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EtonHouse to raise preschool teachers' pay, several other private operators to conduct review

SINGAPORE — Private preschool chain EtonHouse International Education Group said it was already planning to increase the salaries of its teachers when the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced this month that its teachers' pay would rise from Oct 1. Other private preschool chains said that they will be reviewing teachers' salaries.

Children in a classroom at an Eton House preschool.

Children in a classroom at an Eton House preschool.

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  • The Ministry of Education said that it would increase the pay of its teachers, including those in its kindergartens
  • At least one private operator here, EtonHouse International Education Group, said it had already planned to raise the pay of its teachers in 2023
  • Three other preschool operators said that they review teachers' pay regularly to keep in line with the general market and to retain talent
  • Preschool teachers from private operators here are hoping their employers will follow suit, given their added duties during the pandemic
  • Two operators said raising the salaries of their teachers could translate to higher school fees

INGAPORE — Private preschool chain EtonHouse International Education Group said it was already planning to increase the salaries of its teachers when the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced this month that its teachers' pay would rise from Oct 1. Other private preschool chains said that they will be reviewing teachers' salaries.

For their part, several preschool teachers at private preschools told TODAY that they hope MOE's move will "nudge" their employers to raise their salaries as well. Some said that they would consider moving to an MOE kindergarten to get more pay.

And with higher salaries in the offing, which would add to operating costs, two firms suggested that fee hikes at their private preschools were "inevitable" down the track.

The ministry announced on Aug 16 that 37,000 teachers, allied educators and MOE kindergarten educators would get a pay increase of between 5 and 10 per cent from Oct 1.

The move is meant to ensure that their overall salary packages remain competitive, so that MOE can "continue to attract and retain good educators", it said.

In response to queries from TODAY, EtonHouse, which runs 10 preschools and seven international schools, said that it will offer a “more than average” pay hike to its teachers next year, compared to previous years, as part of its ongoing efforts to offer its teachers competitive compensation.

Its group chief executive officer Ng Yi Xian said: “We also appreciate the high cost of living and inflation in the last year, and as such, we already had plans for a salary increase for our teachers. The increase will be more than the average, considering the high inflation this year.”

TODAY has asked the Early Childhood Development Agency if it will recommend a pay raise for the rest of the early childhood sector in line with MOE’s move.

The autonomous agency, which is jointly overseen by MOE and the Ministry of Social and Family Development, regulates the early childhood sector in Singapore.

On Monday (Aug 29), Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for Health Masagos Zulkifli said during a visit to Learning Kidz @ Jubilee Square to celebrate Teachers' Day that there will be a review of salaries for private early childhood educators.

Mr Masagos said the specifics of the review will be announced later. 

“What we have to do is  to ensure that they have a very good and decent salary that is commensurate with the work that they do," he said, adding that the sector has to be competitive enough to retain talent and attract new talent.

We also appreciate the high cost of living and inflation in the last year, and as such, we already had plans for a salary increase for our teachers. The increase will be more than the average, considering the high inflation this year.
Mr Ng Yi Xian, executive director of EtonHouse

Three other preschool operators — Kidz Meadow, Modern Montessori International and Star Learners Child Care — said that they also review their teachers' pay regularly to keep it in line with the general market and retain talent.

Ms Salhawaty Abdul Ghani, Kidz Meadow's general manager, outlined plans to boost the increments of its teachers’ salaries next year, but said that it was not a response to MOE's move, but rather part of its annual salary review and manpower retention strategy.

“All the big preschool operators are looking for trained and good teachers, so I foresee an increase in increment (next year) for us to be more competitive,” she said.

She also said that the centre had offered its teachers, numbering about 180 across its 10 centres island-wide, an increment of 5 to 10 per cent following the last review in April this year.

Mr Tan Meng Wei, chief executive officer of Star Learners Child Care, said that the company reviews its teachers’ salaries at least once a year and has increased their salaries by more than 70 per cent over the last five years.

“We are always of the view that the salary growth of preschool educators should outpace that of the general market, in order to attract more talents to join the industry,” he added.

PRIVATE PRESCHOOL TEACHERS HOPE FOR PAY BUMP

Six preschool teachers interviewed by TODAY were hoping that the ministry’s move would nudge their own employers to boost their pay, given that their workload had increased over the last few years, especially during the pandemic.

