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CHAPTER FOUR

Child Care and Preschool Education--

Early Start Emphasized

Education is the most fundamental undertaking of a nation, the realization of the four modernizations depend on knowledge, on skilled manpower. An error in policy can be rectified fairly easily, but knowledge cannot be acquired at once, nor skilled manpower can be trained in a few days, and this is the reason why education must be conducted in real earnest, and started from early childhood.

--Quoted from the Thematic Quotations of Deng Xiaoping

on Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, p. 140

The requisite conditions for the quality, equal access and effectiveness of education are determined in early childhood, to pay great attention to the care and development of young children has a great bearing on the realization of the goals of basic education.

--Quoted from the Framework for Action to Meet

Basic Learning Needs.

4.1 Child Care and Preschool Education

Since the policy of reforms and opening up was adopted the Chinese economy has been developing rapidly, and the living standards of the people have been constantly improving, giving rise to significant improvements in the environment of the survival and development of children. With the implementation of the policy of family planning and with the gradual popularization of the ideas of sound child rearing, the broad masses have shown great enthusiasm to the improvement of work related to maternity care, child birth, nursing and upbringing, and the conduct of high quality preschool education. During the past two decades people's concepts on child birth and child care have undergone significant changes. With respect to child birth, the idea that "many children is a blessing" that struck root in the feudal society long ago is giving place to less births combined with sound child rearing. With respect to child care, the early concerns of relieving parents of the troubles of child care are shifting to demands on the provision of good child care and high quality early childhood education. In parallel with these changes we have witnessed the following developments. The birth rate and the population growth rate have been gradually decreasing (the birth rate declined from 21.06 in 1990 to 16.57 in 1997; and the population growth rate declined from 16.39 in 1990 to 10.06 in 1997). The proportion of young children of the 0-5 age group among the total population declined from 13.75% to 12.1% in the meantime, and the percentage of lying-in women giving birth in maternity hospitals or clinics has increased significantly. More families are hiring child care nurses to take care of young children. The number of young children sent to nurseries (child care centers) and kindergartens for early childhood development and preschool education has kept increasing. To meet the needs of the people in this domain has exerted great pressure on the government.

The Chinese government, in the light of the situation of socioeconomic development, has decided to implement a "strategy of developing the country through science and education" and a "strategy of sustainable development", and has taken the enhancement of the quality of the whole nation as its cardinal policy. And accordingly, great efforts have been made in promoting family planning, sound child rearing, children's nutrition, prevention and treatment of children's diseases, and in the protection of children's rights, and in setting up more nurseries (focusing on child care) and kindergartens (or preprimary classes in rural primary schools) to meet these needs.

--It has been decided that nurseries with child care as its main purpose are placed under the jurisdiction of the educational departments at various governmental levels; that preschool education constitutes an important component of basic education, and it is envisaged in the plan of educational development that the gross enrollment rate of 3-5-year olds in kindergartens should be increased to such a degree by the end of the century that in large and medium-sized cities, the people's aspiration to send their children to kindergartens should be largely met, and in the countryside the proportion of children enrolled in preprimary classes should ascend to 70%, indicating significant advances compared with the enrollment rate of 28% in 1990.

--It is decided that non-state entities should be the main providers of nurseries and kindergartens, supplemented by institutions provided by governmental bodies, enterprises and institutions, communities and individual citizens so to develop early childhood development (ECD) programs or activities.

--The financing of these institutions mainly depend on funds raised by the providers through multiple channels. Levels of fees charged may vary from institution to institution under governmental supervision.

--A number of documents have been formulated and issued with a view to setting norms and standards for the operation of these institutions. In 1988 Regulations on Work in Kindergartens and Regulations on the Management of Kindergartens were promulgated. In recent years they have been supplemented by a "Suggested List of Toys for Kindergartens" (1992), "Guidelines for Evaluating the Work of Preprimary Classes" (1996), etc., constituting a fairly complete set of working documents for the management of early childhood education.

--Steps have been taken to provide better guidance to early childhood education in rural areas, especially the poor areas and ethnic minority areas. With the support and cooperation of UNICEF, pilot projects on expanding non-formal preschool education have been underway in 22 state designated poor counties located in 11 provinces in the northwestern and southwestern parts of the country. These experiments succeeded in promoting the proportion of the 3-5-year olds receiving at least one year preschool education to 66.7% in 1998, recording an increase of 23.3 percentage points as compared with the pre-experiment year 1994.

--Strengthening the initial and inservice training of preschool teachers. According to available statistics, the proportion of qualified kindergarten directors in terms of educational attainment increased from 78.1% in 1991 to 93.1% in 1998, indicating an increase of 15.1 percentage points, while the proportion of qualified kindergarten teachers increased from 71.8% to 84.6%, indicating an increase of 12.8 percentage points.

