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May 22, 2010

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Parents' golden year dilemma

CHERRY Wu, the mother of a three-year-old boy, is waiting anxiously to see if she can find a private kindergarten place for her son, born in the auspicious "Golden Pig Year."

The family has been turned down by several public kindergartens near their apartment due to the rising number of applicants and limited space in kindergartens.

"Kindergartens have raised the admission requirement," she said. "Kids similar to my son could get enrolled in the past."

Parents are finding it harder to win places for their children because of the baby boom in 2007, the "Golden Pig Year."

They are having to look for places in remoter kindergartens or private kindergartens, which charge much higher fees than the public ones.

Wu consulted her neighbors when she moved to Minhang District and found that almost all the children in the neighborhood could go to a nearby kindergarten, which charges around 300 yuan (US$43.90) a month.

However, it received too many applications this year and decided to only admit children whose hukou, or permanent residence, was also registered in the area.

Many children living in rented apartments or who have no hukou have been rejected and told to seek places elsewhere.

Similar conditions are reported across the city.

"We received 300-plus applications this year, compared to 200 last year," said Lu Min, principal of Xijie Kindergarten in Hongkou District.

"We cannot admit more due to space. We have to first satisfy the needs of locals," she said.

The problem is the result of the number of women who planned to have their babies born in 2007, an especially auspicious time according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

The lunar calendar gives each year one of 12 zodiac signs with years rotating through the five elements -- gold, wood, water, fire and earth. Children born when the Year of the Pig coincides with the element of gold -- once every 60 years -- are said to be blessed.

About 166,600 infants were born in the city in 2007, compared with 134,000 in 2006, according to government statistics.

The baby boom will not end for a while because people born in the 1980s, the last baby-boom generation, have now reached the right age for marriage and the city encourages couples who are only children to have a second child as concerns mount about a rapidly aging population.

Local kindergartens enrolled about 352,000 children last year. By 2015, the number will grow to 500,000, according to the Shanghai Education Commission.

Several district education bureaus have asked kindergartens to stop setting up classes for toddlers aged below three this year to make more room for children aged from three to six.

The education authorities have decided to build 50 new kindergartens to complement the current 1,000-plus kindergartens this year. In addition, a total of 400 kindergartens in the suburbs and large neighborhoods will be built by 2020.

But that's too late for Wu's family.

She has now applied to two private kindergartens, which charge up to 2,000 yuan a month, in Xuhui District and is waiting anxiously to hear from them.


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