The story appears on

Page C2

February 3, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

'Golden babies' get head start

JIN Shilin, four and half years old, has had a packed schedule since he was 18 months old. Besides going to a bilingual kindergarten, Jin takes weekly music appreciation classes, painting classes in English, problem-solving and puzzles sessions and game-playing interaction with his parents.

On weekends he is often busier than his investment banker dad and HR manager mom. Some other kids his age are also taking Western etiquette and table manners classes.

Jin was given the English name Stephen when he was born (and he answers to it) "so he will find it easier to collaborate in this increasingly globalized world," says his 33-year-old father, James Jin.

But in daily interactions, his parents usually call him Jin Beibei, or "Golden Baby" (jin baobao/beibei), a sort of self-mocking nickname indicating the huge amount of money his parents have spent and will continue to spend on his education. And he answers to it.

Another five-month-old infant is known as Jin Yuanbao, meaning money (gold ingot).

And, like many young Chinese parents with one child, these parents place a high value on pre-school and early education. Many were brought up when education was at times chaotic and at best not geared to preparing kids for future ruthless competition. They themselves learned early on, and often the hard way, that competition could become intense and cruel.

These parents want to give their children the best possible preparation money can buy for the race ahead, arming them as many options and skills as possible.

They have to start early to get a head start. Kids younger than three or four go to nursery school, those older go to kindergarten. There are even papa ke (crawling, crawling classes) in which kids are free to crawl around.

There's a lot riding on those early years.

"We just can't afford to have our baby lose out at the very beginning," says 29-year-old businessman Yu Linqi who has a four-month-old son and has been doing a lot of research into classes and kindergartens.

"Our parents weren't exposed to a lot of different options when we were little. These expensive classes might not be useful, but what if they help even by 1 percent?" he asks. "I don't want to regret not sending my baby to school when every child is going."

To many Chinese parents, the education equation is simple: key elementary school + key middle school + key high school + key university + master's degree from a key graduate school abroad + corporate white-collar job = success.

Nursery/pre-school is the very beginning of the equation.

From their own experience, white-collar parents believe English is a basic and essential tool, so bilingual kindergartens and pre-school English classes are popular.

Some early education is packed with lessons - and loading toddlers up with so much information is controversial. There are serious questions about whether it can be effective and whether very early learning of a second language can inhibit learning of a mother tongue.

In addition, Western early education systems, notably Montessori, Olaf and Froebel, are becoming attractive. The idea, of course, is to encourage children to become inquisitive, to learn on their own and love learning - before they are forced into educational regimentation, especially in China. It is hoped that in spite of traditional education, they will be able to think out of the box.

Dozens of kindergartens and institutions, certified or not, assert that they have adopted one of the three methods and charge two or three times more than regular schools.

"Parents always inquire about Western methods, even though most don't understand the main theories and how they differ," says Zhu, who has worked in a pre-school for seven years and declines to give her full name. "These places just take the name of a Western method, but the classes are only regular, nothing special," she says.

It costs at least 2,000 yuan (US$439) a month to go to a bilingual kindergarten. Those with foreign teachers or those in central areas are often 4,000?8,000 yuan per month - and that's just basic tuition. Optional classes are another 100 to 200 yuan per class.

It's easy to spend half of one's monthly income, or more, on baby.

Some famous and popular kindergartens even interview the parents as part of the application procedure. They charge "sponsorship" fees starting at 30,000 yuan - one famous school charges 100,000 yuan to get in and then it's at least 4,000 yuan a month.

Pre-school teachers tell parents that it is not about how smart the kids are, it is about how early parents and teachers can start teaching, encouraging and cramming information and practice into those little brains.

There's a common saying that one day of learning before the age of the seven is 10 times more effective than afterward.

"All we had was strict force-feeding education in which kids just had to keep studying, reciting, writing and repeating," says Allen Zhang, a haigui or "returning turtle" (Chinese educated abroad) who is marketing director for a German company.

"These Western education methods seem to be more effective and more fun. At least, they get to play with other kids in their same social class," he says.

Zhang sends his three-year-old daughter to an international kindergarten in the Hongqiao area and spends more than 10,000 yuan every month. Zhang is proud that his daughter's class is "like a little United Nation with kids from all over the world and their parents are usually high-level managers in international corporations."

But he also admits this education is not as special and different as he had expected. His daughter can't speak much English, even after a year with foreign teachers. Zhang and his wife still teach her at home.

"I didn't like sending her to such an expensive places, but my wife and my parents all criticized me for thinking that way. They accuse me of being negligent and irresponsible about my own daughter," says Zhang. "But I still believe it's more important to hang out and interact with her at home than paying for expensive classes."

Some Chinese pre-school education specialists agree with Zhang.

Professor Hua Aihua from the education department of East China Normal University says interaction at home is more valuable than various classes.

"The key to pre-school is not to take as many classes as possible, but to influence children through daily life," she says. "Education from parents at home is the most significant."

Hua says it's not necessarily good for children to start learning very early, especially English, which is so popular. Learning a second language before age three might even affect a child's logic and creativity in using a mother tongue, she says.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend