Waitlists in Singapore Preschool Programs: Are they Worth It?

Have you approached a preschool in Singapore to seek admission for your child? How often have you put your child’s name on the waitlist? Even worse, if you wait too late, you may be told the school has no vacancy for the next two years! Is the high demand for the particular school or the preschool program? 

According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, over 90% of children aged five to six years have been enrolled in preschools in the past three years. Preschool in Singapore is optional. Some parents choose to homeschool, but most prefer the preschool program. 

The transformation of the preschool program 

In the 90s, Singapore had very few premium preschool programs. The various kindergartens were also located in town. Since the demand was higher than the preschools available, the waitlist culture was born. Expectant parents even booked slots for their unborn children to ensure they get a place when they get to school-going age!

Although waitlists are still common in some preschools, the lists are not as long as they once were. Between 2007 and 2017, the available slots for preschool children more than doubled, from about 62,000 to 143,000. Child enrolment also increased from 50,000 to 108,000. In 2019, 130,000 children were enrolled in preschool.

The Singaporean kiasu culture was one of the driving forces behind the pressure on specific preschools with long waitlists. Fortunately, some of the popular preschools opened more branches, which increased the number of slots. Additionally, new preschools were established. 

The size of preschools has also been increasing over the years. Today, Singapore is home to the largest preschool in the world. It has enough space that could comfortably fit seven football fields for 1,060 children to learn and play. 

Impact of ECDA on Preschools in Singapore

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) was formed in 2013. It was tasked with overseeing key aspects of development in children below seven years of age. This includes their preschool education. 

The ECDA subsidises some preschools to enable children from disadvantaged homes to access the preschool program at an affordable rate. The ECDA also made it possible for children attending specific preschools to get direct admission to some primary schools. 

This reduced the waitlist in some schools since some parents preferred not going through searching for the ideal primary school for their preschoolers. Some don’t want to take the risk of being on the waitlist, so they opt for the most direct route, which is admission in the identified kindergarten, irrespective of the preschool program. 

Should you join the preschool waitlist or opt for another kindergarten?

Preschool is the first step to formal education for all children. However, for some parents and kids, this is the first time they will be separated for several hours a day. Parents are looking for the ideal preschool program and an environment that is safe for their young ones. 

The question of whether you should remain on the waitlist depends on your reasons for choosing that specific kindergarten. Is the preschool strategically located? 

Before deciding whether you should place your child’s name on the waitlist or move on, it is best to find out if you can easily get a similar preschool providing equally good services. Instead of focusing on the preschool, look at what you find appealing about the preschool program. 

Is it the teacher-children ratio? The amenities in the preschool? The curriculum? Have a list of the things you are looking for in a preschool. If your preferred preschool has no space, find if you can find another that is strategically located but have a lot in common with your preschool of choice.

As you plan for your child’s preschool years, it is important to have a list of possible preschools and programs that you prefer. This way, if your first choice has no vacancy, you can easily go for plan B. This way, you can continue with your plans without the uncertainty and misgivings of being on a preschool waitlist.