A delegation from Singapore that included Mr. Tan Chuan-Jin, the country’s Minister for Social and Family Development, traveled to Chapel Hill last month. The delegation met with scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) about high-quality early learning programs. UNC Global joined FPG in welcoming the Singapore delegation, and several community organizations offered tours for the visitors of local early education programs.
“Harnessing the full potential of people is very important, and that is why we invest in early childhood development to nurture the next generation of Singaporeans,” said Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. “We want to learn from U.S. experience in early childhood programs and how we can sustainably partner families and the community to best support our children.”
Chih-Ing Lim, an advanced technical assistance specialist at FPG, organized the two-day visit. Before joining FPG, she served in Singapore as a preschool officer with the Ministry of Education; she continues to work with various organizations in Singapore.
“The request to visit FPG came from Singapore’s Early Childhood Development Agency, which oversees their preschools and child care sector,” Lim said. “The interest in FPG was sparked by an introduction to FPG’s Abecedarian Project when a team from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore first visited FPG a couple of years ago.”
Since its inception in the early 1970s, FPG’s Abecedarian Project has become synonymous with positive, long-term effects of high-quality early care and education. According to Lim, FPG and the KK Hospital in Singapore created a memorandum of understanding in February 2015, and the hospital subsequently contacted FPG senior scientist emeritus Joe Sparling, the co-creator of the Abecedarian curriculum, to invite Sparling to provide training in Singapore.
“The main objectives of this trip were to understand the design and implementation of various early childhood programs, especially those that serve children and families in poverty in the United States,” said Lim. “They wanted to hear about key success factors, how we’ve scaled up or adapted programs to meet the needs of local communities, and what challenges they might expect to face.”
“It behooves us to do more on the early childhood front, specifically with lower-income families who are vulnerable, through a new pilot program called KidSTART,” said Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. “Under this pilot, we can incorporate new ideas to enhance the resources and support for disadvantaged families for the development of their young children and to build strong parent-child bonds.”
Lim said that, in addition to the Minister, the delegation included five officials from Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development, including the Early Childhood Development Agency. FPG’s guests visited the Orange County Head Start and Early Head Start Programs, Pathways Elementary School in Hillsborough and the Jordan Center in Raleigh.
Over the past decade, FPG has broadened its global reach through several partnerships, and people in 180 countries now use FPG resources.
“Given their commitment to and current excellence in education and early learning, we are honored to host the delegation from Singapore,” said FPG director Sam Odom, who has headed several individual FPG projects that included international collaborations. “As with all of our global collaborators, we will ‘get more than we give,’ in that learning about their systems of early learning will enrich the work we do here in the United States.”
Ronald Strauss, executive vice provost and chief international officer, noted that FPG’s collaborations are part of a broad University-wide engagement with Singapore.
“UNC has longstanding ties to organizations in Singapore and the National University of Singapore, and I’m pleased to see us collaborating on the important topic of early childhood education,” Strauss said.