SINGAPORE — Preschool teachers mostly welcomed the use of closed circuit-television (CCTV) cameras in classrooms as a possible “tool of protection” against parents’ claims in possible disputes about teacher misconduct.
Still, some teachers highlighted the importance of mutual trust between educators and parents, and warned against potential abuse of the CCTV footages — where parents might “demand” to see the CCTV footages for even “trivial incidents”.
Several teachers also raised concerns about facing excessive scrutiny from centre managers and preschool principals, which they worried could cause them “a lot of mental stress”.
TODAY spoke to seven teachers on Tuesday (Sept 5), on the heels of the announcement by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) last week that all preschools and government-funded early intervention centres be fitted with CCTV cameras from July 1 next year.
The agency’s announcement comes amid public uproar from recent reports of alleged child abuse cases which surfaced at Kinderland’s Woodlands and Chua Chu Kang branches.
Nevertheless, ECDA added that the mandate is part of its regular review of security and safety measures in the early childhood sector. It had in February this year informed preschool operators of the mandatory set-up, and said that the move was not due to recent incidents on child safety.
‘NOTHING TO HIDE’: CCTV FOOTAGE CAN CLARIFY DISPUTES
For many preschool teachers, working under CCTV surveillance is not new.
All the centres Mrs Low, 52, has worked at in her four years as an early childhood educator, have already installed CCTV cameras.
While she is mindful of the cameras, the safety of children under her care is her main priority.
Installing CCTV cameras can help teachers provide accurate accounts to parents when accidents occur, or if children get hurt without a teacher’s knowledge, she added.
She asked that only her last name is used as she is commenting on a workplace practice without her company’s permission.
Ms Ifa, 38, who declined to give her full name, has worked as a preschool teacher for the past five years. She said she is unaffected by the move to increase security as teachers at her centre have “nothing to hide”.
She works at a preschool under the Anchor Operator (AOP) Scheme which has an “open policy”. This means that, besides having CCTV cameras already installed at all exits and entrances, the school’s windows are kept open and parents can look into the centre at any time.
She added that the centre also has plans to install cameras inside the premises following ECDA’s announcement.
Ms Li Xiaohong, 42, who has worked in the early childhood sector for three years, likewise welcomed the move: “As long as the teacher didn’t do any misconduct, it’s a protection for teachers”.
Some teachers said that having video footage on hand would help provide clarity to both parents and school administration when disputes about incidents involving their child occur.
A preschool teacher for the past four years who wanted to be known only by her initials A T said: “I think it’s good as it gives parents a peace of mind and helps to clarify situations.”
“Parents will also be able to clarify things better with the school as sometimes they have 100 per cent trust in what they children say, which may or may not be the true scenario.”
The 29-year-old added that having CCTV cameras installed would not change the way she worked or interacted with her students.
Parents of preschool children TODAY spoke to also welcomed the installation of CCTV cameras as a “good initiative” that would provide greater peace of mind.
Ms Judy Zhu, 38, whose five-year-old son attends the Kinderland @ Woodlands Mart, told TODAY she did not consider having CCTV cameras a mandatory requirement when choosing her child’s preschool previously.
“However this incident has changed my perspective,” said Ms Zhu.
Still, she intends to keep her child at the centre for now — especially as the school had informed parents at a meeting last Saturday that it has since installed cameras in all of its classrooms.
Ms Zhu added that she would only request to view the footage if her child was “seriously injured, or … very resistant to going to school”, or if he had told her that his teacher had abused him or his classmates.
A parent of three, Ms Ai Leen Fung, 38, who is a commercial analyst, also said that CCTVs are especially useful in bearing witness to what happens in the childcare, or when “kids are too young to be able to verbalise accurately what happened, or where it hurts”.
Having said that, she maintains that teachers should be discharging their duties from a place of love, and not “because the CCTV is watching”.
“I want to trust and believe that my children’s teachers genuinely care for them. If the teachers don’t give me that sort of confidence, then there really is no point in being in that school,” said Ms Fung.
NOT ‘READY’ TO BE ‘WATCHED 24/7’
While most teachers and parents TODAY spoke to welcomed the mandatory CCTV set-up, some have warned against potential abuse of it by parents.
“Some parents can be quite demanding. With CCTVs in place, they can use this opportunity to demand footage for even trivial incidents happening to their child in school,” said Mrs Low.
“This is inconvenient and unproductive time spent for teachers and school management.”
Others also raised concerns about facing excessive scrutiny from centre managers and preschool principals, which they worried could cause them unnecessary “mental stress”.
A preschool teacher, who only wanted to be known as Ms Natasha, acknowledged that CCTV cameras could “safeguard both teachers and children”, but added that she was personally not used to having a CCTV camera in her classroom, and didn’t know if she was “ready to be ‘watched’ 24/7’.”
The 25-year-old, who has taught in the early childhood sector for the past seven years, said that the centre she teaches at already has CCTV cameras installed in its common areas.
While there wasn’t much resistance then, Ms Natasha thinks this could change with the cameras now being mandated in classrooms as well, due to concerns about privacy and how parents “might misuse the power of viewing the CCTV footage”.
She added that this could also affect parents’ trust towards the educators.
Agreeing, Ms K L, who has been a preschool teacher for the past five years, said that such surveillance could be a “tool of protection”, though a “downside” would be if parents wanted “unlimited access” to the CCTV footage.
To this, she emphasised the importance of having “mutual trust between teachers and parents”, and appealed to parents to only request to view such footages if they “suspect that the teachers are not doing right”.
The 29-year-old added that it was also important for teachers and the preschool management, such as the principal, to have this same relationship of mutual trust. Being subject to excessive, unnecessary scrutiny could otherwise cause “a lot of mental stress” to teachers as well.
GOING ‘BEYOND SURVEILLANCE’
Two preschool operators told TODAY that they were supportive of ECDA’s decision and having CCTVs in class is not an issue for their teachers.
Mr Roland Tan, executive director of Methodist Preschool Services, said the CCTV cameras could serve as a “positive reminder for teachers to maintain a high standard of conduct … to young children entrusted to their care.”
While their centres have not begun installing the cameras, he added that they are currently planning for it.
Asked if they were concerned that the mandate would make it difficult to hire teachers as a result, Mr Tan said: “We do not have such concerns. Our view is that teachers with a conviction to provide their best care and nurturing for children entrusted to them would remind themselves to act in the best interest of their wards in the presence or absence of CCTVs installed.”
“Their action should not be dictated by the presence or absence of CCTVs in the school premises.”
A spokesperson from the E-Bridge Pre-School franchise also said ECDA’s move would not impact its operations, as its chain of preschools have had CCTVs in all common areas and classrooms since its inception in 2014.
“While the CCTVs are available for the safety of the children and staff in our care, requests to view footage are only made when there is a concern that is raised by parents. It helps to review the situation in question and resolve the concern with transparency,” the school said.
It added that access to CCTV footage is granted only for the purposes of “providing an objective reference point to clarify feedback”, or to assist in the investigation of serious incidents within the preschool premises.
The footage is watched in the presence of an authorised person from the school, and no recording of the footage is allowed. Other children’s faces are also masked when any footage is viewed by parents, the school added.
Nevertheless, it highlighted the importance of going “beyond mere surveillance” to also ensure the “holistic well-being of (its) educators”.
“While CCTVs undoubtedly play a crucial role, we believe that a comprehensive approach beyond surveillance is the way forward.”
“A contented and engaged community of educators translates to a thriving and joyous pre-school environment,” the spokesperson added.
TODAY has also reached out to ECDA and the Association For Early Childhood Educators for comment.