TWO new initiatives to attract and develop pre- school staff were announced yesterday in an effort to boost a sector facing manpower shortages.

A training award which sponsors polytechnic students' course fees will be extended to students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

And a new Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership will be introduced for existing pre-school staff keen to pursue a leadership role in their centres.

Students pursuing a Higher Nitec in Early Childhood Education can apply for the training award which provides full sponsorship of course fees, a monthly study allowance, a $1,000 grant for study- related expenses as well as up to $1,000 a year for professional development.

Recipients must serve a one-year bond in the sector for each year of support received.

Typically the course takes two years, and students who complete it will receive about $16,300 from the training award.

Last year, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) launched a similar award for polytechnic students. About 50 have received it so far.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing announced details of the two initiatives yesterday at a ceremony recognising recipients of ECDA's scholarships and training awards.

Singapore has 14,000 pre-school staff, and about 1,500 more will be needed in the next two to three years - though Mr Chan stressed that quality is "even more important than the numbers".

"When you have the deep professional competencies, you will help us to engender respect for the people in the sector," he said.

Meanwhile, the new diploma replaces the current Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education - Leadership, and focuses more on curriculum planning and guiding teachers, rather than operational and administration skills.

The course, which will be offered at polytechnics from April 2016, aims to give more flexibility to people working in the sector, and about a quarter of it can be studied online.

To strengthen the link between theory and practice, the new diploma will have 50 more hours devoted to practical learning than the current one.

But it will also have higher eligibility criteria, such as at least a year of experience as a senior teacher in the sector.

Mr Chen Xingyu, who is pursuing a Higher Nitec in Early Childhood Education, intends to apply for the new ECDA ITE Training Award when applications open next month.

"I work part-time as a retail assistant to support myself and pay the school fees," said the 19-year-old. "With the training award, I can work less and concentrate more on my studies."

Temasek Polytechnic student Darius Ng, 18, who received the ECDA Polytechnic Training Award yesterday, said: "The professional development grant provided by the award will also support me in learning skills beyond what is taught in school, such as speech, drama and storytelling."