Speeches

Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM, Minister of State, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Home Affairs at the Kindergarten Learning Forum on Tuesday, 23 November 2010, at 9.00 am at Republic Polytechnic

Colleagues from MOE and MCYS

Leaders and teachers from kindergartens and childcare centres

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning

Introduction

It is my pleasure to be here with all of you at the Kindergarten Learning Forum. This is the second year that the forum is open to all kindergarten educators, and I am heartened to know that more have signed up for the event. In response to the demand, the capacity of the Forum has increased, with more concurrent sessions and exhibitors. The Kindergarten Learning Forum is growing into a professional development event that pre-school professionals look forward to each year.

Teachers form the foundation for quality kindergarten education. This year, you have benefited from the many different professional development opportunities, from the inaugural MOE Distinguished Speaker Series, to learning journeys as part of the Kindergarten Conference in June, to the many workshops catering to diverse areas such as strategic planning, teacher mentoring, curriculum leadership and quality assurance.

Today’s Learning Forum is another event for networking, peer learning and sharing. I encourage all of you to visit the 87 exhibition booths over at Agora Halls, which are put up by kindergartens and Government agencies offering programmes and services relating to the pre-school sector. In addition, there are also other concurrent sessions for the sharing of ideas between kindergartens, and presentations by academic professionals from the field. For those of you attending these sessions, do actively engage the presenters to learn from them too.

In addition to the various learning platforms, MOE offers professional upgrading opportunities to teachers who wish to obtain a Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education – Teaching, as well as the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Management. I encourage all of you to make full use of the scholarships, teaching awards and bursaries to obtain higher professional qualifications.

Recognising excellence in kindergartens

Apart from efforts to encourage professional development of teachers, kindergartens are also supported in their efforts to enhance their programmes. Since 2008, MOE has been providing the Kindergarten Innovation Grant to encourage kindergartens to try out new ideas and promote a culture of innovation in kindergartens. I am happy to know that the Kindergarten Innovation Grant is open for application from today till Jan 2011. Many of this year’s Innovation Award winners shared with us that they embarked on their innovation projects because they believed in their idea and wanted to try out new ways to enhance the teaching and learning process. I am heartened to note that the culture of innovation is being built up in the kindergarten sector, and am encouraged by the enthusiasm that drives you to try new ways of educating our young children.

Teachers need materials to continually enhance their toolkit of teaching strategies. In this regard, the Singapore Sports Council, in consultation with early childhood educators, is developing a resource guide for pre-school teachers to teach fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, skipping and kicking. I understand that SSC will distribute the guides to all pre-schools in early 2011.

To encourage teachers who have made a significant impact in raising the quality of teaching and learning, the Good Practice Award for Kindergartens was introduced for the first time this year. This Good Practice Award gives kindergarten principals the opportunity to recognise and reward their teachers by presenting them with certificates and vouchers. Kindergartens gave out 73 individual and 68 team project awards this year. I encourage all kindergarten leaders to take advantage of this opportunity to recognise your teachers for their great work, dedication and commitment in nurturing the children in your kindergartens.

Today I am pleased to present the MOE-AECES Awards for Kindergarten Excellence, which serve to honour kindergartens and teachers who have made outstanding contributions towards the education of children. For the first time as well this year, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to early childhood education, the winners were invited to the Istana to have tea with President Nathan and Mrs Nathan. The winners were greatly encouraged by the recognition given to them.

About 92 projects were also considered for the Outstanding Kindergarten Innovation Award this year, some of which were nominated by members of the public. At The Ascension Kindergarten, the teachers created a haven for children to experiment with unconventional art media; they sank their fingers into Oobleck and wondered how this substance can have the properties of both liquid and solid, felt the chill and relished the thrill of painting (and playing) with ice, and more. The teachers engaged the children’s senses through exploration and discovery, and gave them space to express their creativity and emotions through art.

