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Parents, do your preschoolers have these three skills? Preparing preschoolers for a rapidly changing world


20 October 2023

My First Skool Labour Day Initiative

By Chan Su Yee.

Childhood habits die hard. Whether it’s a love for reading, or a particular food, simple actions from decades back can have a lasting impact on adults. 

With that in mind, parents are often consumed by how best to prepare their children for the world. To some, it involves going to certain schools. For others, it may be meeting yardsticks in arithmetic and literacy.

Perhaps we need to move beyond fixed outcomes and visible markers. While these are important, I believe that the benchmark of success is not how well children do in their first 20 years. It is how they fare in their years beyond the school system. 

Interestingly, preparing for the post-school years starts at preschool. Learning gaps in primary school are often the result of the earlier years. Once this gap opens, the effort made to catch up can be tremendous. This has been discussed in Parliament as well, with lawmakers suggesting that preschool education be made compulsory as a “great leveller” for education, and how children from lower-income families will “start off on the back foot” if they miss it. 

Developing an individual who is secure, confident, involved and curious begins in the toddler years, as outlined by the Early Years Development Framework, which was developed to guide practices in Singapore’s childcare centres. 

Beyond that, our increasingly digitalised and complex world also requires children to have three integral skills for success: Relational skills, global citizenship mindset and digital intelligence. 

Relational Skills: Relating to others in a cross-functional world

With global hot-button issues like climate change and the pandemic cutting across various fields, it is hard for siloed specialists to solve a problem. For example, an unprecedented level of partnerships is required among industry leaders, governments and scientists to address environmental issues. 

“Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands,” said Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, about the climate change danger. 

The stakes are high and being collaborative is fundamental in a new world. This requires relational skills – the first vital skill – to work well with people from different backgrounds. Such skills can be developed via a Relationships-Based Curriculum, which provides a primary caregiving model in class, where an educator is responsible for a small group of children alongside supporting teachers and parents. This will help foster a supportive learning environment to develop social and communication skills in children. 

Another way is to appreciate those around them. Take for instance intergenerational programmes, which develop empathy and respect in preschoolers. 

These should go beyond ad-hoc programmes focusing on festivals and celebrations, to introduce a more structured approach. 

In such a programme, the two generations bake, make art and play games together. Parents have given feedback to us that their children can now relate to their grandparents better, even if some expressed earlier concern about exposing young children to elderly strangers.

Global Citizenship: Creating a more sustainable and diverse world

Developing such relational skills is closely tied to the next set of skills vital for children – developing a global citizenship mindset.

The sustainability agenda is becoming just as popular, and for good reason. Conversations with children about the environment can start from the preschool years – being aware of their impact on the planet does make them consider their choices. Beach clean-ups at Pasir Ris Park are usually eye-opening for our preschoolers, sparking curious discussions on how plastic bottles end up at the beach. 

In an ultra-mobile world where borders are porous, Singapore will only become more diverse – from our workplaces to recreational spaces. Our Forward Singapore dialogue has seen Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong noting that Singaporeans want to build a society that embraces diversity – not just across racial groups, but also welcoming of people with disabilities and different backgrounds. We want our children to know that they are active shapers of an inclusive society around them and can make the world better. 

One way we did this was by encouraging our My First Skool pupils to draw and distribute thank you cards on Labour Day to workers in their neighbourhood, ranging from those at the supermarket to bus drivers. This year, we also enhanced inclusivity for children with developmental needs through a pilot programme where specialists provide more in-class support for these children. 

Digital Intelligence: Why learning hard tech skills may not be the priority

This acceptance of diversity in society has to grow alongside the embracing of technology from our little ones. The pandemic has not only shown the importance of cross-sector collaboration, but has also accelerated our understanding and use of everyday technology, from attending virtual meetings to using apps to “check in” at places. 

The wave of generative artificial intelligence has also deeply permeated society. Not using programmes like ChatGPT could be disadvantageous in many professional settings. More than ever, parents now see the need for children to learn about and use tech, or be left behind. 

Yet, it is not just about hard skills like coding. These technical skills may be less relevant 10 or 15 years down the road. Our goal is for children to be masters of the dominant tech of the time, whether it is artificial intelligence, virtual reality or robotics. This is what we call digital intelligence, the third vital skill.

We encourage our children to view tech as a potent tool to be wielded safely and confidently. In our digital programmes, we focus on socio-emotional wellbeing and online safety, touching on topics like cyberbullying and online etiquette in an age-appropriate manner. 

A keen appreciation of diversity as a little global citizen; a confident tech user with digital intelligence; and an empathetic problem-solver with relational skills. These are the traits we hope our children have, to imbue them with optimism and confidence for their chosen paths. 

Chan Su Yee is Chief Executive Officer of NTUC First Campus.

Ms Chan Su Yee

Chief Executive Officer

We empower every child with the best learning experience and support by delivering on our promise and providing them with essential and foundational skills. These skills include relational skills, global citizenship, and digital intelligence for the future. We prioritise the well-being and development of the child, emphasising their needs above all else while maintaining a commitment to professionalism. By fostering a culture that embraces a shared purpose, tailored growth, and a focus on innovation for impact, we strive to build a brighter future for every child and family we serve.

Chan Su Yee is the Chief Executive Officer of NTUC First Campus (NFC), a position she assumed in 2021. Prior to becoming CEO, Su Yee had been a member of the Board since 2015, demonstrating a strong passion for preschool education and making valuable contributions. In addition to her role at NFC, Su Yee is also the Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Health, one of the largest community health and eldercare providers in Singapore. This dual leadership role has enabled her to forge a partnership between NFC and NTUC Health, pioneering a unique platform for intergenerational learning. By bringing together young children and older generations, Su Yee cultivates an environment of empathy, understanding, and knowledge exchange, enriching the educational journey for all involved. Before joining NTUC Health, she led cluster development for the Health and Early Education sectors at NTUC Enterprise.

Su Yee brings extensive experience to her role, having spent 14 years working with clients across Asia on a wide range of corporate strategy issues as a consultant at Bain & Company. Her credentials in business strategy, coupled with her strong passion for early childhood education, make her a trusted leader in the preschool education industry.

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