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October 27, 2010

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Day-care issue poses a conundrum

ZHANG Ming, a town education official in the Pudong New Area, has a problem figuring out what to do with day-care centers that fail to meet criteria issued early this week by the Shanghai government.

Zhang works in Tangzhen Town, Pudong, where such day-care centers are popular among migrant workers, who need a place for their children to go when they work. However, a baby boom since 2006 means there is a shortage of licensed day-care centers.

Zhang, in charge of education and hygiene in Tangzhen, said that of the 19 unlicensed centers within his area, which help care for 2,300 pre-school kids, most failed to meet all the new criteria required by the government.

Seventeen of the facilities admit more children - to cover operating costs - than the ideal number of 50 and 15 failed to meet the minimum activity space of 1 square meter per child. Most of these centers also failed to meet the standard of at least one supervisor per 15 children.

Still, Zhang said the biggest problem is money.

Since day-care centers charge low fees and there is no direct government subsidy, town officials and day-care center directors will find it difficult to make improvements in order to meet the criteria.

"I don't know what to do with the unlicensed centers if they fail to comply," Zhang said. "If they are closed, these kids will have no other place to go."

The problem is common in Shanghai's other suburban towns, where many migrant workers live.

About 130,000 children were newly admitted to local kindergartens this semester, but another 40,000 still need day-care service, according to education authorities.

Most of them are migrant workers' kids in the suburbs and many turn to unlicensed private kindergartens after being turned down by those that are legal, but overcrowded.

Unlicensed facilities pose health and safety risks to the children.

Several cases of infectious diseases, including pinkeye and hand, foot and mouth disease, have been reported in unlicensed suburban day-care centers.

A three-year-old girl died of HFMD after being infected by other toddlers at Tangzhen's Xiaotaiyang Kindergarten, which was unlicensed.

The local government has tried to close some illegal day-care centers, only to find new ones opening one after another.

Thus, the city decided early this week to give illegal kindergartens the chance to become licensed day-care centers.

Day-care centers have lower requirements for education and recreational facilities compared to kindergartens. But requirements for basic hygiene and safety are the same.

"Many migrant parents need someone to watch their children at a low cost, but aren't interested in paying extra for education or recreational facilities," said Ni Minjing, a Shanghai Education Commission official in charge of elementary education.

District and town government staffers have been asked to check illegal kindergartens and order upgrades based on the new criteria for day-care centers.

However, the government will not pay illegal kindergartens to make upgrades since pre-school education is not included in the country's free compulsory education.


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