The Outstanding Kindergarten Teacher Award is the highest recognition given to teachers who have exhibited commendable personal and teaching qualities, and made outstanding contributions towards the development of our young children. The 180 nominations we have received from kindergartens, parents and stakeholders show the increasing recognition kindergarten teachers are receiving from the public. I strongly encourage more of you to nominate your teachers and colleagues for the Outstanding Kindergarten Teacher Award. Every nomination is a form of recognition that their good work has been noticed and is appreciated.

Quality assurance and accreditation

In 2008, MOE announced that a voluntary quality assurance and accreditation framework for pre-schools will be introduced from Jan 2011 to encourage providers to strive for greater excellence in the holistic development of the child. We have come a long way since then. Thanks to the views, suggestions and feedback of the many pre-school educators and professionals represented in this hall, MOE has developed a framework, including a well-tested tool, for all kindergartens and kindergarten programmes at childcare centres in Singapore.

I am very pleased to officially launch the Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework, or SPARK in short. SPARK is a framework implemented to provide recognition to and support for both kindergarten and childcare centre leaders in their efforts to improve teaching and learning, administration and management processes to enhance the holistic development and well-being of young children. The quality rating of pre-schools will enable parents to make informed choices about the kindergartens and childcare centres for their children. Applications for external quality assessments will be opened from Jan 2011.

The SPARK Quality Rating Scale provides a systematic approach for pre-schools to review their structures, processes and outcomes. It has undergone rigorous testing in a variety of pre-school settings and is validated against other internationally recognized pre-school assessment tools. It is therefore a reliable tool for both kindergartens and childcare centres.

Let me now share the quality improvement journey of Bethesda (Depot Walk) Kindergarten. The Principal, Mrs Amy Lee, told us that she had always wanted to let her kindergarten develop a niche for the performing arts, but had never been quite able to string all the various stakeholders and issues together. After she attended the quality assurance training last year, she felt that the Quality Rating Scale provided a structure and roadmap for her to turn her dream into reality. For example, with clearly written mission and vision statements, she was able to better plan and provide direction to her stakeholders.

Mrs Lee does not intend to rush into the application for accreditation of her kindergarten. She intends to apply only in 2012, so that she can have more time to prepare her staff and get more processes in place in the kindergarten. She has also taken into consideration that she will be on an MOE Scholarship to study for the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Management at the UniSIM starting from Jan 2011. She is leading by example, taking steps to upgrade herself professionally, while working hard with her staff and other stakeholders to lift her kindergarten to the next level.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the pre-school leaders and teachers who have contributed to the field testing process over the past three years. I would also like to thank many other individuals in the early childhood education field who have given invaluable feedback to the development process of the framework. I commend the project team for their perseverance and tireless efforts throughout the three years. The instrument is a collective effort of the pre-school sector. I am looking forward to hearing how you benefit from using this tool as you embark on your quality improvement journey.

Outreach

Children are the focus of what we are doing to uplift the quality of pre-school education. Today, access to pre-school education is virtually universal, with parents being able to choose different modes of pre-school education that best meets their children’s needs. I am happy to note that the percentage of six year olds or K2-age children in the 2010 cohort who are not attending pre-school has fallen to 1.2%, down from 5% four years ago. This is the result of a partnership approach between MOE, MCYS, People’s Association and Singapore Children’s Society, to reach out to families whose children are not attending pre-school.

Our efforts in the last few years revealed that there were several reasons why children did not attend pre-school and these reasons were often beyond financial reasons. Some are overseas, attending programmes at enrichment centres or are home schooled. Others have more complex problems and that is why we have involved the grassroots organisations and Voluntary Organisations to provide a more holistic approach in supporting these families. Every child is precious, and we should do all we can to ensure that every child has an opportunity for a strong start in life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I wish to commend all of you for your dedication in nurturing our young children, giving them a strong foundation for lifelong learning. I also thank all the external partners represented here for collaborating with us for the benefit of our young children. I wish all of you a fruitful day ahead in this Forum. Thank you.