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Removing barriers to quality preschool education–- Overview of progress on preschool education since the 18th CPC National Congress

2018-09-08 10:49:00

“China has the largest preschool education system in the world. In 2017, there were over 255,000 kindergartens providing early childhood education to 46 million children – a population equivalent to that of a medium-sized country. The gross enrollment rate at pre-school level was 79.6%, reaching the average level in middle and high income countries. We have also implemented a three-year action plan in three phases and overhauled the country’s preschool education system”, said the Minister of Education Chen Baosheng at a press conference this March.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, China has crossed a number of hurdles on the way to achieve the goal of “ensuring people’s access to childcare” proposed at the 19th CPC National Congress.

1. Increasing public and universally available preschool resources

Although remarkable progress has been made in preschool education since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy, education at this level has remained a weak link in the country’s education system, with problems such as lack of resources and input, barriers to enrollment and high tuition fees.

In 2010, the State Council published its Several Opinions on Developing Preschool Education at the Current Stage, which proposed 10 measures to solve the problems, especially the enrollment issue, mapping out the development of preschool education for the new era. In 2014, the Ministry of Education (MOE) launched a bundle of measures under a three-year plan, including: requiring planning for kindergartens to be overseen by districts and counties to ensure rational distribution of public kindergartens; promoting the establishment and expansion of public kindergartens through subsidies, service procurement, and reduction and exemption of rent; establishing kindergartens affiliated to primary and secondary schools; and supporting the establishment of kindergartens by neighborhoods and villages.

To tackle the excess demand for universal preschool resources due to the launch of the “two-child” policy, the MOE introduced regulations requiring that more effort be put into establishing preschools in poverty-stricken areas, areas embracing baby boom after the “two-child” policy and the outskirts of cities.

All these measures brought unprecedented changes to the country’s preschool education system, significantly lessening the negative impact of enrollment and tuition issues with a surge in the number of public and universal preschool institutions.

2. Improving the quality of preschool education

To meet people’s demand for quality early education, the MOE is also attaching great importance to the exploration of suitable and appropriate childcare and pedagogical methods. In September 2012, it issued Guidance on the Learning and Development of Children at Three to Six Years, which describes the developmental characteristics for preschoolers aged 3 to 6 in terms of physical, social and intellectual development (including language, science and art), and offers research-based recommendations for kindergarten teachers and nurses.

The Guidance recognizes the importance of play in early childhood development, and clearly states that games are the basic way of organizing teaching activities in kindergartens. To raise public awareness about these concepts, the MOE designated the four weeks from May 20 to June 20 every year as the Preschool Education Month. Local education authorities also organized public lectures, expert interviews, consultations and other activities to publicize preschool educational principles.

In July 2018, the MOE promulgated a regulation to curb the provision of primary-level education in kindergartens, which specifies pedagogical content, teaching methods, learning environment and teacher qualification. As required by the regulation, local education authorities introduced various measures to regulate preschool programs, replacing negative teaching practices with approved methods and ensuring that the activities organized in kindergartens were within the capacity of the age group concerned, to create a favorable environment for the healthy development of young children.

3. Removing institutional hurdles to speed up the development of preschool education

Before 2010, only a small proportion of government funding for education was injected into preschool education, which hindered its development. Since 2011, however, government spending on preschool education has witnessed continuous and significant growth. In 2016, it reached 130 billion RMB, marking an increase of 77% over five years.

To further support preschool development, at the end of 2016, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the MOE jointly produced the Measures of Managing Government Funding for Preschool Development, stating that the central government would directly allocate financial resources from the central budget to encourage local efforts in expanding preschool services and offer financial support to kindergarten children. In 2017, the MOF data showed that the central budget for preschool development reached 14.9 billion.

Apart from financial support, the development of preschool education also hinges on sourcing an adequate supply of suitably-qualified kindergarten teachers. With the rapid expansion in the preschool education system, a huge shortfall emerged in the number of available teachers. It is estimated that, by 2020, this gap will have swollen to 1.9 million. The MOE developed the Kindergarten Staffing Standard and Measures to Strengthen the Kindergarten Teacher Workforce to guide the local efforts in filling the gap based on local conditions. Also, to improve the quality of teacher workforce, since 2011, the MOE launched a national training program for preschool teachers, with a focus on training leading teachers in mid-western rural areas.

In 2016, a total of 36 preschool reform pilot zones were selected to explore ways of solving a number of issues, such as further expanding universal preschool resources, and establishing financial input mechanisms targeting public preschools and teacher training and recruitment mechanisms. These zones provided valuable ideas and replicable good practices for the advancement of preschool education.

It is planned that, by 2020, China will have established a universal, public and quality preschool education system with a gross enrollment rate of 85% while the coverage of kindergartens with universal access is planned to reach 80%. To achieve these goals, there are still many challenges, and more efforts are needed to deepen reforms in preschool education and seek breakthroughs for its further development.

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