While stories abound of Singapore’s success in primary education and up, the nation seems to be falling short when it comes to teaching its toddlers.
A new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit on international early childhood education ranks the nation-state just 29th out of some 45 countries across the globe.
Topping the list were Nordic countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway, as well as the U.K. and Belgium, which took the first five spots respectively.
Ranked at the bottom five were Asian and Southeast Asian countries including India (45th), Indonesia (44th), the Philippines (43rd), China (42nd) and Vietnam (41st), all of which came below Ghana, which was ranked 40th in the list.
The ranking, known as the “Starting Well Index”, takes three main factors of a country’s preschool education into account: availability, affordability and quality.
Singapore scored poorly on quality, coming in 30th out of 45, but fared slightly better in affordability (21st) and availability (25th).
Aspects affecting quality included student-teacher ratio, average preschool teacher wages, preschool teacher training and linkages between preschool and primary school.
In terms of affordability, the report noted that Singapore’s market-led provision of preschool education — where parents pay for enrollment in the preschool of their choice — is balanced with government subsidies.
In a list of elements of top early childhood education environments, Singapore fared well in the provision of subsidies for underprivileged families, ensuring preschool enrollment by age 5 or 6, as well as the possession of a well-defined curriculum, health and safety standards.
Gaps appeared in the presence of a clear legal right to preschool education for citizens, a student-teacher ratio of under 15 (Singapore’s is roughly 1 to 20) and parental involvement in preschools, the report showed.
The Starting Well report, commissioned by the Lien Foundation, aimed to provide insights and comparative findings on preschool education across the world that could trigger efforts to improve systems throughout.
These findings come as the country struggles to deal with its dangerously-low fertility rate and rapidly-ageing and potentially-shrinking population.
“Children are our most precious assets and we must not squander their most formative years on mediocre preschool programmes,” said Lee Poh Wah, the Foundation’s chief executive officer.
He said the country’s ideal of equal opportunity for its citizens should start from the preschool level.
“A better playing field would give disadvantaged children the head start that could change their life outcomes,” he noted. “If quality remains elusive for Singapore’s preschool education, so will the quest for inclusiveness.”
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