After much preparation, the first Tzu Chi educational institution in Singapore known as the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool, finally received its operating license effective from 1 April 2014. A new milestone for Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore)’s mission of education, the centre provides both child care and infant care services and accepts children from 18 months to six years old.
The child care department was scheduled to welcome its first batch of preschoolers on 1 April 2014, while the infant care department would welcome their young wards on 1 May 2014. With the dates set, the parents and guardians who had been awaiting the good news immediately came forth to enrol their young ones and busy themselves with the purchase of school uniforms.
When a Dream Becomes Reality
Tzu Chi members in Singapore have long cherished the dream of setting up a preschool here that would enable the local educational system to benefit from the philosophy of Master Cheng Yen. Apart from helping children learn life skills and stimulating their intellectual development, there will also be an emphasis on wholesome character development. Such a school would place an equal emphasis on both moral ethics and knowledge, and have a curriculum grounded in the guiding principles of the Jing Si Aphorisms.
Since March 2012, when Low Swee Seh came onboard as the new CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore (Foundation), active plans were made for the development of the four Tzu Chi missions of education, charity, medicine and humanity; the preschool was thus one of the important projects on hand. “Singapore is a prosperous country and its society faces intense competitive pressures. The educational system here tends to focus more on academic results, whereas our preschool emphasizes on life skills, morals and character building. We hope to cultivate these qualities in children from a young age, and hope that parents can be influenced through their children, thus achieving our aim to purify minds and bring harmony to society,”said Low.
Determination to see things through follows upon strong aspirations; through volunteers’ efforts, the proposal for a Tzu Chi preschool was approved by the government and planning for it to be located in the Chong Pang community started. In June 2013, the green light to build the child care centre was given and renovation works began in November 2013. At the same time, recruitment and training for teachers and management staff also proceeded ahead and gradually, the preschool became a concrete reality.
Careful Planning Shows in the Details
“Safety is of paramount importance because this facility is to be used for children. We must carefully take note of the existence of any sharp, protruding corners which can be easily missed out in the course of work.” With years of experience in construction and interior design, Low took a hands on approach and would personally inspect the design and renovation progress of the preschool. He would also attend the weekly site meetings and discuss details with the contractor.
The Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool is situated at block 703 in the Chong Pang neighbourhood within the Yishun area and takes up 5,264 square metres of space. A shopping mall and market is nearby, and it has good transport connectivity. The elegant simplicity of wooden doors and the signature Tzu Chi design of the frame above the door, which looks like the Chinese character for “people,” lends a unique look to the preschool.
The interior of the preschool is outfitted with a serene theme of white walls and wooden flooring and much thought had been given towards making it an environmentally friendly facility. Its rectangular shape allows for a row of windows along the wall so that the classrooms are bright with natural lighting; in addition during the renovation works, care was taken with the design to facilitate good air circulation. Hanging fans on the ceiling ensure good ventilation and decrease the use of air-conditioning, which in turn inhibit the spread of bacteria and germs.
In consideration of the impact that the environment can have on the children’s learning, even the height of the windows have been carefully designed so that the children do not feel cutoff from the outside world. As the development of life skills is part of the curriculum, children in the preschool are expected to wash their own utensils after they finish eating, and they can do so at the wash basins which have been specially widened for their use. Tables and chairs in the facility also have different heights that cater to children of different ages, and the names of all furniture are indicated in both Chinese and English to aid the children’s learning.
Loh expressed that as this is the very first Tzu Chi preschool in Singapore, it has great historical significance for the organization. He also hoped that the importance that Tzu Chi places on education will be evident to all.
Teachers Who Lead by Example
The centre’s supervisor Wang Xuan Bi laughed as she recalled the long journey that culminated in the preschool today. Wang used to be a teacher for individuals with special needs but had resolutely resigned from her high-paying job when the preschool was in the early stages of planning. As a full-time volunteer, she became involved in the preparations that included visiting and learning from the Tzu Chi preschools in Taiwan, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
Wang felt that it is very meaningful to be part of Tzu Chi’s educational mission and establish a humanistic education system in Singapore. As the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool is a proper educational institution, it has to comply with government regulations whether it is in terms of the class planning, curriculum and qualifications of the teachers. Hence, Wang mentions that the teachers that are employed may not necessarily know of Tzu Chi before they are hired.
When Wang returned to Taiwan in October 2013 to report on the preschool’s progress to Master Cheng Yen, the Master had a word of kind advice: “The teachers must be trained.”Wang remembers these words deeply and as the teachers were hired one by one, she diligently arranged for them to receive various training. Everyday, the teachers would listen to the Master’s teachings; in addition, Wang ensured that they had an introduction into the four Tzu Chi missions, understood Tzu Chi protocol and etiquette, and learnt about environmental conservation so that they would be able to understand the organization and its ideals with greater clarity.
Tzu Chi places great importance on humanistic education hence volunteers from the Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre were invited to the preschool to share on various topics such as the art of tea, flower arrangement and sign language. In the preparation and presentation of tea, the teachers learned the beauty of appropriate etiquette in the hopes that they can bring the same qualities of elegance and observance of protocol into their daily lives and the classroom.
Teacher Zhu Xiao Yun shared that she learnt how the art of tea requires the observance of a specific protocol for every gesture and word, hence she resolved to calm down her thoughts and master tea art well. Fellow colleague Liu Lian Qiu also commented that only when one is able to have good habits ingrained in oneself, that one is capable of guiding the young.
Vijaya, who is Indian, has deep impressions of the lessons on recycling and environmental conservation. She said, “I must start with myself and only then can I set a good example for the children to follow in carrying out recycling.”Zeng Hui Fang also reflected on how she had not understood the importance of conserving water and electricity in the past. She would leave the air-conditioning on for 24 hours a day, but has now resolved to be prudent in her usage.
During the course of receiving training, the teachers gradually realized that a school is not only a place of learning, it is also where children can pick up various skills and receive a life education. With this in mind, they were happy to set good examples to their young charges and grow together with them on life’s journey.
Sowing Good Seeds
The Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool is scheduled to commence operations on 1 April 2014, and as the teachers busy themselves with decorating the classrooms, preparing the lesson plans, namelists and teaching materials, volunteers also chip in with their help every day. They help to arrange the classrooms neatly and spruce up the facility so that the teachers can have peace of mind to focus on other matters.
With the establishment of the preschool, it is everyone’s hope that seeds of love and kindness will be sown in the hearts of the young, and as they sprout and mature, society will benefit from the nurturing of wholesome individuals who can one day contribute back to their communities.