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How our preschools are different from other countries ?

The focus of preschool education in Singapore has only started to increase recently. While our country has a good reputation for higher education, preschool is something that is not as internationally recognized. So there is much for us to learn about how preschool education is like in other countries and learn about how the childcare centres and kindergartens in other countries differ from ours. As parents, your role in our preschool system is vital as you are also one of the stakeholders. In this article, we will share more about other education practices and childcare centres or kindergartens in the world and how they are different from us.

If we talk about education, we will definitely have to talk about Finland. The Finland school system is seen as one of the best in the world. Their education system has many points that are different from ours. Firstly, their perspective of the teaching industry is different from ours. It is a respectable job and the requirement to be a teacher is at least a Master’s degree. That is uncommon in Singapore as most will consider competition of studies after attaining a Bachelor's degree. However, due to the high requirement, this also means that the amount of time teachers spend studying and researching to prepare for the job is a lot longer. On the other hand, the requirement for preschool educators in Singapore is a diploma course.

The country also places little emphasis on standardised tests which is quite different from how our country is. This directly impacts the way preschool education is structured as the teachers and parents are not rushed and pressured in trying to make sure that preschoolers are well equipped with skills to handle the examinations and tests that they will take when they turn seven. This means preschool children can enjoy their early childhood years and can structure their learning based on what they are interested in instead of what they need to learn. It seems that there is some consensus on trying to reduce the stresses for children and adopt the essence of this stance as we have seen a decrease in the number of standardised tests made compulsory in primary level.

The other Scandinavian countries also rank high on the index created by the Economist Intelligence Unit in terms of early childhood education in 2012. These countries have put in much research and effort into the development of their early childhood programme and therefore it has the importance of early childhood embedded in their society. As this index had been done 10 years ago, it does not truly reflect our current preschool system. With the increase in emphasis on this sector over the past few years, the development of our early childhood programme will also be something to look forward to. Afterall, Singapore ranks first in the End of Childhood index for 2021, so our country is doing well protecting the childhoods of our young ones.

One well known kindergarten in Asia is Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo, despite kindergarten being non-compulsory in the country. The kindergarten was built in 2007 but in 2017, it won an international prize for the architecture of the kindergarten. The school is only one storey high and built in an oval shape but what is interesting is that the big oval-shaped roof of this building is transformed into a deck where children are able to run freely and endlessly. There is no need for a playground or equipment to be built specially as the building itself had been designed to be a playground on its own. The concept of the oval shape also helps to create a space where everyone can be seen at any point. There are no barriers on the deck so it gives a feeling that everyone playing on the deck is included. The building is also built to include nature. The inclusion of skylights in the deck means that natural light can come into the classrooms. Sliding doors mean classrooms could be open when the weather is good. Walls are not built to separate each individual classroom. Instead, child-sized boxes made from light wood with rounded edges are made into shelves and display areas and can then be stacked to form dividers.

In Germany, a lot of the kindergartens emphasise on having time outdoors. Robin Hood Kindergarten places its main emphasis on nature and environmental education and the school is situated close to several green areas so that the children and teachers spend their mornings playing in the greenery around them. They have the traditional classroom spaces but they also use nature found around them as one of the classrooms for their preschoolers. Such concepts can also be found in some kindergartens in Canada as they start to shift away from traditional kindergarten structure and design. Some of these schools instead allow the children to spend their whole day out in nature. Being outdoors helps with the holistic development of our toddlers and preschoolers. As nature does not stay the same like their traditional classroom settings, they are able to experience this free-flowing setting that will stimulate all the senses

It is difficult for Singapore to create a kindergarten or childcare centre in a similar fashion given the difference in the amount of space we have between our countries. The lack of a cooler season and the humid weather also makes it difficult for us to make our classrooms be in the open space. However, the idea of letting nature elements into the classroom is something we can ponder more about.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. The idea of good practices differ based on the setting and context of each individual country and therefore the preschool education practices and systems that may be seen as good for other countries may not be as good for ours. So learning more about them is not exactly to copy their practices exactly but to learn and be better informed of other types of practices. From there, we can then continually seek to improve our education system and be a better version of ourselves.That is afterall what education is all about, to keep learning.

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