Falling births trigger calls for reallocating preschool resources

Updated: Apr 9, 2024 By ZHAO YIMENG China Daily Print
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Children make paper-cutting art pieces at a kindergarten in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, last month. LI MINGFA/FOR CHINA DAILY

The National Health Commission said in late February that there are nearly 100,000 institutions providing childcare services nationwide, with approximately 4.8 million childcare spaces, which is currently insufficient.

"A more practical and effective approach would be to leverage the surplus of kindergarten capacities resulting from the decreasing preschool children and allocate them to toddlers under 3 years old, thereby promoting inclusive childcare," Xiong said.

Political adviser Su Hua said promoting the development of preschool education and inclusive childcare is not only crucial for ensuring that young children receive high-quality education, but also for alleviating burdens on families in terms of both childcare and education.

"Kindergartens can explore personalized childcare services tailored to children age 0 to 3 years old," said Su, who is also the vice-chairman of the National Association of Vocational Education.

Su is researching the scientific adjustment in demand between decreasing kindergarten candidates and insufficient childcare services for toddlers under 3 years old.

Before this year's two sessions that concluded early last month, Su visited a kindergarten at Deyang Foreign Languages School in Sichuan province to learn about its approach to education and teaching facilities.

The private kindergarten includes both regular classes for children over age 3 and childcare services for toddlers. In the morning, children of the daycare class engaged in sensory games under the guidance of teachers. Most of them had adapted well to group activities, Su said.

In the "forest town" set up in the school, children in the kindergarten class dressed as postal workers and rode scooters through the corridors to deliver mail, while others wearing safety helmets played the role of construction workers.

When Su asked about their work, a young "construction worker" said they were building a park.

"Starting vocational education from a young age helps children understand the concepts of labor," Su said, adding that vocational enlightenment in kindergarten can allow children to develop an initial understanding of society.

Qiu Xuejiao, vice-principal of the kindergarten, said the preschool education management has been adjusted according to the changing population.

"In the past, there was more emphasis on the construction of more kindergartens in local communities. However, with the changing demographics in the country, some institutions have insufficient enrollment, leading to closures and mergers," Qiu said.

Meanwhile, kindergartens could open both long-term and temporary daycare classes to supplement childcare services, Qiu said.

According to Su's investigation, infants under 6 months old are mainly taken care of at home, and the caring of those age 6 months to 2 years requires high standards of hygiene and safety.

Early education is needed for children age 2 to 3, so it's suitable to integrate childcare and early education in kindergartens into this group, Su said.

China's preschool education has initially addressed the difficulty in enrollment and high costs. However, challenges remain in the uneven development of preschool education in rural and urban areas, as well as the imbalanced supply-demand structure of resources, Su said.

Currently, there is an opportunity for comprehensively advancing high-quality development in early childhood education, which needs timely adjustments to the goals of early childhood education.

He suggested that kindergartens could have more flexible operating models; for instance, establishing daycare centers in densely populated communities to meet diverse needs.

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