By Judith Tan
NEVER mind that Emily has celebrated only one birthday so far. Her parents are already thinking way ahead. They have put her on the waiting list to enrol at Nanyang Kindergarten.
The hope is that by the time Emily turns three, she should be able to get a place in the popular pre-school at Coronation Road in Bukit Timah.
Even then, she still has to compete with about 700 other children already on the growing waiting list for 660 places that year. But her parents figure it is worth taking a chance to get her into the Mandarin-rich kindergarten.
Emily's mother, Mrs Lawrence Teo, 38, an administrative executive, said: 'Both her father and I speak English at home. Her grandparents from both sides are Peranakan. Coming from an English- speaking home, I want her to have an opportunity to learn Mandarin.'
A check with six private kindergartens and nurseries, which have 26 centres in all, reveals that hundreds of one- and two-year-olds have already been 'booked' for that headstart in education.
Despite the frenzy, no child in Singapore needs to go begging for kindergarten slots, with 490 pre-schools available.
But places in popular kindergartens are limited, and parents are increasingly desperate to get their kids in.
Faced with a two-year waitlist, Nanyang Kindergarten is building an extension on its old school grounds along King's Road so as to add 120 more places.
St James' Church kindergarten at Harding Road has a three-year waiting list of 1,000 children. Its current total enrolment is 840.
Said principal Jacqueline Chung: 'It is first-come-first-served. We accept registration as long as there is a birth certificate. We even have newborns registering with us.'
Likewise, Barker Road Methodist Church kindergarten gets calls from parents still in the maternity ward hoping to enrol their newborns, said principal Leong Sau Ling. The kindergarten does not enrol children until they reach school age. Its 420 places a year fill up quickly.
Mrs Ng Gim Choo, who manages the EtonHouse Group of nine pre-schools, has some 300 children waiting to get in when the time is right. Some pregnant mothers even try - unsuccessfully - to enrol their unborn children.
Parents pay high prices to place their children in these popular kindergartens.
Fees range from $630 to $900 for a 10-week term at St James' Church kindergarten. At Nanyang, it is $780 to $840. At Barker Road, nursery and kindergarten cost $898.80 for 10 weeks and pre-nursery, $1,187.70. EtonHouse charges between $1,200 and $1,500 a month.
Parents who can afford it are glad to pony up the money for what they think is a better pre-school education. Some are also hoping for a shot - mistakenly, it seems - at getting into primary schools affiliated with some kindergartens. But neither Barker Road kindergarten nor Nanyang kindergarten says getting a place there means an easier path to their primary schools.
Not all pre-schools keep parents waiting indefinitely. Founder and director of Pat's Schoolhouse, Ms Patricia Koh, said her schools will place a child on the waitlist only if a place is due to come up in a few months. It has a total enrolment of about 1,300 students at its 11 centres.
'We try and help parents secure a place. Time is of the essence for children. Waiting around would not be fair to them,' she said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 22, 2008.