Beijing has to learn from kindergarten saga
After claims of abuse at a capital preschool were largely dismissed, standards should be set at nurseries in China across both the private and public sectors
It is hard to imagine any good coming out of serious claims of abuse at a prominent kindergarten that were later largely dismissed for want of evidence of wrongdoing by anyone. Nonetheless that appears to be so in the case of allegations against mainland early learning provider RYB Education investigated by Beijing police. Parents had claimed some children at the company’s New World kindergarten in Chaoyang district had needle marks on their skin, had been force-fed pills and sexually abused. In the end, police detained one teacher for pricking children with a sewing needle as a disciplinary measure when they did not go to sleep, and said parents of two children had admitted spreading unfounded rumours of the two other abuses.
Thanks to the demand for preschool education driven by the explosive growth of China’s middle class, kindergartens are among the fastest growing sectors of the domestic services economy. The supply of publicly funded places cannot keep pace. Private operators have filled a big gap in the market. RYB Education’s recent US$102 million New York listing is testament to that. Shares in RYB slumped dramatically on news of the allegations. The authorities rightly took the claims very seriously. The positive outcome is to be found in two measures to restore parental and public confidence in preschool education and enhance the welfare of children entrusted to the care of others. The State Council ordered a nationwide inspection of kindergartens to assess teachers’ conduct and officials will assign an inspector to every kindergarten in Beijing to conduct regular reviews.
Kindergartens in Beijing are also being required to increase the coverage of surveillance cameras. Sadly, the largely false claims follow a series of alleged abuse cases in preschools, prompting debate on whether China should allow more private kindergartens.
There is no evidence government funding would prevent abuses. In any case the government cannot run them all. That is why it has encouraged private investment, which promotes competition and diversity. The right approach is regulation across the public-private sector, setting standards of facilities and benchmark qualifications for teachers. As the hope of the future, the younger generation’s educational start in life is too important to be left to chance.