Early Childhood Care and Education
in P.R. of China
Institute of Early Childhood Education, East China Normal University
(No.3663 North Zhongshan Road, Shanghai, China P.C.200062)
This paper presents a profile about early childhood care and education in China. The problems discussed are related to (a) the background information related to ECCE such as Chinese culture, history and economic status; (b) the provision of early care and education(ECCE); (c) reform and developmental trends of ECCE; (d) issues and problems in ECCE.
CURRENT STATUS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND EDUCATION IN CHINA
Types of ECCE institutions
There are mainly 3 types of ECCE institutions in China. Nurseries are for children of 0-3 years old; kindergartens are for children of 3-6 years old; and the so-called “preschool classes” attached to primary schools are for 5-6 years old children.
Administrative institutions of ECCE
The Ministry of Education is in charge of kindergartens. Traditionally, nurseries are not considered as educational institutions and are not under the supervision of educational authorities. But in some areas, nurseries are administered together with the kindergartens and under the supervision of educational authorities.
Policy, laws and important programs of ECCE
The government of China is one of those who pay most attention to ECCE of the world. In 1990’s, our government signed The World Declaration of Living, Protection and Development of children and The Implement of World Declaration Action Plan of Living, Protection and Development of children at The World Head Conference of Children’s Problems, and also signed The Children’s Rights Convention with U.N.
In 1992, China promulgated The Program Outline of Children’s Development in 1990’s considering the global goals proposed at The World Head conference and the current situations in China. It was the first time for our government to propose a national action plan that focused on children. Under the efforts of governments of different level and relevant departments the goals of this program were basically realized. It showed that great progress was made in the field of ECCE in China.
In 1996 National Education Bureau performed The Regulations of Kindergartens, in which the care and education of children were related closely and the whole development of children was emphasized. It pointed out that the goal of ECCE was to promote the accordance of children’s development.
Recently another important program - The Program Outline of Children’s Development in 2000’s was carried out. This program insisted on the principles of Children Priority and provision for children’s living, development and their rights of being protected and participation. The goals of this program are to enhance the whole quality of children and facilitate their mental and psychology healthy development. The main target of children’s heath is set to reach the advanced level of developing countries. It promoted that on the base of dissemination of nine-year compulsory education the high school education should also be disseminated in large and middle cities and economically advanced areas. The law system should also be consummated gradually in order to protect children’s development. And children’s living environment should be improved and the special support should be provided to those children in difficult situations.
General situation of kindergartens
Kindergartens are sponsored by local educational authorities, Women’s Federations, enterprises, and communities etc. Private kindergartens are increasing in recent years. In 2000 there were 175,836 kindergartens with more than 1,144,000 staff members in China, including teachers, directors, and hygiene nurseries. More than 22,440,000 children were enrolled in kindergartens. About 21% of the kindergartens were in the urban area and the rest of them were in the counties, towns and rural area.
Each class has two teachers and an aide. But some kindergartens, especially rural kindergartens, may have only one teacher per class with no aide. In one class, there are generally 25 3- and 4-year old children, or 30 4- and 5-year-old children, or 35 5- and 6-year-old children. But in the rural areas, usually there are more children in one class.
Class schedules of kindergartens
Class schedules are varying from one kindergarten to another kindergarten. There are 3 types of class schedules implemented in kindergartens. Most of kindergartens are daytime kindergarten. The children are brought to kindergarten early in the morning, after a health check they may engage in different activities such as morning exercises, play, games, learning activities. Following is an example of one kindergarten’s time schedules (figure 1). A few kindergartens are half-day-time kindergartens. About 5%~10% kindergartens are boarding kindergartens which means children are brought to kindergarten on Monday morning and took back home on Friday afternoon.
Figure 1: An example of schedule of day-time kindergarten
Time span Activity
7:30-8:00 Entrance, health check
8:00-9:00 Free play and morning exercises
9:00-9:20 Wash and snack
9:30-9:50 Learning activity
10:00-10:30 Outside activity
10:30-11:00 Learning activity or free play
15:00-15:30 Learning activity
15:30 Free play and leaving
The goal of the government for ECCE
Now, the goal of the government for early childhood care and education is: “basically, in large or middle cities or the relatively more advanced areas, children of 3-6 years old should get the opportunity for 3 years’ education. As regards rural areas, the enrollment rate for 1 year’s “preschool class” education (prepare for the first year of primary school) should be raised.”