4.2 Development of Preschool Education

Preschool education in this report refers to child care and education provided by regular preschool educational institutions (mainly kindergartens of various descriptions and preprimary classes attached to rural primary schools, and non-formal preschool education programs are not included owing to the unavailability of data) and the enrollment figures do not include children enrolled in nurseries mainly devoted to the care of the 0-3-year olds. As a rule preschool education covers 3-5-year old children.

In 1990 there were 170,000 kindergartens and 648,000 preprimary classes (311,000 of them being attached to primary schools) in China with a total enrollment of 19,720,000, giving rise to an enrollment ratio of 28%. The target set for the year 2000 is to raise the national average enrollment ratio of the 3-5 age group to 45% by the year 2000. In the Guidelines for the Reform and Development of Education in China and other relevant documents, it is envisaged that "in large and medium-sized cities the access of young children to kindergartens should be largely met", and that "in rural areas the proportion of children receiving education in the one-year preprimary classes should be raised to 70%". Owing to the lack of disaggregated data on school-age populations in urban and rural areas and the corresponding numbers of enrollments in kindergartens it is impossible to provide detailed information and analysis on enrollment ratio in urban and rural kindergartens (and preprimary classes).

Box 4.1 Policy Measures and Institutions Concerning Preschool Education

Kindergartens. According to the provisions of the "Regulations on Work in Kindergartens", kindergartens constitute child care and educational institutions catering to preschool children 3 years of age and over and a foundation stage of school education, being a component of basic education.

The forms of kindergartens include full-day, half-day, part-time and boarding ones. The provision of non-formal preschool education in rural areas, especially in sparsely populated areas, is encouraged.

Proper range of age for preschool education. As a rule the proper range of age is set at 3 to 5, and in areas where the school entry age is set at 7, the upper age limit may be raised to 6.

Principles of provision. Non-state entities should be the main providers, to be supplemented by kindergartens run by governmental bodies, collectives and private individuals. In accordance with the responsibilities of the providers and their legitimate rights and interests, the revenues of kindergartens may include governmental appropriations, financial input of the providers, fees charged, and donations and gifts.

Preprimary classes. Preprimary classes refer to preprimary educational organizations attached to primary schools in rural areas which lack the conditions of providing formal kindergartens. They usually last one year and may be longer.

Qualifications of kindergarten teachers. Graduates of kindergarten teacher training school, graduates of secondary and tertiary teacher training institutions specializing in preschool education. Graduates of general upper secondary schools are usually regarded as qualified too. There are part of kindergarten teachers lacking the formal qualifications required but have passed qualifying tests enabling them to assume their current posts.

--Composed in accordance with the "Regulations on the Work in Kindergartens" and other relevant official documents.

Figures 4.1 and 4.2 provide information on the number of kindergartens and enrollment figures in kindergartens and preprimary classes in the period 1991-1997. There are fluctuations in the number of kindergartens, largely due to the dissolution or merging of enterprise-run kindergartens or their transfer to local educational departments, a phenomenon characteristic of the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. The decline of enrollments, especially those in primary classes, from 1995 on is mainly due to the reduction of the number of children in this age group. The graph in Figure 4.3 clearly indicates that in the period 1991-1997 enrollment in kindergartens and preprimary classes significantly increased, reaching 47% in 1997, exceeding the preset target 45%. Figures 4.4 and 4.5 indicate that there exist significant disparities between urban and rural areas in enrollment ratios, while the gender gaps in enrollment ratios are insignificant. Figure 4.6 provides information on the steady improvement of the qualifications of kindergarten directors and teachers, and it can be seen that the proportion of qualified directors is significantly higher than the proportion of qualified teachers. Table 4.1 provides disaggregated data on preschool education

 

 

Sources of data for Figures 4.1-4.6

1. Data on kindergartens and preprimary classes are based on information provided in various volumes of the Educational Statistics Yearbook of China published by People's Education Press;

2. The Data on preschool age populations are estimated on the basis of the data collected by sample surveys of population of the country published in various volumes of the China Population Yearbook.

Table 4.1 Disaggregated Data on Preschool Education by Type of Institution and by Urban/rural Areas

 

Kindergartens

Classes

Children Enrolled

Teachers,Staff & Workers

Total

Kindergartens Heads

Teachers

Health

Total

181368

789027

24030344

1157630

80317

875427

60820

By Category of Maintenance:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Run by Ed.Dept.

31741

274749

9226311

325624

18943

260542

15102

Run by Non-ed.Dept

19154

91125

2913114

303152

22174

169847

27043

Run by Communities

99649

358574

10183109

419548

22673

369590

10147

By Location:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Run by private & other social sources

30824

64579

1707810

109306

16554

75448

8528

Urban

35910

153293

5019953

443827

37108

261773

33598

County Seats & Towns

41206

169274

5608763

235308

20740

225742

18944

Rural

104252

466460

13401628

428495

22469

387912

8278

Notes: 1. Sources of data: Educational Statistics Yearbook of China 1998, p. 94.