All the teachers, who come from anchor operator and commercial preschools, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised by their employers to speak to the media.

Anchor operators receive funding from the Government to keep their school fees affordable.

One 24-year-old teacher, who wanted to be identified only as Ms Cheryl, said that she had initially thought that the MOE pay rise would apply to all preschool teachers.

“But when I saw it was only for MOE teachers, I thought, ‘Why is it not for everyone’? Because all of us put in a lot of energy (to take care of children) during the (Covid-19 pandemic) as a team, rather than just MOE,” she added.

But when I saw it was only for MOE teachers, I thought, ‘Why is it not for everyone’? Because all of us put in a lot of energy (to take care of children) during the (Covid-19 pandemic) as a team, rather than just MOE.
Private preschool teacher Cheryl, 24
On top of preparing lesson plans, she also had to clean the centre regularly, respond to parents’ concerns over their children’s health and ensure that lessons were held in line with strict Covid-19 restrictions during the pandemic.

She is hoping that MOE’s move will give her employer “a little nudge on the shoulder” to increase workers' salaries and retain manpower as well.

Another teacher at an anchor operator who wanted to be known only as Ms Thiya, said that teachers had to assume other roles during the pandemic.

“Every day (during the pandemic), we had to clean the classrooms… and especially with young kids who are prone to falling sick, we have to become nurses, cleaners and therapists. We are not just teaching anymore,” the 33-year-old said.

After close to a decade in the sector, her salary has grown from S$800 a month, when she started as an assistant teacher, to about S$2,000.

However, Ms Thiya feels that the scope of her work has grown beyond what she earns. Besides having to deal with “extremely demanding” parents, she also has to cater to the individual needs of the children in her class and link their families up with the relevant social agencies if necessary.

Even though she thinks about leaving the job every day due to the low pay, she has yet to do so because she is still passionate about teaching and “does not know anything else beyond this job”.

“I think it will be kind of (my employers) to give a raise. I will appreciate it. It means that they see us and consider us as human beings,” she said.

Other teachers said that they will consider moving to other schools, and even MOE kindergartens, if their own pay does not rise.

Ms Cheryl said that she has considered leaving the industry entirely due to low pay. In the past six years, her monthly salary has risen from around S$2,400 to about S$3,000 after she upgraded her professional qualifications.

However, she feels that her pay is not substantial enough to cover her expenses beyond a month.

She is considering moving to an MOE kindergarten in light of the ministry’s pay raise, but her final decision would depend on other factors such as the working environment.

Another teacher who gave her name as Ms Mary is waiting to see if her school will “step up their game” before considering moving to an MOE kindergarten.

Ms Mary, 26, who joined her current employer in 2020, is paid about S$3,500 a month. She said that she had received a “generally low” pay raise of “less than S$100” last year and no performance bonus for the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although she got a S$300 pay bump this year with a promotion, she said that it does not reflect her workload.

“I would say everything (the workload) is doubled up, but not the pay.” 

The ministry’s move had also sparked calls by teachers in other sectors to raise their pay. National broadcaster CNA recently reported that special education teachers who are not directly employed or seconded by MOE to the schools had also hoped to see their salaries reviewed after the ministry’s announcement.

PAY RAISE MAY TRANSLATE TO HIGHER FEES

Two operators here said that it would be “inevitable” that school fees increase, should salaries for their teachers go up.

Dr T Chandroo, the chairman of MMI Group, said it is unavoidable that fees will have to be adjusted for its preschools if teachers' salaries are raised.

With the rising costs in fuel, food and other items, salaries will need to be adjusted accordingly to keep pace with the rising cost of living, and so will school fees, he added.

Similarly, Ms Salhawaty of Kidz Meadow said that manpower costs may lead to higher school fees. However, her centre has no plans to increase fees for next year. It does not want to pass on costs to parents given the current high inflation.

Mr Ng of EtonHouse said that fees have yet to be announced for next year but an increase in school fees will be in alignment with the increase in operational costs as a result of inflation. He added that parents have supported reasonable fee increases over the years.

Mr Tan of Star Learners said that any increase in the salaries of its teachers will not have an impact on school fees because the company is committed to keeping fees low for Singaporeans.

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