SINGAPORE – Madam Shannon Loh has been keeping her two young children at home since March.
“Their pre-school strongly encouraged parents to keep children at home if they can, so we withdrew them. We saw no point in paying school fees since the kids were mostly at home,” said Madam Loh, 42, a part-time nanny.
The private childcare centre had also stopped all outdoor activities last year.
“Since we can keep them home, there’s no point exposing them to the school environment, which may not be safe,” Madam Loh added.
As Singapore battles waves of Covid-19 infections in recent months, some parents of young children have chosen not to send them to school, fearing that they may bring home the virus.
Madam Loh cut down on her assignments as a nanny to take care of her children, a six-year-old girl and four-year-old boy, during this period. Her husband works from home as a manager in the security industry.
“We try to keep to the childcare schedule – wake up at 7am, have nap time and play time, and a bit of learning here and there,” she said. “We do some gardening and outdoor activities too.”
The couple do not plan to let their children return to school this year.
“Our daughter will have to go to primary school next year, but for my son, we will still wait and see,” said Madam Loh. “If cases are in the hundreds rather than thousands, we’ll feel a lot safer.”
She initially was concerned about whether her daughter would be missing out on learning, but felt that the girl would be able to catch up in Primary 1.
Overall, pre-school attendance remains high, according to operators, although some parents may send their children to school for shorter amounts of time, such as on alternate days or for half days.
Mr Ronald Kwong, senior director of operations at Busy Bees Asia, which runs pre-school brands like Pat’s Schoolhouse and Learning Vision, said attendance at its centres has not been affected in the past two months.
Ms Bipasha Minocha, group brand and marketing director of the EtonHouse Group, said its attendance rate has been “fairly consistent” across the year, and as high as 90 per cent in most pre-schools.
“There may be days when it is slightly lower as students who are unwell stay home as a precautionary measure,” she said, adding that a small number of families keep their children at home as they have pre-existing medical conditions or a weak immune system.
“Generally, parents feel that their children need the social context, emotional consistency, and intellectual challenges of school for their development and holistic well-being. They trust the responsible measures implemented at school to keep everyone safe as much as possible,” she added.
Ms Marini Khamis, senior director of the PAP Community Foundation’s pre-school management division, said attendance has improved recently compared with September and last month, during the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Mr Peh Yi Han, chief operating officer of Global EduHub, the parent firm of pre-schools Mulberry Learning and Alphabet Playhouse, said its pre-schools usually have an average attendance rate of 90 per cent.
“But we did notice a drop in attendance rates at several centres by around 4 to 6 per cent over the last two months.”
Ms Hazel Lee, 29, stopped sending her four-year-old daughter to school in May. The girl returned to school in July, but was taken out again in August when the number of Covid-19 cases rose.
“I have another son who is just turning six months old and we also have elderly family members at home with medical conditions,” said Ms Lee, who works in the financial sector.
She works from home and takes care of the children with help from her mother-in-law.
Apart from buying more books and toys to engage her daughter, she signed her up for extra enrichment lessons online and subscribed to educational apps.
“There’s definitely been an increase in screen time because there are times we can’t entertain her, like when I’m cooking or have Zoom meetings,” Ms Lee said.
“The transmission rate has fallen below one as at now, so if this can be maintained for a longer time, say two weeks or more, I will consider sending her back to school,” she added.