Education has always been an important mission of Methodism, in order to reach out to all levels of society, and through this social gospel, fulfil Christ’s command to spread the good news and serve all people.
There was a time when a child who attended kindergarten was viewed as getting a good start in life; a child who attended a church kindergarten was seen as having an even better start. Parents would choose the church kindergartens for the values they embodied, the environments that nurtured their children both morally and academically, and the kindness of the teachers who helped build their children’s characters by espousing biblical values such as love, patience, grace and kindness—attributes that are best caught, not taught.
However, across the nation today, the utilisation rates of preschools are declining. Of late, many of our Methodist kindergartens have also faced declining enrolment and escalating costs that have resulted in growing financial losses for almost all of our preschools. In recent years, five Methodist preschools have closed, citing financial restraints, licensing requirements and manpower shortages as the top three reasons for closure.
In response to a proposal submitted by the Methodist Preschool Connection (Management), the General Conference Executive Council commissioned SEED Institute to do a comprehensive objective study of our preschools and to recommend strategies so that our preschools will remain relevant and sustainable in years to come.
The report highlighted strengths such as focusing on cultivating the right values and behaviour, strong working relationships among principals and staff, caring teachers, and the ability to retain staff. The report also highlighted that character development of the preschool students is prioritised, with Christian values woven into many aspects of the programme and curriculum.
However, the report also noted that there were inconsistent human resource (HR) practices and that there was a need to establish a baseline level of quality. A common curriculum framework would greatly facilitate sharing of knowledge and skills among teachers and principals, and also allow for economies of scale.
For the preschools to be sustainable over the longer term and relevant to the needs and demands of young parents, there are a number of areas that we must look into. Central management will help us do this effectively; otherwise each church is on its own. Together we can align our HR practices, consolidate our funding, foster niche curriculum of quality, enhance teacher development, branding and marketing.
The idea that we are better together has also led to the formation of an informal coalition among the various denominations. A Nationwide Preschool Teachers’ Day Dedication Service, held at Orchard Road Presbyterian Church on 31 Aug 2019, was organised by a joint committee from the Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS), the Diocese of Singapore (Anglican), the Lutheran Church in Singapore (LCS) and The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS). The service saw more than 600 participants from the four denominations, as well as from the Salvation Army, the Brethren churches and independent churches.
On 21 Sep 2019, a forum was held at Faith Methodist Church to discuss relevant points about early childhood education that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had brought up at the National Day Rally and the idea for coalition was shared further. It is very much a gotong royong concept at the moment as the group explores ideas and areas where it would be beneficial to come together.
Kwok Wan Yee is the Education Secretary for the Council on Education, and also Conference Lay Leader for the Chinese Annual Conference of The Methodist Church in Singapore. She worships at Charis Methodist Church.
Photos courtesy of Ang Mo Kio MCK, CSLMCH, Pentecost MCK, Faith Kindergarten and Lim Ee Tuo.