Jun 28, 2013

    Govt allays fears on pre-school fees with caps

    EVEN as the Government rolled out a call for proposals yesterday to rope in private-sector schools for an anchor operator (AOP) grant scheme, some parents were worried that it would mean higher pre-school and childcare fees for their kids.

    This is more so as some brand-name private pre-schools, which can charge above $1,000 a month, have expressed interest in applying to be an AOP.

    Said businessman E. Ooi, 43, a father of two kids aged three and four: "Not everyone can afford high (fees). Education should be affordable because it moulds our children's futures."

    But the Government has assured that there will be safeguards.

    Currently, there are two AOPs: PAP Community Foundation (PCF) and the National Trades Union Congress' My First Skool. They are tasked with providing good-quality and affordable programmes. In return, they get recurrent grants from the Government to lower operating costs.

    More AOPs are being introduced to cater to the needs of the diverse learning habits of pre-schoolers, said Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, at a media briefing yesterday.

    For yesterday's call for proposals, commercial pre-school operators can apply to be an AOP if they set up a distinct company to ensure that the funds will be used to benefit needy children, instead of boosting the operator's profits, among other criteria.

    New fee caps will be in place, which current and new AOPs have to adhere to.

    For instance, pre-school fees will be capped at $160 a month. Currently, AOPs' monthly fees range from $48 to $350, while that for the pre-school sector in general is from $80 to $1,750.

    On commercial pre-school operators using public funds, Mr Chan said: "Money cannot be their primary goal. Their social mission must be their primary goal."

    Mrs Ng Gim Choo, group managing director of EtonHouse International, said that the subsidies will help lower operation costs as well as fees.

    A PCF spokesman said that with more AOPs coming on board, it "will allow more operators to do what we are doing by way of keeping childcare and kindergarten fees affordable".

    "Families will benefit as choices (will be) wider," she said.