Pre-school educators in need of better wages, support

Lim Guohao, Published in TODAY‘s Voices Column

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The term “pre-school” is often misinterpreted as “day-care” for children or even a place that provides “nanny” services, even though there are pre-schools which offer such services.

I had the same misperception, too, that pre-school teachers mainly babysit the children while the parents are at work. However, after I worked as an intern at one, I realised that was not exactly the case.

During my internship, I had the opportunity to help out and prepare for various events, such as a Chinese language storytelling aids competition and a seminar for pre-school Chinese language teachers.

I was also able to talk to pre-school teachers and gain more insights into their working environment. Most of them were female foreign teachers.

The reason why some male university graduates hold back on taking up the job is because the pay is lower than what teachers who have gone through the MOE Teaching Programme are getting.

This may have caused an imbalance, where male Singaporean teachers are lacking in the sector.

Taking part in organising the storytelling aids competition made me realise how much effort the teachers put in, and witnessing how these storytelling aids interest the children also made me think that we should do more to support pre-school teachers, especially their welfare and benefits, so as to ensure that we continue to have high-quality and educated individuals, especially university graduates, to teach and nurture our future generation.

During a visit to a pre-school earlier this month, I learnt that a teacher works from 8.30am to around 6pm each day, and sometimes on Saturdays to prepare materials for the upcoming week.

The daily routine includes two shifts of lessons, in the morning and afternoon. These lessons can be highly interactive.

The syllabus can be complicated and detailed, clustered in themes, with interactive content and learning objectives, so the teachers often need to crack their heads to come up with materials during their free time in the weekends.

Early childhood educators have also incorporated critical thinking into the curriculum. Those who are polytechnic graduates are trained in childhood psychology and mental health as well. However, the salary that they get are incomparable with what trained teachers in primary and secondary schools are getting.

Given her eight-year experience in the industry, the teacher at the pre-school I visited is drawing a salary of not more than S$3,000, which is the starting pay of a university student with a good honours degree in another industry.

A Singaporean man who aspires to be a pre-school educator would be concerned that the pay does not allow him to support a family of his own comfortably.

The reason why some of these foreigner teachers are here is because they are not the sole breadwinner of their families, and they still find joy in teaching children.

Thankfully, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced at the National Day Rally last year that the Government will double its annual spending on the pre-school sector to S$1.7 billion over five years until 2022. And a new national training institute for early childhood educators will be set up to boost the quality of teaching.

It would benefit pre-schoolers, I feel, if teachers are receiving a standardised education.

I do hope that these government initiatives will take shape as soon as they can, so as to encourage more Singaporeans who are interested in pre-school education to take on the challenge and not run away due to poor job incentives.

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Lim Guohao, Published in THE STRAITS TIMES‘s Forum Column

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Pre-schools are often misinterpreted as “day care” or even “babysitting”.

I, too, had this misconception until I went on internship and had the opportunity to talk to pre-school teachers and gain more insight into the pre-school environment.

One teacher told me she works from 8.30am to around 6pm each day.

The daily routine includes two shifts of lessons – one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

The syllabus is more complicated and detailed than I thought it would be. They are clustered in themes, with clear learning objectives.

The lessons are highly interactive, requiring teachers to crack their heads during their free time to think of how to deliver them, and come back on Saturdays to prepare materials.

The teacher I spoke to had eight years of experience in the industry, yet her salary is not more than $3,000.

This is one reason why many pre-school teachers are female and foreign – the salary is not sufficient for a male teacher to support a family, and the foreign teachers are not sole breadwinners.

We need to put more emphasis on pre-school teachers, especially their benefits, so as to ensure we continue to have high-quality and educated individuals to teach our future generation.

Thankfully, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at last year’s National Day Rally that the Government would double its annual spending on the pre-school sector to $1.7 billion a year in 2022.

I hope this can be done as soon as possible so as to encourage more locals who are interested in pre-school education to take up the challenge.

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