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Pre-school Education in Rural China

Pre-school children playing in the kindergarten
Pre-school children playing in the kindergarten
June 28, 2012

In rural China parents are often ambitious for their children to do well in life. What often lets them down, right from the start, are the outdated and ineffective teaching methods used in the education of children under 6 years old. This is due to a lack of knowledge amongst staff, in pre-schools and kindergartens, of teaching methods that are both appropriate and constructive for children of this age.

Research undertaken by Plan China on early childhood care and development or ECCD shows that there are many challenges to face in reforming teaching methods. Pre-school education in the rural areas often simply replicates the kind of primary education given to older children. This, in addition to high child to teacher ratios, averaging at 1 teacher to every 23 children, often means that very young children are receiving schooling that is totally unsuited to them.

Plan China has been developing an ECCD program since 2001 and Pu is attending one of the project's pre-schools. All of the nine teachers working there have attended Plan training programs that emphasize a play-orientated model in educating very young children.

Ms. Duan recalls that her 7-year-old daughter, Yuting, had no enthusiasm at all for pre-school until she started attending the kindergarten. “Now she loves to go to go to school and comes home full of fun. She has learned all kinds of dances and games and tells me all about the things she has done during her day.”

The ECCD program aims to solve problems at a local level and provide a successful model for future changes implemented at a government level. During the 11 years of development of the program, a central aim has been to improve awareness amongst caregivers of what kind of stimulation and communication suits pre-school children as opposed to children who are a little bit older. It has also concentrated on providing the necessary hardware support to existing kindergartens, whilst helping them to create a safe environment. An effort has also been made to improve communication between those working on the ground and government departments charged with formulating and implementing policy.

As the program has progressed, priorities have also been refined. Yu Honglian, Education Advisor of Plan China, elaborates, “We are focusing more on involving excluded children, many of whom are girls.” In Hongsipu District where over 57% of the population is from ethnic minority groups, Plan China encourages the kindergartens, the education bureaus and families to jointly share the tuition fees for pre-school-aged girls, orphans and children with disabilities. For those children whose families cannot afford the tuition or initially do not want their children to attend the pre-schools, Plan China provides funds or equipment for those kindergartens as part of a conditional cash transfer program. Pre-school aged children, who cannot to attend pre-school itself, can join in a 'Kindergarten Open Day' for free, or teachers can visit them in their communities. The open days and home visits take place several times a month. The goal is to gently encourage children and their parents to become involved with pre-school education with the aim of fostering enthusiasm for attending actual classes. In exchange, Plan China compensates the kindergarten for the equipment, instruments and funds needed for the program.

Educators themselves have become enthusiastic about the changes. Mr. Han Zhanqing, head of one of the kindergartens involved explains, “Since Plan China started supporting our kindergarten in 2007, we have altered our methods to good effect. We now concentrate on stimulating their interest and enthusiasm.”

The ECCD program is also proving hugely popular with parents. Ms. Luo, mother of 5 year-old Xiaoxu says, “unlike in other kindergartens, my daughter does not go to kindergarten with a miserable face and heavy bags full of books to carry. She has fun and loves going to school." The program is now set to move forward to the next stage. Mr. Liu Bin, an officer of the Education Bureau of Yuyang District, explains, “jointly with Plan China, we have been piloting the ECCD programming module in nine kindergartens in our district. The pilot provides great experience for us, and we are planning to copy the model to other kindergartens.”

Learn more about Plan's work in China


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