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China urgently needs to develop preschool care

JIANG YONGPING, CHEN YUPEI | 2018-07-12 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Early childhood education in China has become big business, attracting more entrepreneurs and increased investment in the industry. (LI SHANSHAN)


The first three years of a child’s life represent the beginning of a human being’s comprehensive development. As society evolves, the traditional family-based model of childcare and early education is facing challenges. In particular, with the implementation of the two-child policy, there have been insufficient public services for childcare, and society has reached a consensus that we need to rebuild public childcare services.

In 2017, the office of the National Working Committee on Children and Women Under the State Council conducted a research project on public services and policy support for children aged 0-3. Some 4,700 parents or parents-to-be of children aged 0 to 6 from four provinces and cities including Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Shandong and Sichuan provinces participated in the survey.

At the same time, panels were held in Shanghai, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Shandong and Sichuan provinces, inviting professional agencies, experts, scholars, and parents to review the development of nursery services, educational and training institutions for 0-3 year old and explore paths and policy support for the sector in the future.


Huge demand
According to the survey, nearly half of the households who have children under 3 years old have high demand for childcare services, especially those with two working parents. About 48.2 percent of the respondents want to send their less-than-3-year-old children to childcare facilities, 50.2 percent of working parents households want to do the same, while this figure stood at 51.5 percent for households with a pregnant mother.

Most families want their children to attend childcare facilities while they are under the age of 2. A total of 70.4 percent of the respondents said they want to place children in a nursery while they are still under two and a half, 47.2 percent said they want to do so while their child is under the age of 2, 23.9 percent said they want to do so while the child is under the age of one and a half, 11.9 percent under the age of 1, while 4.0 percent want their child to attend a facility before the child is 6 months old.

About 53.4 percent of families said the most needed daycare service is all-day care, more than half of which requires the provision of delayed care service. Half-day care was prioritized by 23.9 percent of respondents, and 18.7 percent of families needed temporary childcare.

A majority of families, 79.4 percent, expect nursery institutions located in the community and nearby, 20.0 percent of respondents hope to have their children attend nursery institutions that their danwei (work units) set up. An overwhelming number of respondents want a match between the nursery service times and working hours.

As for fees, 79.1 percent of the respondents expect to pay for somewhat less than 2000 yuan a month for childcare services while 12.5 percent can accept a monthly fee of less than 3,000 yuan.

A safe, healthy and reassuring environment is the primary consideration for parents when choosing nursing institutions. Parents of children aged 0 to 3 have high expectations for nursery services. In turn, the five most considered factors are safety (71.6 percent), sanitation (54.5 percent), the environment and facilities (40.8 percent), professionalism of staff (37.2 percent) and caring attitude of caretakers (32.0 percent).

Respondents show more interest toward those service facilities with government involvement.  In total, 57.5 percent of the respondents chose public nurseries, and 32.8 percent attended non-governmental facilities with public assistance or public-funded private-run childcare services, with the two accounting for 90.3 percent of all the parents surveyed.

The survey also found that better public services for childcare can help boost fertility. Only 21.5 percent of families with a child or who are expecting their first child have a clear desire to have another child, nearly half say they do not plan to have another child, and about 30 percent are unsure. However, 50.9 percent of respondents said they would be willing to have another child if there were better public services and welfare policies for children. Among them, 42.1 percent of respondents who did not want or were not sure whether to have a second child expressed their willingness under the premise of a well-rounded childcare support.


Lack of regulations
In addition to the serious shortage of supply to meet the growing demand of the people for childcare services, there are many urgent problems to be solved in the development of childcare for 0-3 year old in China.

First of all, the sector lacks standardized management. As nursery institutions decrease in number, the public health departments that used to shoulder the responsibility for daycare service supervision no longer carry out such a duty, whereas the ministry of education, as it follows the division of labor, is limited to the role of kindergarten management and standardization. Thus, there are gaps in the management of the nursery system, leaving most nursery institutions  for infants and toddlers unqualified, unsupervised and with various risks.

The sector today has little policy support and effective regulation. At present, China has not formulated a development plan for the public service for children aged 0-3, nor has there been a designed access standard and system, let alone an encouraging policy. There is little overall effective management, supervision or review of existing childcare services. There are many difficulties faced by those wishing to comply with the law and participate in childcare services.

The quality of services also varies. Some public nurseries, daycare centers, and kindergartens have a long history and also excel in terms of concepts used in education, environment, facilities, or professionalism and attitudes of staff. Some high-end private facilities could also reach a certain standard, but quite a lot of low-end nursing institutions are struggling with poor environments and facilities as well as old-fashioned activities and teaching concepts, instead prioritizing only very basic needs of children in their care.

The workforce in this sector is facing shortages. As old-time childcare services have all but disappeared, the training of childcare workers has also been cut off. According to the survey, there are only a few normal colleges that offer early childhood and preschool educational degrees, while the others—more than 40 normal colleges and universities—have only set up courses to care for infants and toddlers. As a result, most of the staff working in various kinds of nursing institutions have not been trained or did not properly study how to take care of and help infants and toddlers.


Policy advice
Given all these challenges and after drawing upon international experience, we offer the following advice:

First, it is important to clarify that childcare services for children of 0-3 years old fall under the purview of public and universal welfare. Therefore, we must treat it as a basic public service, strengthen the principal responsibility and leading position of the government, and increase funding. To promote early childhood development, block the intergenerational transmission of poverty, advocate the development of women and gender equality, and complement the implementation of the two-child policy in an all-round way, the government needs to ensure universality and the equitable sharing of resources in nursery service development.

Second, we need to formulate plans and define the priorities of the sector as it stands. In order to solve problems quickly and safely, we should prioritize encouraging existing public and private kindergartens to accept children under 3 years old. From the long-term perspective of development, the construction of integrated community daycare center for younger children should be regarded as the focus of community innovation and development.

Third, it is crucial to clarify the management and supervision of public childcare services. We suggest that the ministry of education take the lead, the state council working committee on women and children run supervision, while finance, public security, civil affairs and other relevant departments actively engage and offer advice, thus forming a clear-cut framework for the regulation and technical support of the sector.

Next, nursery services for very young children are risky and expensive, so in order to ensure service quality and fairness in policy resources, we must encourage public and universally beneficial services such as work units’ nurseries, like the old days, while allowing social forces and private institutions to participate in nursery service construction and development. In the end, we will develop a multi-level and multi-channel supply of public and universal care services.

At the same time, special attention should be paid to the training and regular assessment of professional skills and professional qualities of teachers and caregivers in childcare services. We should take teachers’ ethics and love as the principal criteria for selecting and employing personnel, establish a system for the admittance and prohibition of child workers’ professional qualifications, and show zero tolerance for child abuse. Also, we must improve compensation and clarify standards for nursery teachers to receive professional appraisal and qualifications.

Finally, the increase in the number of childcare agencies cannot be achieved overnight. Under the influence of factors such as the characteristics of children of different ages and diversified demands of children, most infants under 1 year old and some children between 1 and 3 years old should still primarily grow up with family care. To this end, efforts should be made to increase maternity leave, parental leave, family parenting guidance, family caregivers support and other policy supporting systems.


Jiang Yongping is from the Women’s Studies Institute of China; Chen Yupei is from the Department of Sociology at Peking University.

(edited by YANG XUE)