Higher fees for school care centres?
AFTER-SCHOOL care services in primary schools are safer, cheaper and more in tune with the school curriculum than care centres outside schools, but parents will likely have to pay more for them.
School-based student care centres, which offer services like meals, homework supervision and, in some cases, tuition, are in demand as they are cheaper alternatives to community-based centres typically located in bomb shelters and at void decks of HDB blocks.
School-based centres, run by voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators, generally charge less than $300 a month, but those outside schools can charge up to $500 a month.
However, seven operators The Straits Times spoke to are likely to raise their fees when they renew or enter into new tender contracts with schools in the next few years.
Several school-based centres have already raised their fees by at least 15 per cent. The monthly fees for most centres range from $240 to $280, up from about $160 to $230 a few years ago.
A centre supervisor at a school in Yishun, who declined to give her name, said her centre raised its monthly fees by nearly 15 per cent to $250 three years ago, and is likely to increase it further when it renews its contract next year.
"We are worried because it seems that the rental rates are now closer to what centres outside the schools are charged," said the 58-year-old, adding that the higher rents are largely a result of more operators, particularly established ones with greater financial backing, bidding higher for rentals in schools.
"At some centres, the rates have gone up drastically - by three to four times - and that eventually resulted in fee increases," she added.
Operators also cited rises in other costs, such as that of staff training, competitive salaries, and enrichment activities asked for by parents.
Yau Sow Shan, 45, a divisional manager with QSF The Enablers, which runs seven care centres including six school-based ones, said: "It is tough. The cost increases are quite significant, but yet we have to keep our fees affordable."
But she has no plans to raise fees at her school-based centres, which charge about $260 to $310 monthly.
Currently, 113 out of 187 primary schools have an in-house care centre, caring for more than 10,000 pupils. These school-based centres - which take in 40 to 300 pupils each - are popular after-school care options for parents.
In March, the Education Ministry announced that it will bump up the number of primary schools with after-school care services to 140 by the end of next year. This means nearly three-quarters of all primary schools will have a care centre.
Peggy Ong, chief executive and founder of Pro-Teach Education Group, the largest student care operator in Singapore, said staff salaries and food costs have resulted in higher operating costs for her school-based centres.
"Most of the time, we have to keep increasing our budget," she said, adding that her centres absorb the extra costs. "So far, we can cope."
Fees at her centres are about $260 to $300 monthly, lower than those charged by community-based centres, which can range from $220 to $500 a month, noted Ms Ong.
Social worker Kathryn Chia, whose two sons attend a school-based centre at Keming Primary in Bukit Batok, said a fee hike is reasonable.
"It is still cheaper than the centres operating outside the schools," said Ms Chia, 41, adding that centres in schools offer benefits such as convenience and safety. "For many working parents, there's really no better alternative."