queries and feedback to only one point of contact,” shares Jenical Ong, co-founder and director of Seeds Learning Group. The agency’s one-stop website at www.ecda.gov.sg also makes it easier for parents, who used to have to trawl through both the MSF’s and MOE’s websites to search for preschools.
WHEN TO START
Childcare centres accept children from 18 months up to six years old. Some also provide infant care services for younger ones, while others offer care for primary school pupils as well. Kindergartens provide a more formal and structured preschool programme for children aged 3-6. This age range comprises nursery, Kindergarten One (K1) and Kindergarten Two (K2).
THE SCHOOL YEAR
Childcare centres do not have vacation breaks, but they’re allowed to close for up to seven days a year for the staff to attend courses and other events. Some have an academic year that’s in line with international school systems. They also offer a diverse range of options for working parents. Typically, a full-day programme runs from 7am to 7pm (Mondays to Fridays), and half a day on Saturdays. Some centres have half-day classes from 7am to 1pm and 1pm to 7pm. Other flexible programmes range from 12 to 48 hours per week.
Kindergartens, on the other hand, mirror the primary school calendar, with four 10-week terms beginning in January. There’s a one-week break after the 1st and 3rd terms, a four-week interval in the middle of the year, and a six-week hiatus at the end of the year, while centres that adopt a foreign education curriculum may have their own school calendar. They typically operate on a five-day week (Monday to Friday), and for shorter hours (three hours a day), which may be from 8am to 11am or from noon to 3pm.
HOW KIDS LEARN
At childcare centres, children learn mainly through play. This consists of activities like music and movement and creative writing, which are incorporated into the centre’s curriculum. These approaches vary greatly, from Montessori and Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophies to bilingual and multiple-intelligence methods. According to MOE, the daily programme for each level in kindergarten should include learning activities that develop language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, simple science views, social abilities, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement, and outdoor play.
Children typically learn in two languages: English as the first language, and Chinese, Malay or Tamil as their Mother Tongue or second language. For example, at MOE kindergartens, kids can expect to spend at least a quarter of each day on Mother Tongue lessons as part of the focus on bilingualism (making up about 30% of the curriculum time).
If you’re concerned about the school’s standards, check if it’s certified under the Government’s Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework, which was launched to raise the quality of education in the industry. This scheme is voluntary; 205 preschools have been certified since 2011, says ECDA.
But whether you choose a childcare centre or kindergarten, the aims are the same: to prepare children for the next stage in life. In fact, Jenical says the curriculum at its preschools, Praise Kids (a childcare centre) and Seeds D’ Learning House (a kindergarten), are similar. “We want to ensure that the kids are able to read and understand some basic academic concepts, so they won’t find formal school such a struggle,” she explains.
CARING FOR KIDS
The longer hours of a childcare centre naturally mean that pupils have all their meals there. These must follow the nutritional guidelines set by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure that each child has a balanced diet. Routine care includes showers before or after lunch and an afternoon nap. Jenical shares that centres also weave life skills into a child’s daily experiences, such as teaching them to look after themselves (for example, learning to button up their clothes). Since children spend less time in a kindergarten, only snacks are typically served there. However, kids attending kindergartens that offer before- or afterschool enrichment programmes may have breakfast or lunch. Routine care at a kindergarten includes helping the child with toilet trips and daily temperature checks.
CAPPING CLASS SIZES
MOE recommends that nursery classes should have one teacher and a teacher’s aide for not more than 15 children. K1 classes should have a maximum of 20 kids to one teacher, while K2 classes should have a maximum of 25 to an educator. Childcare centres must comply with the teacher-child ratios set by MSF, which is the same as the MOE’s for older preschoolers. The ratio for the pre-nursery age group (18 months to 30 months) is one teacher to eight kids, while N1 classes should have no more than 12 to an educator.
COUNTING THE COST
Fees for childcare centres span a wide range of budgets. ECDA’s website states that those for a full-day programme can range from approximately $300 to $2,600 a month. Those for a half-day schedule are approximately two-thirds of the fee for a full-day programme. If you’re working, you can apply for a government subsidy of up to $600 for childcare and up to $300 for infantcare. And you can use your Baby Bonus to pay for fees. Visit www.childcarelink.gov.sg or call the Marriage and Parenthood Hotline at 1800-233-2229 for more information.
There’s no standard fee structure for kindergartens either, but a check with MOE-registered ones on the Preschool Connect website (preschool.edu.sg) revealed that they cost from $48 to $1,800 per month!
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By Anita Yee, Young Parents PreSchool Guide / Updated October 2019
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