When news of childcare centre closures first broke, many parents were supportive of the move as they were worried of their child getting infected by Covid-19, or passing the virus on to more vulnerable family members.

But after 6 weeks, having to work from home and look after young children has proven to be a daunting task for some. Some struggled with the limited resources offered by the childcare centres, and questioned the rationale of still having to pay school fees (albeit discounted) even though they were looking after their children full time.

A parent addressing Singapore's childcare fees during the circuit breaker on Facebook
Image source: Facebook

One parent wrote on Facebook:

Hi parents, I am in a dilemma. My LO started school on 1 April and he only attended school for 5 days and school has to be closed for circuit breaker. The school still charges me full month school fee for April even though he only attended 5 days and I can only get 50 percent rebate if my LO is still enrolled in May. Next came the announcement that CB will be extended for one more month. Any parents in the same situation as me? Care to share if you plan to withdraw your LO one first until Preschool is allowed to be opened or you just keep paying but actually you are looking after your LO on your own on TOP of your workload and household chores etc.

A Facebook comment on what childcare is like during circuit breaker
Image source: Facebook

Another wrote:

Dear mummies. May I know what home learning arrangements are done by your child’s preschool during the CB period?

My child’s school gives home learning kits. They uploaded 8 videos and gave us some sheets to use with these videos. There is 30 mins live chat with the class and a teacher every week to keep in touch and share things. Other than that, there is no visual classroom arrangement or any such.

Both my husband and I are WFH and usually quite busy and can’t teach him till after dinner. We tried to show those videos to our almost 4yrs old kid while we were working and he just ran around. Also, we are foreigners and can’t understand Chinese at all. When asked how we can work on the Chinese lessons, we were told to use google translate. However, some came out very different. That said, we have been only doing the English part. Usually, we will try to see all those 8 videos and do the homework over the weekend. Anyway, those are not much too.

Though I understand we all have to support each other during this period, I am feeling the school is not caring much to us. And though I don’t complain of not getting any discount/ help as being a foreigner, having to pay full school fees and also it was an expensive school (with early bird discount, and other discounts, it is from $1.5 to 1.7k), I am hoping the school will care for us a bit more than this. The fees were discounted to 50% for April and we were so grateful for that. But it was not for May and no extra lessons are told to be introduced.

Or am I just being too demanding? I still get a salary from my job but I have to work the same amount of work when I’m at office if not more. Having to OT for past weekends and having this stress to make him get his lessons stressing me out. Sorry for the long post.

It is understandable for parents to be concerned about bread-and-butter issues when we are all facing worry about potential loss of income and the impending recession due to Covid-19.

Money is a sensitive issue and we need to be aware that everyone is fighting battles we may not know of.

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When the circuit breaker was first announced, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) called for parents and pre-schools to share the cost of school fees 50-50. When the circuit breaker was extended, ECDA then called for all childcare centres to continue to provide the 50 per cent fee offset for enrolled Singaporean children who are not attending preschool.

Various forms of government assistance such as the Temporary Relief Fund and Solidarity Payment have also been rolled out to complement the offset of childcare fees.

For parents who are still struggling, consider speaking to your child’s school instead of airing your concerns on social media where disagreements may occur.

Covid-19 childcare package rolled out to support the needs of low-income families, working families and employees during circuit breaker
Image source: NTUC First Campus

NTUC First Campus (NFC) which runs three pre-school brands including My First Skool islandwide, has rolled out a Covid-19 package to support the needs of low-income families, working families and employees.

Apart from providing a collection of home-based resources, NFC’s Bright Horizons Fund Care Package for Covid-19 aims to provide additional support for families who have had a reduction in household income for at least a month or loss of job during this Covid-19 period. For eligible families with children enrolled or are enrolling in NFC’s My First Skool, this means that 100% of the nett fees will be offset for 6 months.

Mr Chan Tee Seng, NTUC First Campus’ CEO, said: “Our goal is to help working parents so that the children do not lose out on their educational experience even if their parents are affected by financial hardship. We understand that our low-income families are struggling to support their children’s pre-school education due to a reduction in income or loss of job during this period.”

Mr Tengku Halid Faizal Tengku Mohd Yusoff, whose daughter is enrolled in My First Skool, is one such applicant for the Bright Horizons Fund for Covid-19. He used to be a limousine driver who picked up tourists at the airport but lost his job due to Covid-19. He has two young children and his wife is a housewife. He said: “It has been a very challenging time for us as we have no income now.

We were looking at withdrawing our child from pre-school because we really cannot afford it. We are very happy to receive this timely financial support that covers our elder daughter’s pre-school fees for six months so that she can continue learning before she goes to Primary 1 next year. This also eases our financial burdens and gives me time to look for a job.”

The circuit breaker period is coming to an end, and our children are going back to school soon.

Parents are looking forward to after the circuit breaker, when childcare centres reopen again, and for pre-schools to do so, we all have to shoulder the tough times together.

Singapore’s economy will not be able to survive if we expect businesses to operate on losses. The sharing of costs is necessary, because smaller or not-for-profit schools will not have the cash reserves to withstand extended unpaid closures. An extended closure could see centres shut for good and early childhood educators being laid off.

A burden shared is a burden halved. We may come out of the Covid-19 recession worse off than we were before, but if we do not do it hand in hand with local businesses that support our economy, we may not come out of it at all.

Consider the long-run. Opinions may be shared, of course, but it is more worthwhile for parents, stakeholders and advocates for the early childhood industry to voice our concerns on a better way to support the childcare network and its staff. Surely, Covid-19 has shown us just how valuable a strong support system can be.

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