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[China] Current Conditions of Child Education Based on My Son's Experience at an Elite Kindergarten in Beijing

Summary:
Does the "little emperor" really exist?
It has been more than 20 years since China's one-child policy was introduced. Since then, a cynical criticism that mocks the only child as a little emperor has become pervasive; and child rearing in China has become a serious social issue. Local mass media warns that a generalized tendency of over-protective parents including four grandparents, who are eager to spoil and give everything to their only child, has resulted in an increasing number of children who lack individual initiative and the ability to empathize with others and are self-centered and selfish.
Moreover, many parents are actively, sometimes obsessively, involved in the early childhood special education of their child. For example, it is quite common for children of primary, junior high, and senior high schools in major cities to study after school at a cram school or at home with a private teacher, even though their parents are not rich. Pre-school children are often sent to private lessons, such as English class or piano class, accompanied by parents who wish their child to be intelligent, or even a genius.
More recently, a new type of private teacher has become popular. Hired to live with the children, these teachers show them how to study, even how to take a break and refresh their minds. In this manner, they can teach children not only special academic skills but also a smart way of organizing their lives.
Here, I will discuss the effects of such blind parental love on the children of China as I observed them in my experience of visiting Beijing in 2002 and remaining there for approximately one and half years.

Keywords: China, Beijing, one-child policy, little emperor, early childhood special education
Japanese

>>Basic Data of China Indonesia

 

The reality of the elite education for children in China

<The true role of kindergartens is education? >

When I stayed with my family in Beijing while taking child-rearing leave, I had to find a kindergarten for my son (at that time, he was four years old). I tried to gather information, thinking over one thing or another, like local people do, and gradually came to know more about the actual conditions of kindergartens in China.

In Beijing, there are three types of kindergartens: public kindergartens that operate as child welfare; private kindergartens that operate as a business; and private kindergartens receiving some public assistance whose operation falls somewhere between the former two. Among them, the private kindergartens are very popular, even though they are expensive, as they offer elite education programs as well as good care services, facilities, and various special curricula.

I was planning to spend my leave relaxing in Beijing; but impressed by my neighbors' strong parental love and willingness to do anything for "my baby," I could not resist joining in this "much ado about elite education."

I thought having to select a kindergarten for my son would a good chance to deepen my understanding of China's child education industry. First I selected 20 kindergartens based on information collected via the Internet and from my neighbors, and subsequently visited each of them. Finally, I chose the North Star Art Kindergarten, the nearest facility from my house, for easy transportation to and from the kindergarten. By now it was February 2003, when my son's elite education began.

At this kindergarten, children must arrive by 7:30 am, and do physical exercise before breakfast. Then the classes start. Under the carefully-prepared curriculum, children learn various subjects in four categories: language comprising the recitation of Chinese poems and learning Chinese characters; science including calculation, experiments, etc.; the arts including fine arts, figurative arts, music, etc.; and the English language. After lunch, they take an afternoon nap. In the afternoon, children are divided into several classes of their choice, such as a Montessori class, as well as English, piano, drum, etc. At 5 pm, their enjoyable and full day at kindergarten comes to an end.

 

<Parents harden their hearts and push their child to study>

There are parents who even consider that this amount of education is not enough. I often heard parents at the kindergarten making comments such as "I want my child to learn more English skills," "When they start teaching arithmetic?" "How can my child perform at the piano recital?" etc., etc. These parents do not hesitate to invest a lot of money to achieve the goal of developing their child's skills to their full potential. In fact, they spend at least 30,000 yuan solely on the enrolment fee for kindergarten. Even for those from a high-income family (more than 100,000 yuan in annual income), this investment is surely a considerable part of their income.

 

<Price gouging in the child market>

Currently, the phenomenon of price gouging in the child market, where profiteers ask parents for extravagant education fees, has become a highly controversial issue in China. In 2003, the child market was ranked second in predatory markets, despite the government's efforts to strengthen regulations on such unfair pricing and complaints from parents.

Nevertheless, looking at the overheated education boom that was around me, I find it understandable that Chinese parents cannot resist the flow, as I could not, even though they are not happy to pay such exorbitant fees. Quite often these parents are overextending themselves financially in paying for extremely high education costs for their child. And such parental ambition, as a result, encourages further price gouging in the child market.

 

Why do Chinese parents treasure their child so much?

Many researchers have pointed out that this is deeply rooted in the adolescence of the parents. Since most parents who have a small child belong to my generation, I can imagine how they think about their child.

When I was in the first year of primary school, the whole nation saw the Communist Party finally expel the Gang of Four, a radical leftist political group that controlled the party during the period of the Cultural Revolution. It was a time that most parents were unable to afford, or had any hope or ambition to provide their child with a prosperous future. It was a time when the whole nation was, fortunately or unfortunately, taking care of everything, including child education and future planning. Then China's reform and opening-up policies were implemented, followed by educational reform in a wide range of fields. As a result, western culture and philosophy as well as its concept of values have flooded into the nation in bursts, confusing many young people.

After decades of rapid economic growth, Chinese people now enjoy much higher living standards in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, especially those of my generation, who are the chief beneficiaries of this affluent lifestyle. These people, who experienced material scarcity in their youth, are therefore eager to give their child as many things as possible when they become a parent, desiring that their child should never go through the same poverty. Such parental love has created intense competition among children. Therefore, it is a natural consequence for parents to worry about the future of their child and subsequently to take the next step toward action: early childhood special education.

 

What we should do now?

A few years ago, a book entitled "Proclamations by Only Children" became a bestseller. This is a collection of letters and voices of only children sent to a radio program for youngsters on a radio station. We could see from this book the lament and anguish of being an only child, which still conveyed positive messages: "When I become a parent, I want to give my child much more freedom," "I want to play a lot, and talk a lot with my child," "No need to be a clever, just enjoy life, doing as he/she likes," etc.

Recently, the government implemented partial deregulation of its one-child policy in some regions. Current issues are ultimately due to the fact that the first "only-child boomers" who experienced wealth, success, and loneliness in their childhood are now going to reach the age of becoming a parent.

In less than five years, I assume that the first generation of only children who become parents will substantially affect and change the child market in China. In the light of this assumption, the development of appropriate educational products as well as service and support frameworks are realistically required, taking into consideration future consumer trends and targeting the children of this generation of parents, or more precisely, targeting the parents themselves.

Profile

Aiping Liu
She was born in Shanghai, China, and now lives in Tokyo. She holds a Master of Education, and is a CRN staff member and a member of the Education Research Collaboration Conference between China and Japan. In Japan since 1988, she studied education at university in Japan at both the undergraduate and graduate level, specializing in comparative education of China and Japan. Employed by Benesse Corporation in 1996, she was engaged in language business start-ups, compilation of education materials, and marketing. In 2002, she returned to China temporarily to give birth to her second son, and came to understand the actual conditions of child education in China while her first son attended a kindergarten in Beijing.
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