Historically, the most affordable childcare system comes from Sparta. They just left the toddler out for the night, and if he didn’t get eaten by wolves, he was probably prepared for anything. But that won’t cut it here. Surviving wolf attacks is way easier than preparing for the PSLE. Hence, our expensive childcare schools. But can everyone afford them?
How Much DOES Childcare Cost?
The cost of childcare’s about as predictable as a drunk Bingo caller. Depending where you go, prices range from $300 a month to well over $2,000.
NTUC’s childcare center, My First Skool, has fees of around $600 to $680. Registration cost is about $86. But George Washington Preschool* charges about $2,000 a month ($5,750 per quarter), with a registration fee of $2,000. There are diploma courses cheaper than that.
So why the price difference?
Because childcares centres have wildly varying methods. Some believe sunshine and a Lego brick to chew on is enough. Others believe you need computers, toddler gyms, and more equipment than that engineering bay in Star Trek.
Which isn’t to say it’s a scam. Most childcares can provide statistical proof that their methods work. It’s up to you to decide if (1) you believe it, and (2) the price is justified.
And according to early childhood educator Jane (not her real name), childcare can be affordable, if you stick with the following:
- You aren’t into specialized methodologies
- You qualify for government subsidies
- You lay off the expensive enrichment options
*Technically, preschool and childcare are not the same. Preschool suggests an educational angle, whereas a childcare simply looks after your child. But in Singapore, most childcare centres can be assumed to include basic educational topics.
1. You Aren’t into Specialized Methodologies
I asked Jane if cheaper childcares are more limited, in terms of education:
“Whatever the price, most childcare centres are capable of providing the same basic lessons. Children learn the letters of the alphabet, numbers, how to sound out words… it’s enough as preparation for Primary school.
More expensive childcares also teach the same things, maybe with some extra subjects like music. But the methodology is where the difference in pricing comes in.”
Methodology = How the lessons are delivered.
The Regio Emilia approach, for example, lets the child control the syllabus: If your tot starts pointing at a butterfly, the teacher has to spin an informative lesson about it. On the spot. Or there’s the Montessori method, where children have a hands-on approach and blocks of “uninterrupted work time”.
Which, uh, sounds like a sports shoe factory in China.
“The uninterrupted work time is time for a child to freely explore a subject that fascinates them.”
I knew that.
Anyway, when you see a big price difference, you may be paying more for those different methodologies*. If you believe your child needs them, go ahead. But if you go with less exotic approaches, which may be just as good, childcare can be more affordable.
*Some childcare centres do try to match “regular” centres in price, regardless of their methodology.
2. You Qualify for Government Subsidies
There are government subsidies for childcare, which range between $150 to $600 a month. The table below has details. Do note that the following applies to Singaporean citizens only. The original source is e-Citizen:
|Programme||Subsidy per month: Working mother*||Subsidy per month: Non-working mother|
|12 to 24 hrs per week||$110||$55|
|Above 24 hrs to 36 hrs per week||$165||$110|
|Above 36 hrs to 48 hrs per week||$220||$150|
|More than 48 hrs per week||$300||$150|
|* To qualify, you must work at least 56 hours per month.|
You may have heard of people with even bigger subsidies:
“I know some parents pay only $5 a month for childcare,” Jane says, “I don’t know their exact circumstances, but further subsidies are available for low income families.”
These additional subsidies are for families with a monthly household income of $3,500 or below, or when the monthly income of each family member is $875 or below. They must be applied for at licensed childcare centres.
Subsidies reduce most childcare fees to an average of $300 to $400 a month. Not cheap, but somewhat affordable to middle-class Singaporeans.
3. You Lay Off the Expensive Enrichment Options
Childcare costs blow up when enrichment’s involved. Enrichment courses are usually provided by external vendors, but are conducted at the childcare centre.
“There’s a lot of enrichment options,” Jane says, “There’s IT, fencing, music, swimming, and more. If you enroll your child in these options, the cost can go up.”
Opting out of enrichment can lower childcare costs. So Jane suggests that:
“Try to enroll in enrichment only for something you can’t teach the child yourself. If you have the skills you can try to teach something like IT or music yourself first, and you enroll your child if you find you can’t do it.”
You might not want to try to teaching your three year old to fence though. Even if it’s the prelude to half the adventure movies on Earth.
Childcare is an industry. And expensive childcares are ultimately profit-driven business models.
Now I’m not suggesting all branded childcares are money-grubbing rip-offs. Most are sincere about preparing children for life, making a difference, etc. But childcare is more business oriented than, say, Primary schools.
And like every business, they’ll set a price that (they perceive) reflects their value.
If every Singaporean chooses to accept that value, if we all choose to believe that expensive childcare is necessary…well, $2,000 a month is unaffordable. And doesn’t life suck.
But I haven’t seen hordes of people fail because they came from cheaper childcare centres. I doubt you have. And if we can accept that reasonably priced childcares are just as good, or just as enjoyable for our children, then childcare can be affordable.
Is your child’s preschool or childcare affordable? Comment and let us know!