Speech by Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling at the Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK) Certificate Presentation Ceremony

Published Date: 30 September 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Good afternoon

Teachers, early childhood educators, friends

Ladies and gentlemen

1. I am delighted to be here with you today. In my work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development previously, and Ministry of Education now, I have had the chance to experience the steady as well as significant progress of our Early Childhood sector over the past few years.

2. This progress would not have been possible without the collective effort of all stakeholders, parents, teachers, centre leaders, operators, and government agencies. You are the ones that made the difference. And today’s Singapore Pre-school Accreditation Framework, or SPARK certificate presentation ceremony, is a mark of our common mission to raise the quality of our Early Childhood sector, so that every child gets a good start.

A QUALITY EARLY CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE

3. Each and every one of you here sparks many good starts. That is what SPARK is about. The benchmarks of quality, excellence and rigorous standards help ensure a quality early childhood experience. As early childhood educators, you have a very important role nurturing and developing our young children. Research has shown the lasting impact and social benefits of quality early childhood experiences. Most of all, the quality of teachers is an important factor for developing positive child outcomes. That’s why teachers are an important component of the SPARK framework.

4. But we all know, teachers do not work in isolation – a conducive physical environment, a good curriculum, supportive employer practices are some of the key factors that contribute to good outcomes for our children. These qualities are captured holistically through SPARK. The SPARK accreditation programme encourages quality and recognizes excellence in early childhood programmes. It is also an objective measure of a centre’s ability to enable its teachers to do their job well in nurturing our children. The SPARK framework guides a centre in developing its leadership and planning capabilities, and professional development opportunities, just to name a few.

ONE-IN-THREE PRE-SCHOOLS NOW SPARK-CERTIFIED

5. Even though SPARK is a voluntary quality assurance framework, I am very heartened that many centres recognise its value and have worked hard to be certified. You can take pride in how you have qualified for SPARK because your programmes, structures and processes have met its rigorous reviews and criteria. Many of the SPARK centres have also taken new ideas on board in their efforts for continual improvement. With the display of such high standards, SPARK has become a trusted indicator of quality that parents have come to recognise and appreciate.

6. Today, I am happy to share that one-in-three pre-schools in Singapore are SPARK-certified – this is a significant jump from the one-in-four figure last year. In 2015, there were 431 SPARK-certified centres, and this year, it has grown to 601.

7. I would like to congratulate the 249 preschools present today on achieving the SPARK certification or re-certification. You are part of our big and growing SPARK family that is key to our goal of providing quality early childhood education.

8. Besides spurring higher standards, one of the interesting results of being SPARK-certified is the great teamwork it generates in the course of getting the certification. Principal Ms Jessica Leo of My First Skool at 85 Whampoa Drive attributes her centre’s achievement to the way her team has gelled and worked together to attain SPARK. The centre’s core team of experienced teachers mentored the newer teachers as buddies during their teaching journey. This has nurtured a shared spirit of mutual learning and continual improvement among them. It’s wonderful to see the centre making significant improvements and gaining their re-certification today. Congratulations to the team!

ENHANCED RE-CERTIFICATION PROCESS – REFLECTING CENTRES’ COMMITMENT TO QUALITY IMPROVEMENT

9. The journey to quality early childhood education is one that we take together. We are committed to supporting you on your quest for excellence and quality improvements. We are glad to hear that you have gained from the peer sharing and conversation sessions for SPARK centres, and also found the post-SPARK assessment feedback sessions with the assessors useful and informative. In fact, we have observed that more SPARK-certified centres are now able to achieve higher standards. Close to all SPARK-certified centres have been successfully re-certified. These solid improvements in quality have led us to take stock and adjust the current SPARK certification framework, to place an even stronger focus on development and self-appraisal by centres.

10. We will extend the validity of SPARK certifications to six years, instead of the current three years. The SPARK re-certification assessment that is currently performed at the end of the current three year period will be replaced with a developmental visit. This visit will thus serve as a mid-term check on how the centre has developed, with target guidance on areas for improvement. To ensure that centres are maintaining their standards, some centres will be randomly selected to undergo a full-assessment instead of developmental visits. The Early Childhood Development Agency, ECDA in short, will share more details at its upcoming briefing sessions.

REVISION TO SPARK QUALITY RATING SCALE

11. At the same time, ECDA has reviewed the SPARK Quality Rating Scale, or QRS. The QRS spells out the SPARK requirements and also serves as a self-appraisal tool for centres to monitor their own progress. Some of you may have participated in the feedback sessions organised as part of this review. Thank you for sharing your comments and feedback with us. We have taken in your suggestions on how to improve the QRS and will announce next year what the revised QRS will be. The revised QRS will put greater focus on teaching and learning practices, and include clearer and more explanatory notes to guide you.

NURTURING EARLY LEARNERS RESOURCES TO SUPPORT CENTRES IN IMPROVING PROGRAMME QUALITY

12. To support centres in designing and implementing a quality kindergarten curriculum, the Ministry of Education has also been progressively sharing the Nurturing Early Learners or NEL Curriculum since 2013. The NEL Curriculum encompasses a range of resources that comprises a Framework, an Educators’ Guide and teaching and learning resources. It also includes a parallel set of curriculum resources for Mother Tongue Languages.

13. From next year, MOE will make available NEL Teaching and Learning Resources in the form of the NEL Big Books. These are designed for use by early childhood educators and they will be in the English Language and the 3 Mother Tongue Languages. The Big Books are tailored to support the children’s development of language and literacy skills, and to nurture early childhood bilingualism. It is important to build the foundation in Mother Tongue languages in the early years. These Big Books can be used flexibly as read-aloud stories, or to teach language and early literacy skills using the Shared Book Approach. This approach is a very well thought-through way of engaging the children and building their language skills. I am confident you will reap many rewards from using the Big Books and Shared Book Approach.

14. What sets the NEL Big Books apart is their distinctive Singapore flavour. The entire range of NEL Big Books span 120 different titles with stories that are set in our local context which children can relate to. The Big Books make language learning relevant and authentic to children when they can hear and experience the language being used in their daily life.

15. The Big Books have been piloted in the MOE Kindergartens. Preschool educators from other centres were also invited to use these books in their lessons. Principal Ms Toh Lu See of PCF Sparkletot Pre-school at Woodlands Block 604 observed that the children in her centre especially loved the “Rice Dumplings” story as they could relate to eating or helping their parents and grandparents to make dumplings, like what the characters did in the book. Reading about things they have seen and experienced has definitely made the learning more meaningful and engaging for the children.

16. More than 700 centres have requested the NEL Big Books at MOE’s engagement sessions with centres in May and July this year. For the centres that have indicated their interest in the NEL Big Books can look forward to receiving the K1 Big Books early next year and the K2 Big Books in early 2018. If you are keen to use the NEL Big Books, and have not requested copies yet, do approach MOE for more details.

CONCLUSION

17. In conclusion, the changes to the SPARK certification process reflect our stronger focus on development and the release of the new NEL Big Books are part of our collective efforts to continually raise the quality of our Early Childhood sector. This is an ongoing journey that we walk along together. Congratulations on your SPARK achievements and keep up the good work! We look forward to more centres joining the SPARK family. Remember, it only takes a spark to get a fire going, so continue to kindle that passion to improve, and pass on the spark of learning and growth to the children you teach and love. On this note, I wish you all the very best in your teaching career and centre development.

18. Thank you.

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