Void deck pre-school mixes fun with qual­ity pro­gramme

The Straits Times - - HOME - Priscilla Goy

They have at­tended a lunchtime elec­tion rally by Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong, watched arts per­for­mances and vis­ited na­ture re­serves – all at no ex­tra charge.

And they are chil­dren from a pre-school sited in a Hous­ing Board block void deck in Ang Mo Kio.

At $650 a month for full-day child­care be­fore sub­si­dies, the fees charged by Child At Street 11 are more than 35 per cent be­low the av­er­age in the in­dus­try.

It or­gan­ises about 20 learn­ing trips a year – more than that of­fered by most pre-schools – and most trips are ar­ranged with help from com­mu­nity and cor­po­rate part­ners, said its chief ex­ec­u­tive Nirmala Mu­ru­ga­ian.

The char­ity-run cen­tre, named af­ter its lo­ca­tion in Ang Mo Kio Street 11, gives pri­or­ity ad­mis­sion to low-in­come fam­i­lies. Nearly seven in 10 of its 50-plus chil­dren are from such fam­i­lies. It can take in more than 70 chil­dren.

It also works with part­ners – in­clud­ing so­cial work­ers, psy­chol­o­gists and coun­sel­lors – to help dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren and their fam­i­lies in an in­te­grated man­ner.

Set up 18 years ago, the preschool was ren­o­vated in 2014. Ms Nirmala said: “It was a big strug­gle ini­tially – when we fo­cused on im­prov­ing ped­a­gogy and train­ing staff, our funds went down; when we fo­cused on rais­ing funds, our qual­ity was not as good.

“But when we be­came a ben­e­fi­ciary of the Pres­i­dent’s Chal­lenge later, more funds came in, our pro­gramme qual­ity im­proved, donors saw the good qual­ity, then even more funds came in.”

The cen­tre is one of the few that of­fer all three mother tongue lan­guages. Its pupils also ap­peared con­fi­dent, with dif­fer­ent ones tak­ing photos, serv­ing wa­ter to this Straits Times re­porter dur­ing the visit, and shar­ing about their re­cent trip to watch a re­hearsal by the Sin­ga­pore Sym­phony Orches­tra.

Sec­ondary school teacher Thi­lagam Subra­ma­niam, 39, has an older daugh­ter, 12, who grad­u­ated from the cen­tre and has a place in Raf­fles Girls’ School next year. She said the qual­ity of­fered by the cen­tre was bet­ter than others her daugh­ter had gone to pre­vi­ously, de­spite their fees be­ing much higher.

She added: “Other cen­tres lacked that ‘fun el­e­ment’. I think my daugh­ter’s lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and con­fi­dence were built when she was at Child At Street 11.”

She has also since sent her younger daugh­ter, aged five, to the same cen­tre. “They like go­ing to pre-school – even when they are sick, they would still want to go.”

PHOTOS: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Pupils of Child At Street 11 play­ing dress-up dur­ing their play time. The char­ity-run cen­tre charges $650 a month for full-day child­care be­fore sub­si­dies. Some ac­tiv­i­ties the pupils have par­tic­i­pated in in­clude watch­ing arts per­for­mances and vis­it­ing na­ture re­serves – at no ex­tra charge.

PHOTOS: EARLY LEARN­ING VIL­LAGE

The $200 mil­lion Early Learn­ing Vil­lage in Lorong Chuan opened its doors last month. It has a ca­pac­ity of 2,100 chil­dren and is likely the largest pre-school here. It comes with out­door play ar­eas, a swim­ming pool for chil­dren and a gym­na­sium, and of­fers en­rich­ment classes like bal­let and vi­o­lin classes.

The chil­dren fo­cus their at­ten­tion on Ms Rose­marie So­ma­iah from the Asian Sto­ry­telling Network.

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