More funding needed for rural preschool education

A kindergarten teacher with students in Changbeihou, China Photo: The Christian Science Monitor

A 30-year-old volunteer of a social public welfare program has ploughed herself into preschool education in her birthplace, a remote, impoverished village in China, which is acutely short of basic education infrastructure.

"I did not receive early childhood education when I was a little girl. So I earnestly hope that my contribution could enable the children of my home village to enjoy the same happiness as those living in the urban areas," said Xie Lin (pseudonym), who used to work as a kindergarten teacher in a county of southern China's Hunan province.

The social public welfare program that Xie takes part in is named One Village One Preschool, which was initiated in 2009 by the China Development Research Foundation, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization. The project aims to give free preschool education access to the children aged 3-5 in China's poverty-stricken areas by establishing kindergartens and recruiting volunteer teachers. The ultimate goal of the project is to spur the Chinese government to offer more preferential policies for the needy children who lack early childhood education.

In July, the One Village One Preschool project won the World Innovation Summit for Education Awards, often dubbed as the "Nobel Prize in Education".

As of June 2018, the project has worked with the local governments to establish 2,300 village-level kindergartens, benefiting 170,000 children in 21 poverty-stricken counties in central and western China.

Silver lining

Xie describes the establishment of the kindergarten where she works as a "difficult task".

"It is not easy [for us to establish the kindergarten] because the teaching building is modified from a dilapidated wooden building with a leaky roof," said Xie.

But the poorly equipped kindergarten brings hope to the kids and their parents.

"The parents in the village are glad to see their children being educated at the kindergarten as it would help them solve the economic problems," said Xie, adding that the tuition of the kindergartens in the county is very high.

According to the data provided by the China Development Research Foundation, it usually costs only 30,000 yuan to run a village-level kindergarten every year, more than 50 percent of which is used to subsidize and train volunteers. Currently, the expenditures are shared by the foundation and local governments.

Lu Mai, secretary-general of the China Development and Research Foundation, said that these kindergartens can not only be seen as an educational facility but also a platform, through which people donate books and clothes to the needy children.

"It brings hope to the families and the village," said Lu.

Lu's foundation also conducted a follow-up survey, which showed that the academic achievements of the children covered by the One Village One Preschool project were basically equivalent to their peers in counties.

Need for funding

However, Xie does not know how long she will be able to work with the project, as it has not received enough financial support from the government.

According to Xie, the wages offered by the local public kindergartens basically stand at about 3,000 yuan.

"I enjoy teaching at the kindergarten and feel fulfilled over the improvements we have made, and I am not asking for the same amount of payment. But I also need money to lead a decent life," said Xie, who is now paid a monthly salary of 1,600 yuan.

Under the circumstances, Lu has long called on the central government to put more money into preschool education, especially in the remote rural areas.

The One Village One Preschool project is not enough to revive the early childhood education in the rural areas, which should be supported by the government, which possesses massive amount of educational and financial resources, said Zhou Nianli, a professor of preschool education at East China Normal University.

In order to realize the goal of having a kindergarten in each administrative village by 2020, the China Development Research Foundation plans to talk with the central government and the local governments for higher subsidies.

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