The story appears on

Page B1

April 29, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

The kindergarten quandary

KINDERGARTEN enrollment has kicked off around Shanghai and it's a time of high anxiety for parents who all want to get their toddlers into the best schools. And there aren't even enough for baby boomers. Fei Lai reports.

To ensure her 3-year-old daughter gets a place in public kindergarten, Yu Feng gets up at 6am and hurries to a designated application spot in her neighborhood - only to find a hundred fretful parents ahead of her. She is given a number. The ordeal has begun and she won't know the outcome until next month.

That was last Sunday when enrollment for public kindergartens kicked off citywide. Yu will know next month, after an innovative "lucky draw," which kindergarten her daughter will attend.

Kindergarten is considered the first step on a child's road to success in a highly competitive society.

"Don't let your child lose at the starting line" is a common saying.

"I've been researching everything about kindergartens from my friends and the Internet for the past six months," says Yu. "The idea that kids should not lose out at the very beginning of life is deeply rooted in parent's minds. I must do my best to ensure that my daughter receives the best education."

Enrolling a child into a public or private kindergarten is a headache in Shanghai and many other big cities: There has been a baby boom; there are not enough schools and not enough good schools.

Sometimes the good schools are jammed beyond capacity with applicants, and admission officers resort to testing, interviews and other measures of a tot's achievements. It's less than transparent and objective and parents sometimes complain of unfair influence.

Private schools are costly and admission is highly competitive; there are also complaints about undue influence.

In Shanghai 160,000 babies have been born every year since 2007, double the number in previous years; around 400,000 children are enrolled in kindergartens and preschools. The city has allowed schools to increase enrollment by 10 percent and encouraged more private schools to open.

Still, enrollment is grueling.

City education authorities are trying to make the public kindergarten enrollment process more orderly, fair and transparent. They especially want to avoid the situation in which public schools resort to testing and interviews - and thus they aim to take the decision out of the hands of school officials.

Jing'an District where Yu lives is a good example and this year it has introduced two measures to improve the process.

Instead of applying to each school available in their neighborhood or catchment area, parents now go to one of five designated spots in the district. This is intended to avoid clustering.

In addition, when public schools are oversubscribed, parents are given a "lottery" number. There will be a computerized drawing to determine who gets into which school. The results will be announced next month.

It's a time of high anxiety, since everyone wants to get their child into the best kindergarten, leading to the best primary school, middle school, high school and university.

Fortunately, Jing'an is a well-off district and all of its 12 public kindergartens are considered good - three of them demonstration or pilot schools that are said to be better.

It's common to pay fees of at least 500-600 yuan (US$75.75-90.90) per month at a normal public kindergarten, but considerably more at a highly ranked one.

Each neighborhood has designated public kindergartens and parents are not allowed to send their children to public schools outside their area.

Holding their hukou or household registration and certificate of property ownership, parents go to designated application spots.

In the case of Yu who got up at 6am, the place was already jammed by 7:30am; applications opened at 8:30am.

"It never occurred to me that sending a kid to kindergarten could be so difficult," says Cha Yixiang, a father of a 5-year-old. His family sold a suburban apartment and moved to a downtown apartment in order to register at kindergartens. "Everything we have done is for the good of our child and we are now even considering issues of elementary school enrollment."

Expert advice

Fu Fang, dean of the Shanghai Weihai Road Kindergarten in Jing'an District, says the shortage of kindergarten space in some communities is caused by excessive parental demand for preschool education, in addition to the baby boom.

"Selecting a kindergarten that suitable to a child is more important than selecting the so-called 'best'," Fu says, adding that many kindergartens have different focuses, some on sports, some on language, some on games and music. "Knowing each child's personality and interests should be the priority before choosing a kindergarten."

The quality of teachers is also important, says Fu, as is a convenient location because parents spend a lot of time taking their children to school and picking them up.

Families who can afford private kindergartens, of course, have more options.


Victoria Fei

Public kindergartens and preschools across Shanghai currently enroll around 400,000 children aged between three and six. That's an increase of 50,000 over 2009 and 100,000 over 2005.

Since 2007, more than 160,000 babies have been born in the city every year, double the previous annual number of births.

While more than 500,000 children are expected to enter various preschools in 2013, city education authorities say the total number of kindergartens and day-care centers will meet the needs if all children go to nearby schools.

In the past five years, the city has built 400 kindergartens and the schools have been allowed to enlarge class capacity by 10 percent.

Yin Houqing, vice director of the Shanghai Education Commission, has encouraged the establishment of private kindergarten. The city has approved more private kindergartens to admit 30,000 children and day-care centers for 20,000 children.

The total number of private kindergartens was not available.


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