TL;DR – Everything needs money.
Fees at My First Skool (MFS), one of Singapore biggest chains, are going up. Again. MFS is the childcare arm of NTUC First Campus and has over 130 centres.
The fee increase will be between $6 and $33 a month for childcare and $5 and $20 for infantcare. This increase comes after prices have been increased annually from 2014 to 2016. It is now 15% more expensive to send your kid to MFS now compared to 2013. You can refer to their latest fees here.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), the agency which oversees the pre-school sector, requires childcare centres to inform parents at least three months before raising fees. MFS has done so last year. MFS’ fees are below the fee cap for anchor operators even after the increase. It’s also worth noting that there are schemes to help needy families.
The price increase is definitely going to be an additional strain on finances of families. Middle-class families, who may not be eligible for subsidies, will be particularly hard hit.
As someone who is about to start a family, the increase in cost of childcare and early childhood education is definitely something that weighs on my mind. It would mean that I will have to cut back spending in some areas. Less eating out at restaurants. Spend less on holidays.
And I worry that might still not be enough.
But it’ll be better for our children
But. I can also understand why the price must increase.
Early childhood educators ought to be paid more. A lot more. Only then can we attract and retain talent into the industry. Surely we want the people teaching and taking care of our young children to be better trained. After all, research has found that good quality early childhood education can result in long term positive impact on a child’s cognitive development and educational performance.
MFS recognises that. From 2009 to 2014, early childhood educators in MFS have seen their salaries increase by 36%.
And there is still room for wages to increase. Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, when he was Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF), said:
“As we develop the ecosystem, there will be a lot more different roles and responsibilities that (pre-school teachers) can take up. That allows us to begin to structure career prospects as well, which also means — importantly — that pay also increases… And clearly, if you want to attract talent, you do need to structure that.”
And it’s not just that salaries have been increasing and need to increase more. There is also a need to improve the curriculum and programs. MFS is conducting research into how to strengthen the school’s bilingual curriculum, and provide teachers and parents with the necessary information to help pre-schoolers gain bilingual competency.
MFS has also rolled out a a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme for its pre-schoolers at its Fernvale centre. The programme exposes young learners to the sciences through play-based activities.
And, given that Singapore remains committed to research and development, with a year-on-year increase in the amount of funding that we provide for research, it’s vital for our children to have strong training and interest in STEM since young.
That said, why must WE pay for it?
All these need money. Would we rather that MFS not do any of those? Would we rather MFS don’t invest in getting and developing talents in the industry? Would we rather MFS not invest in improving their curriculum and programmes? Of course not, right?
But can’t MFS absorb the cost? After all, isn’t MFS supposed to help keep prices of early childhood education and care affordable?
Yes, MFS is supposed to be keep prices of early childhood education and care affordable. But they aren’t a charity. They are a social enterprise. Which means they are first and foremost a business. They need to remain profitable, sustainable. So if they want to invest in getting better talent and improving their curriculum and programmes, they will need to increase their revenue somehow.
Can’t the government pay for it?
Can’t MFS get money from the government? Can’t the government help parents shoulder a larger part of the financial burden? Surely the government can afford it, right? After all, the government has so much money!
But… have we thought about where the government gets its money from?
If the government spends more money on early childhood education and care, it essentially means that taxpayers are paying more for it. It means that Singaporeans who don’t have children are spending more to subsidise Singaporeans who have children.
Is that fair? Is that something we want to do? Maybe. As someone who is about to start a family, I would say yes.
But rationally, I know that there are many other competing needs on our nation’s budget, many areas where we will need to spend more on in the future. Healthcare being one, which can be aggravated by the ageing population. What about defence? Can we cut it so as to re-allocate resources to education? But isn’t it just as, if not more, important to keep the country’s defence strong? We can’t keep increasing our nation’s expenditure. If we spend too much for our generation, our kids won’t have enough for them or their kids.
This won’t be an easy issue to solve. The balance will be a fine one. I don’t envy the people who have to find a solution to this.