In recent months, there has been much of discussion about the status of early childhood education in Singapore. Educators and researchers agree that a quality preschool programme has a long-term impact on the development of a child’s character and stands them in good stead for their future formal education.
In 2018, our government announced the plan for all Singaporean children to have a common starting point in education through preschools. Fifty new MOE kindergartens will be opened by 2023. This announcement created shock waves among the traditional kindergartens and childcare centres.
Our first and oldest Methodist kindergarten, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Kindergarten, was opened in 1953. Other Methodist church preschools followed and at our peak, we had 23 preschools with nearly 4000 students every year. For more than 60 years, our kindergartens and childcare centres provided quality and affordable education, winning the approval and praise of parents and the public.
Regrettably, we did not adapt to changing times. We overlooked the opportunity to integrate as one body, revitalise our curriculum, enhance teacher competence, and upgrade our facilities. Perhaps we even lost sight of our purpose in running our kindergartens. Many of our preschools are making huge financial losses and face the prospect of closure. By the end of this year, we will have just 11 kindergartens and one childcare centre.
Should the Church continue to run our preschools? The impact will be deep and far reaching if we shut these schools down.
Firstly, our members’ children will have to go to non-faith-based kindergartens to receive a generic secular preschool education, which will still build character, but these children will not be exposed to faith and biblical instruction. As children’s values and character are established in their early years, it is critical to give them the daily input of Christian teachings that they will only receive weekly in Sunday School classes.
Secondly, we also lose the opportunity to participate in community building, as we have fewer avenues to interact and build relationships with families in the neighbourhood. Our preschools are opportunities for us to serve our community and many come to know about the church through them.
Thirdly, as space is scarce and property is costly in Singapore, we must use what we have fully. Unless the local church has events every day of the week, it is a waste to leave these large premises empty and unused.
The General Conference and the Council on Education have set up a special task force to urgently study how we can make our preschools viable. It would mean revisiting our purpose and relooking at how we run our schools. Ultimately, we hope to continue to be not just a doorway to knowledge but also that the children will learn that the beginning of all wisdom is in the Lord.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
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