A series of shocking revelations of child abuse cases have brought daycare services into the spotlight. For the moment, real and fake information has overlapped, with some evidence coming to light while others undergo investigation. Still, people cannot help but fear for management over staff in the industry.
Perpetrators will be punished once the facts come out. In the meantime, however, reflecting on what is wrong with childcare services has become a pressing task.
Needless to say, today’s parents attach greater importance to education for their next generation and do not hesitate to invest in this field. The government’s input in this regard, on the other hand, is limited so far.
According to media outlets, national funding for early childhood education in China accounted for only 1.2 to 1.3 percent of its overall educational budget. Meanwhile, the number of children under 6 years old in China has long exceeded 100 million, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s population of the same age. This further reflects the severe shortage of affordable care for toddlers in the country.
Reports have shown that China’s enrollment rate of 0 to 3-year-olds at daycare centers is only 4.1 percent, much lower than in developed countries, where it averages 50 percent. In poverty-stricken areas, quite a few teenagers have no access to senior secondary education, let alone early childhood education or nursery services. Since Beijing adopted the two-child policy, China has witnessed a baby boom over the past few years, which further mirrors the scarcity of childcare services in the nation.
On that score, daycare centers and private kindergartens have become the ideal investment targets in pursuit of considerable profits. RYB Education, a private institution which provides early education and nursery services, has lately become the focal point of Chinese public opinion, being one of the beneficiaries in this market. It started trading on the New York Stock Exchange in September this year, and has raised $102 million by offering 5.5 million shares at $18.50 in the same month, according to nasdaq.com. Its official website says it runs a network of over 1,800 kindergartens and daycare centers in more than 300 Chinese cities.
But education, which should focus on the public good, has in this way turned into an interest-driven enterprise. How does it broaden sources of income and reduce expenditures like other profit-oriented companies? RYB Education has found a way – by providing franchise opportunities for those who want to start their own business but have no idea where to begin. Another convenient way is to charge higher tuition fees while lowering the salaries of teachers. Combined with loose regulations and management, more and more unqualified personnel are easily employed in this market. However, a good kindergarten or daycare center is all about good teachers. Increasing the wages of teachers, enhancing assessment over their performance and introducing a strict elimination system to remove those who were last in their performance evaluation are indispensable methods to solve the problem.
More significantly, the government must do more to prevent the childcare industry from turning into a place that purely pursues money rather than the welfare of our next generation.
Childcare services are part of the education system, which should not be overly commercialized. It is not a commodity and should never be treated as one. Even private kindergartens are allowed in the market. Otherwise, the gap between the rich and poor will only get wider and more social chaos and disturbance will emerge.
[The author is a reporter with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org]