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Study calls for pre-school teachers to be better paid, to work more with early intervention teachers

SINGAPORE — The salaries of pre-school teachers should be raised to be on par with those of early intervention professionals, which include therapists and psychologists. This was among several recommendations to tackle the ongoing challenges in the early childhood development sector that were put forth by researchers of a study.

SINGAPORE — The salaries of pre-school teachers should be raised to be on par with those of early intervention professionals, which include therapists and psychologists.

This was among several recommendations to tackle the ongoing challenges in the early childhood development sector that were put forth by researchers of a study.

They also suggested that more early childhood practitioners should be trained to be able to support children with special needs and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study, titled Vital Voices for Vital Years 2, was released on Thursday (May 9) and was commissioned by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

It took in the views of 35 leaders in Singapore’s early childhood development industry, including academics, pre-school operators and early intervention practitioners across the education, health and social services sectors.

The study was led by principal investigator Lasse Lipponen, professor of education at the University of Helsinki.

The co-principal investigators were Professor Lynn Ang, who is professor of early childhood in the department of learning and leadership at the University College London, and Associate Professor Sirene Lim, who is the academic lead for early childhood education at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

While the study recognised that much progress has been made in the sector since the first edition of the study was published in 2012, the perennial challenge of attracting early childhood educators, and a “fragmented” system of care still remain key concerns as demand grows for early intervention services.

REVIEWING SALARIES, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

Right now, there are no published salary guidelines for pre-school teachers.

Based on a 2016 survey by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), the basic salaries of pre-school educators here range from S$1,800 to S$2,100 for those with a professional certificate.

Teachers with a professional teaching diploma are paid between S$2,200 and S$3,000.

In comparison, teacher assistants employed in early intervention centres and who have Nitec or O-Level certificates are being paid S$1,740 to S$2,600.

This is based on the 2019 salary guidelines for early intervention professionals published by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and they are reviewed every three years.

The guidelines also stated that trained early intervention teachers — who go through an advanced diploma course in early childhood intervention focusing on special needs — have salaries which range from S$2,890 to S$4,660.

For non-teaching staff members, therapists with a diploma have salaries ranging from S$3,040 to above S$4,000.

An associate psychologist with a degree has a similar salary range of between S$3,330 and S$4,160.

Assoc Prof Lim said: “NCSS has publicly available guidelines for early intervention professionals and yet ECDA does not have similar publicly available guidelines for early childhood professionals. (This) could be misinterpreted by the public — that one type of professional could be seen as having higher status than the other.”

However, she believes that reviews are taking place in this area.  

The Ministry of Social and Family Development said last year that ECDA is working closely with its anchor and partner pre-school operators to ensure salary and career progression for their teachers, commensurate with their professional skills. These are operators who receive grants to offset costs such as employee salaries, but have to meet fee limits and quality targets.

Prof Ang said that salaries of early childhood education professionals should be “on par and competitive with other professional sectors”.

“Children have complex needs and as early childhood educators, these professionals will need to be able to identify them. People need to be remunerated well to see (early childhood) as a worthwhile career.”

NETWORK OF SUPPORT

The study also found that there was a need for early childhood practitioners to raise their competencies to support children with special needs or from socially disadvantaged backgrounds more effectively.

It cited figures from the child development programme at KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the National University Hospital, which point to a rising demand for early intervention services.

Last year, there were more than 5,500 pre-schoolers (aged below seven) diagnosed with developmental problems, compared with about 4,900 in 2017 and 4,220 in 2016.

The study said that there needs to be more collaboration between the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centres and pre-schools.

The government-subsidised EIPIC is now run by different voluntary welfare organisations in centres separate from pre-schools, which means families have to shuttle between pre-school and EIPIC centres.

Some leaders interviewed during the study said that collaborations are hampered due to the perception of a “pecking order” when it comes to supporting a child.

There is a perception that “teachers are teachers only”, leaving treatment work to occupational or speech therapists, who specialise in supporting children with special needs, one interviewee said.   

The recommendation for more collaborative efforts to support a child’s need comes as the Government announced several initiatives to streamline early intervention programmes.

Last month, the Ministry of Family and Social Development said that it would set up a workgroup to look at how to better integrate children with learning needs into pre-schools.

It also announced that ECDA would take over the provision of early intervention services for pre-schoolers from the ministry’s disability office progressively from July this year, with the transition to be completed by end-2020.

This will give the agency better oversight of the developmental needs of all children under the age of seven, given that more early intervention programmes are being delivered through pre-schools.

Earlier in January, the ministry also announced that more affordable and customised early intervention programmes for children with developmental needs will be rolled out from July this year

The Vital Voices 2 report acknowledged the Government’s more “pro-active” stance in the sector, and said that the early childhood education sector has experienced a “growth spurt” since the Government boosted investment and training since 2012.

Related topics

education teachers early childhood early intervention salary

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