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Singapore childcare centre gives kids a head start

Building children's basic knowledge at an early age and teaching them how to communicate and socialise before starting primary school is very important because it will help them to learn faster.
If we leave education too late, children might be slow to develop and be held back in life. Late access to education can affect children in both undeveloped and developed countries.
Every country has poor children, even countries as developed as Singapore.
But when the cost of education is high, parents on low incomes or single parents may not be able to afford to send their young children to school. This means they might skip kindergarten because the fees are too high.
One childcare centre in Singapore is named "Child at Street 11". It believes "people that society wants for tomorrow are in Child at Street 11 today".

Children attending the Child at Street 11 centre show their paintings to visitors.

Child at Street 11's mission is to educate and help young children from low-income and dysfunctional families break out of the poverty cycle in one generation.
The centre also wants to ensure that children have access to quality education and integral support programmes vital to developing their full potential. Staff also want the children to have homes which are safe and provide opportunities for positive development because they believe that the child of today is the future of our world.
Under the Asia Journalist Fellowship (AJF) 2017, I was one of 16 fellowship recipients from 13 countries spending three months investigating a topic of particular interest. My project involved finding out how education begins among young children in Singapore.
Child at Street 11 was one of my research areas. I visited the school several times with my advisor, Alan John, the Director of AJF 2017, and a reporter from the Thai News Network in Bangkok, Kanlayawee Waewklayhong.
The childcare centre was founded in April 1999 and enrolls children aged two to six in a full day programme.
Chief Executive of Child at Street 11, M Nirmala, explained that the centre was a multi-racial, secular, independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to providing a basic education. Staff teach the children English, encourage them to communicate with others, and help them to manage their daily routine.
The child is viewed as a blank sheet of paper, with society and family being like a pencil. So the child's development depends on the pencil and the drawer.
I don't know about other schools in Singapore but my visit to Child at Street 11, especially when talking to the teachers, staff and children, was a wonderful experience.
I could see that both the pencil and the drawer were of high quality and that an excellent programme had been developed for the children. It was clear that they were communicative and had achieved a sound basic education.
This is a striking contrast compared to the situation in Laos where children aged 2 to 6 are very shy and not willing to put themselves on display. But the children I met at the centre in Singapore were outgoing and ended up making me feel shy when they bombarded me with questions. They wanted to know who I was, where I was from, where was Laos, what did Laos look like, how developed was Laos, and how was it different to Singapore.
As an experienced journalist, I have been to many places and visited many schools in Laos. Usually I had to try very hard to get a child to answer my questions because they were so quiet.
But at Child at Street 11 it turned out to be even harder to get any answers, although for a different reason.
During my three hour visit I scarcely had time to ask the children any questions because they wanted to know so much about me. I felt that I was the one being interviewed.
The centre has 57 children enrolled right now.
"More than 70 percent of the children here are from families with an income less than $2,500. We have 10 percent who are very well-off at the top, so we have a large number of low-income people at the bottom and a small group of people at the top," M Nirmala said.
"When we take in a child, we don't know what he or she can do, or what kind of problems they have. All we know is the financial problem and their social problems."
"The learning programme is structured to help children build their self-confidence. We get them to consider questions like who am I, what am I supposed to do at different stages of life and at different times of the day. You will see the children are all very independent, so it becomes about finding and structuring learning opportunities for them to develop what they know and what they don't know, but most important is that they are always independent," she explained.
Some students still come back to the centre even after they start primary school because classes are held after school hours to help with their homework.
There is also a very strong parents' programme. The centre works with parents because it believes that any problems that a child has do not inherently stem from the child but have developed as a result of the parents' situation or because the family is not strong enough. Most of the time problems arise because something unfortunate has happened and the child can't get over it.
When parents enrol their children at the centre, it frees them up to go to work. The fees are very low. On paper the fee is $650 (Singapore dollars) a month and children can stay there from morning to evening.
For the same conditions at a private childcare centre, the fee could be anything from $720 to $2,000. But at Child at St 11, parents pay what they can afford. If they can only afford $5 or $10 a month, that's what they pay. Those who can afford more, pay more. So it's different for each child according to the family's financial situation.
"95 percent of parents work and a few don't work for health reasons, while a few are in and out of jobs because the kind of jobs they do are not usually steady," M Nirmala said.
All the teaching materials are in English but some of the children's mother tongue is not English so there are classes to teach children how to speak English.
"When parents don't have money, the first thing they do is to take their child out of school. "It's a case of 'you can't study, I have no money'. So I tell parents that I don't need their money; I want them to go to work and give their child to me to care for. The child will be safe for 12 hours from 7am to 7pm. Sometimes we can keep them until 9pm or 10pm if their parents are really busy," she said.
The centre has a volunteer teacher to help out with activities like storytelling. This is viewed not just as reading from a book but is an art form and involves special skills that fully engage the children, who all like the teacher. They started an Asean storytelling network in 2005.
Using trained early childhood educators, social workers and education psychologists, the centre has helped children do well in school and enabled parents to provide a safer, happier and more conducive home environment for themselves and their children.
An integrated, multi-sector approach is necessary because there is no one agency that has the resources or expertise to help children and families overcome problems of illiteracy, violence and unemployment.
Investment in good early-years education will help society to save millions in later life.
The Child at Street 11 programme for children and parents is preventive in nature and will in the long run help to strengthen society.
Child at Street 11 strongly believes that children have the right to a sound education, good health and protection against violence and abuse.
On my second visit to the school I felt that these children were so lucky to have this special care because it helped them to become independent and feel as though they were at home.
I dropped in on a storytelling class which the children were really enjoying because the storyteller was very skilled at her job. She could fully engage the children's interest and they listened attentively to every word.
The teacher was using simple materials such as books and pictures but she asked the children a lot of questions and made sure they followed the story.
The children listened carefully and enjoyed the story as was evident from their smiles and laughter.
Afterwards, the teacher let the children read the book and retell the story themselves.
It was lovely to see these children excited and trying their best to recount the stories even though they could not read well.
When the teacher said the class was over, all the children went over to her to say thank you and gave her a hug and a kiss – something I've never seen in Laos.
Elsewhere, another group was learning about simple cooking and which foods were good for them.
During the cooking class, the teacher also taught the children how to get, give and share, which I thought was something very special.
One boy in the group wanted to take more than the others and some fighting broke out. The teacher asked what was going on and the boy said he wanted green, red and yellow chillies and some potatoes.
The teacher addressed the others in the group, asking "Can I borrow your chillies and potatoes to give to him?" After giving him everything he wanted, the teacher said to the boy "Now you're happy, how about other people? Are you happy to take all their things, are they not your friends?"
The boy went quiet and returned all the things to his friends. The teacher explained kindly that we should know how to get, give and share, because we are all friends.
Child at Street 11 works really hard to develop early students along the right lines. The staff truly believe that the future depends on what happens to these children right now, so if they are instilled with the right ideas and developed in the right way, the world will be a better place.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update November 2 , 2017 )


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