1. Adverse changes in birthrates and death rates
Russia's birthrate per 1000 population, which was high in the mid 1980s, the last years of the Soviet Union, dropped sharply during the 1990s, while the death rate per 1000 population increased substantially. Consequently, the rate of natural increase was negative even during this time of peace and the absence of war. This phenomenon is quite unusual and has not occurred for a long time in major countries. In the 2000s, the death rate remained high, but the birthrate took a slight upward turn.
This demographic trend, known as the "Russian Cross", is often attributed to the negative effects of the transition from the Soviet Union to Russia. This trend can also be explained in terms of a population pyramid showing the age-sex structure of the country: an increase in the reproductive-age population, i.e., females aged 15-49 years, during the period between the 1990s and the early 2000s triggered the baby boom of the 2000s.
As a result, the total fertility rate, which indicates the fertility level of reproductive-aged population, increased to 1.54 in 2009 from the lowest level of 1.16 (lower than that of Japan) in 1999. The replacement level needed to maintain the current population level is said to be about 2.1 children per woman: the total fertility rates below this level can be classified as "moderately low fertility" (below 2.1) and "very low fertility" (below 1.5). Recent demographic data indicate that Russia's total fertility rate has exceeded the threshold of 1.5 again.
In addition, there was another factor behind this trend: the percentage of illegitimate births increased to 28% in 2000 and 30% in 2005 from 21% in 1995.
Furthermore, the number of households with one child is increasing. According to the 2002 census, out of about 38.28 million households, 54% had children below 18 years old: of those, 65% had one child, 28% two children, and 7% three children or more. This trend is due to the high divorce rate, housing conditions such as small living space, and insufficient social security systems.
2. Changes in infant population
As a result of the increase in births during the 2000s, six year olds were the age range with the lowest child population (1.37 million) and those under one year (1.7 million) were the age range with the highest number, as recorded in 2009. The total number of children was 10.52 million, accounting for 7.4% of the total population (141.9 million), with boys accounting for 51.5% of the total child population. When compared with the child population in 1989 (16.58 million, accounting for 11.2% of the total population), it is obvious that there has been a trend of declining birthrates over the past 20 years.
In terms of wider age ranges, the child population aged under 16 years decreased to 23.32 million (16.3% of the total population) in 2006 from 36 million (24.5%) in 1989, and remained virtually flat in recent years, recording 22.85 million (16.1%) in 2010. Moreover, it is estimated that the child population will reach a peak of 25.94 million (18.3% of the total population) in 2020, and will decline once again to 22.85 million (16.4%) in 2030.
The child population of Russia, which has a vast land area 45 times larger than that of Japan, naturally varies depending on the region. The eastern and southern areas of Russia have higher densities of child populations while the western and northern areas have lower densities. More precisely, the proportion of children is lower in the northwestern areas that include Moscow and St. Petersburg where urbanization is intense and there is a higher percentage of Russian residents.
In terms of ethnic origin, the majority of children are Russian; however, the proportion has been steadily decreasing, from 82.5% of the total population in 1989 to 78.3% in 2002. Without taking into account the migration factor, the ethnic Russian population is on a downward trend.
3. Childcare reforms in the 1990s and childcare needs in the 2000s
When the childcare system established in the era of the Soviet Union (1917-1991) became ineffective due to its dissolution, a new childcare system was formed in accordance with the 1992 Law of the Russian Federation on Education (revised in 1996 and substantially amended in 2009) and the 1995 Standard Statutes for Childcare Facilities (revised in 1997). The objectives of system are summarized as follows:
- Unify and manage all childcare facilities of national, public and private educational institutions (including those owned by individuals, social organizations, and religious organizations) under the name of "kindergarten" from the standpoint of supporting parental rights in childcare and home education. These facilities accept children aged two months to under seven years of age for long periods during the day. As an integrated educational facility for 3 to 10 year olds, there is also the "kindergarten/elementary school," with both parts under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Science. However, due to the prevalence of the childcare leave system which allows parents to take up to three years off from work, very few parents enroll their babies under one year old in kindergarten, and most children enroll at 18 months at the earliest when their parents' paid-leave expires. In 2008, children aged three years or older accounted for 84% of the total number of children in kindergarten. In addition, parents can decide whether to enroll their child in school at the age of six and half or seven years, according to the child's growth and development. In fact, the majority of children start school when they are six and half years old and receive compulsory education for eleven years, which is now under consideration to be extended to twelve years.
