Painful lessons in early learning
China's rise has stretched some of its social infrastructure to breaking point. Preschool education has fallen through the cracks, failing to keep up with demand created by massive urban migration or meet educational goals. At the same time the shift of resources to the cities has starved rural kindergartens, forcing many closures and the transport of small children to others.
As a result the difficulty and cost of getting children enrolled in city kindergartens has caused rising resentment, and in the countryside road accidents blamed on unsafe preschool transport arrangements have recently sparked a public outcry.
Preschooling lacks the clout of formal education sectors when it comes to allocation of resources and training of teachers. The central government began to address the problem seriously only 18 months ago in a 10-year education blueprint that gave priority to improving the poor state of kindergarten teaching. Hopefully it will not take that long to make a real difference. It is good to see that Beijing is now cracking down on exploitation of vulnerable parents by banning kindergartens from charging admission fees and imposing a range of other lucrative preconditions for enrolment such as sponsorships, donations and building-fund contributions, not to mention extra fees for add-ons such as learning workshops and special interest groups.
That said, problems with the system are not confined to the mainland. In Australia, a government-funded national study into the quality of early education has found the standard of teaching in preschools very poor, putting it on a par with the unregulated sector in the US and suggesting children may be attending glorified play groups.
This is despite research indicating that early learning makes a crucial difference to a child's long-term development. Education is key to national development and fulfilment of a people's potential. If Beijing wants to get full value for its overall investment, it needs to redouble its efforts to bring kindergarten teaching up to speed.