Expense of ECCE
According to statistic data, the total expense of early childhood education in China increased from RMB 522 million yuan in 1991 to RMB 2,912 million yuan in 1996. The proportion of the expense of early childhood education to the total educational expense grew from 0.7% to 1.3%. In 2000, averagely, each child has RMB 128 yuan educational funds. The amount is not large, but it is developing very rapidly.
Finance of ECCE
And also, the Ministry of Education issued “Administrative Regulations of Kindergarten” in 1989. It regulated that governments at different levels have rights to run nurseries. At the same time it encouraged and supported enterprises and administrative departments, social groups, denizen committees, villager committees and individual civics to handle or contribute to kindergarten. These guidelines and policies changed the old notion and practice that all finances of nurseries and kindergartens simply depended on government and groups. Now it has formed a new pattern that government, groups and individual invest together and support the early childhood education of China. The educational funds are increasing annually.
Teachers’ qualification of ECCE
The statistic date of 2000 showed that kindergarten directors and teachers graduated from colleges or universities are about 12%, from normal schools are about 45%, from vocational schools of early childhood education are about 16%. The above totals are 73%. Rest of them graduated from either senior high schools (about 17%) or junior high schools (about 10%). There are also different in-service training programs for teachers and directors.
“The Teachers Law” regulates that kindergarten teachers should at least graduated from normal schools of early childhood education. If one don’t have this kind of diploma, she has to pass the examination of the educational authorities to get a teacher’s certificate. In developed areas, the requirements of teacher’s qualifications for ECCE are quite high. For example, in Shanghai, those who wants to be kindergarten teachers have to get a college diploma, otherwise she is not able to be a kindergarten teacher.
EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULUM REFORM IN CHINA
In China, early childhood education has gone through more than 100 years developing course. There are 3 big early childhood curriculum reforms, happened in 1920’s-1930’s, 1950’s, and 1980’s-now respectively. Especially from 1980’s, the Reform and Opening Policy has been greatly animated the contemporary early childhood curriculum reform. Radical changes in educational theory and practice have taken place.
1920’S-1930’S Early Childhood Curriculum Reform
From the establishment of the Chinese kindergarten, educators had mainly copied foreign countries’ educational patterns, including educational content, educational method, equipment and toys, etc. At the beginning they imitated Japan, then imitated western countries. The thoughts of Frobel, Montessorri, and especially the thoughts of Dowey influenced the early childhood curriculum at that time.
During 1920’s-1930’s, the early childhood curriculum reform theoretically affirmed the children’s subjectivity; recognized that curriculum should come from children’s life, should include all activities of children in kindergarten; put forward that the creation and edit of curriculum should accord to children’s psychological level. For example, influenced by Dowey, Heqin Chen pointed out that the whole nature, the whole society are the core of curriculum. He also proposed to implement “unit pedagogy”, adopt play as the method of education; emphasize on children’s direct experience. It could be said that the early childhood curriculum reform after 1980’s is influenced greatly by the reform of 1920’s-1930’s.
1950’S Early Childhood Curriculum Reform
In October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established. The government set about to develop the early childhood education on the basis of rectifying, reorganizing and reforming the former early childhood education. Guided by the policy of following the Soviet Union comprehensively, the Chinese early childhood educators totally adopted the theories and experiences on early childhood education of the Soviet Union. The Ministry of Education invited two experts of the Soviet Union in early childhood education to give lectures in China and spread their experience all over China. The teaching program specified contents and time; demanded kindergartens to systematically teach the children school assignment. At that time, the activities in kindergartens include physical training, language, knowledge of science, drawing, handwork, music and calculation, but exclude learning to read. The program emphasized the scientific and logical character of the courses, emphasized the guiding function of teachers, suggested that teachers lead children to go in for purposeful and planed activities, blend teaching into children’s everyday life in kindergartens.
1950’s kindergarten curriculum reform in China was supported by psychological and educational theory in the former Soviet Union. The mature experiences of subject-dividing education on the basis of many years’ research in the former Soviet Union were used for reference. Though it rejected all the previous work, the reform was mild and smooth. This may because that the Chinese culture and politics at that time could accept the subject-dividing mode of education. Meanwhile, this may also because in the state of planned economy, the government could use administrative methods to command the lower levels actualizing policy. In 1950’s, China just cast of the trouble of war. Hundreds of fields were expected to develop. With regard to education, it needed new normal order. This subject curriculum system met that requirements because it emphasized on results, had clear educational aim and systematic pedagogy content, and could be easily performed. In the condition of scanty educational resources and insufficient teachers, this kind of curriculum also had some advantages on improving the quality of early childhood education.
