“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
The father came at 10 p.m., but the lights were off and the church gates were closed. Anxious, he returned at midnight, again at 2 a.m., and finally at 6 a.m. where he would wait until the church gates and the kindergarten were opened. All he wanted was to enrol his daughter in Faith Kindergarten in 2018. Mr Richard Kooi, Assistant Facility Manager of Faith Methodist Church, shared how surprised he was to see someone waiting outside so early. Earlier, the girl’s grandfather had also frantically sought Richard, expressing how much he wanted his granddaughter to receive Christian education, even though they were not Christians.
Clearly, Early Childhood Education is a key concern, not only for parents and extended family, but for society as a whole. In his speech during this year’s National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted pre-school education as one of the three long-term issues that were important to the continued success and well-being of Singapore.
PM Lee said: “We want every child to go to a good pre-school so that all children, regardless of family background, have the best possible start in life. We must do this because every child counts and if we get this right, we will foster social mobility and sustain a fair and just society.”
To demonstrate his emphasis on the importance of a strong pre-school education, he shared about the planned increase in government spending over the next five years to $1.7 billion – double the amount that is being spent now.
The Methodist community is no late player in the area of pre-school education – indeed, we were among the pioneers of such education during Singapore’s early days, with our first Methodist pre-school started in 1953 under Kampong Kapor Methodist Church (KKMC).
Through the decades, the mission and desire to bring God’s love and quality education to young ones have been unwavering. Besides nurturing the next generation, the Methodist pre-schools serve as an outreach and blessing to the community around the Methodist churches. As part of The Methodist Church in Singapore’s (MCS) multi-pronged approach to reach out to all age groups, pre-schools complement local churches in supporting the neighbourhood, providing a way to engage the youngest in the community.
Churches with pre-schools can testify to the effectiveness of this ministry arm. In an interview on ‘The founding of Faith’ in Faithlink’s July 2011 issue, the Rev T. C. Nga, founding pastor of Faith Kindergarten, recalled: “The nursery programme became so popular, we had about 300 children and the programme spread to Toa Payoh. A few churches modelled it. The children learnt a lot and the parents were drawn to church because of the children.”
Being such a vital part of Methodist ministry to the community, there is thus an urgency and need for Methodist pre-schools to rise up for such a time as this, to ride on the government’s emphasis or risk being made obsolete by the tsunami of change.
Providing and maintaining the Methodist pre-school presence in Singapore has never been an easy task. Faith-based pre-schools face stiff competition from government-aided pre-schools, funds-invested pre-schools, as well as anchor operators who very often have deeper pockets and are better equipped. Teachers are also drawn to more attractive opportunities and career pathways in these larger organisations.
Sadly, financial constraints, licensing requirements, and manpower were three top reasons for the closure of five Methodist pre-schools over the last five years. These challenges are very real, as acknowledged by the Rev Chua Ooi Suah, Pastor-in-Charge of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, which supports The Capstone Kindergarten: “We did face adjustments due to licensing requirements, like the need to maintain a playground, and purpose-built classrooms which were less convenient for the church’s needs, etc. However, we persevered because we viewed [the kindergarten] as a ministry, reaching out to and providing good role models for young children, and benefiting the neighbourhood.”
To combat the worrying trend of pre-school closures, a formal framework called the Methodist Pre-schools Connection (MPC) was established in August 2016, after years of informal connection amongst the Methodist pre-schools and principals (see our previous article on Methodist pre-school ministry in MM June 2015, P12-13).
The MPC serves as a united platform to build partnerships amongst the Methodist pre-schools, collaborating in curriculum design, staff recruitment, and development of teaching resources. Today, under the MPC, there are 13 Methodist church kindergartens and five childcare centres, with a combined enrolment of 3,065 children.
Shared Ms Linda Wah, Principal of KKMC Kindergarten: “Being part of the MPC has surely benefited me. I am able to meet and interact with other principals from different centres to share our practices and vision as a Methodist group. This is extended to the teachers as well, for there are workshops for teachers within the Methodist group, to help them acquire and enhance skills and knowledge in their teaching practices. With this support, I have observed myself being more confident and reflective when faced with challenges. I am able to discuss with the group and draw strength and ideas when in doubt. With unity I find strength, and that is what the MPC is to me. We stay connected and united.”
However, even as our Methodist pre-schools pull together to draw strength from unity, they cannot do it alone. They need all Methodists to fully support their efforts in offering quality Christian pre-school programmes, anchored on character-building which every Methodist pre-school has conscientiously provided to the community over the years. Churches, leaders, and members can come alongside our Methodist pre-schools by finding out about opportunities and challenges brought forth by the changing Early Childhood Education landscape in Singapore, and providing time, voice, effort, or donations so that this valuable and important ministry can continue.
Appealed Ms Jessica Chong, Principal of The Capstone Kindergarten and Chairperson of the MPC: “With support and resources from the churches, Methodist pre-school principals can continue our best efforts to provide quality Christian pre-school programmes that meet every child’s learning and development needs during their formative years. We can help Christian pre-school education remain relevant in the Singapore Early Childhood Education scene, as well as become the choice programme for parents to send their children to.”
The tide is moving. Let us not miss the boat when there is now an increased societal interest in pre-school education in Singapore, and a greater understanding of its significant impact on our children’s formative years. A quality Christian pre-school education is also an investment in moulding the next generation into productive, God-fearing citizens.
As our Methodist pre-schools look forward excitedly to the opportunities ahead and are now committed more than ever to raising curriculum quality, we welcome all to journey with us in this mission and outreach to the next generation and beyond.
Liaw Chun Huan–
is the Board Chairperson of Faith Kindergarten.
Photos courtesy of the Methodist Pre-schools Connection