In the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged added support to make it possible for more families to send their children to preschool. The monthly income ceiling for additional subsidies has been raised from $7,500 to $12,000 along with an increased quantum for these subsidies. These changes will allow another 30,000 households to qualify for these subsidies starting next year.
While the preschool landscape has been shifting and growing in many positive ways over the years, more can be done to build not just a tight-knit preschool community but also design a stronger preschool curriculum.
So how should we begin to build a sustainable future-ready preschool education sector to groom our next generation?
- Build vital capabilities in preschool education
Even as the Association for Early Childhood Educators, Singapore (AECES) plays a critical role in contributing and sharing knowledge within the industry, the community must find ways to broaden its professional knowledge.
However, at present, early childhood education systems in Singapore and abroad have stopped searching for the best curriculum after a few decades of research.
There is an unspoken understanding that quality learning should be driven by teachers who act as curriculum designers based solely on the depths of their knowledge, mental flexibility, dispositions and clear philosophies.
One example is their prescribed staff-child ratio at 1:25 for the Kindergarten Two classes and 1:8 for the toddler groups. The assumption is that what is adopted in primary education is also applicable to pre-schools. Children are hence made to engage in whole-group activities or stay seated and work on a task for long durations.
This however is not appropriate for their age. Research has shown that many young children are not wired to sit and listen or wait for long periods of time. They are also not engaged when responding to drill-and-practice methods which may work better with older learners.
There is therefore a strong need to foster an environment where skilled and knowledgeable professionals are groomed to raise the quality of children’s learning experiences.
- Debunk longstanding myths about pre-school teaching
Early childhood professionals must work together to redefine preconceived notions of the profession. It is often thought that passion and patience are two prerequisite traits to become early childhood professionals.
However such characteristics can run dry and are not the representative of the century-long early childhood industry filled with well-known personalities such as Johan Pestalozzi, Maria Montessori, Patty Smith Hill, Caroline Pratt, John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Studies on these leading thinkers, social advocates, psychologists and educators in the preschool education field have shown that none of them advocate patience or passion as necessary ingredients of a good preschool teacher.
- Instill a love for learning in our preschoolers
Preschool teachers must take the lead to demonstrate the skills associated with being a self-engaged learner if they want to foster a love for learning in the young ones.
- Actively build their knowledge about how young children grow and learn, and make the learning process visible and malleable to all adults.
- Be aware of the strengths and limitations of different developmental theories that discuss ways to educate children and critically reflect their own practices.
- Be keen to learn about recent scientific studies and approaches to individualise learning for different children.
- Support children’s development of lifelong dispositions and executive functions, including focus, attention, perspective-taking, communication and problem-solving, through play-based and real-world experiences with intention.
Preschool education is founded on a growing professional knowledge base that increasingly cuts across disciplines such as education, health, philosophy, psychology and sociology, backed by a legacy of research and practice.
Only when the local childhood profession functions as a unified body of knowledgeable practitioners, then can it become a stronger voice and advocate for children’s well-being and play-based learning.
This article has been adapted from an earlier commentary: "Passion and patience insufficient qualities of an ideal pre-school teachers" by Dr Sirene Lim, Academic Lead for the Early Childhood Education Programme, S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).