SINGAPORE – As part of the government’s ongoing efforts to improve preschool education, it will make preschool education more affordable for more families, especially those from low to middle-income families.
Currently, additional means-tested subsidies are available to those whose household income do not exceed $7,500. “We will raise the income ceiling to $12,000 per month,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the National Day Rally speech on Sunday (18 August). “This means 30,000 more households will qualify for means-tested subsidies starting next year.”
To illustrate this, he cited the middle-income Low family, comprising two working parents and children aged 2 and 5. Both boys attend a government-supported preschool.
“Before the changes, Mr and Mrs Low pay about $560 per month for each child's preschool. The enhanced subsidy will knock off around one third of the Lows' preschool expenses, which will go down to around $370 per child,” said Lee.
When the Lows’ eldest son goes to primary school, which Lee pointed out “is almost free”, they may need to send him to student care in the afternoons. This will cost them about $300 per month. “The total of primary school fees plus student care fees, is still less than their current preschool expenses,” he explained. “In the medium term, we should aim to bring down full-day preschool expenses to around that level - the cost of primary school plus after-school student care.”
Though time is needed to get there, that’s what the government is working towards, Lee said.
“We will also increase the quantum of preschool subsidies, across the board,” he added.
Besides subsidies, the number of government-supported pre-school places will also be increased from 50 per cent to 80 per cent, “just like the HDB (Housing & Development Board)”, Lee said.
He noted that several women PAP MPs made an important point: that preschool should be like housing and healthcare, where there is a good and affordable government-funded option for all Singaporeans. The MPs, led by Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling, had surveyed young parents on preschools and they had concerns about affordability.
“Already, we spend around $1 billion a year on early childhood education. And this will more than double over the next few years,” said Lee.
He ended his section on preschool education with hints of more changes to come - specifically to help increase birth rates.
“The younger ministers have a few more ideas to support couples to have more kids, and to keep HDB flats affordable. I will leave these goodies to them... to make the announcements later.
“Meanwhile, I will be counting the number of babies born, and hoping for the number to go up!” he said.
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