SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT CENTRES BILL IN PARLIAMENT ON 28 FEB 2017
1. Early childhood education takes place during the formative years, a time when a child is most receptive to learning. It is crucial to their development and sets the cornerstone of their adult years. It is good that the government is constantly reviewing the needs of this sector. I support this Bill which I feel will help to improve the learning experience and development of the children in their pre-school years.
Maintaining / Enhancing Quality of Childcare services
2. I am pleased to note that relevant authorities are now empowered with more investigation powers. It also should be a requirement across the board that a robust system be in place to screen all staff who work at the centres. Background records must be accessible and up to date. Certainly, anyone with a history of hurting children or have pedophilic tendencies must be weeded out. I hope the Ministry will share the measures taken to do this.
Transition and Flexibility
3. I’d like to raise some potential issues with these rules. As with all changes, transition is often a matter of concern. Especially for the smaller centres where they could be facing manpower and resource constraints to cope with the change. Can the Minister share with the House how this transition period can be best managed, such that the provision of childcare and education will not be disrupted in any centre? We are already facing childcare shortages, especially in BTO areas. This bill should not make the shortages worse.
4. Under this bill, for a centre to engage a third-party education provider, it is mandatory to apply to the Chief Licensing Officer (CLO).
I propose that third-party education providers should also be licensed, and the centres can then take their pick from a list of the licensed providers at any given time. This would be more efficient when a centre needs to engage providers on an ad-hoc basis. Under the same proposed rule, centres cannot give guest speakers, performers and the like any rewards without a license. Can we make this rule more flexible, as not all talents can afford to be generous with their time?
6. In light of the current staff shortage in the industry, those who are undergoing training should be allowed to function as relief teachers or teaching assistants. This will give them valuable hands-on exposure, while helping to ease the manpower crunch. Of course, a longer-term solution to the manpower crunch is to review the salaries of childcare teachers, especially the disparity with MOE teachers.
Centres that are not covered
7. I note with concern that some centres are exempted from this bill. They include MOE pre-schools and kindergartens. But why? Is this double standards? Is it that they are unable to meet the KPI? I think there should be more uniformity across schools catering to the same type of education level. This means subjecting MOE pre-school and kindergartens to the same act, or else, subjecting the private pre-schools and kindergartens to the same requirements as the MOE ones. In fact, I think it’s good to subject MOE pre-schools and kindergartens to the same rules. This can ensure that whatever requested by ECDA is practical and can be done. If there is something that’s not practical, something that needs to be fine- tuned, MOE can then whisper to ECDA.
8. Enrichment centres, therapy services, standalone playgroups, children gyms and student care services are also exempted. These are common places where children are sent to for learning and to be cared for. There must be adequate regulations to protect their wellbeing, health and safety.
I request that while they do not need to comply with all the rules in this bill, government should look into a simpler set of rules for them, for example their staff should also be registered.
Please let me summarise in Chinese.
Madam Speaker, I support the bill.