Ms Qu Zhehan
Journalist, People's Daily
Providing Access to Early Education in Rural China
The One Village One Preschool Program by the China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) provides quality preschool services for rural and impoverished children. Six year old You Haoyu is a child in Muwa Village, of Dayin Town, in Guizhou province. Both of his parents are working in urban areas, leaving him behind to stay with his grandparents in their rural hometown. Due to his family’s financial status and rural context, the possibility of having a preschool education was quite small. It is very normal for children like him to be left behind in the home while grandparents tend to their farm work.
Two years ago, a Village Early Education Center (VEEC) began to operate from a vacant classroom in an abandoned elementary school at the village. Luckily, it was only a short walk away from Haoyu’s house. Every day, he could listen to teachers telling stories, play games with classmates, and eat a nutritious meal for lunch. His family was very happy to see their son grow taller, become happier, and learn to speak standard Chinese. To date, about 170,000 children like You Haoyu have benefited from CDRF’s One Village One Preschool Program.
Studies show that early childhood education plays a vital role in the future development of children and in a nation’s human capital. The three-year action plan for preschool education led by China’s Ministry of Education has been implemented to its third phase, lifting the gross preschool enrollment rate from 56.6% to 79.6%. However, over 10 million preschoolers in China still do not have access to preschool services, and they are largely from underdeveloped and hard-to-reach rural areas.
“These children are left at their hometowns and significantly hindered by both poverty and other troubles such as parents’ divorce and domestic violence as they grow up. Our findings show that rural children having no access to preschool education in remote and poor areas are relatively slow in language and intelligence development,” said Lu Mai, Secretary General of CDRF. To extend preschool services to these children, CDRF piloted the One Village One Preschool Program in Ledu district, Haidong city, Qinghai province in 2009. So far, this program has reached 22 impoverished counties in China’s central and western regions, opening about 2300 VEECs.
One Village One Preschool leverages vacant classrooms of elementary schools, idle village committee offices, and residential houses for new early education centers. Multi-grade classes and mixed-age class are available based on the number of children in each village. Local young and middle-aged preschool teachers with a secondary vocational degree are employed to receive continuous, frequent, and quality training to become qualified teachers. The centers are mainly funded through government spending and charity donation.
The program evaluation result shows that this program has effectively narrowed the gap in capabilities between urban and rural children. The cognitive, linguistic, health and socio-emotional development of children attending VEECs have improved significantly. Among the 8,500 children followed up by CDRF who have received three-year preschool education in the village in Ledu District since 2009, about 66% of score beyond average in Grade 5 district final exams in the county in terms of school grades.
The program also provides an opportunity for teachers, they are paid 1,500 to 2,000 yuan each month, much less than what teachers at local public and private kindergartens are paid. Lu Juan is a volunteer teacher at the early education center in Muwa village, “I made 5,000 yuan per month as a student teacher at a kindergarten in Guangdong province. But as soon as I heard about the VEEC in my village, I came back. I enjoy staying with my relatives and feel fulfilled seeing that children here are making progress and the village is becoming better day after day,” she said.
One Village One Preschool has provided an effective way to help out children in plight in remote and impoverished villages. “The left-behind children in remote and impoverished villages of China are living a very hard life. They require special and urgent help.” Lu Mai said. Among more than 50,000 rural children with complete personal information covered by this program, 20,000 are left behind by both parents who have migrated to a city for work, 10,000 are from designated households for targeted poverty reduction, and 11% are from single-parent family. “Children in such plights are scattered in various households in the village. It is difficult for administrative authorities to track the status of their nutrition, health, and early childhood education. VEECs help these children out and put them under our radar.” said Lu Mai.
According to Lu Juan, after the early education center was opened in Muwa village, nearby Miao villagers also sent their children to the center. She said, “It is a crucial period for children to learn language at the age of four or five. They can make a huge progress in speaking standard Chinese in one year, which will not only boost their later school performance but also strengthen the interaction between the Han and Miao children.”