Preschool education may be the best investment a country can make in its children’s education and its own future. Since 2012, China has made great efforts to reform this sector and has achieved significant progress in terms of coverage, accessibility and quality of preschool education.
Unprecedented high-level attention. Over the last decade, concrete action plans at the national and local levels have been implemented to facilitate the healthy development of the sector. From the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, which pledged to “make further advances in preschool education,” to the 2018 State Council Opinion on Advancing and Regulating the Development of Early Childhood Education, China’s policy makers have paid great attention to preschool education, introducing a range of measures aimed at making it more inclusive and universal. The general public has become more aware of the importance of building a stronger early education sector.
Wider access. Over the last decade, public investment in preschool education has increased exponentially. The number of kindergartens reached 295,000 in 2021, marking an increase of 128,000, or 76.8%, compared to 2011. The national net preschool enrollment rate increased from 62.3% in 2011 to 88.1% in 2021, representing an increase of 25.8 percentage points.
More equitable distribution of educational resources. In 2021, China had 245,000 affordable kindergartens, accounting for 83% of the total number of kindergartens nationwide; 128,000 of them were public ones, representing an increase of 149.7% from 2011.
Higher quality. Over the last decade, “National Pre-school Education Awareness Month” has been held every year around themes of better care and education for young children, such as “Learning Games for a Happy Childhood.” The MOE has published special tools, such as Kindergarten Education Guidelines and A Learning and Development Guide for 3-6 Year-old Children, to ensure young children are educated in a happy and constructive environment. Fun indoor and outdoor learning games are being developed and promoted across the country.
A stronger teacher workforce. In the past decade, the scale of training for preschool teachers has expanded. In 2021, the number of preschool education graduates from teaching colleges and universities reached 265,000, marking an increase of 231,000 compared to 2011. As a result, the student-teacher ratio decreased from 26:1 in 2011 to 15:1 in 2021. From 2012 to 2020, with some 4.3 billion yuan invested in training more than 2.43 million teachers, the teacher workforce has become more qualified.
Exponential growth in public spending. By 2020, public spending on preschool education had grown fivefold compared to 2011, to 253.2 billion RMB. The central government-run Educational Development Fund invested another 170 billion RMB, providing the sector with strong support. Cost-sharing mechanisms have been established between private investors and the government for private-run kindergartens. Subsidies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and children with disabilities have been substantially increased. Between 2012 and 2021, the government provided 75.2 billion RMB for 62.32 million children, ensuring their equitable access to education.
Stronger institutional safeguards. Stronger institutions have been built by publishing a number of operational protocols and standards as well as management guidelines in order to regulate kindergarten operation and improve educational quality. Sound supervision, monitoring and accountability systems have been put in place, and legislation on pre-school education has been drafted to ensure inclusive access.