2. Directors of kindergartens refer to those directors appointed according to rules on staffing norms and standards, and do not include directors held concurrently by kindergarten teachers.

4.3 Proportion of First Graders Having Undergone Preschool Education

4.3.1 Proportion of first graders having received preschool education

This is a very useful indicator, and it may either be used to indicate the effectiveness of preschool education or be used to indicate the quality of first graders newly enrolled. However, it is regretful that educational statistics collected in China up to now fail to provide the necessary data to calculate this indicator. In order to have a better understanding of the situation, we conducted a sample survey covering 4412 primary schools selected from 35 counties located in 9 provinces with the support of a concerned international organization in 1998. The primary school pupils investigated were those enrolled in the 1st-5th grades of the schools surveyed in 1998. Thus the first graders were admitted in 1998, the second graders in 1997, the third graders in 1996, and so on. The schools covered include lower primary schools and out-reach teaching sites, as well as complete primary schools; rural schools and schools in county-seats, towns and cities. The total number of pupils surveyed was 1,370,000, accounting for 1% of the total primary enrollment in the country in 1998.

Figure 4.7 provides the findings of this sample survey. It can be seen that in the period 1993-1998 the proportion of the first graders of primary schools in these 35 counties having received preschool education was gradually increasing. The proportion was 82.5% in 1992 and reached 94.9% in 1998, indicating an increase of 12.4 percentage points. The value for 1996 seems abnormally low, and the cause might either be due to the sample selected or due to errors in the size of the preschool-age population. The inadequacy of relevant data does not allow us to make further analysis. It is noteworthy that the size of the sample is too small to be representative of the situation of the whole country.

4.3.2 The enrollment ratios of new entrants to primary grade 1

In the Education for All The Year 2000 Assessment--Technical Guidelines prepared and issued by the International Consultative Forum on Education for All lists three indicators used for evaluating education provided in primary grade 1. Besides the percentage of new entrants to primary grade 1 who have attended some form of organized early childhood development program, there are two other indicators, namely: gross intake rate (new entrants in primary grade 1 as a percentage of the proportion of official entry age), and net intake rate (new entrants to primary grade 1 who are of the official primary entrance age as a percentage of the corresponding population). The gross intake rate reflects the general level of primary school entry reached and the capacity of primary schools. The net intake rate gives an accurate measure of the situation to what extent the entrance age children attend school as scheduled by official regulations. This indicator, combined with net enrollment ratio at the primary stage, provides an accurate measure of school attendance of school-age children according to law.

The calculation of the net intake rate involves data on the entrance age population and the actual intake of pupils. According to the provisions of the Compulsory Education Law of the People's Republic of China, the school entrance age in China is set at 6 (fully six years old), and in less favorable areas the entrance age may be postponed to 7. In China we have collected data on school-age populations, but we haven't collected data on primary school enrollees of the corresponding age group age by age, and therefore it is impossible for us to calculate the net intake rate as desired. Figure 4.9 provides information on the changes in gross intake rate in the period 1991-1997. It can be seen that from 1991 on the gross intake rate gradually declined year by year and reached the lowest figure

102.1% in 1996 and then rose to 107.5% in 1997. These fluctuations, especially the rebound in 1997, may be related to the decline of school entrance age population. According to our estimates based on the data provided by the China Population Statistics Yearbook (the school entrance age population in 1996 was 26,190,000 and declined to 23,860,000 in 1997, indicating a reduction of 2,270,000, while the reduction of intake of primary graders was only 1,270,000) this might be due to errors in the population sample surveys.

Sources of materials:

1. Gross intake of new entrants to primary grade 1 uses the total enrollment figure for primary schools released by the Educational Statistics Yearbook of China, and its difference from the actual enrollment of first graders by the number of repeaters.

2. Primary grade 1 school age population is calculated by the formula: (6 year old + 7 year olds) population/2. The population figures are taken from the China Population Statistics Yearbook for 1996 and 1997.

4.3.3 Brief comment on the development of preschool education

The information given in this section indicates that ECD activities have scored significant progress in the 1990s in China. The number of kindergartens increased by 17,000 through a process of readjustment; and total enrollment in kindergartens (and preprimary classes) increased from 22,090,000 to 24,030,000, indicating a net increase of 1,940,000. The gross enrollment ratio increased from 29.9% to 47.0%. A basically complete set of regulations is in place and the level of kindergarten operation has been steadily improving. The main outstanding issues that deserve close attention in the years to come are as follows: (1) statistical and monitoring work needs be strengthened; (2) the system of providing kindergartens must be further readjusted in step with the institution and development of the socialist market economy; (3) with young children's access to kindergartens being basically tackled in urban areas, efforts should be made to expand such access in rural areas so as to gradually narrow the rural/urban disparities; (4) the state's policy on early childhood education must be adhered to and steps must be taken to prevent the trend of conducting academic education too early and too much.



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