- Set up several different types of kindergartens including general kindergartens, kindergartens for disabled children, health kindergartens, integrated kindergartens, special development kindergartens, and child development centers. Conduct various childcare programs (corresponding to the kindergarten education guidelines and childcare nursery guidelines in Japan) while respecting the decision and intention of kindergartners.
- The government will not involve itself in the relationship between kindergartens and parents and will ensure the religious and political neutrality of the kindergartens.
This new childcare system was established aiming to introduce the principles of market economy to the childcare industry, under the keywords of de-nationalization, market-based principles, liberalization and diversification, while reducing administrative responsibilities for the development of childcare infrastructure.
Due to such childcare reforms and declining birth rates, the numbers of kindergartens and children in kindergarten dropped sharply in the 1990s, decreasing to 54,000 and 4.22 million in 1999, respectively, compared to 88,000 and 9 million in 1990, respectively. This is especially remarkable in rural areas, where the numbers of kindergartens and children in kindergarten decreased to 24,000 and 850,000 in 1999, respectively, compared to 41,000 and 2.15 million in 1990. In the 2000s, while the decline in kindergartens was moderate (decreased by 8600 to 45,000 in 2010 from 1999), the number of children in kindergarten has recently been on the rise. After reaching a record low of 4.25 million in 2001, (the lowest during the 2000s) the number of children in kindergarten increased to 5.39 million in 2010, which is almost comparable with the mid-1990's level.
The above phenomena led to a higher kindergarten occupancy rate (calculated by dividing the number of children in kindergarten by the capacity of kindergarten), reaching 107% in 2010. Currently, therefore, many kindergarten classrooms are slightly overcrowded. The kindergarten attendance rate (calculated by dividing the number of children in kindergarten by the total number of children) has also improved to 58% in 2009, after having dropped to 54% in 1998 from 68% in 1985.
Although nearly half of the parents of preschool children not attending kindergarten wish to enroll their children in kindergarten, many of them cannot afford to do so due to high childcare costs or a shortage of kindergartens. In fact, in 2009, there were 1.72 million children who could not enroll in kindergarten although they needed to (corresponding to the status of children on the waiting list for kindergarten in Japan), comparable to one third of the total number of children in kindergarten.
In addition, reflecting the reform conditions (1) and (3) mentioned above, a direct contract system was introduced for kindergarten enrollments. Under this system, parents should submit the application for kindergarten directly and complete the required admission procedures. As a result, parents in urban areas have to work furiously to find a kindergarten and parents in rural areas face a lack of kindergartens within commuting distance, and the right to childcare is becoming nothing more than words on paper. Under these circumstances, national kindergartens, the major survivor among other types of kindergartens, with sufficient human resources and facilities, have recently regained the trust of parents.
The primary focus here is not on the formation and management of kindergarten but rather on its public character. It is important to ensure that all children can receive adequate childcare services according to the degree of society's development in the early years of their life, regardless of family attributes. For this, the formulation of mid- and long-term administrative measures based on the actual conditions of childcare systems is necessary; and to implement such measures, support from parents and childcare workers kindergartners through organizational activities is vital.
In terms of the kindergarten types mentioned in the above (2), the most popular type is a general kindergarten: in 2010, 52% of kindergarten children were attending this type of kindergarten. The second popular type is the integrated kindergarten, attended by 26% of kindergarten children, which combines the functions of a general kindergarten*1 for comprehensive development, a kindergarten for disabled and a kindergarten for non-disabled children. In contrast, child development centers which have enhanced functions of general kindergartens hold a minority position, but have been gradually growing in number and popularity during the 2000s, retaining 12% of kindergarten children.
Meanwhile, there have been a wide variety of childcare programs offered including those with Montessori and Fröbel methods since the 1990s. Since kindergartens often arrange these programs as a class unit, childcare staff should handle different programs for different classes. Therefore, it is also important to establish an effective kindergartners education/training system to help childcare staff develop such capacity.
*1 In contrast to general kindergartens for comprehensive development, kindergartens for specialized development (specialized kindergartens) concentrate on developing particular intellectual, artistic, or physical capabilities.
For further information on other related issues or references not mentioned in the above, please refer to the following articles in Japanese:
- The Life and Childcare of Young Children in Modern Contemporary Russia", Eurasian Studies, vol. No. 43, 2010.
- "Issues on Upbringing of Children in Contemporary Childcare in the Modern Russian Society", Journal of Aoyama Gakuin Women's Junior College, vol. No. 64, 2010.
- "Revolution and children of in Russia in transition at the Turn of the Century", Bulletin of Cultural Research Institute, Aoyama Gakuin Women's Junior College, vol. No.18, 2011.