Well known preschool chain Kinderland has been making headlines this week for alleged abuses of its students by a teacher who has since been arrested. It has also released several statements with regards to the incident to attempt to reassure parents and the public and to restore trust in its brand.
These statements, besides stating that the school is aware of the incidents and that the teacher in question was disciplined and subsequently fired, noted that going forward, the school will be enhancing its current policies. These policies include the management of the mental health of new and current teachers and that it will expand the installation of CCTVs in all classrooms and children activity areas at these two centres.
It also released a newer statement on its social media platforms just yesterday stating that to safeguard the privacy of its children, it will give its staff company-issued devices to manage all communications with parents.
To also prevent the misuse of photos and videos of our children, Kinderland will now make it a policy that staff not use their personal devices during teaching hours.
However, it would seem that some of these statements have been stirring up more negative sentiments rather than helping to calm the ongoing situation.
Brand sentiments plummet
The circulating videos and news of the incident have seen brand sentiments for the trusted Kinderland brand plummet with online association being largely negative at 42.6% and only 1.2% positive sentiments, according to media intelligence company Truescope.
Truescope revealed that within this discourse over the last three days, a significant portion of netizens directed criticism towards the teacher in question.
Among them, some have advocated for strict limits on permissible punishments, while others have emphasised the necessity of a ban on the teacher's involvement in any preschool, aiming to safeguard future children from similar distressing experiences, said Truescope.
A subset of commentators also stressed the indispensable traits of dedication and compassion requisite for preschool educators, cautioning against those devoid of such qualities pursuing teaching careers. Truescope added:
Scrutiny has also extended to the Kinderland’s management, with netizens calling for a comprehensive inquiry into managerial oversight.
Many have also said that those responsible should face repercussions for their alleged failure in supervisory responsibilities. "Some netizens have gone so far as to demand the immediate closure of the implicated school," said Truescope.
Truescope Singapore's managing director, Kelvin Koh, added that positive sentiments on the issue stemmed from netizens commending the swift response and actions undertaken by the relevant authorities. Particularly, they highlighted the prompt measures enacted by the Singapore Police Force. They also expressed admiration for the individual who captured and disseminated the video evidence, shedding light on the incident.
This is likely why online backlash has been so strong against Kinderland's new requirement that teachers not use personal devices during teaching hours.
An appropriate crisis response?
The question then is if the response and subsequent actions by Kinderland were sufficient considering the fact that they are a trusted and long-established brand dealing with children.
“Parents place a lot of trust and faith in the preschool they send their children to. When there are significant incidences that breach this trust, it takes a lot of effort and time to rebuild the trust, faith and assurance," said Kenny Yap, managing director at Red Havas and Socialyse. "According to media reports and the teacher that shared the video, it seems like this is not an isolated incident and feedback from the ground has not been seriously looked into, which is very worrying," he added.
He noted that it made sense that the school was targeting quick and actionable rectifications such as the installation of more CCTV cameras and improving the mental health support for teachers as the time frame right now is too short for anything else. "Not to mention, these actions are more reactive and will be useful should something happen. Parents need to see preventative action being taken especially for a preschool."
"What they could do to improve the situation though is to communicate a harder timeline of how quickly they are going to investigate its practices and when they will act on the issues they have found in the coming weeks," he explained.
Adding on, Pamela Tor Das, vice president of TEAM LEWIS Singapore noted that she was surprised by the "lengthy" response Kinderland put out following the incident. "There were too many details, which resulted in the messaging being lost in this seven-page press statement," she said, adding:
For a situation that is charged with strong emotions and concerns, its response was cold and factual.
Das added that as a parent of young children herself, reading the statement led her to more questions and speculations which is likely why netizens are upset.
"The important thing now is to understand what parents are concerned about and addressing them. They are not concerned about privacy now. They are concerned about safety," Das said, referencing the school's new requirement preventing teachers from using their personal devices during teaching hours.
Emotions are high and when that is the case, you need to address immediate concerns. Now is not the time to highlight secondary issues that have been discovered.
True enough, in a typical crisis response, a statement should take into consideration one’s psychological response toward it, according to Das. "Such a statement would carry this flow – expressing concern, demonstrating action and providing perspective – which we do not see in Kinderland’s press statement," she said.
She added that rather than focusing on public opinion, its priority should be internal communications and staff engagement. "It's important to ensure that this is done well in order to set the right tone and create the right culture to prevent any repeat incidents," she said.
How the brand can recover
As an older and trusted preschool brand, eventually, the school will have to shift from looking at the immediate crisis at hand to reassuring parents that their children are safe in their schools and to prevent long-lasting damage. However, this will take time.
"Kinderland needs to double-down on engaging parents. First, speak to each parent personally to address all their questions, doubts and concerns. Next, constantly update parents on their children’s well-being through the day – more than ever. Last, quickly introduce the new measures to prevent such incidences,” said Yap.
"It is also important to build a strong support system among the teachers and staff to constantly and proactively voice it out if there are signs of anything amiss, and for management to take all feedback seriously and review it," he added.
Agreeing with him, Das noted that it is too early for the brand to be doing long term brand recovery. She said:
The better you can address the current issues and cater to the feelings of parents and the public, the smoother and easier your brand recovery will be.
She added that for Kinderland, brand recovery will have a lot to do with what brand sentiments are like in the near future. "All brands will have to go into brand recovery eventually and the tactics and strategies used will differ. They will just have to see what their sentiments are like at the time and that will determine their strategy going forward," she said. Das added that right now, the only thing Kinderland can do is focus on the right problems and address them quickly and transparently.
The issue at hand
Kinderland's statements come after videos began circulating this week of a teacher seen trying to force children to drink water by pulling their heads back and pouring liquid into their mouths while making them lie on the floor. In one clip, the teacher is also seen hitting a child with a book and shouting at them. The videos appeared to have been filmed at Kinderland Preschool @ Woodlands Mart which is located within the Sembawang West ward of Member of Parliament Poh Li San.
In response to the video, Kinderland issued a statement saying that the preschool was made aware of the videos when the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) contacted Kinderland on 17 August 2023 for an investigation. Three Kinderland Woodlands Mart staff members also ECDA on 17 August 2023, and one on 18 August.
"The staff were shown the videos and advised to review Teacher A’s behaviour. ECDA also imparted to the staff some guidelines on dealing with this incident: reaching out to the parents of the affected children, reporting the investigation to the Kinderland HQ and a proposed action plan to deal with the matter at hand," it said.
Kinderland then started a disciplinary inquiry where it addressed the issue with the teacher and counselled her. It added that the principle of the affected brand reached out to parents to inform them and apologise.
"The principal also asked after the well-being of their children and their feelings towards school. All three parents said that they did not notice anything amiss, nor any physical injuries and that their children were behaving normally," it said. The teacher was subsequently dismissed on 28 August.
Around the same time that videos surfaced from Kinderland Preschool @ Woodlands Mart, another video came about on 29 August on social media showing a teacher hitting a boy on his head at the Choa Chu Kang centre, according to Kinderland in its statement. "The principal of the centre has likewise reached out to the parents of the boy and offered our apologies. She has also filed a report to ECDA and the teacher has been suspended," it said.
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