Recent developments in Singapore’s early childhood education scene indicate that the industry is growing in the right direction.
Following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement at the 2019 National Day Rally regarding measures to make preschool more accessible to families, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) launched a new quality rating scale aimed at raising teaching standards at preschools in Singapore.
The new Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework (SPARK) Quality Rating Scale (QRS) 0-6 integrates the QRS standards for children aged 0 to 3 years and ratings for children aged 4 to 6 years to cover the entire spectrum of early childhood development. SPARK QRS now gives local preschools a more holistic approach to assess and improve the quality of their programmes.
The launch doubles as a recognition for what research has proven time and again: the effects of high-quality early childhood education can have a lasting impact on children’s learning and development.
But what is high-quality preschool education? We look to five preschools in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, to find out what quality preschool programmes include.
- Foster strong communication between children and parents
In our study of Hong Kong and Shenzhen preschools, we observed that all five schools were able to foster excellent teacher-student communication.
During lessons, teachers have actively encouraged their students to engage in thinking about the physical and social world. Students are also nurtured to be more observant, self-regulate, see others’ perspectives, generate questions and ideas, and use their reasoning to solve problems.
This helped children to acquire vital reasoning, relational and communication skills which will be helpful for advanced learning later in life.
- Implement a child-centric curriculum
The five Chinese kindergartens also practise a healthy respect for each child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Teachers and parents are also completely aligned on the objectives of early childhood education - which is to ground children in good citizenship and well-being rather than to prepare them for the academic rigour of primary school.
With this understanding in place, each school designed their curriculum to respect and meet each child’s individual learning needs, and provide a framework to support different abilities.
Children in the schools engage in activities meaningful to them and intellectually challenging enough to stimulate them to think about what they are seeing and doing. Teachers also have the flexibility to teach foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy skills through a personalised and play-based approach.
- Involve parents in curriculum development
Principals at each of the five Chinese preschools found that it was necessary to motivate teachers to continue developing and modifying curricula to suit the children’s interests and needs.
This process was not always easy, as kindergarten teachers had to convince parents that a playful and inquiry-based education would better support their children’s intellectual learning.
In one kindergarten in Shenzhen, teachers adopted the strategy of inviting parents to volunteer as teachers. By involving mums and dads in the teaching and curriculum development process, they were better able to persuade parents to share their vision of quality early childhood education.
- Centre leaders must demonstrate bold leadership
However, high-quality preschool education would not be possible without the bold leadership of centre leaders and principals.
From observing the preschools in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, we found that when centre leaders had strong buy-in, took decisive action and were deeply involved in curriculum development, the quality of education was enhanced.
Principals, in particular, must exercise curriculum leadership and support leaders’ abilities to coach and mentor teachers within their centres.
It is heartening to see efforts to empower and encourage such bold leadership in local kindergartens. The Professional Development Programme (PDP) for Leaders by ECDA is a good start in giving our early childhood educators the right skills to effect change in their centres.
Ongoing centre-based improvements require participation from all parties, including government agencies, kindergartens, educators and parents. But the effort is worth it to create more meaningful, authentic and interesting learning for young children’s overall development and benefit.
After all, a quality preschool education gives our children a head start in life, setting them on a path to becoming high-functioning and successful adults.
This article has been adapted from an earlier commentary: "Hong Kong and Shenzhen showed us what quality early childhood education looks like" by Dr Yang Weipeng, Lecturer of the Early Childhood Education Programme, S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).