Rural preschools top priority
The central government has pledged 50 billion yuan (HK$61 billion) over the next five years to develop preschools in rural areas of underdeveloped western regions and in some impoverished areas in central China.
During a State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday, regional governments were tasked with greater responsibilities in nurturing preschool education on the mainland, state media such as CCTV and Xinhua reported.
The central government also moved to extend an appraisal regime for primary and secondary school teachers in an attempt to boost the level of teaching.
The lack of kindergarten facilities on the mainland has been a source of growing public discontent for years, but it was not until last year that central authorities began to take a serious look at the issue. Preschool teaching was identified as a top priority in a 10-year blueprint for educational development.
While parents in major cities cry foul over the lack of affordable and decent preschools, little light has been shed on struggling preschools in rural areas, which handle 80 per cent of kindergarten pupils on the mainland but receive virtually no public funding.
Under a four-point guideline unveiled on Wednesday, the central government will make more funding and cash rewards available to new, affordable kindergartens and to schools that cater to pupils from migrant families in major cities, according to state media.
A state-level scheme that trains primary and secondary school teachers will, for the first time, also train preschool teachers for rural areas. The plan, which will start this year, is an attempt to address the grave shortage of kindergarten teachers in such regions.
Professor Chu Zhaohui, of the China National Institute for Educational Research, told the South China Morning Post that the 50 billion yuan pledge was particularly welcome because many of the governments in poor regions were overstretched in school funding and because preschool teaching had never been a priority.
However, the professor warned that regional governments could try to monopolise preschools with such a cash windfall.
'Even with such ample funding, they should not mistakenly think they can handle the issue on their own,' he said. 'Instead, authorities should mobilise all resources, including private investment, to develop kindergarten facilities more efficiently and prudently.'
Chu said the central government should also work more closely with regional authorities, particularly those in big cities such as Beijing, to form concrete plans for preschoolers from migrant families.
Such children often languish in substandard kindergartens or have nowhere to go because public schools are off-limits and private ones are too expensive.
Under a new initiative, the central government said it would expand a teachers' appraisal scheme next year to help motivate primary and secondary teachers. The new appraisal system will be based more on performance than seniority.