SINGAPORE - Having taken the first step of requiring all pre-schools to have closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will be “very careful” about where they are installed in these centres.
The pre-school sector regulator will also make sure that protocols are in place to safeguard the privacy of children and staff, while leveraging CCTV footage to improve security, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling told Parliament on Monday.
Cameras will be required in?areas where children regularly engage with teachers, such as classrooms.?
Replying to questions from MPs, Ms Sun cautioned against the excessive use of digital devices to monitor what goes on in schools.
“I would rather that we spend time educating our teachers, be it pre-service or in service, rather than overly rely on digital means to monitor actions,” she said.
In August, ECDA announced that CCTV cameras will be mandatory in all pre-schools and government-funded early intervention centres by July 1, 2024.
The agency shared guidelines on CCTV installation with pre-school operators on Sept 1.
Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa asked Ms Sun about the timeframe for pre-schools to meet the CCTV mandate, which “appears to me a bit excessive”.
Ms Sun said it is important to give pre-schools time to procure the cameras and install them appropriately, as well as put in place protocols and to share them with parents.
ECDA is encouraging operators to do so earlier, and 60 per cent of pre-schools and all early intervention centres have already installed CCTVs on their premises, she said.
Responding to Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who suggested the use of audio recorders in blind spots such as toilets, Ms Sun said some teachers and parents may feel this is an invasion of privacy. “We will steer clear of private areas such as the toilets, rest areas because we also have to ensure that the privacy of the children and staff are taken care of,” she said.
Asked by Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) how the authorities will ensure that CCTV footage adheres to personal data protection laws, Ms Sun said there is a requirement, when releasing footage to parents, for the faces of other children and educators not involved in the investigation or inquiry to be masked.
ECDA said in August that parents’ access to CCTV footage will be granted only for the purposes of providing an objective reference point to clarify feedback, or to assist investigations of serious incidents on centre premises.
Ms?Hany Soh?(Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said parents had raised concerns with her about the possibility of CCTV footage being tampered with. Ms Sun said such an act will be an offence, and the authorities will take firm action against operators who do so to cover up wrongdoing.
In response to questions from Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang), Mr Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) and Prof Lim, Ms Sun said ECDA had asked pre-schools and early intervention centres in a 2022 survey whether they had CCTV cameras installed, but this was a “status check” to get a sense of where pre-schools stood, rather than a move to track the implementation of cameras, as it was not mandated.
As CCTV cameras will be made mandatory, the authorities will conduct checks and monitor centres’ progress in installing them, she said.
In response to Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC), who asked if pre-schools could adopt a child protection policy, Ms Sun said ECDA’s approach is to have “multi-layered safeguards”.
These include the Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDC) Act, ECDC Regulations and ECDC Code of Practice.
“It is not for a lack of policies. We can have all the policies under the sun in the world – what is important is how well (they are) being executed on the ground,” she added.
“We must inculcate from top to bottom – operators, centre leaders, to the educators – this entire concept around child safety, that they live and breathe child safety, that they know what practising child safety means, that they know how to recognise signs of abuse.”