During the “Great Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976), the early childhood education withered and was severely damaged. Many kindergartens were forced to shut down. When the “Great Cultural Revolution” ended, early childhood education began to come back to the right way.
In 1978, the governments at all levels resumed their administration of early childhood education. Overhauled and reorganized the early childhood education that was damaged by the ten-years’ chaos. The governments exerted an effect on the teaching order and enhanced the quality of nursing and teaching. On the basis of the program run in 1950’s, the program specified the teaching contents of kindergartens. It included physical training, language, calculation, science, music and drawing. It emphasized that the kindergartens ought to fulfill the teaching task through games, sports, lessons, observation, labor, recreation and every day life activities.
The subject curriculum gradually formed and developed from 1950’s has ineradicable influence on Chinese early childhood curriculum. After 1980’s, against the subject curriculum system, early childhood curriculum reform put forward some curricula which stressed on children’s personal experiences such as: “integrated education”, “activity curriculum”, “unit pedagogy” etc. Some teaching materials that break through the subject system are also created and edited. The Chinese early childhood education theorists and practitioners criticize the defects of subject curriculum. They have great passionate interest in the non-subject curriculum. However, until now, the traditional subject curricula are still dominant in the kindergartens.
Early Childhood Curriculum Reform Since 1980’S
From the 1980’s, China started to carry out the Reform and Opening Policy, which greatly modified the traditional education concepts. The foreign educational theories, such as those of Dowey, Montessori, Bronfenbrenner, Bruner, especially Piaget and Vygoski, began to spread widely in China, and the thoughts of recent modern Chinese educationists were brought to important place again. Early childhood educators were no longer satisfied with the contemporary education, which had last for more than 30 years. They started large-scale early childhood education reform.
The kindergarten curriculum reform from the early 1980’s began with spontaneous experiments of various districts. These experiments expanded from single subject to whole curriculum, from city to village, actively propelled kindergarten curriculum reform. The most influential measure of this reform is the“Kindergarten Work Regulations and Procedures”, issued by National Education Committee (the Ministry of Education) in 1989. The regulations reflect the original aim of the reform; that is, the early childhood education should face the world, face the future and face the modernization. Through administrative ways, the reform content was implemented to each level of administrative organizations and each kindergarten. The spirit of the reform is mainly reflected in the following aspects:
(1) It emphasizes on the active activities of children, and providing opportunities for substantial activities.
(2) It emphasizes that education must comply with the individual’s diversity, and promote the development of each child in different levels.
(3) It emphasizes on the importance of play in early childhood education.
(4) It emphasizes on integrated education in daily kindergarten activities.
(5) It emphasizes on the process of kindergarten activities.
During the course of executing the regulations, theoretical and practical workers of early childhood education started approach, applied each reform measure and tried all educational plans. Speaking objectively, this reform greatly changed the thoughts of early childhood educators. Many kindergarten teachers started to understand that it is necessary to respect children and meet their needs, that we should take children’s development as the start point of education, and should pay more attention to children’s daily life in kindergarten, let them study independently and actively during daily activities. The early childhood curriculum reform planned to change the knowledge and skill-highlighted, subject-dividing teaching mode, underline the integrity of children’s one-day activities at the kindergarten, but sometime they failed to shake the core of old teaching way, in which the goal was prescribed by teachers as orientation and foundation for assessment. There were a number of approaches and practice in this reform, but many of them were not successful. Till now, the curriculum reform still in process. New approaches are still growing up. For example, integrated theme-based curriculum is a new approach conducted in Shanghai, which will powerfully influence the early childhood curriculum reform in Shanghai and other developed areas in China. There were some advantages of this new approach. In the first place, this new approach was greatly influenced by many theories and practices such as progressive movement, constructive theory, project approach, Reggio approach, etc. Secondly, Shanghai is one of the most developed areas in China. People have more open mind and can accept new educational ideas easily. The third, teachers and parents are well educated in this city. Approximately all the kindergarten teachers at least have junior college educational level. About 20% of them achieved under-graduated degree or graduate degree. What’s more, educational institutions also provide in-service training for kindergarten teachers and special training for parents. The fourth, children in this city are over educated. One child policy makes the society and families paying much attention to the children. Educational resources coming from various origins supply many opportunities for children, even excessive opportunities. The fifth, government supports this new approach. The sixth, this new approach is based on a lot of experiences and practices of early childhood curriculum reform conducted in China.
