Nov 26, 2015 05:58 PM

Country's Rural Areas Face Shortage of Preschools, Ministry Says

A youngster digs into his lunch at a rural kindergarten in Yuncheng, in the northern province of Shanxi
A youngster digs into his lunch at a rural kindergarten in Yuncheng, in the northern province of Shanxi

(Beijing) – Children in China's rural regions face a shortage of preschools and only half of youngsters in some poor areas can attend kindergarten, a report released on November 24 by the Ministry of Education says.

Some 70.5 percent of the country's children attended kindergartens in 2014, up from about 51 percent five years ago when the central government introduced a 10-year plan for providing better schooling, the report said.

However, in 58 poor counties in the northwestern province of Gansu only 52.3 percent of preschool age children were attending due to a shortage of facilities. In the more affluent eastern province of Jiangsu and in Shanghai, up to 98 percent of children attend kindergarten.

The report was based on data from regional governments, questionnaires filled out by kindergarten officials and parents, and field surveys in six provinces.

The researchers found that only 3.5 percent of public spending on education in China went toward preschools, but that the internationally accepted level is 7.7 percent. This put children in the country's poor areas at a great disadvantage, the report said.

An education official who asked not to be named said the gap between rural and urban areas in access in preschool education is actually greater than the report indicated because the research did not cover rural children who lack household registration papers, known as hukou.

He said that up to 10 percent of China's children, most of them in rural areas, lack hukou because their births violated family planning policies. The hukou documents grant the holder a range of public services, from health care to education.

The ministry's report said the country's number of kindergartens and students attending preschools rose by more than half from 2009 to 2014.

The World Bank has said that two-thirds of kindergartens in the country are privately owned, but most of those are poorly equipped or substandard.

The parlous state of preschool education in China has been highlighted in recent years by a string of deadly school bus accidents that involved unlicensed vehicles owned by private preschools. A bus from a private kindergarten that crashed into a truck in Zhengning County, in the northwestern province Gansu Province on November 16 in 2011 led to 21 deaths, including 19 children. Another 43 people were hurt.

The ministry said in its report that nearly 13,900 new kindergartens were built from 2011 and 2014 as part of government efforts to improve preschool education in the country, and nearly 77 percent of them are publicly funded.

However, many public preschools in less-developed areas are badly underfunded, said Xie Sheng, who oversees kindergartens as an official in Guizhou Province's education department. In the southwestern province's Bijie City, for example, 18 new public kindergartens remain closed because they do not have the money for desks.

The ministry's report also said the country does not have enough preschool teachers. Each teacher has 22 students on average, it said, far more than the seven to 13 it recommends.

Xie said that Guizhou alone needs to hire 40,000 kindergarten teachers for the number of students it has.

(Rewritten by Li Rongde)

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