Pre-school teachers can expect higher pay, more training and better career progression, as the Government signalled intentions to close the gap between them and their counterparts in the education service.

"You didn't join the sector because of money," said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday. "But we should also not have you leave the sector because of money."

The statement, made in his speech at the Early Childhood Conference at the Singapore Expo, drew loud applause from the audience of about 2,000 pre-school professionals.

The need to attract and retain pre-school teachers is getting more acute, with the Government aiming to add 20,000 more childcare places to the current 85,000 in the next four years.

There are now around 12,000 pre-school professionals, with 2,000 more needed by 2017.

Mr Chan did not say how much more pre-school teachers - who earned a median basic monthly salary of $1,800 last year - will get.

But Dr Lee Tung Jean, the chief executive of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) spearheading the moves, earlier suggested that the pay of the Education Ministry's allied educators could serve as a benchmark.

These allied educators, who support teachers in their work, earn between $2,000 and $2,730 if they are diploma holders, like most pre-school teachers.

Education Services Union executive secretary Ang Hin Kee said pegging pre-school teachers' pay to that of allied educators is fair.

"They have largely similar qualifications, while primary school teachers normally hold degrees," said the Ang Mo Kio GRC MP.

In a bid to raise the quality of pre-school education, Mr Chan announced a new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Masterplan, which will give "good reason" for increasing wages.

The plan includes a road map outlining key responsibilities for staff, who will have to complete courses to move ahead in teaching and leadership pathways. Incentives - such as bonuses tied to training and job scope - will be given to encourage teachers to attend the courses.

The Government will help operators release staff for training by being flexible with staff-student ratio requirements on CPD training days. The ECDA said it will also work with NTUC's Seed Institute and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency to expand the pool of relief teachers.

More details will come next year, but so far, it is not compulsory for operators to follow the road map. "But teachers would be keen to upgrade themselves and, at the same time, get cash incentives," said Ms Suhana Salleh, principal of a My First Skool branch.

Smaller operators and parents hailed the new framework.

Said administrative officer Vivian Loh, 33, who has two kids in pre-school: "Pre-school teachers deserve higher pay. I hope the Government can help fund this, so operators don't pass costs to parents."