THE manpower-starved preschool sector is getting a dose of relief, as it welcomes a batch of 160 housewives and mid-career women trained to be relief teachers at childcare centres.
Mostly in their late 30s to early 50s, they are graduates of the first run of the only programme here that trains people with no prior experience in working with young children.
Started last year, the programme was developed by NTUC's early childhood training arm Seed Institute, with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Early Childhood Development Agency.
Some 80 per cent of the relief teachers have already been employed by 15 pre-school operators and the rest are being matched with centres.
Two weeks ago, the course was beefed up to include more hours of classroom training and on-site sessions at pre-schools. They learn how to care for children up to four years old, in areas such as feeding and toileting.
Mrs Christine Dias, 54, stopped work as a receptionist 25 years ago to spend time with her children. She recently joined the Seed course after hearing about the opportunity to become a preschool relief teacher from a fellow housewife who is also keen to re-enter the workforce.
"My children have all grown up, and since the entry qualifications are low, I thought why not use it as a stepping stone before I decide whether or not to be a full-time childcare teacher."
Those who wish to join the programme need at least Secondary 2 qualifications.
Operators told The Straits Times the relief teacher scheme can help ease the manpower crunch in the sector. Staffing issues have long been a bugbear for childcare operators, whose teachers find it hard to go on medical or maternity leave, or for training, as there is no one to cover their duties.
"The scheme may also open up opportunities for relief teachers to explore a full-time career in this profession," said EtonHouse International managing director Ng Gim Choo.
Operators say having a larger pool of relief teachers will ensure that children get the attention and care they need. But some parents are concerned about whether the influx of temporary teachers may lead to a lack of consistency in care standards or children finding it hard to adapt to new faces.
Housewife Carolyn Quah, 32, took her son, then aged three, out of a childcare centre in Alexandra two years ago because he was behaving badly after having five teacher changes in two months.
"Some children do not take too well to short-term changes but I guess it's OK if there is a regular teacher around and the relief teacher can connect with the children," she said.
Operators such as EtonHouse and Pegasus International, which have taken in a handful of relief teachers, say they are paired up with regular teachers.
"They do not teach but help with routine care such as feeding and bathing or they prepare materials for group activities," said Pegasus' principal Shyan Campos Lim.
Ms Ng Huan Hee, 56, a relief teacher who has been helping out at Pegasus about twice a week since January, said her income can be erratic as she is called in only when teachers go on medical leave or when an extra pair of hands is needed, such as when new children join a class.
"But it also means I have time to do housework and go for my own computer courses to upgrade myself," said the former customer service officer.