Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Early Childhood Development Centres Bill [Bill No. 7/2017]
Madam, I stand in support of this Bill and I thank the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) for the extensive public consultation it conducted.
Notwithstanding the many positives in the Bill, I would like to seek several clarifications from the Minister.
Ensuring the quality is maintained
Firstly, the decision to include license conditions is certainly a good move as it is testament of the effort to ensure that the quality of early childhood development centres is maintained. However, it appears that an audit of an ECDC may not be compulsory. Can the Minister clarify under what circumstances would an audit be required? I do understand that ECDA already conducts such audits, and the officers generally visit centres at least once a year. Why not codify this into the Act?
Requiring a security deposit
Secondly, mandating the provision of a security deposit would be helpful in incentivising a licensee to operate within the boundaries that the relevant law and regulations provide. Can the Minister clarify why we are not making the provision of a security deposit compulsory for all licensees?
In cases where a security deposit is required by the CLO, can the Minister clarify under what circumstances will the security deposit be forfeited? In addition, can the Minister provide a rough range of the amount of security deposit required?
Providing ample notice before closure
Thirdly, the requirement of a licensee to give the CLO prior notice before ceasing operations or surrendering a license is a good mechanism in the Bill. This gives parents time to search for alternative ECDCs for their children. Can the Minister specify the minimum notice period for the licensee to issue such a notice?
Exemption of MOE Kindergartens
Foruth, I understand that MOE kindergartens are not regulated under this Act. While ECDA has provided explanations publicly about this, I urge the Minister to re-consider this as it does seems like there are double standards here. This new Act should apply to all parties regardless of whether they are operated privately or by the government.
What about play?
Lastly, Madam, I understand that on curriculum, we will continue to provide broad guidelines to ensure programmes are developmentally appropriate. I urge the Minister to ensure that we don’t become too focused on academics. These are children who are under 7 years old. I see that there are already assessment books for kindergarten children and I see that there are already tuition classes for them as well.
We must remember that for these children, play is important and perhaps should be the focus of our ECDCs. Dr David Whitebread from the University of Cambridge stated in his paper “The importance of play” that: “What is increasingly recognised within the research and policy communities, however, is that one vital ingredient in supporting healthy intellectual, emotional and social development in young children is the provision of opportunities and the support for play.”
His view is also supported by the European Parliament who on 12 May 2011 adopted a resolution on Early Years Learning in the European Union, which notes that the early years of childhood are critical for children’s development and highlights that ‘in addition to education, all children have the right to rest, leisure and play’.
I hope that this is the direction we are heading and that we remember that they are kids after all and kids need to play.
The best teachers and best Early Childhood Development Centre
Madam, as we enact this piece of legislation, perhaps it is timely to remember that the best teachers are the parents and the best Early Childhood Development Centre is really our homes.
This, we can’t legislate. We cannot legislate that parents spend time with their children nor can we legislate that parents impart the right values to their children.
This is entirely up to us parents and the lessons we teach our children is far more important than their lessons in school. Ultimately, children copy what their parents do and it is their parents’ behaviours that shape theirs the most.
We can’t spend every minute with our children but perhaps an important time is bedtime. My daughter’s favourite bedtime story is “The things I love about bed time”. I must have read this story close to a hundred times now. On Sunday night, she feel asleep after I read her this story and for the first time I read the “Notes for Parents and caregivers” at the end of the book. Ok I should have read that much earlier but at least I’m honest.
It said “Spending time with your child as they prepare for bed is a wonderful opportunity to develop and maintain a close and loving bond.
Playing a fun bedtime game, sharing a story, listening to them recount their favourite moments of the day, discussing dreams and future events they are looking forward to, praising them for a task well done, and telling them how much you love them – all of these things create an environment in which you child will feel happy, safe, secure, loved and valued.
Ultimately, these simple rituals contribute to an increase in the positive emotion of your child. For you as the parent this is precious time in which you can be consciously and constructively involved in building a positive state of mind. Your child will hopefully internalise this optimisim and it will guide them on a path to a full and happy life.”
I have to admit that I wish I read more bedtime stories to my daughter and in writing this speech, it made me reflect on this and I hope that all parents think about this as well. Think about how important a role we play as parents and as teachers.
I look forward to reading this book another hundred more times to my daughter and well another 200 hundred times to my twins. In fact, I read both of them this story this morning and they probably heard the story many times already when they were in the womb.
Madam, it seems that whenever there is a Bill by MSF, I have something to share about my parenthood journey and this time, I’m happy to share that my twins were born last week. They were so eager to come into this world that they came two months early. This two little girls gave us quite a scare last week and to be honest, it has not been an easy week.
I had actually told the twins that last year, I asked Minister Heng whether he can backdate the start of the First Step Grant which was announced during Budget 2016. I told the twins that Minister said no and so I urged them to please be born only after the Committee of Supply debates, after any new parenthood policies are announced.
As always, children never listen and so I pray that for any new policies that SMS Josephine or Minister Chuan-Jin will be announcing shortly, the start date will be the beginning of this year and not with immediate effect from the date of the announcement.
But on a positive note, I now have three daughters whose birthdays are about a week apart. So one birthday party for 3 kids. That is perhaps the best Budget.
Madam, this Bill is an important step forward for early childhood education but we must remember that it is only a part of the equation. We must remember this quote by George Santayana:
“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
Madam, I stand in support of this Bill.