Government vs Private Childcare – What Are You Really Paying For?

childcare singapore

Joanne Poh



After the initial glow of welcoming a new baby into the family and taking hundreds of smartphone pictures of your kid every time he does something cute, reality sets in and you realise that, at some point, it will be time to make childcare arrangements.

So, what is the difference between government childcare and private childcare? You already know many parents are willing to sacrifice limbs to get their kids into an elite primary school, but is this how it works at childcare level?

By the way, for the avoidance of doubt, in this article government childcare refers to PAP Community Foundation’s Sparkletots and, while not strictly a government-helmed chain, NTUC’s My First Skool, since it bears many similarities to the PAP childcare centres.


Price comparison

Government childcare is a lot cheaper than almost any private childcare option. Here’s what prices are like:

  • PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots – Childcare: $496.60 to $850.50, most locations in $600 to $700 range (if studying in MOE Kindergarten, some centres charge as little as $375)
  • NTUC My First Skool – Childcare (Singaporeans) – $678.31 to $770.40

Private childcare prices are generally higher than those at the PAP centres, although there are a smattering that offer almost the same prices (but note that low prices often mean being located in very far off areas like Chong Pang or Buangkok).

On the high end of the scale they can get astronomically expensive at over $2,000 a month. Here’s a sampling of the full-time childcare prices charged at private centres.

  • St Andrew’s Cathedral Child Development Centre – $600
  • Appleland Playhouse – $780
  • Happy Talent Childcare Centre – $850
  • Cherie Hearts – $880 to $1,498, most branches in the $1,000 range
  • Kinderland Preschool – $876.30 to $1,470, most branches about $1,400
  • Superland Montessori Pre-School – $1,551.50
  • Mindchamps Preschool – $1,797.60 to $1,861.80
  • Chiltern House – $2,113.25 to $2,145.35
  • Little Village on the Grange – $3,723.60

In general, you will often find that the PAP Sparkletots childcare centres tend to be one of the cheapest options in any given area.


What do you get?

As there is nothing stopping private childcare centres from offering services that are as basic or as atas as they want, it is hard to definitively compare the offerings of government and private centres.

One thing that must be said, though, is that government centres tend to have more students to every teacher than the average private childcare centre. So if you are uncomfortable with a high student-teacher ratio, pick a private centre instead.

Some parents also tend to find that the PAP Community Foundation teaching style tends to be more relaxed, and students get to play quite a bit. Kiasu parents don’t like this as they feel their kids aren’t learning enough. But for what it’s worth, I’ve heard parents of kids who go to both government and private childcare centres complain that their kids ended up watching YouTube videos in class.

When kiasu parents fork out the money to send their kids to a more upmarket preschool, it is usually because a) they want the kids to learn more and be more prepared for primary school, or b) the childcare centre claims to use a special methodology (eg. Montessori).

It should be noted, however, that some of the childcare centres claiming to use a special internationally-renowned methodology may not in fact apply it as strictly as their overseas counterparts, as one MOE teacher found out in her search on childcare in Singapore. You should also never assume that a more expensive centre is necessarily a better one, as some parents have found out the hard way.

Ultimately, your choice of childcare centre will depend on various factors, from the practical—distance to your home, price—to intangibles such as whether you like the teachers at a particular branch and the school’s methodology.

Don’t be surprised if you find quality varying greatly between centres from the same chain. Just because your friend’s kids go to a Kinderland or Mindchamps branch doesn’t mean you can send your kid to another branch and expect the same experience.

As a parent, you will want to sit in on classes and observe what goes on during the day. If you’ve got the time, shortlist a few centres you’re considering, whether government or private, and request to observe a class or two before enrolling your child for the next year.


A note on childcare subsidies

If your child is a Singapore Citizen, you are entitled to a monthly subsidy of $300 if you enrol your child in full-time childcare subject to both parents working. The amount is halved if the mother is not working.

If your monthly household income is below $7,500, you might also qualify for a variable additional subsidy of $100 to $440.

The childcare centre must be licensed by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) for you to qualify for the subsidies. By law, all childcare centres must be licensed, but just in case, make sure any centre you’re considering is on the list. Also, you can pay for your school fees with a service like CardUp, which allows you to pay by credit card and earn benefits. It’s pretty much a no brainer since you’re going to have to pay those school fees anyway.

Have you ever enrolled any of your children at a childcare centre? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.