PROBLEMS AND ISSUES IN ECCE
The number of children’s enrollment decreased
In recent years, the number of children’s enrollment of kindergarten has decreased. According to statistic data, from 1996 to 2001, the total number of children in kindergartens has decreased by 6.9 million. Among which, 6.1 million of the totals is the decreased number in rural areas. The decrease is even acutely in the developed rural area. The reasons are: (1) some kindergartens are incorporated with primary schools, being as so-called “preschool class”. (2) copying the reform of enterprises system blindly, kindergartens are sold as private institutions to individuals who are not qualified to handle kindergartens. 3) the pay for teachers in rural areas is not good. Rural areas haven’t stable amount of kindergarten teachers.
This problem has aroused much attention of the educational administrative departments at all levels. In China, early childhood education does not belong to compulsory education span, so it is not possible that the government allocate a large amount of money to undertake it. The national policy is to mobilize various kinds of social resources to sponsor early childhood education. However, the adjustment of the policy needs a period of time.
The quality of ECCE varies
China has vast territory. The economy development levels are not equal. So, great differences are existing among the quality of early childhood care and education. There are differences between urban areas and rural areas, and differences between districts. The children’s opportunities to get care and education are not fair because of the dramatic difference in funds invested, in educational environment------buildings, equipment, materials for activity etc., and in teacher’s qualifications.
It needs time to solve this problem, because it depends on many factors, especially the change in economy condition.
The teachers’ professional growth lags behind the curriculum reform
National guidance of the curriculum reform for early childhood care and education institutions makes curriculum multi-oriented and individualization. The directors and the teachers of kindergartens who are used to traditional educational manners always feel difficult to adapt to it. Thereby, the curriculum reform just becomes decoration, not real reform from inside.
It has already been recognized that the teachers’ professional growth and development is crucial to curriculum reform. Strengthening teachers’ education and in-service training has become one of the emphases of educational administrative departments’ job at all levels. From the central government to local government, different levels of training system has been established and begun to effect positively.
Dilemmatic problems in curriculum
The reform performed by early childhood educational theorists and practitioners always surrounds the following problems and issues:
Discussions of Chinese culture and new ideas about ECCE, such as: academic skills vs. child development; teacher–oriented vs. child–oriented; subject instruction vs. integrated learning; process vs. educational outcomes, etc.
Discussions of ideal situation and teacher’s understanding;
Discussions of theories & practice.
DEVELOPMENTAL TRENDS IN ECCE
The developmental trends of ECCE in China are as follows:
Integration of 0-6 years old children’s care and education
Attaching importance to the care and education of children from 0-3 years of age, Chinese educational administrative departments are becoming the principal part to in charge of it step by step, instead of the hygiene departments. Kindergartens began to enroll children of 2-3 years old. They also provide education and guidance service for 0-2 years old children and their family members in the way of “parents and child education” etc. The state advocated a developmental index of “extensively improve the scientific care and education ability for parents and childminders of 0-6 years old children”. The integration of 0-6 years old children’s care and education assures the continuity. They will not be divided into two stages any more.
The care and education for 0-6 years old children are melted into community service.
As the function of community is strengthening, there is an obvious trend that care and education institutions are relying on community. The trend is to establish such a management mechanism for children’s care and education: relying on community; planned as a whole by government leaders; administered by educational departments; coordinated by other relative departments; involve parents and various educational institutions within the community.
The curriculum reform in nursery and kindergarten institutions make the children’s care and education tending to individualization
The government guide the curriculum reform in nursery and kindergarten institutions, emphasize on children’s development and obtaining general ability, pay much attention to the process of children’s activity, stress on the training of children’s personality. As regards curriculum management, the state and local government authorize the whole power or part of the power to the nurseries and kindergartens to decide curriculum issues. Government also macroscopically guides the curriculum to put into effect to make sure that the curriculum match with the situation of children and institutions.
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